Discovery of

the Precious

Saint Augustine

Around 1,600 years ago, there lived one of the most influential figures in the whole of church history: Bishop Augustine of Hippo Regius. A philosopher and theologian of the period of late antiquity, he reconciled the ideas of Greek philosophy with Christianity in his own unique way. His many theological works are considered pioneering, and his Rule guides the spiritual life of many religious orders to this day.

The Life of St Augustine

Augustine was born in the year 354 in Thagaste (in present-day Algeria), the son of a pagan Roman official and a devout, strict Christian woman. His mother, Monica, probably instructed him in the Christian faith; however, according to the custom of the time, baptism was supposed to take place at a more mature age. His parents set great store by providing their son with a good education that would enable him to pursue a high-level career path. Augustine studied in Carthage before his career took him to Milan.

Spiritually, he had turned to Manicheanism by this time. The core of this teaching, which originated from Persia, was the dualistic splitting of all being (light/dark, good/bad). According to Manicheanism, the task of humanity was to liberate itself from darkness by practicing purity and a particular kind of asceticism, in order to participate in salvation. The ambitious Augustine found this teaching both fascinating and challenging, while holding the New Testament in contempt due to its simplicity of language. But then he had a conversion experience and, at the Easter vigil of 387, he was baptised together with his illegitimate son Adeodatus.

Fate then brought Augustine to Hippo, where he was ordained a priest by popular demand (and against his will) and finally, a few years later, was made Bishop. He and his priests founded a monastery, where he himself lived with the community in brotherly love and the sharing of goods, following the example of the first Christians in Jerusalem. This is where he wrote his Rule for monastic life, which has been passed down to us.

His final years were marked by poverty and distress. At the time of his death, the Vandals already occupied his seat of Hippo. Augustine died of a high fever on 23 August 430. Later, his remains were transferred to Pavia in northern Italy.

St Augustine’s Works

St Augustine’s literary output was extensive, comprising 113 books of the most diverse content. His most significant work from a theological perspective comes from his ‘apologies’, in which he tries to defend Catholic teaching against the attacks of heretics. Augustine is able to sum up the core ideas of Christianity in brilliant rhetorical formulations; for example, his De civitate Dei (‘On the City of God’) emerged as a reckoning with Roman polytheism. Another significant work deals with the Trinity (De Trinitate). Here, Augustine succeeds in entrenching the doctrine of the Trinity, which was just developing at that time, and directing it along a clear path. His most famous book is probably his autobiography, the Confessiones. At the centre of this book is Augustine’s theological concern to make God’s work and his all-surpassing grace visible using his own life as an example.

The Rule

The Rule of St Augustine is a timeless work with an extensive history of reception in Christian religious life. At the basis of it is an attitude that is still crucial to the life of religious communities today:

People live the gospel in the right way when they increasingly recognise and accept God and their fellow human beings as part of themselves: as the You in the I. Monastic life should support them to reach this insight.

You can find the Rule (in German) on the homepage of Herzogenburg Abbey:

‘The main purpose for you having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart.’

(from the Rule of St Augustine)

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