In this book Augustine begins to relate his experiences during his 29th year. In particular he had begun to read certain “philosophers” (we would call them scientists today) who had studied the sun and the moon and were able to predict accurately the precise day, and hour and extant of the next solar or lunar eclipse. This research and the accuracy of their calculations convinced him that they had discovered the truth. These truths seem to contradict central aspects of the Manichean myths. The Manicheans did not seem to have adequate answers to these and other philosophical problems but they assured him that when the Manichean Bishop, Faustus arrived he would answer all Augustine’s questions. Augustine notes,
Now, I had read widely in the works of philosophers, committed a good deal to memory and still retained it, and I began to compare certain elements from my reading with the long-winded myths of the Manichees. The philosophers’ conclusions seemed to me more probable . . . (5.3.3).
Augustine notes the human pride which accompanies the philosophers who examine these heavenly phenomena. Distracted with this knowledge they fail to look for the Creator who made these calculations possible. Augustine admits,
Many true statements do they make about creation, but they do not find the Truth who is artificer or creation because they do not seek him with reverence. (5.3.5)
In fact Augustine goes on to parallel these philosophers with the corruption of the human conscience as seen in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 1:19-20. Their unsound reason, distorts the truth into a lie, “and they worship and serve the creature instead of the creator” (5.3.5). In spite of this distortion he admits they have come to many true conclusions and compare to Mani “who had written voluminously (and incoherently) on these subjects . . . there was a wide discrepancy” (5.3.6).
Finally Bishop Faustus arrived in Rome. He was a very persuasive and eloquent speaker. It quickly became evident that in spite of Bishop Faustus’ elegant speech, he was not knowledgeable about philosophy. Augustine says he was ill-educated in the liberal arts, apart from grammar, and had read very little of Cicero or Seneca. In the end Faustus turned out to be completely incompetent for Augustine’s purposes.
This created a crisis in Augustine’s belief because it was obvious that Mani was ignorant of these matters and yet “still had the effrontery to teach them” (5.5.8). To make matters worse Mani claimed to be speaking through the Holy Spirit, with his full authority. Augustine realizes that this was sacrilegious because Mani passed off “his erroneous opinions as those of a divine person—himself no less” (5.5.8). Although Augustine did not immediately leave the company of the Manicheans his enthusiasm for their beliefs was waning.
Text © Scott McKellar 2011
All quotes in this series of blogs from Confessions are from, St. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., The Works of Saint Augustine for the 21st Century, Ed John Rotelle, O.S.A., (New York, New City Press, 1997)
Image from Chapel of the Choir, Church of St. Augustine. Piazza Sant'Agostino 4, San Gimignano. Scene 4. After meeting Faustus of Mileve, Augustine decides depart for Ostia