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Is happiness possible? St. Augustine responds...
St. Augustine traces in his Confessions, a poignant spiritual itinerary of the person to the truth.

"Common father of our Christian civilization"


Author: Alfredo Garland Barron | Source: Center of Catholic Studies CEC



Is happiness possible? St. Augustine responds... 
 
St. Augustine traces in his Confessions, a poignant spiritual itinerary of the person to the truth. 

 
Augustine of Hippo, to whom Saint John Paul II called "Common father of our Christian civilization", came to the world in Tagaste on November 13, 354. 
 
The early life of Augustine is surrounded by a veil of mystery that the holy Bishop himself will show us, to reveal a restless person, in the tireless search for God. He was his best biographer. He wished to give his testimony to those who as himself search the bosom of the Father. Augustine traces in his Confessions, that "diary" of almost immeasurable depth, a moving spiritual itinerary of the person towards the Truth. "I desire to know God and my soul", he will express later in the Soliloquies. 
 
Augustine appears as the tireless seeker of happiness, which can only be found in the truth. To find it, he will not go back to the greatest difficulties, however large and threatening they may appear. "He longs for the truth given happiness. He never conceived happiness as possible away from the truth" wrote the philosopher Etienne Gilson. The target that is plotted is not simple. It's about knowing the truth and shaping your life according to it. Faith is, for the Hiponense, truth for intelligence and life for the heart.
 
Augustine's existence takes place at a decisive historical moment. 
 
It is the days of the last victories of the Imperial Roman power that leads some to vain fantasies of greatness that rests only in the chores and glories that the pagan world offers. Others, like Augustine, do not let themselves be dazzled. They understand that they are witnesses to the inevitable collapse of Imperial Rome. On the ruins of this power, another invincible conqueror was to build the foundations of a "new civilization" that Augustine wanted to represent Christian values. 
 
Augustine has an early connection with Christianity through his mother, Santa Monica, whose moral and spiritual influence was decisive. She insisted on educating him in the catholic faith but, as was customary in those times, does not make him baptize. 
 
The Confessions keep a discreet and respectful silence about his father, Patricio. Proud of the historic imperial past, Patricio resisted abandoning paganism. He encouraged Augustine to study grammar and rhetoric given a career in law, in the forum, and politics. The presence of great classical orators like Cicero was still felt in the ancient world. The oratory and the literature practiced under the Ciceronian model opened to the people with ambition and culture the doors of the jurisprudence, precious ideal in the antiquity. 
 
The youth of this passionate character was turbulent. When a boy he was a lousy loser; he's looking for success at all costs. The darkest period awaits him in the next stage, in the port city of Carthage. Amid his dedication to pleasures, he stumbles upon a work of Cicero called Hortensio. The encounter with this invocation to wisdom will be decisive for his inner hunger. Augustine was desperate; his spirit resected and disillusioned by the pursuit of purely intellectual pleasures and glories.
 
In the Hortensio he finds a small light. The wise Cicero encourages him to achieve happiness through the cultivation of reasoning oriented towards inner wisdom. This experience led the young man of Tagaste to a decisive encounter with the reality of the soul, considered by Cicero "eternal and divine". 
 
Possessions and goods appear as insignificant to the ideal revealed in front of his eyes:
 
"I was left (he describes us in Confessions) with a deep fire in my heart, desiring the immortal quality of wisdom." 
 
When Augustine leaves Carthage he is a determined seeker of God and perfection. However, there was still a demanding way to go. 
 
The spiritual confusion in which he lives inclines him to be seduced by the nickel heresy. 
 
The nickel claimed to possess the key to personal salvation and knowledge of the secret arcane of the universe. They postulated a gnostic dualism, irreducible between the light, equivalent to the holy, and the equally "almighty" darkness, the bad. Augustine takes nine years as nickel and abandons heresy when he considers that some aspects of the heretical mythology are ridiculous. "How can a Christian worship the sun as God or part of God?" he interrogates. 
 
In the year 382, he is established in Rome. This new stage will mean its approach to Neoplatonism. The friendship with Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, and other notable religious will be crucial for his later conversion to Catholicism. Augustin goes to Milan, first driven by curiosity. You wish to hear the great orator, Ambrosius. The pastor's sermons not only cause him admiration for his eloquence but help him to dispel old prejudices contrary to the Old Testament. Being a catechumen he discovers the Christian notion of God, attracting his restless soul. But he still finds too many pitfalls on the way. It's hard to give up the successes of worldly life and rhetorical ambitions. 
 
Augustine still waged an inner battle between the intellectual skepticism that holds him and the ideal of attaining certainty in the Christina faith. The experience of the Hortensio is repeated, stumbling with some books of the Neoplatonic, "On the beauty" of Plotinus and "on the return of the soul" of Porfirio. These readings help him to overcome an inner conflict that had remained unresolved since his days of nickel: the problem of evil and sin. 
 
"Frivolous and vain things kept me in a high degree, old friends of mine. Seek solitude to meditate on their indecision. He finds it under a fig tree and breaks in tears. The tears went ahead from my eyes like two rivers. While his heart sobbed disconsolate and contrite, he heard a voice I do not know if as a boy or a girl, who said singing, repeating many times: Take and read; take it and read it. He suppressed the weeping and interpreted the song as the voice of God inviting him to open the scriptures. 
 
He took the book containing the letters of St. Paul: 
 
I opened it and read in silence the first chapter that fell before my eyes: "Not in binges or drunkenness; not in fornication, nor rivalry, nor envy; but redress yourselves from our Lord Jesus Christ and disregard the flesh to satisfy your lusts "(Rom 13, 13-14). 
 
Darkness and shadows gave way to clarity. 
 

Augustine himself describes this moment with God:
 
"I came into my interior guided by you, and I could do it because you helped me. I went in and saw with the eye of my soul... an immutable light... And I noticed that I was away from you in the region of the dissimilarity” 
 
This experience with characteristics of high mysticism constitutes the key of his spirituality: The religious experience opens the way of the intelligence and allows his ascent to God. 
 
He retreats to the village of Casiciaco, gathered in prayer. 
 
There he practices penance and prepares diligently to receive baptism. He approaches Milan where he receives the catechesis of Saint Ambrose. The night of the 24th to the 25th of April, when the Christian community crowded the Romanesque cathedral "watching" and awaiting the feast of the Resurrection, he receives the baptism from the hands of the holy bishop of Milan. The long pilgrimage to the Church had concluded. 
 
Augustine's temperament is not that of a pure contemplative. His combative intelligence and his hunger to share the truth lead him to preach as a laic. He impresses so much with his passion for God that he is convinced by the Bishop Aurelio of Carthage to remain in that city and to help the old Bishop Valerio. 
 
The election of Augustine as a presbyter was unique as his friend and biographer San Posidio refers to us. Valerio took advantage of the presence of the notable convert to announce the need for an "ideal priest" to assist him. Upon recognition, Augustine was captured and presented to the presiding. The clamor for the order was unanimous. Meanwhile, Augustine (who used to walk away from churches that had no pastor) sobbed abundantly. 
 
When the elder Saint Valerio dies, Augustine takes the reins of the diocese of Hippo. From that moment on, his influence will be immense, transcending the African boundaries. The next half-millennium will belong theologically and culturally to the saint Hiponense as manager of the encounter between the classical culture and the new Christian civilization. 
 
What was a bishop like Augustine supposed to do in those difficult years when the Roman Empire decays and barbarian invasions begin? 
 
To his pastoral work, he had to add preaching, confession, baptisms, anathemas, the care of the poor and the administration of the goods of the clergy. In the absence of the civil authority, the pastor was to act as a judge, enacting sentences and arbitrating disputes with other cities. The doctrinal aspect was not careless. In the case of Augustine, the preparation of treatises of theology, which were widely commented upon, and the polemics with the pelagian heretics, the nickel, and the Donatists, took up much of their efforts. He also maintained a large correspondence with other pastors. He attended synods and negotiated with the barbarian invaders. 
 
Augustine shows himself tirelessly in the pulpit and the chair. 
 
He is fully aware of the responsibility he has as a bishop: to be a master of truth even if he is obliged to sacrifice his life. With the voice and the pen, he proclaims the truth against the mistakes of the heretical sects. The eloquence and love with which he preaches cause such enthusiasm that even the heretics mingled with the Catholics to listen to him.
 
The Bishop of Hippo continues tirelessly with his crusade to restore the unity of the Church and the conversion of the pagans. He uses all the means at his disposal: he orients the Catholics who doubt in front of the slanders of the heretics; he writes catechesis which orders to place in visible places so that the whole world learns of the true doctrine; he composes poems and his worth singing to promote the Catholic cause. An unstoppable writer, he writes deep and extensive books to make known the teachings of the Church. Only to disprove the nickel write five treaties. But the controversy was not enough: he had to evangelize. The monastery founded by Augustine in Hippo became, under his tutelage, the school of future priests and bishops. 
 
In the year 410 Alaric plunders Rome. It was the first act of the drama. This fact leads Augustine to write, in fourteen years, a historical reflection titled: "The City of God." This book rebuts the central objection that pagans made to Christians: the new faith had weakened the old Roman traditions (they affirmed) to such an extent that it was impossible to join forces to defeat the invaders. 
 
The Bishop of Hippo is parted from another perspective. 
 
Rome had already begun its twilight when Christianity made its appearance. Rather the Christian doctrine brought to the moribund society a path of renewal. The "temporal city" hides the traces of sin behind it. Its inhabitants live on their backs to God, centered on the same arrogance that made the fallen angels sin. The state identifies with this "city" to the extent that it is perverted by sin.
 
This was the case of the Roman Empire. He moved away from the high ends of Christian civilization, becoming the image of the city of men. Without pessimism but with resignation, Augustine judges that Rome was so decrepit and corrupted that its close disappearance was inevitable. There is hope for something new: "Have no fear," writes St. Augustine to the old Empire, "that your youth will be renewed like the eagle." 
 
Augustine reaches the sunset witnessing a gathered Church in communion, although besieged by the vandal invaders. The efforts of so many years were crowned, as he narrates, "with concord and peace, restored in the Church and the diocese of Hippo, placed under his pastoral vigilance, and then in other parts of Africa, where he saw the Church grow and multiply." 
 
Drums play a spot. 
 
The lining of Hippo is prepared to withstand the onslaught of the vandals surrounding the city. His dear Bishop is dying. He is 76 years old and still gathers strength to teach and conclude fundamental works such as his "Christian Doctrine" and the monumental "City of God". He encourages his fellow bishops — who have fled from their besieged cities seeking the consolation of Augustine — to return to their flock. He does penance and puts himself in God's hands. 
 
The restless Augustine knew the peaceful repose in the Lord on the 28th of August of the year 430.






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