The ultimate conversion: St. Augustine of Hippo

"Saints Augustine and Monica," 1854

 “I lost myself among a multiplicity of things ... and I stank in Thine eyes; pleasing myself, and desirous to please in the eyes of men.”

By Kimberly Bruce

One of the world’s best-known sinners turned saint is St. Augustine of Hippo, whose feast we celebrate on Aug. 28. Famously, his mother, St. Monica, prayed for him for 17 years before his conversion, and his is the famous prayer, “Lord, give me chastity and continence, but not yet!”

From the time he was 16 years old, St. Augustine led an immoral life. He had a child out of wedlock, embraced heretical teachings, and was even a thief. He was, in fact, raised in the Catholic faith but never baptized until later in life (a common practice in the fourth century that he later preached against).

Upon his conversion back to the faith in his 30s, St. Augustine admitted in his famous memoir The Confessions, “I lost myself among a multiplicity of things ... and I stank in Thine eyes; pleasing myself, and desirous to please in the eyes of men.”

Rhetorical gifts
Born on Nov. 13, 354 A.D., in the town of Tagaste in North Africa, St. Augustine had one parent who was a saint. But his father, Patricius, was another story. Patricius was a hot-tempered pagan who only converted shortly before his death due to the holy witness of his wife, Monica. The couple had two other children, Navigius and Perpetua, who later became abbess of a religious community for women founded by St. Augustine.

Saint Augustine excelled in rhetoric and taught the subject for nine years in Tagaste and Carthage. He was drawn to all the attractions of city life and prided himself on being first in everything he did. He began an illicit relationship with a woman who then bore him a son, Adeodatus, in 372. 

At one point, his mother, distraught about his lifestyle, was famously consoled by Bishop (and future saint) Ambrose, who declared, “The son of so many tears could not perish.” 

Saint Augustine moved to Rome in 383 and then to Milan where he continued to teach. In Milan, he was influenced by Bishop Ambrose’s preaching, and the Holy Spirit began to work within him. Nevertheless, he persisted in sin, recalling in The Confessions:

The Enemy held my will, and of it he made a chain with which he fettered me fast. Out of a perverse will he created wicked desire or lust, my yielding to lust created habit, and habit unresisted created a kind of necessity, by which, as by links fastened to one another, I was kept close shackled in cruel slavery. I had not the excuse I claimed earlier to have, when I delayed serving Thee because I had not yet certainly discovered Thy truth. Now I knew it, yet I was still fettered.

“Take, read!”
One day, during his 32nd year, everything changed. While despairing of God’s mercy in prayer, St. Augustine suddenly heard a childlike voice, repeating, “Take, read! Take, read!” Realizing this was of divine origin, he turned to the scriptural letters of St. Paul, reading at random until his eyes fell upon the following passage: “… not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:13-14). 

Immediately transformed, scales falling from his eyes like St. Paul, St. Augustine sought out his mother and rejoiced. Shortly thereafter, he was baptized by Bishop Ambrose.

Incidentally, St. Augustine’s son, Adeodatus, passed away at 17. It is thought that his mother possibly entered a convent. 

Bishop of Hippo
Visiting the city of Hippo in 391, St. Augustine was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Valerius. Upon the latter’s death in 395, he was chosen to succeed him as bishop.

An incredible homilist, almost 100 of St. Augustine’s sermons are preserved. Filled with charity, they also burned with truth. He tirelessly worked to expose and expel heretical teachings of his day and was a true shepherd of souls. He assisted at Church councils and wrote many important works, with The Confessions and City of God being his most renowned.

The “Doctor of Grace,” as he is reverently titled, passed away at age 76 on August 28, 430. He was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII.            

Saint Augustine of Hippo, pray for us!


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