“Too late have I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved you! And behold, you were within, and I abroad, and there I searched for you; I was deformed, plunging amid those fair forms, which you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. Things held me far from you—things which, if they were not in you, were not at all.” Augustine wrote these lines in his all time classic, Confessions, reflecting on his past wasted years.
He also recognized God’s unrelenting love which saved him from misery and desolation. He reflected on God’s hounding thus: “You called, and shouted, and burst my deafness. You flashed and shone, and scattered my blindness. You breathed odours and I drew in breath—and I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” The first thought of St. Augustine brings to our mind his sinful life and eventual conversion. It teaches that God’s love is all consuming and it can work miracles in our life. His many famous poem-like writings brings out the working of his soul.
Augustine’s life has been a source of spiritual solace to many people throughout centuries. He story of conversion is an encouragement for all us to turn from our wavered and take refuge in God’s mercy and grace. As his life teaches us, as a young man Augustine was restless and without direction. He pursued a long and painful search for truth that he hoped would provide him with rest. In the drama of his conversion at the age of 33 he felt his innermost heart lovingly spoken to by the Word of God. He wrote: “the words of your Scripture knocked at the door of my heart.”
St. Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus) was one of the greatest theologians of Western Christianity. From the beginning the Church, the Greek speaking Christians with their own thoughts and understanding of the faith were considered Eastern Christians and others with Roman or Latin influence were Western Christians. Augustine who belonged to the western world was born 13 November 354 in North Africa, about 45 miles south of the Mediterranean, in the town of Tagaste (modern Souk-Ahras) in what is now Algeria, but near ancient Carthage (modern Tunis).
Augustine was born to a Christian mother and a pagan father who later became a Christian. Though his mother tried to instil in him Christian values Augustine was engrossed in pride, fame, his cleverness and attractions of sex. His conversion is largely attributed to the prayer and penance his mother St. Monica offered for him. An important lesson to our parents that their prayers and example are vital for the Christian life of their children.
From his teen years Augustine had great appetite for philosophy. He mastered various schools of thought such as Manichaeism, Gnosticism, and various thought patterns of Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates. At 19 years of age he had a mistress, probably a slave or an ex-slave with whom he had a child. In search of deeper knowledge Augustine leaves Africa for Rome, the seat of Roman Empire. Having successfully completed his studies in Rome, he was appointed to teach rhetoric and philosophy in Milan, an elite city of the time. There begins he Christian journey.
In Milan Augustine met the bishop Ambrose, and was startled to find in him a reasonableness of mind and belief, a keenness of thought, and an integrity of character far in excess of what he had found elsewhere. For the first time, Augustine saw Christianity as a religion fit for a philosopher. St. Ambrose becomes his spiritual mentor and helps him to overcome two crises, his sexual promiscuity and spiritual emptiness.
Augustine submitted himself to the spiritual direction of Bishop Ambrose. God touched his heart and he was converted to Christianity in 386 and was baptised by Ambrose at Easter of 387. About 12 years later he wrote an account of his life up to a time shortly after his conversion, a book called the Confessions. Though it is filled with autobiographical notes, it is more an outpouring of penitence and thanksgiving.
After his conversion, Augustine went back to his native Africa in 387, where he was ordained a priest in 391 and consecrated bishop of Hippo in 396. It was not his intention to become a priest and a bishop. He was drawn into ordained ministry. His ordination was similar to his conversion and eventual baptism. He seems to say, “Does a man come to God because he has chosen to do so, or because God has chosen him, and drawn him to Himself?” Augustine always felt that it was the hand of God that guided him or even persuaded him to follow God’s will. He had no choice, other than to follow God’s will.
He was a diligent shepherd of his flock, but he also found time to write extensively. His surviving works (and it is assumed that the majority did not survive) include 113 books and treatises, over 200 letters, and over 500 sermons. Some of his classics are: Anti-Pelagian Writings, The City of God, Confessions, Enchiridion (Brief Manuals) on Faith, Hope and Love, Exposition on the Psalms, Freedom of the Will, The Trinity, Monastic Rule of St. Augustine.
In human terms Augustine was a person of relationship. The great spiritual events of Augustine’s life took place in the company of others. His relationship with people such as his mother, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome and others is of significance to his spirituality. Augustine greatly valued their relationship. He reached out to people and touched them; he was in turn beloved and appreciated by them. Fittingly the spirituality reflected in his writings is based on love of neighbour and on community. It is a lesson we all ought to learn, especially those in teaching and leadership positions.
In the spirituality he proposed, love for God is experienced as love for one another. Where love for another person is present God is present too. “Honour God in each other”. We come to God through love of one another, since love for a human being is much more concrete than love for God. In the teaching of Augustine human love has divine love running within it. Thus as we strive for union with others we do so in a shared love for God. May St. Augustine help us to love God and others as Jesus taught us and as St. Augustine lived.
Feast Day: 28 August