Who was Augustine?
St Augustine (354-430) is best known today for his autobiographical Confessions, which tells the story of his early life, up to his conversion and baptism at the age of 31. He was known to his contemporaries as an active and energetic bishop in North Africa, as a tireless and powerful preacher, and as a prolific and brilliant writer, equally ready to explain the Scriptures to an uneducated congregation and to engage in vigorous debate with his theological opponents, Christian and non-Christian alike. After his death, his influence on the theology of the Western Christian church has been immense and unparalleled, throughout the Middle Ages, during the Reformation and in modern times.
From the very beginning of his Christian life, Augustine preferred to live in a community: both before and after his baptism, he lived in semi-monastic style with a group of close friends. When he was Bishop of Hippo, the episcopal residence included within it both a monastery of lay-brothers, which he himself had founded, and a community of his fellow-priests, with whom he lived a simple life, committed to celibacy and the sharing of possessions. He also established a women's convent in which his sister lived.
The Rule of St Augustine can be traced back to Augustine himself, and is likely to have been used in both the men's and the women's convents that he founded. By comparison with other monastic rules, Augustine’s is simple and concise, focusing more on the spirit of unity than on practical details. For this reason it has proved highly adaptable, and was adopted by a wide variety of religious orders, especially in the late middle ages. These include not only a variety of Augustinian congregations, but also, for example, the Norbertines and the Dominicans. Medieval artists and their successors liked to portray Augustine giving his Rule to one or more of these groups. In one, he sits at a table, handing out books to a queue of members of the different orders that use his rule.