Thursday, October 18, 2012

Saint Augustine; The Tunisian Father Of The Catholic Church

Saint Augustine; The Tunisian Father Of The Catholic Church:

St Augustine of Hippo
St Augustine of Hippo (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)
It is a little known fact that Saint Augustine, the great Christian reformist of antiquity, is Tunisian. He was raised in the city of Carthage where he taught before being named the Bishop of Hippo.

Born in 354 from a pagan father and a Christian mother, Augustine is a native of Thagaste, which today is Souk Ahras on the Tunisian Algerian border. It was here that he studied Latin grammar before moving to Carthage in 370. There he became a Manichean and founded a school of rhetoric. His next move took him to Italy where he was again converted, this time to skepticism and installed a school of rhetoric in Rome and Milan similar to the Carthage school.
His mother  Monica was a Christian, and for many years prayed to see him converted to Christianity. In 387 her prayers were answered, and Augustine was baptized at Easter. They decided to travel back home to Africa, but on the way his mother died at the port of Ostia. Augustin recorded his conversations with his mother before her death in a book called Confessions.
After his return to Tagaste, Augustine decided to live a monastic life, selling everything he had and giving it to the poor, only keeping what was necessary to live on. Augustine at the time had no intention of becoming a priest or a bishop. But in 395 the he was asked to be the Bishop of Hippo. He accepted, and began trying to unify the African Church, that was at the time deeply divided between the Donatist and Catholic sects. In 411 he condemned the division and succeeded in bringing the African Church together.

Like the rest of the Roman Empire, North Africa was assaulted by the Vandals in 430.  Hippo became isolated and Saint Augustin died at the age of 76.
In modern theology, Saint Augustin is considered the father of the Catholic Church, his writings having influenced the society of much of the  Western World. The theories of Saint Augustine were shaped by a marriage between Greek philosophy and his religious beliefs. The blend of these two influences can be seen in his notion of the Soul, the relationship between God and man and even the Trinity.

Saint Augustine often traveled from Tagaste to Carthage, on a specific route which he described in his writings. Nowadays, this path through Tunisia can be followed on organized tours, called On the Path of Saint Augustine. Lotfi Rahmouni, a Tunisian professor of in archaeology, said that the Vatican is among the organizers of this trip in collaboration with Tunisian travel agencies. He said also that the trip is most popular with Catholics, many of whom consider it a pilgrimage.

Chemtou Bridge; Saint Augustine used to cross on route to Carthage 

The trip starts from Tagaste, at the Souk Ahras in Augustine’s hometown, and finishes in Carthage where he established a school and unified the Christians of Africa in 411. They also pass through Chemtou and Bulla Reggia and sometimes Haidra, where the Bishop spent time with his father.