Monday, April 25, 2011

Book 3: Student Years at Carthage

st augustine detailArriving at the great capital of Africa, Carthage, Augustine says that he was “In love with loving” not that he was in love with anything but that he was “casting about for something to love” (3.1.1). Vaught comments, “If the love of stealing is a love of nothing, the love of loving is love for the deeper nothingness from which stealing for its own sake emerges.”[i] This vacant idea of loving is linked to sexual promiscuity, where the desire to love and be loved is sweeter if he can enjoy a lover’s body. His desire to experience strong emotions is fed by being a spectator at the theatrical shows featured Carthage. He enjoyed being moved to tears by the theatrical tragedies (3.4).

In Carthage Augustine became a master in the School of Rhetoric with a goal of working in the law courts (3.6). He associated with a group of friends who called themselves the ‘wreckers’[ii] but distanced himself from their activities of bullying sensitive freshmen.

Studying treatises on elegance, he discovered a work by Cicero, called Hortensius which contained an introduction to philosophy. He was “won over not by its style but by what it had to say” that is by the notion of philosophy as the love of wisdom. He notes, “I was aroused and kindled and set on fire to love and seek . . . wisdom itself” (3.8).

As mentioned earlier in the introduction, Augustine’s interest in philosophy led him to read the Sacred Scriptures. He was immediately put off with the poor Latin translation that existed at the time (cf. Sermon 51.6). He was looking for the elegant prose of Cicero and found instead what appeared to be barbarous and unappealing. He blames his lack of appreciation on pride.

About this same time he began to listen to a group of Manichaean’s who “subtly maneuvered” him into accepting their views. The raised questions about the origin of evil and criticized anthropomorphic descriptions of God, and the moral practices of the Old Testament saints (3.7.12). The Manichaean’s were confused about the existence of absolute morals found in God’s eternal law rather than codes based on human custom and did not understand the idea of progressive revelation (3.13-3.8.15). God had slowly revealed his nature in the Old Testament. Looking back Augustine called absurd the belief of the Manichaean’s that if one of their elect ate a fig and belched or groaned in prayer “he would spew out angles, or even particles of God” (3.9.17).

Augustine’s deception led his mother Monica to grieve for him with many tears and to implore God for help. As she beseeched God, she had a vision or dream which Augustine recounts. He notes, “She dreamed that she was standing on some kind of wooden ruler, and she saw a young man of radiant aspect coming toward her” (3.11.19). The young man was happy while she was sad. He asked her why she was sorrowful, and she said because of his ruin. He admonished her to take note that, “where she stood, there also did I” (3.11.19). She took courage in the belief that Augustine would eventually be a Christian, though for nine more years Augustine “floundered in the mud of the deep and the darkness of deception” (3.20).

Text © Scott McKellar 2011


[i] Vaught, Journey, p. 69.

[ii]Eversores, literarily those who upset, overthrow, sack the city” Boulding, WSA I/1, p. 78 n. 12.

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