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Conversion of St. Augustine comes about it would seem, as the result of three major forces. Augustine's mother was a Christian and never quit praying for him or witnessing to him; Augustine himself, spent, it would seem, every day of his life, in a search for something he could identify as Truth; and finally as he continued to "hold out against God," there were a series of witnesses to him where people shared either their own conversion or the conversion of others including some famous teachers.
A major factor in Augustine's whole life is the influences his mother had on him. She was Christian, and through his whole time of seeking for truth she made no secret of her wishes and prayers for him.
In Book III of Saint Augustine: Confessions, Augustine relates his life at the time he went to Carthage to continue his studies. He opens this Book with this statement, "I went to Carthage, where I found myself in the midst of a hissing cauldron of lust." He goes on to relate all the things that he got into there. He fell in love -- and in our rude vernacular -- just "shacked up" with the lady. He apparently wasn't really concerned with fidelity because he also says he, " ... muddied the waters of friendship with the filth of lewdness and clouded its clear waters with hell's black river of lust." Augustine also relates that he was, "much attracted by the theater," because the sorrow portrayed on the stage seemed wonderful to him. He declares himself guilty of being in pursuit of, "an unholy curiosity," through which he, " ... deserted you (God) and sank to the bottom-most depths of skepticism and the mockery of devil-worship." Although Augsutine continues to heap criticism on himself for his behavior at this time in his life -- he was all of sixteen when he first arrived in Carthage -- he also acknowledges that he was much better behaved than a group of students who called themselves "The Wreckers." Today we'd call them a gang probably. I think we'd also say his upbringing was holding true that he was upset by their behavior and refused to take part in it.
Augustine goes on to tell us of finding the work of Cicero, specifically, a work titled Hortensia, which Augustine tells us recommends that, "the reader study philosophy." He tells also that this work led him directly to his life-long search for eternal truth and a search for wisdom. This search led him to a surface study of Scriptures but he says they didn't seem as grand as Cicero. Augustine goes on to tell the reader about his finding the Manicheans, group who claimed Christianity but had some very odd ideas as part of their "faith." It is worthy to note that at this point in the history of Christianity, there were literally hundreds of sects or cults, all with different interpretations of Scripture. (Rather like our own day and time.) It took some while after Augustine for the organization we know as the Catholic Church to first predominate and then become the sole acceptable expression of Christianity.
This explanation of his life, between the ages of sixteen and twenty, leads to his telling about his mother, Monica, known as Saint Monica in some churches. Augustine from the perspective of ten or twelve years later, says of his mother and her influence:
But you sent down your help from above and rescued my soul from the depths of this darkness because my mother, your faithful servant wept to you for me, shedding more tears for my spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son. For in her faith and in the spirit which she had from you she looked on me as dead. You heard her and did not despise the tears that streamed down and watered the earth in every place she bowed her head in prayer. You heard her for how else can I explain the dream with which you consoled her, so that she agreed to live with me and eat at the same table in our home? Lately she had refused to do this, because she loathed and shunned the blasphemy of my false beliefs, (Augustine, pg. 68).
Augustine's personal search for truth colored every aspect of his life and apparently never really ended even after his conversion. He spends many, many paragraphs castigating himself for how foolish he was to ever believe anything the Manicheans said. He also seems to spend a lot of time and energy ripping himself up as though he felt that anyone as smart as he was should not have taken so much time finding the truth. He makes a quiet point of sharing how he read books of philosophy and science and mathematics, and was able to figure out what they were about without the aid of instructors. He checked his understanding against the understanding of other well-educated people and found his self-deduced understanding to be in line with theirs so he was able to be confident in his own intellect. While we must accommodate a different cultural standard for judging maturity, it does seem as Augustine was very harsh on himself and demanded a great deal from a very young person. As part of his search for truth, Augustine found a read the work of the Platonists, who while they didn't really discuss God in a Christian context, did, using the works of Plato, re-enforce the idea of some ultimate truth worth looking for. He writes,
By reading these books of the Platonists, I had been prompted to look for truth as something incorporeal, and I caught sight of your invisible nature, as it is known through your creatures. Though I was thwarted of my wish to know more, I was conscious of what my mind was too clouded to see. (pg. 154)
At about this same time, young Augustine learned through various preachers that the Catholic Church did not hold some beliefs that he had found personally distasteful.
After all the misery his "long" exploration of ideas caused him, he finally comes to the understanding that each and every "false path" he took was actually where he needed to go to finally find and accept God.
The third powerful influence that led Augustine toward his conversion were the witnesses and stories of others who had finally accepted Christ -- which at this time also meant accepting Catholic teaching. By this time, Augustine had moved to Milan to teach rhetoric and philosophy. Although he deliberately left his mother behind, she "braved the dangers of the sea voyage," and followed him the year after. Probably through her influence, Augustine began attending church where one Ambrose, called Saint Ambrose, was the priest. Augustine was much taken with the man's joy and beauty of mind and teaching. This seemed to cuase and even greater crisis of spirit for Augustine and because Ambrose was always so busy, Augustine didn't feel it would be rigiht for him to impose the enormous burden of confusion, doubt and guilt he was dealing with on Ambrose. The solution Augustine found for this dilemma, was to go to another priest/bishop by the name of Simplicianus, who was recognized as spiritual father to Ambrose. Apparently, Simplicianus willingly listened to all the troubled Augustine had to say and then shared with him the story of one Victorinus, a Roman, who was a man of great learning and apparently quite old at the time of his conversion. Augustine says:
He (Victorinus) had studied a great many books of philosophy and published criticisms of them. He had been master to many distinguished members of the Senate, and to mark his outstanding ability as a teacher, he had even been awarded a statue in the Roman forum -- a great honor in the eyes of the world. (pg. 159)
Augustine goes on to tell that Victorinus was a worshipper of the many gods of Rome and took part enthusiastically in the rites of the gods. The old priest finishes his tale by relating that Victorinus willingly gave up his school in obedience to a law passed by the emperor Julian which forbade Christians to teach literature or rhetoric.
At some date, not too much later, Augustine and his dear friend Alypius, are visited by a man named Ponticianus who is described as a "countryman of ours from Africa," and also as someone who held a high position in the household of the Emperor. In the course of making some request of Augustine and his friend, Ponticianus notices a book on a nearby table and when he looks to see what it is, find that it is a copy of Paul's epistles. This inspires Ponticianus to relate the story of his own conversion that of three of his friends. Ponticainus tells them of Antony, an Egyptian monk whose ministry was noted for wonders and "modern day" miracles within the Catholic…[continue]
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