by Aaron Alford
Today marks the feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo, a unique figure in the Church who is perhaps as famous for being a sinner as he is for being a saint.
He was born in northern Africa in 354 AD to a pagan father (who would convert to Christianity much later in life) and a Christian mother. He received a Christian education, but soon rejected Christianity and began to live a famously reckless life. He fathered a child named Adeodatus, and seemed to seek a philosophy of living that suited a self-centered life. This is not to suggest that his seeking was completely divorced from his great intellect, however, as he continued to dig deeper and search fervently for a philosophy that satisfied both his heart and his intelligence.
It was not until 386, at the age of 33, that his fervent quest for truth and his struggle with the doctrines of Christianity were at last satisfied. Though he had become prepared intellectually through passionate dialogues with great Christian minds of his day, it was through his own reading of the Holy Scriptures that he came to believe that Jesus was the Christ he claimed to be. Soon after, as he stood in a garden in Milan, he experienced something beyond a mere intellectual belief in the person of Christ, and had a mysterious encounter of profound Love and Grace.
Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus, was baptized in 387. Augustine went on to become one of the foremost figures in Christianity since the time of the New Testament. His autobiography, The Confessions, has become one of the most widely read pieces of literature in Christendom, and his various writings are still studied by theologians of every persuasion to this day.
What is perhaps most compelling about Augustine is that he was not merely an astute scholar, both before and after his conversion, but a passionately spiritual romantic. His love poetry to God stands alongside his theological work as some of the most compelling literature of the last 1700 years. In an age where many have rejected Christianity for intellectual reasons, Augustine reminds us to seek hard after Truth, to study and understand its depths, and never to settle for undeveloped answers. Yet he also reminds us to never let our understanding be divorced from a passionately loving heart.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
-St. Augustine, The Confessions