Today the Church remembers St Augustine of Hippo – not to be confused with the later Augustine who was sent to England in the sixth century to convert the heathens here!
Augustine of Hippo was born in what is now Algeria in the middle of the fourth century – he was brought up as a Christian but was not baptised. When he was sixteen, he was sent to Carthage to finish his education but he was soon living with a young woman, to whom he was devoted for fourteen years; they had a son together. As with many of the most notable Christian theologians, Hippo was not a comfortable convert to religious life and spent a long time agonizing about the merits of the secular life, honours, wealth, marriage and creature comforts on the one hand and the call to a life dedicated wholly and directly to God on the other. It is said that his decision was made whilst sitting in a garden reading St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans chapter 13 verses 12-14. So, he decided to do as Paul suggested and
‘lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light’
He returned to Hippo and founded a kind of monastic community. Much against his wishes, he was ordained priest and served for thirty-four years as Bishop of Hippo, where he was noted for his fairness and great pastoral authority. He wrote extensively and two of his works, the ‘Confessions’ and the ‘City of God’ are still widely read – he is considered to be one of the greatest of the early Church Fathers.
I am always fascinated by the far-reaching influence of these early Christian philosophers and thinkers, and the effect they have on our lives today. One of the most beautiful quotations from the First Book of the Confessions is well known to us all, I think,
‘Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it repose in Thee’
Like many others through the centuries, Augustine of Hippo was not an easy convert. He struggled, as many of us have struggled, to answer what he, and we, believed to be the call of God – but he realised that true peace would only be found in giving in gracefully! His ‘Confessions’ contain so many wonderful thoughts and I offer the following from the Tenth Book as a prayer for the week
‘Let me know Thee, O Lord, who knowest me; let me know Thee as I am known’