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Augustine of Hippo born

This Day in World History

November 13, 354

Augustine of Hippo born

On November 13, 354, in a small town named Tagaste in Roman Numidia (modern Algeria) near the port of Hippo (now Annaba), Augustine—one of the preeminent early Christian thinkers—was born. Though his mother was a devout Christian, he was not baptized as an infant.

As a child and young teen, Augustine proved a ready scholar. While his family owned land, they could not afford further studies. However, a wealthy man from Tagaste paid Augustine’s expenses for more advanced study in Carthage. Three years later, the young man returned to Tagaste and opened his own school; soon after, he moved to Carthage to teach rhetoric. He gained some success, had a son with the young woman he lived with, and became attracted to the dualistic religion of Manichaeism. In 384, he moved to Italy and gained a teaching post in Milan. By this time, he had lost interest in Manichaeism but was in the midst of a period of intense spiritual turmoil. After two years of professional success and this inner tumult, he resigned his position and prepared himself to adopt Christianity. Baptized by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, in 387, he soon suffered the death of his mother and his son. (The son’s mother he seems to have cast aside.) Back in Africa, Augustine became a priest in 391 and was named bishop of Hippo just five years later.

For the next 35 years, he became one of the leading thinkers of the Church. His Confessions, written around 400, recounts his own spiritual journey and celebrates God’s glory. He played significant roles breaking the Donatist and Pelagian heresies, thereby helping shape orthodox Roman Catholic beliefs. His masterwork, The City of God—written in the wake of the sack of Rome by Visigoths led by Alaric—is an extensive argument against paganism and offers a vision of the true destiny of the world as the unfolding of God’s will. Ironically, he died not long before invading Vandals captured Hippo and Carthage, putting his homeland into non-Roman—and non-orthodox Christian—hands.

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