Towards the sunset years

Augustine, now in old age and poor health, starts thinking about a substitute to help him in administration of the diocese; he finds him in the priest Heraclius, who has worked for years by his side. The substitute is not needed so that he can rest but only to help him. "I will not”, he writes, “devote the little of this life left to lethargy or inertia, but I will engage myself, to the extent that God grants and concedes, in the study of the Holy Scriptures". Indeed, his last few years show zeal and surprising activity.

Augustine, in fact, works on three books at the same time. While he is finishing the original work of Retractions (where, re-reading all of his writings, he reviews and corrects them), he writes the answer to the books of Julian of Eclano as they arrive from Rome; Meanwhile, deacon Quodvultdeus asks him for a work on heresies. Unfortunately, however, all three works remain unfinished because of his death.

Read more about the works of St. Augustine..

In the meantime, the political situation precipitates. The Vandals of Genseric, settled in Spain, land in Africa, and, aided by the Moors and Circumcelliones, burn and ransack Roman Africa. At the end of May 430, they also reach Hippo, which attempts the last, desperate resistance and then capitulates. It is the end.

Augustine, this man who has talked so much of Providence in City of God and has struggled for forty years, hopes to conclude his days peacefully. Instead, he finds himself in the position of having to bow down also to this divine provision, which permits the destruction of Christian life in his Africa, for which he has worked so hard.

"And here", writes Possidius, "during the third month of the siege he is bedridden with a fever and this was the last illness that afflicted him. He felt close to death and he prepared himself with prayer. He had the Penitential Psalms written on large sheets, had them put up on the wall opposite the bed and read them repeatedly and, reading them, cried continuously with warm tears".

Augustine dies on 28 August 430. His body is buried in the Basilica Pacis. Later, he is transferred to Sardinia, from where he is taken (around 725) to Pavia, in the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’oro, by the Lombard king Liutprand. Thus ends the life of a man who worked tirelessly for the Church. His spiritual heritage, which is present in his works, continues to make its effectiveness felt in the Church and in our Western world.