About 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