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His Childhood

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His childhood - 01

Augustine and child The childhood of Augustine seemed to be happy in the home, and less happy at school.

There was nothing about it which gave indication of the greatness that would accrue to Augustine in his adulthood.

The childhood of Augustine is known only from what he chose to reveal in the highly selective memoirs that form part of his Confessions.

He depicted himself as a rather ordinary child.

From his description in his "growing pale with envy" (Confessions 1, 7) when he saw a sibling feeding at the breast of his mother, it would seem he was the eldest of the offspring of his parents, Patricius and Monica.

In his childhood Augustine would have had contact with Donatism, a heresy that later as a church leader and Christian author he combatted vigourously.

It is known from his writings that Augustine had cousins who were Donatists. They were sons and daughters of a brother or sister of Monica.


The brother of Augustine was Navigius. He was with Augustine at Ostia when their mother died, but not at that stage of mid-life a baptised Christian.

Augustine did not give the name of his sister, although paradoxically she was more a part of his story than was Navigius.

(Without any historical foundation, the name Perpetua has often been assigned her for the sake of literary convenience).

When later in life she was a widow and Augustine was Bishop of Hippo, his sister conducted a monastery for women there, apparently on his behalf.

The letter that is called the Rule of Augustine was in fact written to that community in a crisis of leadership caused by her death. His childhood - 02

Infant Baptism

Monica instructed Augustine in the Christian religion and taught him how to pray. As a child, blessed salt was placed on his tongue.

He thus formally became a catechumen, i.e., he was enrolled in the process of baptismal preparation.

Once while still of school age, he became dangerously ill. He desired baptism and his mother prepared everything for the ceremony. Then suddenly he grew better, and his baptism was put off.

His baptism was deferred lest he should stain his baptismal innocence by falling into sin before reaching maturity (which is exactly what happened).

This was an example of the practice of that era to defer baptism for fear that the recipient would fall into sin before coming fully to realise the great importance of the Sacrament.

As a bishop in his later years, Augustine denounced this custom of deferring Baptism as being very ill advised. He preached strongly against it.

Ordinary beginning

The early years of Augustine were not in any way out of the ordinary.

He was born in Numidia, in extraterritorial Pro-Consular Roman North Africa, on 13th November 354 into a fairly ordinary family.

As a student in his home town of Thagaste in his childhood, he showed some academic ability without betraying his future brilliance.

His parents, Patricius and Monica, rated education as a priority, but were sometimes financially strained in obtaining for him a fairly good grounding in Latin literature and the rudiments of Greek - a subject to which he took a dislike and resisted learning, possibly because of a teacher of that subject who was cruel to him.

In his later writing, he contrasted the difficulty and distaste he had in learning Greek in the tension and sadism of the classroom with joy and ease with which he learned Latin at home from his mother and his nurses.

He commented that "we learn better in a free spirit of curiosity than under fear and compulsion." (Confessions 1, 14) (Continued on the next page.) His childhood - 03

Face painting Augustinian youth camp Portugal In the local school at Thagaste, Augustine received the beatings and whippings that seemed to be a routine method of instruction of the teacher.

With little respect or personal affection for this teacher, Augustine wrote for posterity of the angry nature of this person. (Confessions 1, 9)

In his writings, Augustine accuses himself of often studying by constraint, not obeying his parents and masters, not writing, reading, or minding his lessons so much as was required of him.

And this he did not for lack of intelligence or memory, but out of love of play.

But he prayed to God with great frequency that he might escape punishment at school.

Augustine was an intelligent but not a disciplined student. In his Confessions he admitted, "I did not like my lessons, and hated being forced to study." (Confessions 1, 12)

Augustine later commented that if a town were under siege requested help and was told to go away and stop being foolish it would have been equivalent to his feelings when in his childhood his parents responded likewise to his requests to be removed from the control of this teacher at Thagaste. (See Confessions 2, 5; Letters 17, 4; 222; 232)

This situation also led to another one of his most celebrated later lines, "What person if offered a choice between immediate extinction and the reliving of his childhood would not immediately choose the former?!"

For a while Augustine transferred his schooling to Madura, a few miles (kilometres) south of Thagaste, when he was aged from twelve to fifteen years.

This happened when apparently his parents gave way to his urgent pleas to be rescued from the teacher in Thagaste.

The childhood of Augustine was to be followed by his late adolescence in Carthage. Pear tree - 01

Pears The pear tree excerpt from the Confessions appears on the Internet at:

To somebody lightly skimming through the Confessions for the first time, Augustine seems to be making much of a spontaneous act of juvenile delinquency.

Yes, Augustine does this, and does so because of the darker pattern of human nature that he saw hiding behind it.

In the pear tree incident in his Confessions, Augustine describes how he and a group of friends climbed into the orchard of a neighbour.

They stripped a pear tree of its fruit "not to eat the fruit ourselves, but simply to destroy it."

He admitted that there were better pears to eat in their own gardens.

In Book Two of the Confessions, Augustine selected this relatively minor boyhood action as the starting point of his discussion of sin.

For Augustine, the incident with the pear tree was consequential because the experience showed him that something was out of balance within the deep impulses of human nature.

Here in his own behaviour he saw an example of sin being committed simply for the sake of doing evil.

To him it was a mystery worth examining as to why people - himself included - did this.

Augustine uses the pear tree incident to represent all the other wanton evil committed in his youth, and then more broadly of the general tendency to sin within all people. Pear tree - 02

Augustinian novices Michoacan Province, Mexico

To Augustine the author and the rhetor, the image of a pear tree also called to mind other memories.

Augustine offended God near this pear tree, and would later be converted to the Christian religion under another fruit tree during the tolle lege incident in a garden at Milan in the year 386.

Furthermore, in Genesis 2-3, it was the taking of fruit from the tree in the Garden of Eden that was a symbol of the sin of the first human beings.

That First Fall involved the tempting of Adam by Eve to join her in evil.

Likewise, he suggested, Augustine and his companions had dared one another to ruin these pears in early adolescence.

The writer of the Confessions would have been the last to shift the blame for his act away from his own decision.

And yet his final comment was that "By myself I would not have committed that theft in which what pleased me was not what I stole but the fact that I stole."

"This would have pleased me not at all if I had done it alone; nor by myself would I have done it at all. O friendship too empty of friendship!"

Friendship was in fact the "unfathomable seducer of the mind." Any kind of crime becomes possible "merely when some bad person says to others, 'Let's go! Let's do it!' and it appears to be evil not to be evil!" (Confessions 2. 9. 17)

Augustine thus followed the leader into evil, just as he regarded Adam as having acted out of a "compulsion to solidarity" (socialis necessitudo) with his female companion.

The sin is magnified for Augustine not only because of his illicit pleasure but because of the corporate character of the act when persons undertake evil in the presence of other people.

Set dramatically against this reflection upon the power of sin, Augustine saw the availability to all people of the miracle of the grace (in Latin, gratia) of God. His education

Prior General teaching Augustine studied first in Thagaste, then in the nearby town of Madaura, and finally at Carthage, the great city of Roman Africa.

Although his parents, Patricius and Monica, struggled financially to arrange for him the best education they could, the education he received before turning himself into an outstanding scholar was not as outstanding by comparison.

His great intellect compensated for what his formal education lacked.

The years 354-365: The infancy and early schooling of Augustine.

His parents made financial sacrifices to see that Augustine received a classical Latin education in the local school. Augustine delighted in Latin literature, but he detested the brutally enforced rote learning of arithmetic and Greek.

The years 366-369: His education at

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