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St. Augustine © WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Saint Augustine, August 28

Insatiable Thirst for Truth

“Bishop of Hippo, Father and Doctor of the Church, amid other endeavors, he pursued truth tirelessly, until he came upon it, incarnated in Christ. His exceptional legacy is unsurpassable.”

He was always led by an insatiable thirst for truth, and he didn’t admit just any truth. He is one of the great Fathers of the Church and has left such a mark in her with his life and huge work, that he continues to be unequaled. He is a reference for the East and West in the intersection of the same path.

He was born in Tagaste on November 13, 354. He had a brother and a sister. Educated in the faith by his holy mother Monica, he was not converted until he was 32. Before his 17th birthday, he started out on a dangerous path, which marked several decades of his life. He engendered a son in an irregular relationship; he defended the Manichean heresies and was engulfed in the glories of this world. His mother never gave up and, in the end, given her constant prayers, she obtained for him the grace of sanctity. Detected in Augustine’s emblematic and profound Confessions is the greatness of his soul and purity of his heart, as well as the breadth of his conversion, which gave him an extraordinary sensibility to reflect on his past, confronting it with his new vision of life and of the world, which gave him faith. He saw the mistake of certain punishments and pedagogical tactics received in his formative years, which then turned his life bleak because, at least in his case, they had the opposite effect of the one pursued.

When he left for Carthage in 370, he was already an expert in Latin. In his new location, his ambition and vanity stimulated increasingly his eagerness for study, and he was outstanding in rhetoric and in other disciplines. He became passionate about Cicero’s Hortensius, which began to open a path of light in his search for truth. It was also a time when he gave in to other passions of his heart. While reading and studying boldly, forming himself in Philosophy, the pernicious company he kept was leading him to the abyss. One of his preoccupations was the known “problem of evil,” and between the Manichean influence and the darkness of his bad living, he was unable to find the optimum answer to this question. Nevertheless, it suited him to continue in this erroneous current for different reasons, related in part to his professional future, but also permitting him to justify the irregular life he led, following the rules of pleasure.

After his father’s death, he fell ill and, afraid of following in his steps, he was determined to become a Catholic, being duly instructed. After recovering his health, he associated himself with the Manicheans and did not change his ways. For nine years he ran the School of Grammar and Rhetoric that he opened in Tagaste; then he returned to Carthage. He established himself temporarily in Rome in 383, having abandoned Manicheanism, which by then didn’t satisfy his aspirations. Then he went to Milan and held the Chair of Rhetoric, which he had obtained. It was the place Providence chose to answer his mother’s insistent prayers for his conversion. Augustine was faithful to the woman with whom he lived until the year 385. Being unwilling to marry him, before returning to Africa, she left in his care their son, Adeodato, born in 372.

When Augustine met Saint Ambrose, he experienced profound admiration for the Bishop’s wisdom and rigor. Little by little he went further into the mystery of God’s love. Despite all, the virtue of chastity still eluded him, and he had yet to take the step to his final conversion. He tried to postpone it, saying: ”I’ll do so soon, little by little, give me more time.” When learning about the life of Saint Anthony he saw the need to delay no longer his answer to Christ. “What are we doing?” — he said to his esteemed Alypius. “The ignorant are snatching the Kingdom of Heaven and we, with all our knowledge, stay cowardly behind, writhing in sin. We are ashamed to follow the way on which the ignorant have preceded us when, on the contrary, we should be ashamed not to advance on it.”

He reread the New Testament from another point of view, particularly the Pauline Letters, and in painful and intense interior debate, he implored for the grace of conversion and forgiveness. One day he heard the voice of a child who, from a nearby house, repeated: “take and read, take and read.” Interpreting it as having to take recourse to the Gospel, he opened it and read the passage of Romans 13:13-14.. The darkness dissipated immediately and he finally came to the truth he so pursued — he understood it was Christ. Then, full of love, he said to that God he had so longed for: Late, too late have I loved You [. .  ] You called me, shouting, and overcame my deafness.” Alypius, Augustine and his son, Adeodatus, who died later, were baptized in 387.

After his mother Monica’s death, which was a hard blow for him, Augustine spent three years in Africa in intense prayer, fasting, and penance, something he continued to do until the end of his days. He was ordained priest in 391 and appointed Bishop of Hippo in 395. He founded a monastery for men and a Convent for women. He preached and wrote, bravely defending the Catholic faith. Humble and detached, he recognized with simplicity that his mission wasn’t easy. “Continually to preach, argue, reprimand, edify, to be at everyone’s disposition, is a great burden and weight, an enormous toil.” He was the lash of heretics and gave immense glory to the Church in his 34 years as Prelate. He left an exceptional and unsurpassable legacy with his works, such as “The City of God” and the “Retractions,” among others. Shortly before dying, war broke out in North Africa, and he went through difficult moments. Having come to the end, he wrote: “One who loves Christ cannot be afraid to meet Him.” He died on August 28, 430. Boniface XIII proclaimed him Doctor of the Church on September 20, 1295.

About Isabel Orellana Vilches

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