Valerius was the predecessor of Augustine as Bishop of Hippo. He saw Augustine as his potential successor probably from the moment he first met him. He hurried the appointment of Augustine as a bishop for the Church in Hippo for fear that he might be called to fill a vacancy elsewhere. This fear of Valerius had some foundation, because by now the high reputation of Augustine was known around Roman North Africa. And so by careful scheming Valerius obtained privately the consent of Saint Aurelius, who was Archbishop of Carthage and the Primate of North Africa, to make Augustine his Coadjutor ("helper") Bishop.
For this step Valerius also won the approval of the local Catholic people, and the agreement of the adjacent bishops in his province of Numidia. Having a coadjutor (assistant) bishop was actually a violation of the eighth canon of the Council of Nicea, which in its last clause forbade "two bishops in one city." Even so Valerius, aged and dying, persuaded his fellow bishops to grant his request.
Augustine himself had strenuously opposed becoming a bishop, as he correctly sensed that it would draw him away even further from his desire to live in community and have time for study of the Gospel. But he finally consented in the year 395. A last-minute difficulty arose when Megalius of Caloama, the senior bishop and primate of Numidia in which Hippo was located, announced that he could not make Augustine a bishop. Megalius had received information that Augustine had given a woman a love potion, and had seduced her. It turned out that the love potion was actually a eulogian, a blessed object. To his credit, Megalius apologised to Augustine for his mistake and then went ahead with the ceremony of ordination.
For Augustine, being a bishop was a charge to be accepted as manifestation of his love for Christ. This love was to be humble (because he realised that the basis of salvation was not in his being a bishop but in his being a Christian), disinterested (because he must feed Christ's flock as Christ's, and not as his own, and because he must promote God's glory and lordship, and not his own), and generous (because it must be stronger than death).
Augustine was made a bishop in December 395 at the hands of Megalius, Primate of Numidia, at the age of forty-two years.The aged and delighted Valerius increasingly handed to Augustine more and more of his responsibilities at Hippo. As a bishop in Hippo, a town in which he had not previously lived, Augustine began with little influence in public life, and the schismatic leaders of the Donatists were well established and influential there. It is known that, at first, he was kept waiting when he visited the governor. Eventually, it was in his role as a magistrate and arbiter of civil disputes that he first won people over.
Although a priest and bishop, he knew how to combine the practices of the religious life with the many and varied duties of his office. His episcopal house in Hippo was for himself and some of his clergy a monastery. He was fond of quoting Isaiah: "Do not put your hopes in a human being." He never lost sight of the fact that neither he nor any other person has ever been worthy of the grace of God. He avoided the prestige which many of his brother bishops accepted as their due. In fact, he was more weighed down by his sense of accountability than by any gifts and possessions.
On an anniversary of his episcopal ordination, he once preached, "I am fearful of what I am for you, but I draw strength from what I am with you. For you I am a bishop, and with you I am a Christian. The former designates an office received, the latter the foundation of salvation." At another anniversary of his episcopal ordination, he preached, "Help me by your prayers and your obedience to carry out these many serious and varied duties. Then I shall have the joy of not so much ruling you as of being useful to you." (Sermon 350, 1)
In the office of bishop, he placed importance on being included in the prayers of his people. In Letter 48, 1, he wrote, "We beg you to remember us in your prayers, for we believe that you pray very alertly and attentively, whereas our own prayers are weighted down and weakened by the darkness that secular involvement brings with it. We are beset by so many problems that we can hardly breathe. And yet we are sure that if we persevere in the ministry in which God has designed to place us while promising his rewards, He in whose sight the groans of prisoners rise up will setr us free of every care through the help of your prayers."
He did not hesitate to reveal that the office of bishop was certainly not the first choice he would have made for a lifestyle. In Sermon 339, he said, "No one would like more than I the steady, tranquil repose of contemplation. Nothing could be better, nothing sweeter, than the study of the divine treasure far away from the noise of the world. Such study is sweet and good. On the other hand, preaching, reprimanding, correcting, building up and attending to the needs of others is a great burden, a great responsibility, and a great weariness. Who would not wish to avoid such a burden? But the Gospel affrights me [in Latin: terret me evangelium]." AN1205