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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine (354-430) was born on November 13, 354 in the municipium of Thagaste (now Souk Ahras, Algeria) in Roman Africa.

Augustine admitted in his autobiography Confessions, that as a boy he "told lies to my tutors, my masters and my parents all for the love of games and the craving for stage shows." Young Augustine also stole pears from a neighbor's tree, and the sin troubled him for the rest of his life.

Augustine taught rhetoric at Carthage, and then handed in his notice as he had heard that the students in Rome were better behaved than their loutish counterparts in Paris or Carthage. The students in Carthage were prone to cheating the teachers of their fees.

Augustine was reputed to have been the first ever person to read to himself without moving his lips.

He was slim, clean shaven, shaven haired, sharp features. If you go by the paintings of Augustine, he was very fair for a North African.

The earliest known portrait of Saint Augustine in a 6th-century fresco, Lateran, Rome

Augustine never married but he had several lovers prior to his conversion to Christianity. He later confessed that as a youth, he had the "most wicked sins of evil lusts."

Augustine was baptized, along with his son Adeodatus, on Easter Vigil on April 25, 387 in Milan. Augustine recorded his entrance into the church thus: "And we were baptized and all anxiety for our past life vanished away."

In his Confessions Augustine describes the baptism ceremony thus: "I wept at the beauty of the hymns and canticles and was powerfully moved at the sweet sound of your church is singing. My feeling of devotion overflowed and the tears ran for my eyes and I was happy in them."

Tradition has it that whilst Augustine was being baptised by Saint Ambrose,the two of them improvised the "Te Deum Laudamus" (We Praise Thee O Lord) in alternate verses.

In 391 Augustine was ordained a priest in Hippo Regius (now Annaba), in Algeria. Four years he was made coadjutor Bishop of Hippo, and became full Bishop shortly thereafter. He remained in that position until his death in 430.

The Hippo in Hippo Regius came from a Carthaginian word meaning harbor and had nothing to do with hippopotamuses.

He believed in evolution. Well, Augustine thought that some species of plants and animals had developed from earlier creations.

In Book 11 of Confessions Augustine recorded a startling, brilliant discovery. He came to see that God had not only created both time and space but had created them simultaneously and interdependently. This insight, which Augustine derived from meditation on the Bible, anticipated Einstein's theory of relativity by 1500 years.

Augustine is partly to blame for the fallacy that Christians have a problem with fun. He confidently asserted that there was "no frivolous jollity" in Paradise.

The great theologian developed many Catholic doctrines helping make infant baptism, belief in purgatory and the teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church normal practice.

Portrait by Philippe de Champaigne, 17th century

Augustine's teachings that no one can really love God or believe in him properly until the grace of God comes to them influenced Luther and Calvin.

Augustine died aged 76 on August 28, 430 in Hippo, while the Vandals were besieging his Episcopal city. As he lay dying, Augustine had the penitential psalms copied on parchment and fixed to the wall of his room so he could read them from bed.

Pope John Paul II was once so taken by Gerald Depardieu’s resemblance to Augustine that he asked the French actor to impersonate the saint on a world tour.

Augustine wrote about 230 books and treatises and in addition around 350 of his sermons survive today. More of Saint Augustine's words survive than those of any other writer of antiquity.

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