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 Études 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.

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