Friday, May 13, 2011

Book 8: Conversion

11baptismHesitations (8.1.1-8.1.2)

Augustine’s glimpses of God led him to seek out the advice of the older Priest Simplicianus. Augustine wrestles with the issue of his vocation. Is he called to marriage or is he called to singleness and celibacy. He notes that although the Apostle Paul does not forbid marriage he proposes that the life of celibacy is a better choice (8.1.2). Simplicianus is pleased that he has read Plontinus rather than certain other philosophers who may have lead him away from the truth.

Victorinus’ Conversion (8.2.3-8.4.9)

Simplicianus told Augustine about the conversion of the cultured author Gaius Marius Victorinus. This man was a teacher and author of great repute in Rome who was originally a Pagan. Victorinus talked with Simplicianus and confided in him that he had become a Christian. The wise old priest replied, “I will not believe that, nor count you among the Christians, until I see you in Christ’s Church.” Eventually, Victorinus agreed to go to the Church and make a very public profession of faith, asking for baptism. Augustine is struck by this story as it clearly paralleled his own. He notes, “On hearing this story I was fired to imitate Victorinus; indeed it was to this end that your servant Simplicianus had related it” (8.5.10).

A Struggle in the Will (8.5.10-8.5.12)

Although Augustine is moved by these experiences he feels trapped by his former sinful habits. He notes, “The Truth is that disordered lust springs from a perverted will; when lust is pandered to , a habit is formed; when habit is not checked; it hardens into compulsion” (8.5.10). He prays to God that he might wake up and stop procrastinating. He related the force of habit to the law of sin found in Romans 7:24-25.

A meeting with Ponticianus (8.6.13-8.8.19)

One day while living in Milan with his friends, a certain man who was also an African named Ponticianus visited them. This man held an important post at court but was an extremely pious baptized Christian. Ponticianus began to tell Augustine and Alypius about the monk Anthony of Egypt. He also told them the story of the conversion of two officials at Trier. Upon reading The Life of Anthony, the men impulsively abandon their secular lives in favor of the monastic life. Augustine describes his response as “spellbound.” (8.6.14) and as he thought further “fiercely shamed and flung into hideous confusion” (8.6.18). In order to process his feelings he enters the garden adjacent to the house in the company of Alypius.

conversion of st AugustineThe Struggle in the Garden and Conversion (8.8.19-8.12.30)

He is left in great interior turmoil that leaves him almost paralyzed (8.8.20). His heart is raging in argument with itself (8.11.27). Finally he breaks into sobs and flings himself under a fig tree (8.12.28). Suddenly from nearby he hears the voice of a child, “Pick it up and read, pick it up and read.” He toke this as divine command to open the book and read the first passage from Scripture just as St. Anthony had done in Ponticianus’ story. Augustine opened to Romans 13:13-14 and read “Not is dissipation and drunkenness, not in debauchery and lewdness, nor in arguing and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh or the gratification of your desires.” He noted at this moment, “the light of certainty flooded my heart and all dark shades of doubt fled away” (8.12.29).

Alypius had his own experience with the Lord and insisted that Augustine read the next verse after his which read, “Make room for the person who is weak in faith” (8.12.30). Alypius took this as confirmation that he should journey where Augustine led. They immediately told Monica who was overjoyed and filled with triumphant delight.

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)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Book 7 Augustine’s Neo-Platonism

Christianity and Neo-Platonism (7.9.13- 7.9.15) [i]

At this time Augustine began to “keep company with an ‘intellectual’ circle in which pagans and Christians mingled.”[ii] Lancel call this the ‘Millanese circle’ and it included both pagan and Christian dignitaries and philosophers. In the forefront was Manlius Theodorus, and Christian who wrote a history of philosophy and other treaties and was a fervent disciple of Plotinus.[iii]

platoAugustine also dialogued with an older priest named Simplicianus, who had read much of Plotinus and especially in the Latin translation of Marius Victorius.

Around this time Augustine notes that “a certain man grossly swollen with pride” provided him with “some books by the Platonists, translated from the Greek into Latin” (7.9.13).[iv]

Reading Plotinus helped Augustine to abandon his overly literal interpretation of divine substance. Plotinus talks about three first principles [Greek: archai] or hypostases, One (or the Good), Intellect, and Soul.[v] Bussanich notes that, “the One is the source [arche] of all beings and, as the Good, the goal [telos] of all aspirations”[vi] Plotinus believes that the nature of the One is ineffable, and that efforts to define it are doomed to fail as inadequate. At the same time it is possible to speak about it and examine its universal role in reality.[vii] Having become saturated in Neo-platonic thinking, Augustine is willing to see spiritual reality through figurative or metaphorical language rather than a crude literalism. This enabled him to see the close parallels between the philosophical presuppositions of Neo-Platonism and Christianity. Does Augustine simply accept Neo-Platonism and then project certain Christian doctrines on to it as if Plotinus believed them? There is sufficient evidence in Confessions to suggest that Augustine is well aware of the distinctions between the two systems and that ultimately he presents a contrast between the two systems.

In the next section he highlights some of the most distinctively Christian aspects. Vaught notes, “The Neo-Platonists know that the Word is the offspring of God, but they do not understand that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”[viii] Augustine emphasizes that “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (7.9.14). He also quotes from Philippians 2 noting that although Christ was “equal to God” he “emptied himself taking the form of a servant” (7.9.14). This incarnational perspective is unique to Christianity and may even contrast the ‘pride’ of the Neo-Platonists with the ‘humility’ of Christianity. The humility of God allows one to participate in true Wisdom. The truths of the Neo-Platonists are compared to the ‘gold’ the Israelites plundered from the Egyptians during the Exodus.

Neo-Platonic Mysticism (7.10.16-7.17.23)

Following the advice of Neo-Platonism Augustine attempts to attain a mystical experience. Plotinus suggested that “our awareness (sunesis) of that One is not by way of reasoned knowledge (episteme) or of intellectual perception (noesis), as with other intelligible things, but by way of a presence (parousia) superior to knowledge (Enneads VI.9.4.1-3).”[ix] Augustine attempts to purify himself and enter in to a mystical vision of God. He describes a series of visual metaphors involving light, yet this light is the presence of God. God is real but far away and his intense rays beat back his feeble gaze. The experience shifts back to an auditory experience where he hears a word in his heart. The experience was so intense there could be not possibility of doubt about its truth or reality (7.10.16).

Although this does not immediately lead to his conversion, it does give him new light on the problem of evil. Augustine argues that “things prone to destruction are good” and that “all things which suffer some harm are being deprived of some good” (7.12.18). This leads to the conclusion that everything that exists is good, and that evil cannot be a substance or being at all. All created things are good is so far as they exist, yet they can be subject to corruption. Most finite beings are not just subject to corruption but have turned away from God and become corrupt. God is the only being not subject to corruption. A thing which lacked all goodness would not exist. But evil is not only a privation of the good, but a perversity of the will twisted away from God (7.16.22).

Augustine describes another attempt to mystically ascend into God presence. He is draw towards God’s beauty but dragged away by his carnal habits (7.17.23). He attains a “tremulous glance” of That Which Is, but then is forced back through weakness. Yet he is comforted by a loving memory.

Christ as Mediator (7.18.24-7.21.27)

Finally he comes to realize his need for Christ as a mediator (7.18.24). Even so, in his pride he was not yet willing to embrace the full meaning of the incarnation. He notes that he regarded Christ “as not more than a man” (7.19.25). Christ was merely a good example of distain for earthly goods and a teacher of incomparable authority. Christ was to be preferred because of  “the outstanding excellence of his human nature and his perfect participation in wisdom” (7.19.25).

At this stage Augustine began to read the writings of the Apostle Paul. Earlier he had rejected these writings as contradictory, but now he was able to see their truth. He is particular struck by the contrast in Romans 7:22-23 between the inner desire to delight in God’s law and the other law in the bodily members “which strives against the law approved by his mind” (7.21.27).

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)




[i] John Bussanich, “Plotinus's metaphysics of the One” in The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, Ed. Lloyd P. Gerson, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996) p. 38-65.

[ii]Lancel, St. Augustine, p. 82.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Most likely the Latin translation of Marius Victorius.

[v] Bussanich, p. 38.



[viii] Vaught, Encounters, p. 40.

[ix] As quoted in Bussanich, p. 41.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Problem of Evil (7.3.4-7.8.12)

Adam and Eve2Augustine now affirms his belief that God created man, both body and soul, and all other corporeal things without defilement and that God is “in all respects unchangeable” (7.3.4). At the same time he acknowledges that the “cause of evil has not been clarified or disentangled” (7.3.4.). He is aware of the Church’s answer, “that the cause of evil is the free decision of our will, in consequence of which we act wrongly and suffer your righteous judgment” (7.3.5). Yet Augustine is led to question. He begins to see that the human will is at the root of his failed perception. As a Manichean he was a mere spectator who was subject to involuntary acts. Now he realizes that he is a moral agent responsible for his own actions. This leads to further questions. If God who is “Goodness” himself made him how, did Augustine derive the ability to will what is evil and refuse to do the good? Can we blame the devil? Then where did the devil come from? What is the origin of the evil will in the devil who was also created “entirely by the supremely good creator?” (7.3.5). It seems that all these answers are a dead end leading back to seeing the cause of evil in the free decision of the will.

Anticipating the later argument of Anselm, Augustine proposes that “No intelligence has ever conceived of anything better than you …” because otherwise the mind would have been able to attain something better than God himself (7.4.6). If God’s nature is totally immune to corruption then where does evil come from? In the end the root of evil will be traced back to its origins and will express itself in the possibility that evil has no being at all.[i] At this point Augustine is able to point to his faith in Christ, and in the Catholic Church. His faith is “still in many ways uninformed, wavering and at variance” with the Church, yet his mind “drank it in ever more deeply as the days passed” (7.5.7).

Touching on his past beliefs as a Manichean, Augustine gives a brief digression on why he rejects astrology. He relates how Vindicianus convinced him with a story from Firminus who knew of two people born at exactly the same moment but from completely different circumstances. They had identical horoscopes but completely different lives. One pursued a brilliant career and made lots of money, while the other was a slave. Augustine notes that the same problem occurs with twins. They are astrologically identical but suffer different fates. The example of Esau and Jacob comes to mind.

Augustine returns to the problem of evil and fin himself still in an interior turmoil, though he affirms his faith the love of God and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and “in the holy scriptures which the authority of your Catholic Church guarantees” (7.7.11). In the light of this faith gradually the darkened vision of his spirit began to improve day by day.

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)

[i] Vaught, Encounters with God in Augustine’s Confessions: Books VII-IX, p. 33.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Book 7: Encounter with Neo-Platonism



In Book 7, Augustine encounters the writings of his contemporary Platonist philosophers[i], most likely the writings of Plotinus (c. 205-270).[ii] Plotinus is considered by modern scholars a Neo-Platonist, though there is some dispute about the use of this category. Plotinus was very knowledgeable about both Plato and Aristotle, but also the later developments in the Platonic philosophical tradition. He was able to produce an original synthesis of this material that was extremely faithful to the ‘spirit’ of Plato. He was a disciple of the philosopher, Ammonias Saccas. After his death, Plotinus’ disciple, Porphyry (c. 232-c.303) published Plotinus’ works as 54 treatises arranged in six Enneads (groups of nine), as well as his biography, The Life of Plotinus. According to his disciple, Porphyry, he born in Lycopolis, Egypt in A.D. 205 and became a philosopher at age 28.[iii] In 243 Plotinus attached himself to an expedition of the Emperor Gordian III to Persia in order to study to study Persian and Indian philosophy. When the Emperor was assassinated by his troops, Plotinus gave up these plans and moved to Rome in 245, remaining there until his death in 270 or 271.

The Nature of God (7.1.1-7.2.3)

As Augustine approaches the age of 30, he is to leave adolescence and enter “youth” (Iuventus).[iv] His philosophical thinking has become darkened by his insistence that the idea of substance must entail some sort of bodily existence. He imagined God as “something corporeal spread out in space, whether infused into the world or even diffused through the infinity outside it” (7.1.1). To deny this seem to him to predicate God’s non-existence. At the same time he believed that God must be imperishable, inviolable, and unchangeable (7.1.1). Looking back he sees how false this view is and how it contains many contradictions related to the presence of God in various sizes of objects.

Augustine moves on to recall an old argument of his friend Nebridius. What would happen, asked Nebridius, if God refused to fight against the powers of darkness? Would they have the power to injure God? Since God is inviolable, this is clearly not the case. He cannot suffer harm. This thought completely undermines the Manichean myths about an alleged fight between the powers of darkness and the powers of light which resulted in the entanglement of light and darkness in bodily existence (7.2.3). Augustine argues that either, God is incorruptible and, the Manichean myth is “shown up as untrue and to be rejected with loathing” (7.2.3) or God is corruptible and not really ‘god’ at all.

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)

[i] Mark J. Edwards “Neoplatonism” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 588-591. Lancel, St. Augustine, p. 82-84. Brown, Augustine, p. 79-107. Carl G. Vaught, Encounters with God in Augustine’s Confessions: Books VII-IX. (New York: SUNY Press, 2004), p. 25-66.

[ii] For these dates see “Plotinus,” and “Porphyry “ in F. L. Cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd rev. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 1310, 1318.

[iii] Lloyd P. Gerson, “Introduction,” ” in The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, Ed. Lloyd P. Gerson, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996, p. 2.

[iv] See above note 1.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Book 6: Friends and Philosophy

Alypius (6.7.11-6.10.16)[i]

Alypius is the son of leading citizens in Augustine’s home town, and was among his students in Thagaste, and then in Carthage. Initially he is taken in by the frivolous shows of the circus in Carthage and stops his studies. Augustine offers him a correction which sets him back on the path of discipline and study. This conversion from sinful curiositas (curiosity) is the beginning of his true conversion. After studying together with Augustine, however, he first becomes a Manichean (6.7.12). He later moves to Rome to study law and becomes Assessor to the Chancellor of the Italian Treasury (6.10.16). He will later have a conversion from ambition (8.6.13) and will journey with Augustine to Baptism in Milan with Adeodatus (April 387) at the hands of Bishop Ambrose. He will return to Africa with Augustine to live a monastic life in Thagaste, and then in Hippo. In 395 he is elected bishop of Thagaste.

Nebridius (6.10.17)[ii]

Nebridius is described as a “fellow-seeker of the happy life” and “an ardent researcher into the most difficult questions” (6.10.17). Augustine says he is from a wealthy family in Carthage and he came to Milan for no other purpose than to live with him and share in his community of friends “fiercely burning zeal for truth and wisdom” (6.10.17). Nebridius was not present with Augustine at the Cassiciacum discussions before his baptism, but remained a close friend. He converted soon after Augustine and moved to Africa where he observed “perfect chastity and continence” (9.3.6). Through his example his whole household became Christian, before his death in 391.

Philosophical Perplexities and Marriage Plans (6.11.18-6.16.26)

In the thirtieth year of his life, Augustine stuck in a “muddy bog” of perplexity. The failure of Faustus and the Manicheans, the dead end of the Academics, had led him to consider anew the teachings of the Church. Augustine was still uncertain as to the true meaning of a happy life and so he put off his conversion. He considered marriage. Alypius was strongly opposed to this because it would impede their ability “to live together in carefree leisure and devote themselves to philosophy” (6.12.21). Augustine defended the possibility of a holy life in marriage and feared that he would not be able to live a life of countenance after years of living with a woman. Augustine’s desire aligned with those of his mother and a marriage was arranged for him to a young girl who was then still two years below the marriageable age (i.e. ten years old).

At the same time his group of friends began to talk about forming a community devoted to the study of philosophy, literature and the arts. The talked about a living is a somewhat secluded place and having all things in common. Those who were married, or who wished to married felt that their wives would reject the plan.

Because of the plan to enter into an arranged marriage, Augustine had to endure the loss of the woman he had been living with. He says that she was ‘ripped from his side’. Is this an allusion to the Genesis narrative? He was deeply hurt by this loss. He writes, “So deeply was she engrafted into my heart that it was left torn and wounded and trailing blood” (6.15.25). She left for Africa and vowed to never take another man, but Augustine immediately took up with another woman. Yet for all of this, his life became a misery.

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) 



[i] Peter Brown, Augustine, p. 56-7, 99-101, 469-471; Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., “Alypius,” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 16-17, Robert J. O'Connell, “Alypius' "Apollinarianism" at Milan (Conf. VII,25),” Revue des √Čtudes Augustiniennes (1967) 8: p. 209-210

[ii] Peter Brown, Augustine, p. 56-7, 126-129; Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., “Nebridius,” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 587-588.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ambrose Enlightens Augustine

Anthonis_van_DyckBishop Ambrose[i]  Enlightens Augustine (6.3.3-6.6.10)

Historian Serege Lancel notes that “the spiritual and emotional chronology of the Confessions . . . does not always match up with the calendar reconstructed by historians.”[ii] Bishop Ambrose bursts into the narrative of Confessions as a central figure. Clearly the focus is one Augustine’s enlightenment and not on the Bishop of Milan per se. Ambrose did not begin his career in the Church. He was a student of law and had worked his way up the ranks of government office to become the governor of the province of Milan. Lancel says he had “the promise of one of the most brilliant career of the century” in the imperial court. What prompted him to become a bishop?

One the death of bishop Auxentius, in 373, the situation in the town [of Milan] was critical; the dead prelate was of Arian faith, thus the representative of a minority that was important but on decline in the face of Catholic dominance in the city. A turbulent mob burst into the basilica where the bishops of the province held their meeting, assembled to ordain a successor to Auxentius, and both factions put pressure on an electoral body which was itself divided and irresolute. The rising had to be put down and order re-established. Rather than bring in the troops, the governor of the province chose to intervene in person; he entered the church, obtained silence, began to speak and made the people listen when he appealed for calm. The crowd then acclaimed him and in one voice demanded this unanimously respected governor for their bishop—a governor who was none other than Ambrose.[iii]

Although Ambrose was certainly a faithful Christian catechumen, he was baptized after his accession to the episcopacy and “was less familiar with the Scriptures than with Cicero and Virgil.”[iv] Ambrose took his charge very seriously and was forced to learn and teach simultaneously. He had the good fortune of excellent knowledge of both Greek and Latin, so he was able to read the Greek Fathers, especially the “Cappadocians,” Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzius, as well as Origen and even the Jewish exegete Philo of Alexandria. From these Fathers he learned the allegorical method of interpreting the Old Testament.

Augustine met Bishop Ambrose in 385, more than ten years after he became bishop. As Augustine listened to Bishop Ambrose preach, he was convinced by the spiritual interpretation of the Old Testament that his former Manichaean objections about the Old Testament are unfounded and that what the Church says about physical and spiritual realities made perfect sense. Augustine notes, “I now began to prefer Catholic doctrine” (6.5.7). He also began to realize that many things he believed in ordinary life were accepted on the basis of authority, or on the “testimony of friends, or physicians, or various people” (6.5.7). Even the fact that he was born of a particular set of parents could not be known apart from the testimony of others. The pure philosophy of the Academics had not been able to reveal this to him. “It was because we were weak (Romans 5:6) and unable to find the truth by pure reason that we needed the authority of the sacred scriptures; and so I began to see that you would not have endowed them with such authority among all nations unless you had willed human beings to believe in you and seek you through them” (6.5.8). Augustine comments on the ability of sacred scripture to be accessible to all people, and yet to contain profound mysteries (Latin: sacramentum). He notes;

The authority of the sacred writings seemed to me all the more deserving of reverence and divine faith in that scripture was easily accessible to every reader, while guarding a mysterious dignity in its deeper sense (6.5.8).

Augustine was still mired in his journey forward by his seeking happiness in such empty pursuits as worldly “honors, wealth, and marriage” (6.6.9). This appears to be pointing to the vices of 1 John 2:16 “the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the arrogance of a life”[v] This comment by Augustine leads into an anecdote. He recalls that once while walking in Milan he passed a poor drunken beggar. The man was undeniably happy and filled with joy—not true joy of course. This leads him to reflect on his own unhappiness and the worldly false hopes he has just named. He reflects on this with his friends, Alypius and Nebridius which leads to a small digression on each of his friends.

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)


[i] Peter Brown, Augustine, p. 69-78; Neil McLynn, “Ambrose of Milan,” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 17-19. Lancel, St. Augustine, p. 65-77.

[ii] Ibid., p. 67.

[iii] Ibid., p. 67-68.

[iv] Ibid., p. 68-69.

[v] concupiscentia carnis est, et concupiscentia oculorum, et superbia vitæ.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Book 6: Enlightenment in Milan

Monica (6.1.1-6.2.2)[i]

St_MonicaSt. Augustine begins book six, having rejected Manichaeism but not yet having accepted Christianity. At this time his mother, Monica decide to leave Carthage and to rejoin him in Milan. Upon hearing that he had rejected Manichaeism she was overjoyed, even if he was not yet a Christian. Trusting on the vision God had given her in a dream she “redoubled her prayers and tears” to God imploring his help (6.1.1). Peter Brown describes Monica’s strengths as being, “restrained, dignified, above gossip, a firm peacemaker among her acquaintances, [and] capable, like her son, of effective sarcasm.”[ii] Monica is a constant theme in Augustine’s narrative. He will return to give more details of her life in his Book 9. In Book 6 he recounts an anecdote concerning Monica’s adherence to certain Africa pious customs such as visiting the tomb of the martyrs to make offerings of pottage, bread and wine. While Augustine makes it very clear that his mother behaved in a chaste and pious manner, these African customs had often led to drunkenness and promiscuity and “the custom resembled the cult of ancestors and was so closely kin to the superstitious practices of the pagans” (6.2.2). For this reason Bishop Ambrose had forbidden the practice in Milan and later as Bishop, Augustine will attempt to do the same in Carthage.[iii] Augustine marvels, at how graciously his mother gave up the practice, though he notes, “it seems unlikely that my mother would have yielded easily over the abolition of this custom had it been forbidden by anyone other than Ambrose, whom she highly revered” (6.2.2). Ambrose held her in mutual high regard.

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 Saint Monica, Benozzo Gozzoli (fresco -1464-65)
Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano

[i] Peter Brown, Augustine, p. 16-22; Angelo Di Berardino, O.S.A., “Monica” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 570-571.

[ii] Peter Brown, Augustine, p. 17.

[iii], In St. Augustine Letters 36.14.32 and 54.2.3, Augustine observes the practice of Ambrose to observe the custom of each local church with being quarrelsome. When he was in Milan he observed one custom when in Rome another.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book 5: Augustine Moves to Rome

imageAbout this time an opportunity opened up for Augustine to move to Rome. Aside from a higher income and more prestige he was prompted to leave Carthage by the general bad behavior of the students there. The boorish, disruptive and even violent behavior of his students was a great frustration to him.

The move to Rome was resisted by his mother Monica. In the end, Augustine lied to her and departed secretly by ship in the night. When he arrived in Rome he became deathly ill but did not seek baptism because he still did not believe in the incarnation. He credits his eventual recover from this illness to his mother’s daily prayers for him, morning and evening.

In Rome he continued a “half-hearted” adherence to the sect of the Manicheans. In particular he enjoyed their belief that we were not personally responsible for our sins but some other nature within ourselves causes us to sin. There was no need to go to confession since he blamed “some other force” for his sins (5.10.18). This belief is linked to his belief that “evil was not only a substance, but even a bodily substance” (5.10.20).

In Rome he was attracted to a school of philosophy known as the Academics. This school recommended universal doubt about the possibility of human mind discovering truth. This lead him to be less attached to the beliefs of the Manicheans, but he says he was too lazy to seek anything else (5.10.19).

Augustine enumerates what continue to be his objections to Christianity. First he found it contemptible that God could confine himself to “appearance in human flesh” (5.10.19) and thus “could not have been born of the Virgin Mary” (5.10.20). Second he could not believe that a good God could “create any evil nature” (5.10.20) since he believed that evil was “a bodily substance” (5.10.20). He also doubted the truthfulness of the Scriptures and even that the New Testament writings “had been falsified by some unknown persons bent on interpolating the Christian faith with elements of the Jewish law” (5.11.21). Although he admits that this last charge was made without any proof.

When Augustine began to teach in Rome he soon discovered that were problems of a different sort in Rome. Although the students were better behaved in class groups of them would conspire to dodge the fees they owed to their teachers. In the midst of his frustration about this word came to him of a job offer in Milan asking for a master of rhetoric. Augustine used his Manichean contacts to obtain recommendations for the job. He was successful and proceeded to move to Milan. He notes that secretly a large part of his motivation for the move was to get away from the other Manicheans.

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 5. Augustine opens a school of rhetoric in Rome