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Augustine of Hippo

The earliest portrait of Saint Augustine in a 6th century fresco, Lateran, Rome.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Augustine was of Berber descent and was born in 354 in Thagaste (present-day Souk Ahras, Algeria), a provincial Roman city in North Africa. At the age of 11, Augustine was sent to school. At age seventeen he went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. His revered mother, Monica, was a Berber and a devout Catholic, and his father, Patricius, a pagan. Although raised as a Catholic, Augustine left the Church to follow the controversial Manichaean religion, much to the despair of his mother. As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time and, in Carthage, he developed a relationship with a young woman who would be his concubine for over fifteen years. During this period he had a son, with the young woman. His education and early career was in philosophy and rhetoric. Disturbed by the immature behavior of the students in Carthage, in 383 he moved to Rome, where he believed the best and brightest rhetoricians practiced. However, Augustine was disappointed with the Roman schools. Once the time came for his students to pay their fees they simply fled. Manichaean friends introduced him to the prefect of the City of Rome, Symmachus, who had been asked to provide a professor of rhetoric for the imperial court at Milan.

In the summer of 386, after having read an account of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert which greatly inspired him, Augustine underwent a profound personal crisis and decided to convert to Christianity, abandon his career in rhetoric, quit his teaching position in Milan, give up any ideas of marriage, and devote himself entirely to serving God and the practices of priesthood, which included celibacy. He would detail his spiritual journey in his famous Confessions, which became a classic of both Christian theology and literature. Ambrose baptized Augustine, on Easter Vigil in 387 in Milan, and soon thereafter in 388 he returned to Africa.

Augustine died on August 28, 430, at the age of 75, during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals. He is said to have encouraged its citizens to resist the attacks, primarily on the grounds that the Vandals adhered to the Arian heresy. It is also said that he died just as the Vandals were tearing down the city walls of Hippo.

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