Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Book 9: Death and Rebirth

baptism of Jesus carivagioWho is like the Lord? (9.1.1)

Augustine begins this book with a prayer which parallels the pray at the beginning of book I. This book begins with Augustine entering into a new life with Christ and ends with the death of his mother. From a different perspective Augustine undergoes a spiritual death of his own as his mother undergoes physical death. There is also a Trinitarian theme in this section. Augustine has a vision of the Father in Book 7, of the Son in Book 8, while in Book 9 he enters into life in the Spirit.[i]

Renouncing His Former Career (9.2.2)

Augustine’s encounter with God in the garden (Book 8) leaves him ready to renounce his former career. He calls the craft of rhetoric “lying follies” (9.2.2). At the same time he is concern about the appearance of making “an abrupt and sensational break” (9.2.2). He decided to resign after the vintage holidays (a normal summer and harvest break). The news of his pending resignation was kept private by his friends so that it did not cause a stir in the community.

As it turned out, Augustine became ill around this time with lung problems which made it difficult for him to breathe and gave him pains in his chest. As he “could not manage any sustained vocal effort” (9.2.4) the condition would require him either to give up his profession or at the very least to take some rest. This was the perfect excuse to finish the twenty remaining days and then to retire. He was somewhat concerned that other Christians might think his continuing to teach even for twenty days was an unacceptable compromise, but if this was wrong God would certainly forgive this in the waters of Baptism (9.2.4).

A wealthy friend of Augustine’s named Verecundus, was also interested in becoming a Christian but was not interested in celibacy since he was married (his wife was a Christian). For some reason this made him feel inferior to Augustine and his friends who were choosing a monastic type of life. Verecundus offered Augustine and his friends the use of his “country estate at Cassiciacum” (9.3.5). Soon after this, Verecundus became fatally ill and experienced a death bed conversion.

Nebridius was happy to hear Augustine’s news but had himself fallen into a “dangerous error” (9.3.6). He falsely believed that Jesus had not truly come in the flesh. Shortly after Augustine’s conversion and baptism, he too converted and returned to African to live “perfect chastity and continence. Eventually he was able to convert his whole household by his Christian example before his departure to “Abraham’s bosom” (9.3.6).

Summer at Cassiciacum (9.4.7-9.5.13)[ii]

When the holidays arrived in in August of 386, Augustine, his son, his mother and some friends (Alypius, Licentius, Lastidianus, Rusticus, Trygetius) traveled to the villa at Cassiciacum for the vacation. Modern scholars believe this location to be Cassiago di Brianza, 21 miles North East of Milan. An inscription of the pagan Verecundus was found there.[iii] Augustine composed some treaties during this time but he notes that this work “they still had whiff of scholastic pride about it (9.4.7).”[iv]

Augustine combats this pride by pouring out his heart in the Psalms. He recounts the ardor with which he recited them (9.4.8). He notes how the Psalms changed his heart, “As I read these words outwardly and experienced their truth inwardly I shouted with joy, and lost my desire to dissipate myself amid the profusion of earthly goods. . .” (9.4.10). When the vacation was over he announced his retirement to the people of Milan (9.5.13). He was still experiencing “difficulty breathing and pains in the chest” (9.5.13).

Egnatian WayA Journey Back to Milan and Baptism (9.6.14)

Augustine, Alypius and his son Adeodatus all notify Bishop Ambrose of their intension to be baptized. At the Eastern Vigil 24-25 April, 387 they are baptized by immersion and then as white clad neophytes are lead from the baptistery to the church to receive their first Eucharist.[v] Augustine is particularly moved to “loving devotion” by the singing of hymns and canticles.

Arian Persecutions in Milan (9.7.15-9.7.16)

Augustine recounts a persecution which broke out as a result of Justina the mother of Emperor who was an Arian. She persecuted Bishop Ambrose, who risked his life to oppose her. Many of the faithful stayed up all night in the church to accompany him. Monica was among them. Augustine recounts how they borrowed the custom of singing hymns and psalms in the manner familiar in the East.

At this time Ambrose received a vision about the location of the bodies of the martyrs Gervasius and Protasius. Their bodies had been found and dug up and transported to Ambrose’s basilica. On the way to the basilica “some people hitherto tormented by unclean spirits were restored to health” and a well know citizen who was blind for several years had his sight restored after touching a handkerchief to the relics of the martyrs and then applying this to his eyes (9.7.16). These events caused “a change of mind” for Justina, who relent in her persecution.


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, p. 106 following James O’Donnell.

[ii] Angelo Di Berardino, OSA, trans. Allan D. Fitzgerald, “Cassiciacum” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 135.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Augustine wrote his first works here, Contra Academicos, De beata vita, De ordine, and Soliloquia.

[v] Pamela Jackson “Ambrose of Milan as Mystagogue” Augustinian Studies 20 (1989), pages 93 – 107.

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