For Philosophy in school I wrote this paper about St. Augustine. He is probably one of the most inspirational figures in history to me, and I only just began to discover him this year–reading his Confessions and researching his life and conversion thoroughly. He, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien and a few others stand as passionate believers who used their understanding and intellect to further explore the Kingdom of God. I hope you enjoy reading about St. Augustine. I drew close to God while writing this paper, because of the power of St. Augustine’s testimony.
“Thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.” The profound sincerity with which St. Augustine of Hippo wrote these words continues to touch the hearts of modern readers. Even across the centuries since his time, his writings have the ability to “docere, movere, et delectare”—to teach, to move, to delight. His remarkable faith and testimony empower his talents and intellect, propelling them beyond the scope of his own century and era, and into the annals of Western Civilization. St. Augustine used the arts of Rhetoric, Logic, and Philosophy to strengthen his dissertations, his texts marked by eloquence, but laced by potent revelation of Christ and His wondrous nature. One ought to pay heed while reading a work of St. Augustine’s, whether it be his soul-searching Confessions or The City of God, or any of his other numerous expositions which explore the connections between eloquence and Truth. Indeed, throughout St. Augustine’s writings one can behold his struggle to embrace and understand the meaning of Truth, as it applies Biblically to the earthly life every human must pass through, while in pursuit of “The City of God”. He manages to capture in his Confessions, the raw vulnerability of the human soul, which yearns to understand and find the Truth, yet simultaneously clings to self-sufficient independence. St. Augustine ought to be viewed as a man who can testify for the very prevalent struggle between self and surrender to Christ, who defines the Darkness in this world as the absence of light, and an as encouraging theologian who brings clarity and a wealth of wisdom to the Summa Theologica.
“Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou was with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee.” Born in 354 A.D., in Hippo, a Roman Province on the North-Eastern coast of Africa, Augustine was the son of Roman pagan Patricius and devout Christian, Monica. He belonged to an upper-class Roman family, which permitted him to pursue a higher education—he initially began at a school in Madaurus, in the province of Numidia. Later he journeyed to Carthage, to study at a more intense level as a Rhetorician. He aspired to become a respected teacher in Rhetoric, and engaged himself in teaching and pursuing intellectual excellence. His eagerness to attain wisdom led him to desire an understanding of deeply spiritual matters, and he became frustrated when the Biblical faith his mother endeavored to instill in him as a youth, did not seem to satisfy him. Thus, he turned aside from the Church in order to seek his own lifestyle, from which he expected at least some measure of pleasing fulfillment. Moreover, he preferred to pursue his own desires and plans, once praying “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” Yet, as hard as he might attempt to bring fulfillment and meaning into his life, he could not uproot a strange frustration with the emptiness he persistently experienced. Augustine spent a considerable amount of his young-adult life exploring religious groups, which he hoped would answer his numerous questions. In the years before Western Rome fell to barbarian invasions, this “Eternal City” was overrun by an assortment of groups which attempted to unite intellect with spirituality, oftentimes straying from the Canonical Scriptures of the Bible, which were highly impactful in those early years of the Christian Church. Augustine of Hippo turned his back on God, who he later understood would prod him and draw him close to the only Truth in heaven and on earth.
“Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness.” The Manicheans, a cult which twisted and warped Biblical truths, drew in St. Augustine, who found himself increasingly desperate for an explanation of eternity, and of the Divine presence which he felt, but did not understand. He knew of God, but did not know His power to heal, to illuminate the darkness and desolation of a human heart bound by pride and stubbornness. His Confessions reveal this struggle, and his exasperation when a respected and “wise” leader in the Manichean group disappointed him, and failed to explain away Augustine’s bewilderment. As he continued to lose himself in sexual immorality, illegitimate relations with numerous women, and in falling prey to his fleshly desires and ambitions, Augustine sought answers elsewhere. He looked to the stars, rather than to the One who created those celestial lights. Astronomy temporarily appeared like a promising source of scientific logic, to reason away the confusion of his tangled soul. His emptiness would not leave, however. At last, he wandered into the halls of a widely-known teacher and Christian, whose doctrines impressed Augustine and stirred his heart, reminding him of his desire for fulfillment. He began to read about the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert, whose turbulent journey to salvation struck Augustine. He began to study the scriptures, gleaning from them answers, slowly unsheathing breathtaking comfort and revelation. Resistance against God’s gentle summons flared continually in Augustine, and he hesitated even as he felt drawn towards the Peace one can only find in Christ. His conversion can best be told in his own words:
“In the direction towards which I had turned my face and was quivering in fear of going, I could see the austere beauty of continence, serene and indeed joyous but not evilly, honourably soliciting me to come to her and not linger, stretching forth loving hands to receive and embrace me, hands full of multitudes of good examples. With her I saw such hosts of young men and maidens, a multitude of youth and of every age, gray widows and women grown old in virginity, and in them all Continence herself, not barren but the fruitful mother of children, her joys, by you, Lord, her Spouse. And she smiled upon me and her smile gave courage as if she were saying: “Can you not do what these men have done, what these women have done? Or could men or women have done such in themselves, and not in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand upon yourself and so not stand at all? Cast yourself upon him and be not afraid. He will not draw away and let you fall. Cast yourself without fear. He will receive you and heal you.” (Book VIII: Birthpangs of Conversion, the Confessions)
Thus, he “cast himself” towards the Lord, surrendering at last. His conversion undeniably connects to the human tendency of fear and pride, which in turn causes hesitation. Yet, reading of his conversion offers hope and encouragement, inspiration to perceive in the value of understanding, and the importance of humility when bowing before the Creator of Mankind, and giving up the spirit and mind to Him. For Augustine, this “giving up” meant uniting human intelligence with spiritual wisdom—the wisdom to seek humility over self-sufficiency. This wisdom requires acknowledging the mystery of God, his Infallible Power which cannot always be explained. Augustine must have experienced profound relief, as his words so aptly express: “Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace”. Now at least he turned over his life to God, and this meant dying to self. It meant yielding his lusts and (often immoral) pleasures, in order to live according to the Word of God; he yearned for virtue insofar as it fully honored God, and glorified Him. He explored these beautiful revelations of Christ, and the Truth solely found in Christ, in his Confessions and subsequent works. His writings articulate the beauty of a human soul encountering the Magnificent Veritas, the ultimate meaning, the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Lord who created all things. Today, St. Augustine is recognized as a church father whose thoughts have resounded throughout the centuries, echoing in the hearts of those early Christians in the early days of Western Civilization. And even now in the 21st century, men and women breathe in the philosophy borne by Scripture’s revelation and value, as they would inhale oxygen in the air—both are crucial to life. Yet while one is crucial to the physical wellbeing, the other, Scripture, preserves a soul for eternity. He paints so vividly the human struggle, the collision of the will, and the Will of God, the reality of God’s mystery, the infallible perfection of His majesty.
St. Augustine of Hippo ought to be read repeatedly, a father of the faith, one founder of theology’s definitions and explanation. At the same time, he acknowledges that God is in all things, in God all things exist, and God exists outside of human understanding or rational. This may directly address a prevalent demand among even Christians, who have not yet reconciled themselves to complete belief and surrender to the Lord. One would do well to delve into Augustine’s writings, using them as an interpretation of what it means to pursue God, to live in surrender to Him, for outside of God there is nothing but emptiness. A study of St. Augustine’s early life illustrates this aimless wandering and susceptibility to harmful creeds which could eventually lead to darkness. And even minutes before he laid down his life before the Lord, he was struggling against embracing the peace of God.
“For I said mentally, Lo, let it be done now, let it be done now. And as I spoke, I all but came to a resolve. I all but did it, yet I did it not. Yet fell I not back to my old condition, but took up my position hard by, and drew breath. And I tried again, and wanted but very little of reaching it, and somewhat less, and then all but touched and grasped it; and yet came not at it, nor touched, nor grasped it, hesitating to die unto death, and to live unto life; and the worse, whereto I had been habituated, prevailed more with me than the better, which I had not tried.” (Book VIII: The Confessions)
Hearing such words of emotion and visualizing this grasping for the presence of God, readers across the centuries understand, and experience the impact of St. Augustine’s revelation, a compelling encounter with truth and the beauty of a soul coming into Christ’s Kingdom.