Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St Augustine, one of the great witnesses of God’s love, care and forgiveness. It is a privilege to have him with us to chat with today.
Junjun Faithbook: St Augustine, thank you and welcome to my blog. You know I always admire you because you are such a great model for us. Your life story gives us hope that our search for God would really never go in vain.
St Augustine: Thanks be to God because he would definitely search for us, especially when we got lost or went astray.
Junjun Faithbook: You really can be proud of this because this is what you’ve been through. Would you mind telling us your story?
St Augustine: Not at all. Well, I was born on the 13th of November, year 354, at Tagaste.
Junjun Faithbook: Where in the world is it exactly?
St Augustine: It is a small town of Numidia (modern day Algeria), in the Northwest of Africa, not far from Hippo.
Junjun Faithbook: And I heard your parents were of good position, I mean quite well off in the society?
St Augustine: We were not that rich.
Junjun Faithbook: Tell us about your father.
St Augustine: His name is Patricius and he wasn’t a Christian. All I could remember of him is that he gave a hard time for my mum, Monica. He was an idolater, and had a violent disposition.
Junjun Faithbook: And your mum bore all of that?
St Augustine: Absolutely! She was really a saint. She took all the sufferings she could bare by being a faithful, and loving wife. She prayed and prayed a lot for my father’s conversion.
Junjun Faithbook: And did it happen?
St Augustine: It paid off. My father got baptized just before his death in 371.
Junjun Faithbook: Wow! That’s amazing!
St Augustine: It was just one burden lifted up from my mum’s shoulders.
Junjun Faithbook: What do you mean?
St Augustine: I was also her other load to carry.
Junjun Faithbook: But you didn’t realize that early on, did you?
St Augustine: Just a little. I could remember when I was still a little kid, my mum taught me the Christian religion. She taught me to pray.
Junjun Faithbook: Were you baptized Catholic then?
St Augustine: No not yet. I could remember desiring for baptism when I got very ill, even in danger of death. My mum prepared me and everything, but when I recovered my health, I put that off until later.
Junjun Faithbook: So you never had yourself baptised?
St Augustine: No, it wasn’t in my agenda at that stage.
Junjun Faithbook: Where did you go and what did you do then?
St Augustine: I went to Carthage towards the end of the year 370. I was just 17 years old then.
Junjun Faithbook: What did you there?
St Augustine: I went to the school of rhetoric. I was serious in my studies because I was eager to learn and I enjoyed it.
Junjun Faithbook: So, you focused more on your studies then?
St Augustine: No, not that seriously really. I entered into a relationship with a woman, irregular but stable, until I felt I had enough and decided to finish it all when I was in Milan in 385.
Junjun Faithbook: It seemed like you’re in a relationship with her for quite a while. Did you have any children?
St Augustine: We’ve got one. He was born in 372 and named Adeodatus.
Junjun Faithbook: Nice name.
St Augustine: I really couldn’t care less. Another subject to study captured my interest. I started reading the Hortensius of Cicero, and that triggered me to take on philosophy as well.
Junjun Faithbook: You must really be a searcher, or maybe searching for something.
St Augustine: I believed so yes. I even fell into believing the Manichean sect and exposition.
Junjun Faithbook: What was it about?
St Augustine: Well, it’s about the problem of evil. And we tried to solve this problem by positing a metaphysical and religious dualism: the two eternal principles, God, the cause of all good, and matter the cause of all evil.
Junjun Faithbook: That was a dangerous path you took in terms of theology.
St Augustine: Quite so. But the Manichean sect couldn’t satisfy my longings so I left it and I also left to Rome, unbeknown to my mother.
Junjun Faithbook: What did you do in Rome?
St Augustine: I opened a Rhetoric School there but at the same time I endeavoured to get a Masters of Rhetoric in Milan. And I think that had a significant impact in my life.
Junjun Faithbook: In what aspect?
St Augustine: It helped me see the lost side of me…
Junjun Faithbook: Wow! That’s a revelation or a wonderful realization. Tell me what happened.
St Augustine: When I went to Milan, this wonderful Bishop, St Ambrose (as he was known later on), welcomed me warmly, and even respected me.
Junjun Faithbook: So he got you?
St Augustine: Honestly yes. With him, I grew up a desire to know him more, not just as a teacher of the truth but also as a person of great learning and reputation.
Junjun Faithbook: So you must have started following him then?
St Augustine: I often went to his sermons, not expecting to profit from it, maybe just to satisfy my curiosity, or to enjoy his eloquence. I also found that his discourses more learned than the Manichean exposition. He really made so much an impression to me.
Junjun Faithbook: Would you say then, that by listening to St Ambrose preaching you have found the answer to your quest for knowledge?
St Augustine: No, not really. At the same time, I was also reading Plato and Plotinus.
Junjun Faithbook: It seemed that while you were in Milan, you were really focused more on yourself, have you ever thought of your family then? Your mum?
St Augustine: I might have forgotten that, my mum didn’t forget me. She followed me in Milan. She wanted me to get married. Of course this time, Adeodatus’ mum had already gone back to Africa, leaving my son behind. But I just didn’t have the desire to get married then.
Junjun Faithbook: Perhaps because you were still looking for something missing in your life?
St Augustine: Absolutely. In fact, I had struggled spiritually, morally, intellectually, and more.
Junjun Faithbook: How did you manage?
St Augustine: God’s grace slowly removed the scales from my eyes.
Junjun Faithbook: How did it occur to you?
St Augustine: I was impressed so much by the conversion of the Roman neo-Platonist professor, called Victorinus.
Junjun Faithbook: So the event of his conversion stirred something in you?
St Augustine: Yes. And I felt more stirrings when I had a visit from Pontitian, an African. He came to visit me and my friend Alipius.
Junjun Faithbook: What happened?
St Augustine: Pontitian might have seen the book of St Paul’s epistles lying on the table, so he started talking with us about the life of St Antony. But of course, I and my friend didn’t know him so we caught Pontitian by surprise.
Junjun Faithbook: Was he disappointed by your reactions?
St Augustine: I can’t be sure, but he then went on to speak of two men who had been converted suddenly just by reading the life of St Antony.
Junjun Faithbook: That was really a moment of grace for me of course. But did you find it the same way?
St Augustine: I don’t know. When Pontitian had gone, something inside of me troubled me so much. I was torn between chastity and the seductive memory of my former sins. I didn’t know what to do so I went out to the garden and there the extraordinary thing happened.
Junjun Faithbook: Tell us more…
St Augustine: I started crying as I threw myself into the ground. And then I just started praying out of despair.
Junjun Faithbook: Can you tell us what you were praying about then?
St Augustine: I just said: ‘How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Remember not my past iniquities!’
Junjun Faithbook: That’s a marvellous prayer from the heart! And was that the moment of conversion for you?
St Augustine: I heard a voice of a child singing ‘Tolle lege! Tolle lege!’ (Take up and read! Take up and read!’ I thought the voice was just from a child in the neighbouring house, so I went back to where my friend Alipius was sitting. I took the book of St Paul’s epistles, opened it and was amazed by the first words I saw and read there.
Junjun Faithbook: And what was this about?
St Augustine: ‘Not in rioting and drunkenness; not in chambering and impurities; not in contention and envy; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscence.’
Junjun Faithbook: It seemed like it’s Divine design was it?
St Augustine: It was, and no other. I shut the book and told my friend about what had just happened to me. Alipius asked to see the passage I just read and he continued on reading: ‘Him that is weak in faith, take unto you.’ This amazingly was also his moment of conversion.
Junjun Faithbook: And that was your moment as well?
St Augustine: It was. I couldn’t contain my joy so we went immediately to tell my mum what happened to us. Mum was rejoicing and praising God upon hearing the wonderful news.
Junjun Faithbook: How old were you then, when this happened?
St Augustine: Thirty-two and that was in September 386. It took my mum that long to storm heaven with her prayers that I may discover God, and thank God she was rewarded at the end.
Junjun Faithbook: So what came after your conversion?
St Augustine: I gave up schooling at once. You know I was doing some things in Philosophy and that. I then retired to a country house owned by my other friend named Verecundus, at Cassiciacum near Milan.
Junjun Faithbook: On your own?
St Augustine: No. My mum went with me, also my brother Navigius, my son Adeodatus, Alipius my best friend, and several others and we lived a community life together. It was also during this stay in the country that I had written three dialogues: Against the Academicians, Of the Happy Life and Of Order.
Junjun Faithbook: By the way, have you been baptized also during this time?
St Augustine: I was baptized about a year later, on the Easter Vigil of the year 387. My friend Alipius and my dear son Adeodatus who was already 15 years old at the time were also baptised with me.
Junjun Faithbook: That is really an amazing thing that happened to you.
St Augustine: Indeed, and the one who baptized us was no less than the great St Ambrose of Milan. It was a memorable event. But unfortunately, shortly later, my own and only son died.
Junjun Faithbook: I’m sorry.
St Augustine: God’s grace at work still though. I moved into Ostia with my mum and few friends. And there she had died in the year 387.
Junjun Faithbook: What a blow!
St Augustine: It was sad. So I went back to Africa the following year 388, and stayed at our own house in Tagaste with few of my friends. There we lived for three years as a community, serving God in fasting, prayer, good works, meditating upon his law and I was instructing others through discourses and books.
Junjun Faithbook: Have you ever thought you’d become a bishop?
St Augustine: By God’s design, I can’t say no. Proof to this was that I was ordained a assistant to Valerius, the Bishop of Hippo at the time.
Junjun Faithbook: After you’re ordained, what was your particular move or role in Hippo?
St Augustine: I lived in there with my close friends, Alipius, Evodius, Possidius and few others. In my time, I was really opposing and protesting against the Manichean heresy and beginnings of the Donatism, another heresy. I also started few reforms like abolition of feasting in the chapels of the martyrs and of family fights as a public amusement.
Junjun Faithbook: Those are really great challenges in your time especially as a bishop of the Church.
St Augustine: Certainly. Much more when I was consecrated coadjutor Bishop to Bishop Valerius in 395. Then more responsibility fell unto my shoulders when the Bishop died, and I was appointed successor to him.
Junjun Faithbook: Big task it seemed.
St Augustine: It was. I started doing the reforms out of my own backyard. I established regular and common life in my residence. I made it a requirement for priest, deacons and subdeacons, those who were living with me to renounce property and to follow the rule I set.
Junjun Faithbook: How long then were you the Bishop for the people of God in Hippo?
St Augustine: Thirty-five years. Most of those years were spent defending the Catholic faith against heresies.
Junjun Faithbook: It must be a time of wrong interpretation of the Gospel message, or just a time when everyone seemed to have acquired a piece of truth?
St Augustine: Partly true, because heresies come one after the other. Their reason and grounds for belief were complicated. In fact, in the year 405, I was obliged to invoke the civil power to restrain the Donatists from Hippo when they caused outrages and the like within the empire.
Junjun Faithbook: Empire of whom?
St Augustine: Emperor Honorius was the emperor then. He wanted to publish severe laws against the Donatists, including death-penalty, which I really disapproved and protested against.
Junjun Faithbook: How did the Church resolve this issue then?
St Augustine: In 411, we held a great conference in Carthage two tackle this issue and that helped in the decline of the Donatist’s heresy.
Junjun Faithbook: After that, did you have quiet and peaceful time in the Church then?
St Augustine: Not really. Another heresy arose, the Pelagian controversy.
Junjun Faithbook: And what was that about this time?
St Augustine: Pelagius rejected the doctrine of original sin. He also taught that baptism is simply a title of admission to heaven. Another thing he presented is that grace is not necessary to salvation.
Junjun Faithbook: Did the Church do something about it?
St Augustine: Definitely. Another Synod was convoked in Carthage to counter the heresy. The errors of Pelagius doctrines were condemned then at the Synod.
Junjun Faithbook: It really was a trying moment for your office as a bishop of Hippo, as I see it.
St Augustine: It wasn’t only heresies though that tried the Church. In 410, Rome was plundered by Alaric the Goth, attacking Christian religion, and threatening the empire.
Junjun Faithbook: It seemed like it was one problem after another. However, it was also said that this time, you’ve devoted so much into writing books about your life and about your role as a Bishop.
St Augustine: I did. I have written Of the City of God and my Confessions.
Junjun Faithbook: It is undoubtedly, that your Confessions was one of the most popular book for centuries now, because in there you just laid open the errors of your life and your past life before your conversion so to speak.
St Augustine: Because of grace, I was able to get over the darkness of my past and now I am ready to face God’s eternal light.
Junjun Faithbook: And what have you written in your Retractions?
St Augustine: Well, in there, I just reviewed my writings before. I did some corrections on the mistakes I have made, judging them as they are and not making an excuse for myself.
Junjun Faithbook: That’s a remarkable, unselfish move of yours!
St Augustine: God’s grace made it to happen unto me.
Junjun Faithbook: How amazing really is God’s grace! Praised be to him always. Thank you so much St Augustine for your time with us. And thank you for sharing your life with us. Finally thank you for your life.
Junjun Faithbook: A political turmoil arose in Africa in 430. This event had hastened Augustine on his way to death. During this uprising in 430, which lasted for 14 months, St Augustine was seized with a fever. The strength of his body daily and hourly declined, yet his senses and intellectual faculties continued sound to the last, and he calmly resigned his spirit into the hands of God on 28 August 430, at the age of 76, after spending almost 40 years of it serving God in the ministry.
‘Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, o beauty ever new’.
‘My heart is restless until it rests in you.’
St Augustine, pray for us. Amen.