St. Augustine Bishop of Hippo

"Doctor of the Church"

 

“Our hearts were made for You,
O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.”

- St. Augustine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SAINT AUGUSTINE
BISHOP OF HIPPO AND
 "DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH”

 

Our Patron Saint is accepted by most scholars to be the most important figure in the ancient
Western church. After a rather unremarkable childhood, marred only by a case of stealing pears,
Augustine drifted through several philosophical systems before converting to Christianity at the
age of thirty-one. At the age of nineteen, Augustine read Cicero's Hortensius, an experience that led him into the fascination with philosophical questions and methods that would remain with
him throughout his life. After a few years as a Manichean (a believer in a syncretistic religious dualism originating in Persia in the third century and teaching the release of the spirit from matter through asceticism), he became attracted to the more skeptical positions of the Academic philosophers.


Although tempted in the direction of Christianity upon his arrival at Milan in 383, he turned first to
Neo-Platonism. During this time, Augustine fathered a child by a mistress. This period of
exploration, including its youthful excesses is recorded in Augustine's most widely read work, the
Confessions. During his youth, Augustine had studied rhetoric (speaking or writing effectively) at Carthage, a discipline that he used to gain employment, teaching in Carthage and then in Rome and Milan, where he met Ambrose who is credited with effecting his conversion and who baptized him in 387.


Returning to homeland soon after his conversion, he was ordained a priest in 391, taking the position as Bishop of Hippo in 396, a position which he held until his death. Saint Augustine stands as a powerful advocate for established doctrine and of the episcopacy (church government) as the sole means for the dispensing of saving grace. In the light of later scholarship, Saint Augustine was
seen to serve as a bridge between the ancient and medieval worlds.


A review of his life and work shows him as an active mind engaging the practical concerns of the
churches he served. More specifically, Saint Augustine is the Doctor of Grace. He was a genius,
although a genius to God means nothing. However, a holy genius means everything to God's mystical body. Grace enabled him to become a great spiritual lover and teacher.
His conversion reveals God's bountiful grace. One of his famous sayings is: "Lord, give me what you
ask of me and ask me what you will."

Those addicted to sin, fleeing from the church or decent principles or associated with immoral people, have a marvelous example to learn from in this great sinner turned saint. He discovered through prayer, change of heart and the holy influence of St. Ambrose and others, to capture
authentic a life of love and service toward others instead of a selfish love of life for himself.
Not only was Augustine converted but he, in turn, became a source of grace for many including future doctors of the church including St. Teresa of Avila.

For example, she was moved after reading his famous book, the Confessions. It was a signal
for her to change her own patterns, minor as they were. (Is anything minor or insignificant which prevents us from being united with God?) Teresa understood how God touched Augustine's heart and soul with divine grace. This helped him grow from sinner to saint over the years. Teresa realized that no matter how good or holy we are, we are all sinners learning to become saints our
entire life. We are never finished until God decides. We must start anew daily.

All the doctors and the greatest of the prophets, St. John the Baptist, insisted that we must decrease and Christ must increase. Grace, virtue and daily holiness must increase in us. All are directly linked to perseverance, change of heart and sorrow for not doing enough for God
as well as sorrow for past wrongs. Acknowledging our sinfulness, examining our consciences and
confessing our failures are the sure paths that leads to new life, peace and joy. Augustine and all the doctors reiterate this theme and encourage us to take that course of action. It requires us to be continually humble, sincere and to pray daily to reach sainthood.


Augustine became a Christian at thirty-three, a priest at thirty-six and a bishop at forty-one. Oh! The power of praying, reading scripture, and listening to God's words from inspiring preaching. All are vital for spiritual growth and development. These spiritual efforts and activities steadily transformed his body and soul.

Many will remember his famous line as he cried out: "Late have I love Thee, Oh Beauty, ever ancient and ever new." We cannot forget the memorable words: "Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in You."


He is called the Doctor of Grace because of his miraculous transformation out of sin to the
service of God's creatures. He served the church in Africa for many years as bishop with genuine love. His mother, St. Monica, never stopped praying for him; a great model. Once spiritual love was incorporated into Augustine's authentic life style and daily habits, he said: "Love and do what you will." Then and only then, this holy bishop really knew the difference between a love for life and
a life for love.

Augustine's holy love for God's poured itself out into pure love for God's creatures. He quoted Scriptures by saying of others "you are gods". He gives us the perfect prescription by showing us how to love God and creatures unitively. He is also called the Doctor's Doctor or
Doctor of Doctors. When we are touched by grace, as the "Doctor of Grace", we'll know, as the Bishop of Hippo came to know, God's love in all of its infinite and rich dimensions.