Today is the day set aside by the Church to commemorate the life of the great Augustine of Hippo who died on August 28, 430. Augustine’s last days were troublesome. He suffered from debilitating sickness and from troubling reports of the invading Vandals. His student and friend, Possidius, wrote of these days:
“We talked together very frequently and discussed the tremendous judgment of God enacted under our eyes saying, ‘Just art Thou, O God, and Thy judgment is righteous.’ Mingling our grief and groans and tears we prayed the Father of mercies and Lord of all consolation to vouchsafe to help us in our trouble. And it chanced on a day as we sat at the table with him and conversed, that he said, ‘Bear in mind that I am asking God in this our hour of tribulation, either to deign to deliver this town from the enemy that is investing it or if that seems not good to him to strengthen His servants to submit themselves to His will, and in any event to take me away from this world to Himself.’”
The last days of his life (while Hippo was under siege) were spent in prayers and tears. He had often said that no baptized person, even though he were a notable Christian and a priest should depart from the body without fitting and sufficient penitence. This was especially so for him as he remembered the sins of his youth. So, as his sickness progressed, he spent more and more time in prayer and in a repeated reading of the penitential Psalms which he had his friends write on a sheets of paper and hang on the wall over the foot of his bed so that he might have them always before his eyes. “From his sick bed he could see these sheets of paper every day, hanging on his walls, and would read them, crying constantly and deeply. And, lest his attention be distracted from this in any way, almost ten days before his death, he asked us that none should come in to see him, except at those hours when the doctors would come to examine him or his meals were brought. This was duly observed: and so he had all that stretch of time to pray. . . .” (Brown, Augustine, p. 432)
On August 28, 430, in the third month of the siege of Hippo, Augustine passed from this life to be with his Savior. His library and the proceeds of his autobiography (Confessions) he left to the church. But far more valuable, he left his own books to the Library of the Church of all the ages. It would never have occurred to him that he had sown seeds that would bear world-transforming fruit over a thousand years after his death. And now, more than 1500 years after his death, his books and writings are still read and appreciated. . . . and not just by one particular group of Christians but by men from every Christian communion. Amazing.
Happy Feast of St. Augustine!