He was born in Thagaste, a smallish town in North Africa. He came from an old Carthaginian family. His father, Patricius Augustinus, was a pagan who honored the old Punic gods. But his mother, Monica, was a devoted Christian, who persistently urged her religion on her children—and particularly on Aurelius, who showed brilliance.

Their family was a small part of a large and complex economy. Patricius scrimped to send Augustine to school, and still had to rely on the generosity of a wealthy patron, Romanianus. The very name Patricius suggests Augustine’s father may have come from a proud, patrician family. But if he’d ever had wealth, it was apparently gone now. So, though the Augustinus family may have owned a substantial estate, it seems the Roman tax collectors had milked their fluid income dry.

As a boy, Augustine was sent to school in nearby Madaura. He made friendships there that would last all his life. But when he was 16 the tuition money ran out, and Augustine had to come home for a year while his family saved. In writing about this time in his Confessions, Augustine portrays himself as a lazy underachiever. Yet his superior intellect was probably already apparent to his family and friends. He seems to have outshone his older brother, Navigius, who tags along in later episodes of Augustine’s life.

Fruits of Disobedience

During that 16-year vacation from his studies, Augustine took part in the famous pear tree incident (see And a Saint in a Pear Tree…?). To some this might seem like mere juvenile antics, just a bunch of rowdy boys ripping off pears and throwing them to the pigs—and that’s probably how Augustine saw it at the time. But looking back on it later, as he reflected in the Confessions, he perceived it as sin ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.