Saint Augustine’s Confessiones (397-400; Confessions, 1620) describe his life to 387, the year he converted to Christianity. Born in a North African province of the Roman Empire, his name in Latin was Aurelius Augustinus. His father, Patricius, a farmer, local official, and a pagan, later converted to Christianity. His mother, Monica, a devout Christian, who was canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, prayed and struggled for her son’s conversion. She raised him as a Christian, but following the church practice of the day he was not baptized until adulthood. Augustine began his education in Tagaste, Numidia (now Souk Akras, Algeria), and when he was eleven or twelve, his parents sent him to school in nearby Madauros (now near Mdaourouch, Algeria).
In Madauros, Augustine studied classical languages and literature, as well as music, mathematics, and natural sciences. He rapidly gained eloquence in his native Latin, as well as Punic, a dialect of the ancient Phoenicians. The Roman poet Vergil made a lasting mark on his thought and expression. His immersion, both inside and outside the classroom, into pagan myth and literature, with all its moral and religious ambiguities, caused him to set aside his Christian upbringing, for a while becoming a pagan. He sought pleasure in lust, mischief, and notoriety for his indiscretions.
When Augustine returned to Tagaste in 370, his father Patricius wanted him to pursue rhetoric—public speaking, the art of writing effective prose, and the study of grammar and logic. His father sent him to the great city of Carthage, near present-day Tunis, Tunisia, to complete his training to become a teacher. A businessman, Romanianus, assisted Patricius in financing Augustine’s...
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