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Picture of Saint Augustine, author of Confessions


 
August 28, 429
Saint Augustine   (354 - 430)
 
St. Augustine's Confessions
 
by Steve King

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On this day in 430, Saint Augustine died at the age of seventy-five. He had been Bishop of Hippo (now Annaba, Algeria) for thirty-four years, during which time he had become the patriarch of Christian Africa and one of the most influential leaders of the Latin Church. Much of Augustine's extensive writing has survived, The City of God and the Confessions being the most widely known. One of the first major contributions to the genre, the Confessions turns upon the 'born again' moment at the end of Book Eight, a passage during which a child helps Augustine give up his promising career as a pagan scholar-politician in Italy, and his weeping over his weakness for earthly delights:
    I flung myself down under a fig tree-how I know not-and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to thee. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: "And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities."

    ... I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which -- coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, "Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it." [Tolle, lege.] Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon....

    So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof."
Augustine died while Hippo was under siege by the Vandal hordes that had swept down from Spain; they would eventually sack the city and undo much of the missionary work he had fostered in Africa. A millennium afterwards, the Spanish would settle Florida, with first governor Don Pedro Menendez arriving off the coast on this day in 1565. With his trumpets sounding and his missionaries in tow, he would enter the Timucuan Indian village of Seloy and rename it St. Augustine, making it the first permanent European settlement in the New World.

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Related authors:  Dante Alighieri, Peter Abelard, Saint Augustine
 
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