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Saturday, 3 December 2016

Statue of St. Augustine

(Speech at the St. Augustine Parish for the Donation of a Small Statue of St. Augustine, 4 December 2017.)

Today, I would like to present a small statue of St. Augustine of Hippo (now Algeria in North Africa) to this parish which has been named after him when it was consacrated by Bishop Henry van Lieshout on 4th of June 2008.

Statue of St. Augustine in Pavia

I don't attend mass as often as I should or would like to, but I feel a very strong bond with this parish, the catholic community and our parish priests, first Father Anton and now Father Philemon.

As I will explain it is truly fitting for a University parish to be named after St. Augustine, because he was a great scholar. Although it is a long time ago, we know a lot about St. Augustine's life (354-430 - 77 years). Today I want to talk about him no in a religious sense, but as a historical person and his relationship with 2 other saints: St. Zeno of Verona and St. Ambrose of Milan. Then I will speak about his importance for the political and economic development of the West. Finally, I will describe the statue.

St. Augustine lived in the second half of the 4th century, after Christianity had become the official religion in the Roman empire with the so-called conversion of Emperor Constantine in 313. In his work, he manages to combine the classical Roman philosophical literature (mainly neo-platonist) with christian theological doctrine. He is therefore often called father of the

Church. He is also called one of the first doctor of the church because until his conversion Christianity was mostly popular among workers and soldiers, not among the educated elites. St. Ambrose and Saint Augustine are two of the original 4 doctors of the Church with Saint Gregory the great, Saint Jerome.

Let's start with an earlier Saint, whom both St. Ambrose and St. Augustine knew about well. St. Zeno of Verona (300 Mauritania (West Africa)-371 Verona)

San Zeno of Verona
Interestingly, San Zeno was of black race from Mauritania, today's Marocco, and member of the Berber tribe, like St. Augustine. One theory is that he came to Verona when St. Athanasius of Alexandria, a church father and bishop visited the town in 340 AD.
  • 8th Bishop of Verona, known to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine) and link to Africa. 
  • Left his book of Sermones, and many legends about hims, depicted on beautiful bronze door
  • Known for this love of children, jokes and word play which betray his African origin, 
  • He is the patron of fishermen and newborn babies (changeling). 
  • Many conversions (fisher of souls) and exorcism of princess. 
  • He forbade funerals with too much wailing. 
St. Ambrose (340 Trier - 397 Milan).

Saint Ambrose of Milan 
  • Important bishop managed to deal with conflicts in the Church by being a Christian universalist, and flexible in custom. 
  • Most famous for converting St. Augustine 
  • Silent reading no aloud. 
  • Patron of bee keepers, police officers and students. 
Finally, our St. Augustine (354 Thagaste - 28 August 430 Hippo both in Algeria):
St. Augustine's mother St. Monica bringing him to school
  • Like St. Zeno member of the Berber people
  • Patron of brewers, printers and scholars. 
  • Two famous books Confessions (guilt) and City of God (separation of worldly and religious world). 
  • Was married twice, had a son, and enjoyed an occasional drink and a good party. 
  • Bob Dylan song "Today I dreamt I saw St. Augustine", symbol of guilt (by Eric Clapton in 2016).
His father Patricius was a Roman Pagan, his mother Monica christian. She later became a saint herself. He became professor of rhetoric in Rome, then Milan. His conversion in Milan at 31 was influenced by St. Ambrose. 

Like Augustine, Ambrose was a master of rhetoric, but older and more experienced. Ambrose took him underhis wing, as Augustine states in Confessions, Augustine states, "That man of God received me as a father would, and welcomed my coming as a good bishop should." Soon, their relationship grew, as Augustine wrote, "And I began to love him, of course, not at the first as a teacher of the truth, for I had entirely despaired of finding that in thy Church—but as a friendly man."

His conversion was radical and happened by chance. Apparently, Augustine hears a child's voice chanting "tolle, legge" "take up and read." Augustine picks up a Bible and reads the passage it opens to, Romans 13:13-14: "Not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as for the flesh, take no thought for its lusts."

He ended his life as bishop in Hippo where he became priest in Hippo in 391. His body moved due to Vandal invasion, to Sardegna, then bought by a Longobard king for an enormous sum and find his resting place in Pavia (near Milan).

Political and economic significance: "The heavenly city outshines Rome beyond comparison. Instead of victory is truth, instead of high rank, holiness, instead of peace, happiness, instead of life, eternity."

In this book, we see two important operations:
  • Redefine values, e.g. glory becomes glory of Christ, not battlefield. 
  • Separate heavenly and worldly sphere. 
We can live in this world, as long as we don't take it too seriously, and still be part of the Church and achieve final glory. Acceptance of worldly wealth and status, but not prime objective.

As a result the Church became less structured around monasteries, where large proportion of the productive male population would be withheld from the economy. According to some, this laid the basis for capitalism in the western world and later the industrial revolution.

Finally, the statue. It is hard to find because today not very popular saint. I bought the statue in Pavia in Northern Italy, where St. Augustine's body was buried.

In his right hand a burning heart, symbol of his love for God. In his other hand a book with a quote from Confessions: You have made us (in the image of) for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in you. In Latin: "Fecisti nos ad te, et inquietu est cor nostrum, donec requiescat ad te". 

Although this message is intimate and universal, I believe it is particularly fitting for our students. When you think about your 21 year old self, and you are honest, you will remember a lot of contradictory emotions and passions. St. Augustine himself was not a stranger to this. In fact, it is said before his conversion he prayed "make me virtuous and chaste, but not yet".

It is with great pleasure therefore that I donate this small status of St. Augustine to the parish.

Albert Schram in Pavia at the Church St. Augustine was buried 


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