St Augustine of Hippo, bishop, doctor of the Church (Memorial – August 28)

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St Augustine of Hippo, bishop, doctor of the Church (Memorial – August 28)

By Michael McKenna, Director of the Office of Liturgy

A man of considerable sinful experience, in his thirteen volume spiritual autobiography Confessions, St Augustine reveals that in his youth he and a group of his friends stole pears from a neighbouring property not for want of juicy sweet pears to eat but rather for the thrill of the wrongdoing itself. He reveals with sinful remorse that “doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden… gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself”.

Add to this his long-term affair with a woman whom he never married, a child fathered out of wedlock (his son, Adeodatus), and an almost complete abandonment of the Christian Faith and you may be left scratching your head as to his place among the Saints.

Augustine’s conversion comes on a summers day in 386AD where events bring him to a moment, where the voice of a child singing a song: “Tolle, lege” (Take up and read) divinely inspires him to immediately seek out and read the Scriptures. Locating a bible, he randomly selects the first passage he encounters: Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Roman 13: 13-14) Augustine says he was cut to the heart and his conversion began in earnest.

Augustine would go on to produce in his lifetime a vast library of major theological, philosophical, and spiritual works of inestimable theological value to the Church. Regarded as one of the most important Latin Church Fathers for his writings in the Patristic Period, Augustine was decreed Doctor of the Church in 1298. His perhaps most celebrated work is De Civitate Dei (On the City of God) which, inspired by the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410AD, examines the relationship between Christianity and secular society.

Augustine’s witness encourages us to engage our past sinfulness to ignite within us a divine restlessness that urges us towards Christ. He cautions that, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”

On the occasion of his feast day let us pray as he did… “O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams.”