Written by Mother Nita Byrd, university chaplain
The patron Saint of Saint Augustine’s University is Augustine of Hippo. Saint Augustine was born on November 13, 354 CE in Thagaste, Numidia, a province in North Africa which is present day Algeria. His father was not a Christian, but Saint Monica, his mother, was a devoted Christian who prayed constantly for Augustine. These were much needed prayers for Augustine because he scorned Christian doctrine and scriptures, lived a notorious lifestyle and followed the teachings of the heretical Manicheans, a group who distorted Christian teachings and rejected the Old Testament. The Manicheans with their dualistic understanding of the human condition gave Augustine the license to escape any form of moral responsibility. However, the prayers of his mother were answered when Augustine heard the preaching of Saint Ambrose of Milan. It was not long before he converted to Christianity under the tutelage of Saint Ambrose. Subsequent to his baptism, he became a priest and later a bishop.
Saint Augustine is one of the most famous and influential theologians and writers of Western Christianity. He was a strong supporter of the poor and a defender of orthodox Christianity. His autobiographical work Confessions is a classic of western literature, and provides inspiration to anyone who strives to live a virtuous life. Augustine’s writings describe our dependency on God for the grace to live a holy life, and express our human longing for God. He states, “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you” (Confessions, Book 1). The restlessness in the human heart that longs for God is represented by Saint Augustine’s symbol, a flaming heart, pierced by arrows. The flaming heart symbolizes Saint Augustine’s love of God and humanity, while it is alive and restless with a desire to know God’s divine love. The arrows piercing the heart represent God’s love piercing our hearts. Such an image reminds us that because we are made in the image of God we must be in relationship with God. We share the common call on our lives to be continually formed into God’s perfect image of love – the same call that pierced Saint Augustine’s heart causing him to seek God in all things.