Augustine’s Confessions, Part 3—Coming to Faith
Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Goto Part 1; Goto Part 2; Goto Part 4)
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
In part one of this review, I gave an overview of Augustine’s life and Confessions. In part two, I focused on his attitude about sin. Here in part three, I will look at Augustine’s journey of faith.
Augustine comes to faith at the age of thirty-two having struggled with sin, as discussed earlier, and giving up his career as a teacher of rhetoric and his betrothal to a younger woman to be ordained as priest. His conversion to Christianity is remarkable, not only because of the things that he gave up, but also because he actively considered the Manichean philosophy and because of the active influence of his Catholic mother, Monica. The timing of his conversion also coincided with a mystical experience.
Conviction of Sin
Augustine’s struggle with sexual passions caused him great anguish before his conversion and the story of the conversion of Victorinus, a fellow professor of rhetoric in Rome (142) weighed heavily on him. Augustine writes:
“Now when this man of Yours, Simplicianus had told me the story of Victorinus, I was on fire to imitate him: which indeed was why he had told me. He added that in the time of the Emperor Julian, when a law was made prohibiting Christians from teaching Literature and Rhetoric, Victorinus had obeyed the law, preferring to give up his own school of words rather than Your word, by which You make eloquent the tongues of babes.” (147)
These are not the words of a stoic philosopher. Augustine writes like a man in chains to his sin saying:
“Thus I was sick at heart and in torment, accusing myself with new intensity of bitterness, twisting and turning in my chain in the hope that it might be utterly broken, for what held me was so small a thing.” (167).
As Augustine then confessed his sin to God in private, he writes:
“Such things I said, weeping in the most bitter sorrow of my heart. And suddenly I hear a voice from some nearby house, a boy’s voice or a girl’s voice, I do not know, but it was a sort of sing-song, repeated again and again, ‘Take and read, take and read.’” (169)
Augustine borrowed a book of scriptures from his friend, Alypius, and opened it randomly coming to this verse:
“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Rom 13:13 ESV)
Convicted immediately of his sexual sin, he took this passage as a word from God to him personally and went to his mother to announce that he was a Christian (160).
He later prays:
“O LORD, I am Thy servant: I am Thy servant and the son of Thy handmaid. Thou hast broken my bonds. I will sacrifice to Thee the sacrifice of praise.” (163)
Having prayed for his conversion his entire life, Augustine’s mother died later that year.
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