Saint Augustine of Hippo, The Phoenician Punic
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Saint Augustine of Hippo was an icon of the Christian faith and came from a Phoenician Punic stock. He called the Punic language "our own tongue".

Biographical information

Saint Augustine of Hippo was born at Tagaste on 13 November, 354. Tagaste, near ancient Hippo-Regius, was at that time a small free city of proconsular Numidia. Hippo-Regius and the surrounding area were Tyrian Phoenician colonies on the west coast of the bay. It was gaven the name Hipponensis Sinus; the surname Regius was bestowed on it as one of the places where the Numidian kings resided. Later it became a Roman colonia and prospered until A.D. 430, when it was taken by the Vandals.

Hippo had recently been converted from Donatism. Although eminently respectable, his family was not rich, and his father, Patricius, one of the curiales of the city, was still a pagan. However, the admirable virtues that made Monica (Saint Monica) the ideal of Christian mothers at length brought her husband the grace of baptism and of a holy death, about the year 371. Although his mother was a devout Christian, he was not baptized in infancy.

Augustine received a Christian education. His mother had him signed with the cross and enrolled among the catechumens. Once, when very ill, he asked for baptism, but, all danger being soon passed, he deferred receiving the sacrament, thus yielding to a deplorable custom of the times. His association with "men of prayer" left three great ideas deeply engraven upon his soul: a Divine Providence, the future life with terrible sanctions, and, above all, Christ the Saviour. "From my tenderest infancy, I had in a manner sucked with my mother's milk that name of my Saviour, Thy Son; I kept it in the recesses of my heart; and all that presented itself to me without that Divine Name, though it might be elegant, well written, and even replete with truth, did not altogether carry me away" (Confessions, I, iv). In his 'Confessions' Augustine wrote seven chapters about an incident in his early life--stealing pears from a neighbor's tree.

But a great intellectual and moral crisis stifled for a time all these Christian sentiments. The heart was the first point of attack. Patricius, proud of his son's success in the schools of Tagaste and Madaura determined to send him to Carthage to prepare for a forensic career. But, unfortunately, it required several months to collect the necessary means, and Augustine had to spend his sixteenth year at Tagaste in an idleness which was fatal to his virtue; he gave himself up to pleasure with all the vehemence of an ardent nature. This sin troubled him for the rest of his life. He also confessed to immoral behavior at the University of Carthage, where he was sent at the age of 16. Augustine remained in Carthage, teaching rhetoric, until he was 29. At first he prayed, but without the sincere desire of being heard, and when he reached Carthage, towards the end of the year 370, every circumstance tended to draw him from his true course: the many seductions of the great city that was sill half pagan, the licentiousness of other students, the theatres, the intoxication of his literary success, and a proud desire always to be first, even in evil. Before long he was obliged to confess to Monica that he had formed a sinful liaison with the person who bore him a son (372), "the son of his sin" — an entanglement from which he only delivered himself at Milan after fifteen years of its thralldom.

Then he went to Rome, taking with him his mistress and his son, Adeodatus. His religion at this time was Manichaeism, which combined Christianity with Zoroastrian elements. By 386 Augustine was teaching in Milan, where his mother joined him. He came under the influence of the city's great bishop, St. Ambrose, who baptized Augustine and Adeodatus on the following Easter.

Two extremes are to be avoided in the appreciation of this crisis. Some, like Mommsen, misled perhaps by the tone of grief in the "Confessions," have exaggerated it: in the "Realencyklopädie" (3d ed., II, 268) Loofs reproves Mommsen on this score, and yet he himself is to lenient towards Augustine, when he claims that in those days, the Church permitted concubinage. The "Confessions" alone prove that Loofs did not understand the 17th canon of Toledo. However, it may be said that, even in his fall, Augustine maintained a certain dignity and felt a compunction which does him honour, and that, from the age of nineteen, he had a genuine desire to break the chain. In fact, in 373, an entirely new inclination manifested itself in his life, brought about by the reading Cicero's "Hortensius" whence he imbibed a love of the wisdom which Cicero so eloquently praises. Thenceforward Augustine looked upon rhetoric merely as a profession; his heart was in philosophy.

From this time Augustine lived as an ascetic. He returned to Africa and spent three years with friends on his family's estate. He was ordained a priest and five years later, in 396, was consecrated a bishop. He spent the remainder of his life in Hippo (now Annaba, Algeria) with his clergy, encouraging the formation of religious communities. Augustine, who was ill when the Vandals besieged Hippo, died on Aug. 28, 430, before the town was taken.

Augustine's most widely read book is Confessions, a vivid account of his early life and religious development. The City of God was written after 410, when Rome fell to the barbarians. The aim of this book was to restore confidence in the Christian church, which Augustine said would take the place of the earthly city of Rome. During the Middle Ages the book gave strong support to the theory that the church was above the state. Augustine's writings on communal life form the 'Rule of St. Augustine', the basis of many religious orders.

St. Augustine on Punic Language and Literature

In the Phoenician Punic colonies, espeically around Carthage, the Phoenician language survived till the 5th century and was spoken by people in the rural areas. Saint Augustine knew the language and was well acquanted with Punic literary. He wrote "... there was a great deal of virtue and wisdom in the Punic books". Further, a pagan grammarian named Maximus once wrote to him a hostile letter in which he mocked at the Punic names of some Christian martyrs, and in his reply Augustine rebukes him for having thrown ridicule at the Punic language which he describes as "our own tongue".

The Sinful Saint

St. Augustine's theological works are well known and taught throughout Christendom; however, his sinful early life is known in detail. Reading a selection of his torment and agony over his sinful life maybe a good source of exploring the kind of person he was and became. It may help many to appreciate him more fully, as a man, a bishop, a doctor of the church and as a saint, after his having indulged himself in the pleasures of the flesh with women and men.

Book 3: 1:

For this cause my soul was sickly and full of sores, it miserably cast itself forth, desiring to be scraped by the touch of objects of sense. Yet if these had not a soul, they would not be objects of love. To love then, and to be beloved, was sweet to me; but more, when I obtained to enjoy the person I loved, I defiled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and I beclouded its brightness with the hell of lustfulness; and thus foul and unseemly, I would fain, through exceeding vanity, be fine and courtly. I fell headlong then into the love wherein I longed to be ensnared. My God, my Mercy, with how much gall didst Thou out of Thy great goodness besprinkle for me that sweetness? For I was both beloved, and secretly arrived at the bond of enjoying; and was with joy fettered with sorrow-bringing bonds, that I might be scourged with the iron burning rods of jealousy, and suspicions, and fears, and angers, and quarrels.

Book 4: 6-8

In those years when I first began to teach rhetoric in my native town, I had made one my friend, but too dear to me, from a community of pursuits, of mine own age, and, as myself, in the first opening flower of youth. He had grown up as a child with me, and we had been both school-fellows and play-fellows. But he was not yet my friend as afterwards, nor even then, as true friendship is; for true it cannot be, unless in such as Thou cementest together, cleaving unto Thee, by that love which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us. Yet was it but too sweet, ripened by the warmth of kindred studies: for, from the true faith (which he as a youth had not soundly and thoroughly imbibed), I had warped him also to those superstitious and pernicious fables, for which my mother bewailed me. With me he now erred in mind, nor could my soul be without him. But behold Thou wert close on the steps of Thy fugitives, at once God of vengeance, and Fountain of mercies, turning us to Thyself by wonderful means; Thou tookest that man out of this life, when he had scarce filled up one whole year of my friendship, sweet to me above all sweetness of that my life.

Who can recount all Thy praises, which he hath felt in his one self? What diddest Thou then, my God, and how unsearchable is the abyss of Thy judgments? For long, sore sick of a fever, he lay senseless in a death-sweat; and his recovery being despaired of, he was baptized, unknowing; myself meanwhile little regarding, and presuming that his soul would retain rather what it had received of me, not what was wrought on his unconscious body. But it proved far otherwise: for he was refreshed, and restored. Forthwith, as soon as I could speak with him (and I could, so soon as he was able, for I never left him, and we hung but too much upon each other), I essayed to jest with him, as though he would jest with me at that baptism which he had received, when utterly absent in mind and feeling, but had now understood that he had received. But he so shrunk from me, as from an enemy; and with a wonderful and sudden freedom bade me, as I would continue his friend, forbear such language to him. I, all astonished and amazed, suppressed all my emotions till he should grow well, and his health were strong enough for me to deal with him as I would. But he was taken away from my frenzy, that with Thee he might be preserved for my comfort; a few days after in my absence, he was attacked again by the fever, and so departed.

At this grief my heart was utterly darkened; and whatever I beheld was death. My native country was a torment to me, and my father's house a strange unhappiness; and whatever I had shared with him, wanting him, became a distracting torture. Mine eyes sought him every where, but he was not granted them; and I hated all places, for that they had not him; nor could they now tell me, "he is coming," as when he was alive and absent. I became a great riddle to myself, and I asked my soul, why she was so sad, and why she disquieted me sorely: but she knew not what to answer me. And if I said, Trust in God, she very rightly obeyed me not; because that most dear friend, whom she had lost, was, being man, both truer and better than that phantasm she was bid to trust in. Only tears were sweet to me, for they succeeded my friend, in the dearest of my affections.

Book 4: 10

...Wretched I was; and wretched is every soul bound by the friendship of perishable things; he is torn asunder when he loses them, and then he feels the wretchedness which he had ere yet he lost them. So was it then with me; I wept most bitterly, and found my repose in bitterness. Thus was I wretched, and that wretched life I held dearer than my friend. For though I would willingly have changed it, yet was I more unwilling to part with it than with him; yea, I know not whether I would have parted with it even for him, as is related (if not feigned) of Pylades and Orestes, that they would gladly have died for each other or together, not to live together being to them worse than death. But in me there had arisen some unexplained feeling, too contrary to this, for at once I loathed exceedingly to live and feared to die. I suppose, the more I loved him, the more did I hate, and fear (as a most cruel enemy) death, which had bereaved me of him: and I imagined it would speedily make an end of all men, since it had power over him. Thus was it with me, I remember. Behold my heart, O my God, behold and see into me; for well I remember it, O my Hope, who cleansest me from the impurity of such affections, directing mine eyes towards Thee, and plucking my feet out of the snare. For I wondered that others, subject to death, did live, since he whom I loved, as if he should never die, was dead; and I wondered yet more that myself, who was to him a second self, could live, he being dead. Well said one of his friend, "Thou half of my soul"; for I felt that my soul and his soul were "one soul in two bodies": and therefore was my life a horror to me, because I would not live halved. And therefore perchance I feared to die, lest he whom I had much loved should die wholly.

Additional reading may be found at the source indicated below and elsewhere. This short article is presented herewith to indicate that Augustine came from Phoenician origin and does not aim to fully cover his contribution to the Christian faith.

Source:

  1. The Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org
  2. Bibliothèque Augustinienne
  3. De civitate Dei
  4. De vera religione
  5. Compton's Online Encyclopedia
  6. Augustine, Confessions [from electronic text archives at CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU]
  7. Schlabach, Gerald W., Friendship as adultery: Augustine and original sin an online article discussing the interrelationship of friendship and eroticism in Augustine.
  8. Boswell, John, CSTH, 135
  9. Brown, Peter R. L., Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, (London: Faber; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967)
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