The father of Augustine (November 13, 354 - August 28, 430) [q.v.; cf. Q 4.342-462], bishop of Hippo, was born and lived out his life as a modest “conservative-minded middling landowner (a decurion)” (Frend 1988:138) in Thagaste within the Roman province of [North] Africa subsequent to the Christianization of the imperial government, during the later administration of Constantine the Great (February 17, 274 - May 22, 337, reigned as co-Augustus from spring 307 and alone from 324). His “pagan” status is recalled by Augustine, even though he took to wife a townswoman of Berber stock, who was a Christian from her youth, which marriage “did not gain the better of my mother’s piety [nor] prevent me from believing in Christ just because he disbelieved himself” (Confessions I.11).
We do not learn the names of Patricius’ parents, though, as was common under Roman law, marriage entailed that “the bride left her father’s household to take up residence with her husband” whereat she was also “welcomed by his mother and father” (Zaidman 1994:360, 364), which is precisely the account given by Augustine, with the accompanying affirmation that his mother, Monica [q.v.], had fit in well such that in spite of how “hot-tempered a husband my mother had to cope with” nothing indicated “there had been any domestic disagreement between them, even for one day”; and moreover while “her mother-in-law was at first prejudiced against her by the tale-bearing of malicious servants,” Monica “won the older woman over by her dutiful attentions and her constant patience and gentleness” (Confessions IX.9). As defined within Graeco-Roman custom was the difference in age between men and women at marriage – him being some fifteen to twenty years older (Zaidman:365); and the respective years of death for Monica and her husband would bear this commonplace out. The marriage took place “not much later than 345 (‘as soon as she was of marriagable age’)” (Frend 1988:141). Of children born to this union, aside from Augustine, there was a brother named Navigius [q.v.], and sisters whose names are not preserved.
As observed by Aline Rousselle, “the division of responsibility between husband and wife would continue throughout the child’s upbringing, which was left in the charge of women until the child reached the age when its sex and social needs determined what course further education would take” (1994:368). Within that early household Augustine tells us he learned Latin “without being forced by threats of punishment . . ., not from schoolmasters, but from people who spoke to me and listened when I delivered to their ears whatever thoughts I had conceived,” which was in marked contrast to the way he “was forced to study Homer” and thereby learn with great distaste the Greek language and its literature (Confessions I.14).
But coming to the age of sixteen (370), Augustine’s education and its cost was then borne by his father, who sent him to study at nearby Madaura (Confessions II.3) under the tutelage of the “pagan” Maximus, with whom, in correspondence exchanged at a much later date (390), reference was made to their both being Africans with a common heritage and education in the Punic language of ancestral Northwest Africa (Letters ##16-17 = NPNF ser.1 1.233-235). But as William Hugh Clifford Frend has observed, “Augustine was first and foremost an African, and was influenced throughout his life by the Berber [as distinct from the Punic] background of his upbringing,” though of his later sermons it could be said they were “in a faultless Latin without trace of barbarism” (1952:230, 57-58, 327). Augustine’s own career took him from higher education in Carthage, as determined by his father, whereat he studied philosophy and rhetoric (Confessions III), from whence he became a teacher of rhetoric first at Thagaste (375; Confessions IV) and then at Carthage (376-383).
Monica was instrumental in the conversion of her husband to Christianity not long before his death (Confessions IX.9), which occurred two years before Augustine was nineteen (371; Confessions III.4; cf. van der Meer 1961:149), though Monica did not remarry (Frend 1988:135-151). Thus Patricius did not live to see his son’s career take on the eminence for which Augustine is known, and by which the family itself is recalled. In fact, any influence of Patricius upon Augustine must lie in the latter’s notions of what constituted under Roman law “the ideal marriage” (van der Meer 1961:186).
Clyde Curry Smith
Bibliography (see abbreviations table below):
NIDCC 672 (DFWright): OEEC 653 (ADBerardino)
Saint Augustine Confessions, translated with an introduction by R. S. Pine-Coffin. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd., 1961. (Cited by Book and section)
Frend 1952 The Donatist Church: A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa, by William Hugh Clifford Frend. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press.
“The Family of Augustine: A Microcosm of Religious Change in North Africa,” by William Hugh Clifford Frend, in Atti del Congresso internazionale su S. Agostino nel XVI centenario della conversione (Roma, 15-20 settembre 1986), I (Studia Ephemeridis “Augustinianum,” 24). Rome, 1987: 135-151; reprinted in Archaeology and History in the Study of Early Christianity, by William Hugh Clifford Frend. London: Variorum Reprints, #VIII.
“Body Politics in Ancient Rome,” by Aline Rousselle, in A History of Women in the West, volume I: From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints, edited by Pauline Schmitt Pantel, translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Pp.296-336.
van der Meer 1961
Augustine the Bishop: Church and Society at the Dawn of the Middle Ages, by F. van der Meer, translated by Brian Battershaw and G. R. Lamb. London: Sheed and Ward Ltd.
“Pandora’s Daughters and Rituals in Grecian Cities,” by Louise Bruit Zaidman, in A History of Women in the West, volume I: From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints, edited by Pauline Schmitt Pantel, translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, pp.338-376.
This article, received in 2004, was researched and written by Dr. Clyde Curry Smith, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History and Religion, University of Wisconsin, River Falls.