Tag Archives: saint augustine; augustine of hippo; saint monica; early Christianity; late Roman empire; patronage system

Happy 1662nd birthday, Saint Augustine!

16AugustineOn this date in 354, Aurelius Augustine, later known as Saint Augustine, was born in Thagaste, North Africa. ¬†His mother, Monica, was a Christian. ¬†His father, Patricius was a pagan and by all accounts an unfaithful and probably abusive husband. ¬†They were an upper-class family with rights of citizenship in the Empire, but far from rich. ¬†Patricius was a local official, which meant that he collected taxes and was responsible for public works and community governance. Part of his responsibility was to ensure that the locals didn’t rebel against the Empire in any significant way. Failure in this responsibility could result in his being fined into poverty or tortured. ¬†Patricius was proud of his son, but could not afford to educate him. ¬†Augustine’s education was financed by Romanian (whom I renamed Urbanus in my book because some early readers found the name Romanian confusing). ¬†Romanian was Patricius’, and later Augustine’s, patron. ¬†The patronage system was one of the backbones of late Roman life. ¬†The patron of a peasant would be the owner of the land he farmed. ¬†The patron of citizens of a small town like Thagaste would be a local official like Patricius. ¬†The patron of a minor official like Patricius would be someone more powerful in the Roman government, and so on. ¬†Your patron advanced your career when he could, provided financial help if needed, and advocated for you if you got into any legal trouble. ¬†In turn, you were expected to show loyalty to your patron and do any favors requested of you. ¬†Kind of like the Mafia, actually.

Romanian and Patricius recognized that Aurelius Augustine was a brilliant young man, and planned a career for him in civil service. ¬†Monica hoped he would make his life in the church. Although he was not baptized until he accepted Christianity of his own free will in his 30s, Monica had enrolled him as a catechumen in the Christian church from childhood. ¬†In those early days of the church, it was common to ¬†be enrolled long before baptism, as it was believed that sins “counted” more after baptism. ¬†Monica, of course, is the patron saint of mothers of rebellious children, and is famous for having “prayed” her son into the Church. ¬†But in the meantime, young Aurelius had plans of his own….Read about them in my novel The Saint’s Mistress.