When Augustine accepted priesthood at Hippo in the year 391, Augustine demanded and received approval to live in community. This was to become largely a community of his fellow priests, and of persons preparing to become priests. As part of the concession made to him by the people when Augustine accepted becoming their priest, he established this monastery on the grounds of the church at Hippo; Varerius, the bishop of Hippo, allocated land for this purpose. There Augustine founded his community (monastery) of priests and priestly candidates, which seems to have been the first of this kind in Africa. It was of special significance because it became a training school for men who were then called to become priests. It thus became a link between monasticism and the apostolic work of priests.
When he became an assistant bishop of Hippo in the year 395, Augustine turned his bishop's residence into a place in which the members of his household lived the common life. In his two sermons, De vitâ et moribus clericorum suorum ("On the life and practices of our priests") Augustine sought to dispel the suspicions of the faithful of Hippo against the clergy leading a monastic life with him in his episcopal residence. These sermons disclose that the bishop and his priests observed strict poverty and conformed to the example of the Apostles and early Christians by using their money in common, as stated in the Rule of Augustine for community living. The monastic ideal of Saint Augustine came to full fruition centuries later when numerous religious communities which adopted his Rule sprang up.
The demands of this ministry and the need for Augustine as a bishop to entertain guests and visitors was seen by all to cause disruption to the life of the community. It was agreed that this would not be as impacting if Augustine lived in the house that his elderly predecessor, Valerius, had occupied. This step was thus taken, but continued to combine the exercise of his pastoral duties with the austerities of the religious life. His episcopal residence became a sort of extension of the monastery a few metres away. He lived a communal life there with his clergy, who bound themselves to observe religious poverty; his demanding responsibilities as a bishop and an author much in demand never induced him to abandon his monastic ideal. Until the end of his long life he faithfully remained a member of community. In his Life of Augustine, Possidius described the community life of his liflong friend, Augustine at Hippo: "Augustine in his new dignity was obliged to live in the bishop's house, both on account of hospitality and for the exercise of his episcopal duties."
He continued, "But he still engaged all the priests, deacons and subdeacons that lived with him, to renounce all property, and to engage themselves to embrace the Rule that he established there. Indeed, he would not admit any to priesthood any who would not bind themselves to the same manner of life. Herein he was imitated by several other bishops." Possidius reported that the clothing and furniture permitted by Augustine were modest but decent - not slovenly. No silver was used in his house except spoons. His dishes were of earth, wood or marble. He explained, "Augustine exercised hospitality, but his table was frugal; besides herbs and pulse, some meat was served up for strangers and the sick. Wine was available, but the quantity was regulated, and no guest was ever allowed to exceed it."
"At table he loved rather reading or literary conferences than secular conversation, and, to warn his guests to shun detraction, he had the following verse written upon his table: ‘This board allows no vile detractor place, Whose tongue shall charge the absent with disgrace."
Augustine also founded a community of religious women in Hippo. His only sister was the first "abbess" there.
Hippo community members
Sermon 356 by Augustine contains the names and details about the membership of his priestly community in Hippo at one point during the year 425 or 426. By that time, this clerical community (in Latin, a monasterium clericorum) in Hippo Regius had existed for over thirty years, ever since Augustine had become a priest in Hippo in the year 391.
In Sermon 356, two of the community members were mentioned as still "in training." Their names were Valens, who was a subdeacon, and Patricius, the nephew of Augustine. Patricius also was perhaps a subdeacon, although Augustine does not specifically describe his status. Both of these members were young. Augustine lists four deacons, Faustinus, Severus, the Deacon of Hippo, and Eraclius, his future successor as Bishop of Hippo. To this list of four deacons presumably Lazarus should be added. Lazarus read the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles before Augustine preached his Sermon 356, although Augustine did not mention Lazarus in the sermon that followed.
To the list of five deacons, Augustine adds the names of two priests, Leporius and Barnabas. Both, along with the deacon Eraclius, are described as exercising a fair amount of ecclesiastical ministry with the consent of Augustine. Based upon the above listing, the community thus numbered one bishop, two priests, five deacons, and two subdeacons. To these nine are perhaps to be added the servuli - the slaves that Eraclius brought with him into the monastery. These persons were to be manumitted (declared free) on the very day of the sermon. Augustine indicated that Valens still had to resolve the status of slaves jointly held by himself and his brother, but Augustine gives no indication that Valens had brought them with him to the monastery.
These ten were the ministers of the church of Hippo Regius, their names provided in Sermon 356 - the actual composition of this priestly community, the monasterium clericorum (monadstery of clerics) of Augustine at that point in time. The community existed for all of the almost forty years that Augustine served the Church as a priest and bishop in Hippo. Obviously the membership of the community changed during that lengthy period of time. The names are known of members who went from this community in Hippo to accept the role of bishop in a nearby diocese. These men each then followed the example of Augustine by forming a priestly community in their own houses: Possidius of Calama, Severus of Milevi, Evodius of Uzalis, Profuturus and Fortunatus of Cirta, Urbanus of Sicca Veneria, Pereginus of Thenae.AN1203