Named after two Roman Emperors, Aurelius Augustinus (Augustine) was born at Tagaste in North Africa on Sunday, 13 November 354.
It was then part of the Roman colony of Numidia. Today the area is part of an Islamic nation, Algeria, and Tagaste is now named Souk-Ahras.
His father was a pagan, of Roman origin. He was baptised shortly before his death in 370, and died in 371 when Augustine was aged seventeen. His mother, Monica, was a dedicated Christian.
Monica was of the local Berber stock (Egyptian in appearance). He had a sister and at least one brother, Navigius. Augustine was not baptised in infancy. At school, he showed intelligence.
At home he spoke a Punic dialect; he was introduced to Latin, and books in Latin fascinated him. He decided that he wanted to become a public speaker. In adolescence he liked to brag, to tease, and to be destructive.
At the age of seventeen, he fell in love with a woman. He lived with her and they had a son. But Augustine was not at peace with himself. He felt restless - he lacked something.
He searched everywhere for the answer. He worked as a school teacher. In Carthage he joined the Manichean religious sect, but he did not found the deep answers he was seeking. He went back to Thagaste, his home town.
From there went back to Carthage, and then to Italy by lying to his mother. First he went to Rome, and then in 383 to Milan. Monica worried about her son.
She prayed continually for Augustine's conversion. She wanted him to find peace with God. She came across from Africa to seek him out. She coaxed him to separate from his long-time partner who was the mother of Adeodatus, their son.
In Milan, he heard the sermons of the holy bishop, Ambrose. At first he listened simply out of curiosity. Soon Augustine sensed that he needed to change his life if he wanted peace of mind and the truth.
But he found it difficult to change. He kept putting it off. He kept saying, "Maybe tomorrow, tomorrow." "Make me chaste, Lord, but not yet."
One day in September 386 he finally made the decision. He was sitting in a garden with his friend, Alypius. He heard a child's sing-song voice saying over and over, "Take and read, take and read." (In Latin, Tolle lege, tolle lege.)
He read Romans 13:13 in the New Testament. As he later described it, "The scales fell off my eyes!" He asked himself, "Why not now? Why not in this very hour end my sins?"
With his son Adeodatus and his friend Alypius, Augustine began preparation for baptism. And so at Easter time in Milan the year 387 Augustine joined the Catholic Church at the age of 33 years.
He gave up his teaching position in Milan and decided to move back to North Africa. While he and Monica awaited a ship at Ostia near Rome, they prayed wonderfully together.
Monica told him that her life's work was now done. She said that she was ready for death. She caught a sudden fever and died at Ostia in his arms.
A year later he went back to his family's old house in North Africa. He wanted to live a quiet life of study and religious reading. His friends gathered around him, and they formed a community. His son was a member of this community until his sudden death.
The community members prayed, discussed and sought wisdom. Here Augustine produced his first important writings. Augustine wanted to stay there for the rest of his life, But people knew his brilliance and wanted his talents used publicly.
At the age of thirty-six in 391, only three years after his conversion, Augustine was pressed by the people of Hippo to become their priest. Because he did not want to leave community living, he formed a community of priests there.
Five years later in 396 he was pressed into becoming a bishop at Hippo, a coastal city, today near the border of Algeria with Tunisia. As a bishop he soon was famous for his preaching.
Many of his sermons were written down by scribes, and still exist today. Because of his brilliance, he was also asked to write about the Christian religion. Sometimes he was dictating paragraphs for two different books to two different scribes in the one writing session.
His most famous book is "Confessions" (written about the year 400). It begins by telling of his own journey of conversion. He spent thirty years on an important book, "City of God". As a writer, he was prolific and persuasive, and a brilliant stylist. He wrote about 113 books during his life.
Over 6,000,000 words that he wrote still exist today. In 1,600 years not all of his works have been translated into English. He became a Christian teacher for the entire Western world. His writings also greatly influenced Western culture and education.
As bishop, he still lived in community as much as possible. But now it was a community with his priests. Many of them got invited elsewhere to be bishops. From his experience, he wrote a Rule for communities.
It is still used by the Augustinians and by many other Christian groups today. Love now became the goal of his life. He unified all existence, all feelings, all knowledge and all friendship under the topic of love. "Love God, and then do what you want!" he said.
After thirty years as a bishop, he appointed a successor, Eraclitus. Aged 70 years, he still continued writing. At the age of 76 years, he died on 28th August 430 in Hippo while it was under siege by barbarians. His writings were safely moved to Europe.
Communities based on his Rule were founded there. His spirit lived on within his followers. Augustinians (Agostiniani) serve today in Hippo (now Annaba). He has been called the greatest mind in the post-Apostolic Church.
In the Middle Ages Saint Thomas Aquinas organised Christian theology, heavily based on Saint Paul (whom he called "the Apostle") and Saint Augustine (whom he called "il dottore.")
Except for the Bible, no other writer was mentioned as often as was Augustine in the footnotes of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. AN1306