Sunday, August 28, 2016

Saint Augustine – The Restless Heart

Piero della Francesca, St. Augustine
Italian, ca. 1454-1469
Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

Augustine of Hippo is one of the most influential persons who has ever lived. A man of the fourth century, he still has a profound influence on the twenty-first   He is one of the first persons to be designated as a Doctor of the Church for his profound works of philosophy, which laid the basis for most of the thought of Western Europe and, more specifically, for the Christian thinkers that have followed him.  The great works of succeeding centuries are built on the foundation that he prepared.  Both Catholic and Protestant theological arguments on the nature of grace and the effects of free will can claim to have sprung from his thought. 

He is also the founding father of the autobiography, having written the book Confessions to explain his journey from a debauched hedonism through Manicheanism to conversion to Christ, baptism and his first tentative steps as a Christian.

It is difficult now for us to imagine the world into which Augustine was born, in 354 in the town of Tagaste in what is now Algeria in North Africa. Constantius II, the son of Constantine the Great, was Emperor of the West.  Unlike today this North Africa was dominated by a Roman Empire with Imperial centers at Constantinople and Milan.  The province, called Numidia, was part of the western Empire, and was under the control of Milan.  

Nicolo di Pietro, Saint Augustine Taken to School by Saint Monica and Patricius
Italian, 1413-1415
Vatican City State, Pinacoteca Vaticana

Tagaste was a mid-sized inland town.  Augustine came from a relatively well-to-do family, although they were not wealthy.  His father, Patricius, was a pagan, a follower of the old Roman gods, and his mother, Monica, was a devout Christian.   Although infant baptism was not yet the norm, she intended for her three children to be baptized and enrolled them as catechumens, but baptism was consistently blocked by her husband.  So, Constantine grew up unbaptized and with only his mother’s example of Christian life. 

He seems to have been a very bright little boy because his parents used all their resources, and even borrowed money, to ensure that he received a very good education, unusual at the time for someone of his class.  He attended school in his home town of Tagaste and then was sent under a form of scholarship for additional instruction, first at the larger town of Madauros, also in Algeria, and then at Carthage, the greatest of African cities, in what is today Tunisia.  
Benozzo Gozzoli, School of Tagaste
Italian, 1464-1465
San Gimignano, Church of Sant'Agostino

At Carthage he completed his studies in rhetoric, once considered the pinnacle of education, which had a very different definition at this period than it does today.  It included mastering the ability to persuade others through the use of language, both spoken and written, but it also included a broad knowledge of all kinds of things.  Augustine was a master of the subject and, after completing his own education, he set himself up as a teacher of rhetoric, first in Tagaste and then in Carthage.

While in Carthage he lived the typical social life of a Roman man of the educated class.  He drank, attended the games and acquired a mistress.  In the description he later wrote about his life at this time, he did not divulge her name, but did reference their son, Adeodatus, who was born in 372, when Augustine was 18.  He lived with his mistress for 15 years, only leaving her during the turmoil of his conversion to Christianity.  In that time, he found great success as a teacher of rhetoric and sought larger fields to spread his wings.  He moved his family twice, leaving Africa to go first to Rome and then to the Imperial capital in Milan, arriving there in 383. 
Benozzo Gozzoli, St. Augustine Departing for Milan
Italian, 1464-1465
San Gimignano, Church of Sant'Agostino, Apsidal chapel

This time of career building was also the period in which Augustine became enamored of the exotic religion recently imported from the Persian Empire, Manicheanism.  He was hardly unique in being tempted to accept this dualist belief system, which seemed to explain a good deal about the world as people experience it.  For the Manicheans there are two principles, light and darkness.  Light belongs to the world of the spirit and to goodness.  The opposing darkness belongs to the material world and to evil.  History is seen as a duel between these two forces:  between light and dark, between good and evil, between the spirit and matter.  For the Manichean, matter is evil simply because it is matter.  Since there is a good deal of similar language in Christian thought as well, it is easy to see why people who were seeking some kind of enlightenment could confuse them.  However, Christianity never sees matter as evil, but as a gift from God which is inherently good in itself, although it can be manipulated by humans to serve evil purposes.  Christianity also carries a moral message and presumes personal responsibility for one’s actions.  It took 9 to 10 years for Augustine to become disillusioned with the Manichean philosophy.

It was his second move after leaving Africa, to Milan, that changed Augustine’s life.  In Milan he encountered St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, a talented preacher and evangelist.  Hearing Ambrose explicate the Gospels and the Christian message, opened Augustine’s heart to truth.  But he did not immediately make the plunge.  It took three years for him to make a final decision.  This came, as he relates it, on an afternoon in a garden in Milan.  As he describes it, he was sitting in the garden weeping over the crisis of faith he was in the midst of when:  “I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighboring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in while the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. (Matthew 19:2l) And by such oracle was he immediately converted unto You. So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell—Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. (Romans 13:13-14) No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart—all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”2

Guariento di Arpo, Tolle Lege (Conversion of St.Augustine)
Italian, 1361-1365
Padua, Church of the Eremitani

Immediately after this he withdrew to the country and devoted himself to the study of Christianity for several months.  This is the time in which he reached his decision to devote his life entirely to God and gave up all thoughts of his career as a teacher and of marriage, also deciding to return to Africa after his baptism.

Guariento di Arpo, Baptism of Augustine and Vesting with the Habit
Italian, 1361-1365
Padua, Church of the Eremitani
Augustine was baptized, along with this son, Adeodatus, and his friend, Alypius, at the Easter Vigil of the year 387 by St. Ambrose.  His mother, who had followed him to Italy, was in the congregation. Shortly afterward the entire troupe began their journey back to Italy, moving down the peninsula from Milan to Ostia, the port of Rome.   While waiting for a ship in Ostia, Monica, Augustine’s mother, became ill and died.  She was buried in Ostia at her own request.

Benozzo Gozzoli, Death of St. Monica
Italian, 1464-1465
San Gimignano, Church of Sant'Agostino, Apsidal chapel

After returning to Africa Augustine and his friends formed a small monastic type community on his ancestral property where they lived undisturbed for several years.  In 391 Augustine was ordained a priest for the church in Hippo Regius, in his native Algeria and a few years later became bishop of Hippo (395).  He remained there until his death in 430 and died during the siege of Hippo by the invading Vandals.  Consequently, his life spans the period in which the Western Roman Empire began to crumble under the blows of the barbarian invasions.  It begins in the solid seeming Empire under Constantius II, son of Constantine the Great, and ends in the reign of Valentinian III, only 46 years from the event that effectively marks the end of the Roman Empire in the west. 

During his time in Hippo Augustine wrote an astonishing number of books, which are all the more impressive because so many have survived the centuries.3 There are books dealing with philosophy, with apologetics in confrontation with the heresies of his day (many of which reappear from time to time), on exegesis, on dogma.  There are letters and sermons and of the writings that have been gathered together to create the Augustinian rule, which still governs several groups of religious men and women.  And, of course, there are his two most widely known works:  The Confessions, in which he reflects on his early life and his conversion, and The City of God, in which he first, responds to pagan claims that it was Christianity that had weakened the Empire and permitted the sack of Rome (410) by the Goths, and second, describes the proper relationship of Christians to the world in which they find themselves and their ultimate home with God.  Both books have been copied and or printed continuously since the middle ages.

Maïtre François, The  City of God and the City of Men
From The City of God (Vol. I)
French (Paris), c. 1475. 1478-1480
The Hague, Meermano Museum 

He has left us a mighty legacy, on which numerous other philosophers, theologians and apologists have built to this day.

Art was not much in evidence in his works, however.  It remained for future generations to supply an iconography for Augustine, which they certainly did.  And they developed several strands of iconography.  Below is a sampling of these various strands, presented in chronological order by the date of their creation,  not in the order of occurrence in Saint Augustine's life.

  •  Life Events.  Some of these have been interspersed above, in the description of his life.  Others are shown below.

Pietro Sano. Death of St. Jerome and His Apparition to St. Augustine
Italian, c.1450
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Benozzo Gozzoli, Arrival of St. Augustine in Milan
Italian, 1464-1465
San Gimignano, Church of Sant'Agostino, Apsidal chapel

St. Augustine Disputing With Doctors and Philosophers with a Vision of the Throne of Grace

Vergós Group, Saint Augustine Disputing with the Heretics
Catalan, 1470-1475
Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

Master of Saint Augustine, Secenes from the Life of St. Augustine of Hippo
Italian, c.1490
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters

Girolamo Genga. St. Augustine Baptizes the Catechumens
Italian, 1516-1518
Bergamo, Accademia Carrera

Carle van Loo. Agony of St. Augustine
French, c.1700
Tours, Musee des Beax-Arts

Johann Zick, St. Augustine Bestowing His Rule
German, 1746
Schussenried, Premonstratensian Church of St. Magnus

  • Conversion and Baptism.  Some of these have been interspersed above as well.  Some images include his robing as a cleric with the scene of his baptism.

Fra Angelico, Conversion of Saint Augustine
Italian, 1430-1435
Cherbourg, Musee Thomas-Henry

Benozzo Gozzoli, Baptism of St. Augustine
Italian, 1464-1465
San Gimignano, Church of Sant'Agostino, Apsidal Chapel

Charles Antoine Coypel, Conversion of St. Augustine
French, 1736
Versailles. Musee national des chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon

  • As a Bishop.  These images present Augustine in the garb of bishop, often holding a book and carrying the crozier, the symbolic shepherd’s staff that bishops in the Latin church carry.  One interesting observation occurred to me as I examined these pictures.  The majority show Augustine wearing the cope, a capelike vestment worn for liturgies other than the celebration of Mass.  It is interesting to note that as techniques advanced, and especially after the introduction of oil painting, the orphreys, the decorated bands on the front edges of the cope, become more and more elaborately embroidered.  This probably reflects the actual embroideries that were being worn at the time the paintings were made.

Saint Augustine
from Picture Bible
French (St. Omer, Benedictine Abbey of St. Bertin),
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76F5, fol. 38v

Anonymous, St. Augustine
German, 1450-1500
Suhl, Evangelical Parish Church of Sankt Ulrich

Paolo Giovanni, Saint Augustine
Italian, 1470-1475_
Avignon, Musee du Petit Palais

Jaime Huguet, Consecration of St. Augustine
Spanish, 1463-1475
Barcelona, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

Anonymous, St. Augustine
English, c. 1500
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Joseph Chinard, St. Augustine
French, 1781
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

  • As a Scholar and Doctor of the Church.  Augustine and three other saints (Gregory the Great, Ambrose and Jerome) were the first to be proclaimed with the title of Doctor of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298.  Doctors of the Church are saints whose writings and lives have been particularly important to the entire church.  The list has been added to over the centuries and there are now 36 Doctors, including four women.
St. Augustine
Late Roman Mosaic. 6th century
Rome, Basilica of S. Giovanni in Laterano

Sandro Botticelli, St. Augustine
Italian, 1480
Florence, Ognissanti

Michael Pacher, Saints Augustine and Gregory the Great
from Altarpiece of the Church Fathers
German, c.1483
Munich. Alte Pinakotek

Abraham Bloemart, Four Doctors of the Church Venerating the Eucharist
Dutch, 1632
Private Collection

Abraham Van Diepenbeeck. The Four Doctors of Church
Flemish, 1650-1660
Bordeaux , Musée des Beaux-Arts

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Augustine
Italian, 1657-1666
Vatican City, St. Peter's Basilica, Throne of Peter

  • With Other Saints.  A very common image of Augustine is as a saint among saints, frequently surrounding the Madonna and Child, in what is known as a sacra conversazione (a sacred conversation) group.

Francesco di Stefano, called Pesellino, Madonna and Child with Six Saints
Italian, late 1440s
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Zanobi di Jacopo di Piero Machiavelli. Madonna and Child with Saints Sebastian, Peter, Bernardino, Paul, Lawrence
and Augustine
 Italian, 1460s
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts

Ambrogio Fassone, called Il Bergognone, Circumcision of Christ with Saints and Donors
Italian, ca. 1494
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Master of Claude de France, St. Augustine and St. Cyril of Jerusalem
from Prayer Book
French, c.1500
Ecouen, Musee national de la Renaissance
MS ECL11764

Andrea del Sarto, Disputation on the Trinity
Italian, 1517
Florence, Pitti Palace

Giovanni Lanfranco. Coronation of the Virgin  with Saints Augustine and William of Acquitaine
Italian, ca. 1616
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Giambattista Tiepolo, Saints Augustine, Louis of France and John
Italian, 1740-1760
Lille. Palais des Beaux-Arts

  • His Meditations on the Trinity.  The story is told that Augustine had a hard time trying to work out the nature and internal relationship of the Holy Trinity.  Trying to work it out while walking alone the seashore near Hippo he encountered a small child with a seashell, who was running back and forth from the sea to a hole in the sand into which he would dump the small amount of water in the shell.  Augustine asked what he was doing and the child told him that he was trying to empty the sea into the hole.  When Augustine told him it was impossible to do such a deed with the seashell and the hole the answer he received was that it was just as impossible for him to understand the mystery of the Trinity with his human mind.  Not a bad reminder to all of us!

Benozzo Gozzoli, Parable of the Trinity
Italian,  1464-65
San Gimignano, Church of Sant' Agostino,
Vergós_Group, Saint Augustine and the Trinity
Spanish, 1470-1475
Barcelona, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

Guercino, St. Augustine Meditating on the Trinity
Italian, 1636
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Gaspard Dughet, Landscape with St. Augustine
French, 1651-1653
Rome, Galleria Doria Pamphilli

Gaspar de Crayer, St. Augustine and the Trinity
Flemish, 1655
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Johann Baptist Zimmerman
St. Augustine and the Trinity
German, 1729
Weyarn, Church of Saints Peter and Paul, formerly Augustinian Canons

  • Miracles Attributed to Augustine.  Augustine is not one of the saints well-known as a miracle worker, but there are several attributed to his intercession. 

Joseph Parrocel, St. Augustine Healing the Sick
French, 1680-1700
Nantes, Musee des Beaux-Arts

Miguel Jacinto Melendez. St. Augustine Vanquishing a Plague of Locusts(in 1248)
Spanish, 1734
Madrid, Museo del Prado

  • St. Augustine As Visionary.  Legends sprang up regarding various visions which Augustine had seen.  

Vittore Carpaccio, Vision of St. Augustine
Italian, 1502
Venice, Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

Caspar de Crayer, St. Augustine in Ecstasy
Flemish, 1630-1640
Valenciennes, Musee des Beaux-Arts

Antonio Rodríguez, Vision of Saint Augustine
Mexican, 1650-1690
Mexico City, Museo Nacional de Arte

Bartolome Murillo, St Augustine Between Christ and the Virgin
Spanish, 1664
Madrid, Museo del Prado
  • Illustrating One of His Most Famous Quotes.  Augustine is often shown holding a heart or with a heart nearby, sometimes it is pierced by an arrow, sometimes it is on fire.  This image refers to one of his most famous quotes, which occurs at the very beginning of the Confessions:  “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You”.  (Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1, 1)

Anonymous, St. Augustine
French, 1450-1475
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters

St. Augustine
from Book of Hours
French (Paris), 1485-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H3, fol. 180r

Anonymous, St. Augustine and the
Augustinian Canoness
Dutch, 1525-1550
Chicago, Art Institute

Peter Paul Rubens, St. Augustine
Flemish, 1620
Private Collection

Philippe de Champaigne. St. Augustine
French, 1645-1650
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Giuseppe Antonio Pianca. St. Augustine
Italian, 1745
Private Collection

  • llustrations of The City of God.  The City of God was a well-known book in the middle ages and there are several surviving illustrated copies.  Only a few scenes are reproduced here, but you can refer to the websites of the Bibliotheque nationale de France or Pierpont Morgan Library to see more.

Master Francois, St. Augustine and the Romans
from De Civitate Dei
French (Paris), 1469-1473
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 18, fol. 23
Master of Margaret of York and collaborators, St. Augustine Denouncing Crime
from De Civitate Dei
Belgian (Bruges), c.1470-1480
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Français 17, fol. 111

  • With His Mother.  Augustine’s affectionate relationship with his mother, Saint Monica, is reflected in his iconography.  See also “St.Monica – The Persistent Mother”.

Follower of Master of Guillebert de Mets,
Saints Augustine and Monica
from Book of Hours
Flemish (Tournai). 1435-1445
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M357, fol. 194r

Circle of Pieter Coecke van Aelst,
St. Augustine and St. Monica
Flemish, 1500-1550
Private Collection

Sebastiano Conca, Madonna and Child with
Saints Augustine and Monica
Italian, c. 1750
Gaeta, Museo Diocesano
Ary Scheffer. St. Augustine and St. Monica
French, 1846
Paris, Musee de la vie romantique

  • In Triumph in Heaven.
      Augustine is frequently see being received into heaven or in glory within it, especially in the Baroque and Rococo periods.

Claudio Coello, Triumph of St. Augustine
Spanish, 1664
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Francisco Bayeu y Subia, Saint Augustine and the Virgin Adoring the Crucified Christ
Spanish, c.1750-1760
Private Collection

Johann Anwander, Apotheosis of St. Augustine
German, 1754
Muennerstadt, Cloister Church of the Augustinian Hermits

These are simply a sampling of the hundreds of images I found in each of the categories.

© M. Duffy, 2016

1.   For the details of Augustine’s early life, based upon his own testimony in the Confessions see: 
Portalié, Eugène. "Life of St. Augustine of Hippo." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 28 Aug. 2016 .
2.   Augustine of Hippo.  Confessions, Book 8, Chapter 12, 29.  Translated by J.G. Pilkington. From          Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY:                Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.        .
3.   For a partial list of Augustine’s works see:  Portalié, Eugène. "Works of St. Augustine of Hippo."          The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 28 Aug. 2016          
      See also:

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