Augustine's Fruitless Pursuit
Augustine describes his twenties as being a time in his life in which he went astray and led others astray. “I was deceived and deceived others,” he confesses, referring to his job teaching rhetoric, and thus the same pagan philosophies in which he has believed. It is during this time of “believing a lie” that Augustine experiences enormous pain at the death of his best friend. This friend, during his sickness, trusted Christ, but Augustine’s heart is nevertheless hardened. “He was snatched away from my madness, that with You he might be preserved for my consolation,” he says looking back at that difficult time.
Depression comes over Augustine’s life, and the darkness of sorrow comes over his heart. “Everywhere I looked I saw death,” he says. “I suppose that the more I loved him, the more I hated and feared, as the most cruel enemy, that death which had robbed me of him… My life was now a horror to me.” Not being able to stand the pressure of living in the same place, he flees Targaste and returns to Carthage.
It is at this point that Augustine begins to live with the woman to whom his out-of-wedlock child has been born. He also starts his long writing career, but his works at this time are ideas about astrology. Augustine admits that he has been gifted in the area of writing and philosophy, but he worships the gifts that God has given him rather than the God who has gifted him. “The good that you love is from him,” he explains. “And insofar as it is also for him it is both good and pleasant. But it will rightly be turned to bitterness if whatever comes from him is not rightly loved and if he is deserted for the love of the creature.”
Throughout these years, Augustine has been enamored with the charismatic personalities of the philosophers that have taught him. But as his own talent begins to grow, he sees the difference between “the charm of words” and “the truth of things.” By this time, he is twenty-nine, and it is the year in which doubt invades his mind regarding the philosophies he has accepted. Perhaps the most eloquent of the Manicheans, Faustus, arrives to teach, and Augustine can hardly wait to submit questions to the supposed wisest of all the philosophers of the Manichean heresy. “It was a source of annoyance to me that, in his lecture room, I was not allowed to introduce and raise any of those questions that troubled me, in a familiar exchange of discussion with him,” he declares. His doubts lead him to discredit Faustus and to forsake the heresy he proclaimed.
Still unsatisfied, Augustine heads for Rome to accept a teaching position there. Before he goes, his mother begs him to stay with tears and prayers, still hoping that Augustine will come to faith in Christ. “And what was it, O Lord, that she was asking of You in such a flood of tears but that You would not allow me to sail (to Rome)?” he asks in hindsight. “But You, taking Your own secret counsel and noting the real point to her desire, did not grant what she was then asking in order to grant to her the thing that she had always been asking.”
In Rome, a grave illness leads Augustine to pondering over Catholicism and the Christian faith. He decides at this point to become a catechumen in the church, after hearing Ambrose preach. “To Ambrose I was led by You without my knowledge, that by him I might be led to You in full knowledge,” he realizes. “That man of God received me as a father would, and welcomed my coming as a good bishop should.” Augustine, although unconsciously and somewhat gradually, was drawing nearer to the faith.
Not being able to support the distance from her son, Monica follows Augustine to Milan and finds him a catechumen in the church. She is so happy to see that Augustine is stepping closer to faith that she respects Ambrose all the more, obeying his every word as bishop. Still, Augustine is associating happiness with earthly esteem, and that is the reason he believes Ambrose is happy, not because of his faith in Jesus Christ.
As Augustine wrestles with trusting in Christ, Ambrose lets him down in that he has no time to allow Augustine to question him. “I could find no opportunity of putting the questions I desired to that holy oracle of Yours in his heart, unless it was a matter which could be dealt with briefly. However, those surgings in me required that he should give me his full leisure so that I might pour them out to him; but I never found him so.”
Disappointment in Ambrose, similar to his disappointment in Faustus, leads Augustine into a state of confusion. “I found nothing in his teachings that offended me,” he relates, “though I could not yet know for certain whether what he taught was true. For all this time I restrained my heart from assenting to anything, fearing to fall headlong into error. Instead by this hanging in suspense, I was being strangled.” This confusion eventually leads him to accept the fact that faith must exist and “that unless we believe, we should do nothing at all in this life.” This statement is the basis of Augustine’s whole epistemology.
Augustine wrestles with the decision of whether he should marry his mistress or not. His friend Alypius is the one who convinces him to break off the engagement, and thus Augustine admits his wretchedness keeps growing, but God is drawing nearer. By this point, he understands what he must do to accept the Christian faith, but his inward battle is far from over. “I delayed my conversion to the Lord,” he admits. “I was enamored of a happy life, but I still feared to seek it in its own abode, and so I fled from it while I sought it.”
written by Trevin Wax. © 2007 Kingdom People Blog