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The Travels of St Augustine of Hippo

Updated: Nov 15, 2023


St Augustine was born in Tagaste (in present-day Souk Ahras, northwestern Algeria) on 13th November, 354. His father, Patricius, a modest municipal official, sacrificed all he could so that his son could study. So much so, in fact, that the 12-year-old Augustine left Tagaste to study literature and oratory in the neighbouring town of Madaura, and where his love for words began to take shape. It was also there, during his first student journey, that he got a taste for gambling and a love of frivolous spectacles. After two years, having completed his studies, he returned to Tagaste, only to leave again a year later (in 370) for Carthage, the second Rome. It was there that the personality of the future saint - sensitive and gregarious in equal measure - would fully embrace the dynamic, exciting life offered by this great city, and be irresistibly drawn to luxury and leisure. All around, the African metropolis buzzed with hedonism, theatrical performances and other extravaganzas. Time spent in Carthage, in fact, irrevocably marked the life of Augustine, not only for the birth of his son Adeodatus, just a year or two after his arrival, but also for his attachment to the Manicheans, one stage of his restless search for truth. In 373 he came home to Tagaste, with a trunk full of books - and doubts.

He went back to Carthage after just a brief period in Tagaste, at which time he began to break with the Manichaeans, loosening himself to head for Rome, with the idea of establishing himself as a master in the art of rhetoric and making his fortune. But Augustine did not linger in the eternal city, deciding instead to move to Milan where he met Ambrose, whose sermons instantly aroused in the young man a clear fascination, in both his mind and his heart. Meanwhile, despite the tearful pleadings of his mother Monica, Augustine’s moral, spiritual and intellectual struggle remained in a constant state of flux. Nevertheless, after years of struggle and resistance, aged thirty-two, Augustine finally surrendered in September 386, embracing the Faith of the Catholic Church, from which he had strayed in search of the truth and to which he now returned after recognising that She alone is the custodian of that truth and only She is capable of transmitting it. It was at this time when he definitively cut all remaining ties with the Manichaeans, and he headed to the catechumenate, and prepared himself for baptism.


That same year, he moved to a country house in Casiciaco, where, with a group of friends, he decided to establish a community away from the bustle of the city, sharing bread, discourse, prayer and work. Just one year later, at the Easter Vigil of 387, Augustine was baptised by Ambrose, along with his son Adeodatus.


Later that summer, Augustine and his group set out to return to Africa, but on arriving at Ostia to board ship, they discovered that the port was blockaded as a result of civil unrest across the Empire and they were prevented from leaving at that time. Monica was to die in Ostia in August 387. And, on finally arriving in Tagaste, Augustine was to next be faced with the death of his son Adeodatus. He adapted his house into a sort of pseudo-monastery, where he attempted to develop a model of common life with his remaining companions, and where they put into practice the words of the Gospel and the works of the apostles.


In 391, Augustine travelled to Hippo to meet with a public official, and there, by popular choice, he remained in the service of Bishop Valerius, who would ordain him priest and appoint him preacher. After four years there in the service of the bishop and the faithful, in 395, he was consecrated coadjutor bishop of Valerius, inheriting the see of Hippo upon Valerius’ death. There he lived as a good shepherd, preaching tirelessly, and writing when he could, until his death from fever in 430, after a ministry wholly dedicated to God and to the Church; and there, always at the side of his flock, perhaps from time to time looking back on his adventures, travels and tireless searching, leading him to realise that "men travel to admire the heights of the mountains and the huge waves of the sea, and the broad currents of the rivers, and the immensity of the ocean, and the turning of the stars, and they forget themselves." (Conf. 10, 8, 15)


In contrast to a number of other saints whose missionary journeys could easily outshine the best of today’s commercial travel guides, Augustine rarely travelled far once he had met Jesus Christ. Perhaps it was the desire to squeeze the most out of that ever ancient and ever new beauty that he was so slow to love, that beauty that he sought so much on the outside, throwing himself upon the beautiful things created by Him, that made him choose to focus on that once he had recognised that it was inside him and that he had spent so many years of his life looking for it where he could not find it. Perhaps those years were not fruitless, but were instead a preparation to turn radically to God, having experienced that the great cities of the Empire with their perpetual bustle, nor Christ-less friends, nor status, nor the greatest books had quenched the infinite thirst that choked his heart. Surely this is why once he found the treasure of which the Gospel speaks, he sold all his possessions to buy that field (cf. Mt 13:44-46) and dedicated his life to that Love he had been seeking for so long, without any need to travel the world hoping to find something better. St Augustine chose the good part that would never be taken away from him and gave his life to God and to his flock, remaining in Hippo for the last thirty-nine years of his life, from his priestly ordination and later his episcopal ordination, until the year 430 when he took the fever that would send him to his heavenly homeland and the encounter with the Beloved.


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