Priest and bishop

Towards the autumn of 388, Augustine reaches Thagaste. Possidius, his first biographer, tells us about the life that the small community of monks lives in that period: ''Back in Thagaste, he remained there for about three years; he gave up these possessions and began to live with those who had also consecrated themselves to God, in fastings and prayers and good works, meditating day and night in the Law of the Lord. And the things which God revealed to him through prayer and meditation, he taught both those present and absent in his sermons and books”.

One day he goes down to Hippo, towards the sea, to meet a friend, in order to convince him to join him in the religious life. While waiting, he goes to pray in the Basilica of Peace. Here, taken by surprise, he is presented by the people for priestly ordination to Bishop Valerio who wants a priest to help him at all costs. The protests and tears are of little use. This was the will of God, is how Augustine interprets it. However, he manages to obtain from the old bishop permission to erect a monastery, to live life together with his monks.

The communities of Thagaste of Hippo can undoubtedly be considered the cradle of Augustinian monasticism, based on two pillars:

  • the experience of Augustine, which is expressed in friendship;
  •  the example of the first community of Jerusalem, where nothing is considered "one’s own" but everything is shared, living together in prayer and fellowship.

These monasteries are the roots life for Christian Africa; from here, priests and bishops, saints and scholars, arrive in local churches. It is also the first experience, and thus the first time, that the monastic ideal is integrated with the priesthood.

Augustine continues the study of the Catholic faith with the study of the Holy Scriptures and of the Fathers who have preceded him.

The episcopal consecration which takes place between 395 and 396 is no less eventful than the priestly ordination. The old Valerio proposes him as successor and the people, who do not want to lose a priest of such value, acclaim him. In this way, he becomes bishop. A great bishop.

He carries out his apostolate with feverish activity, convinced that “he who presides must serve”. Bishop, says Augustine, is more a title of service than of honour.
He serves the Church with the utmost dedication, through preaching. "Until his final illness", writes Possidius, "he preached the Word of God in the Church continuously, diligently and vigorously, with clarity and intelligence". The speeches which have come down to us are about a thousand, only a small fraction of which were actually delivered. In the midst of so many activities, he keeps a dense correspondence: his voluminous correspondence goes to show how his contemporaries had great respect for him, because they saw the genius and saint in Augustine.

He takes part in and organises Councils and Synods: the first is in Hippo in 393, although still a priest, when he is commissioned to deliver the keynote address before the plenary assembly of bishops - the first time anything similar has happened. The speech is then collected in a book entitled "Faith and the Creed", a summary of Catholic doctrine, contained in the Creed. The last in which Augustine takes part is in 427, again in Hippo - perhaps also the last in Christian Africa. In fact, the Vandals are on the point of erasing all traces of Roman and Christian civilisation.

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