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)

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