As he outlines in Book IX, Augustine’s life changes dramatically after his epic conversion in the garden. First of all, he quits his job, discovers the Psalms and weeps at their beauty, “utterances of devotion which allow no pride of spirit to enter in!” Then he writes to Ambrose, telling the good Bishop all about his past and asking him to recommend books Augustine should read to make him “readier and fitter to receive so great a grace” (of baptism). Ambrose advises him to read Isaiah because “more clearly than others, he foretold the gospel and the calling of the Gentiles.” Augustine is baptized along with his 15 year -old son, Adeodatus.
Adeodatus is as brilliant as his father, it seems. In one of Augustine’s books, The Teacher, his son is in dialogue with him. Like a proud dad, Augustine talks about his son in this way: “You know that he was responsible for all the ideas there attributed to him in the role of my partner in the conversation…..His intelligence left me awestruck.” His son dies at the age of 17 but Augustine remembers him without any anxiety because there “was nothing to fear in his boyhood or adolescence or indeed his manhood.”
We learn more about Monica in Book IX. She was a very wise woman but her life wasn’t without its share of difficulties. When she was a young girl, she was in charge of getting the family’s wine from the storage casks. Although her nanny didn’t allow her to drink anything stronger than water, curiosity got the better of young Monica and she started taking little sips of wine when she was sent to fetch it. Little sips gradually became full cups of wine secretly drank. A servant girl called her a “boozer” and out of that insult, Monica reflected on her addiction and “stopped the habit.”
She was a model wife, bearing with her husband’s “infidelities and never had any quarrel with [him] on this account. For she looked forward to [God’s] mercy coming upon him, in hope that, as he came to believe in [God], he might become chaste.” She prayed constantly for him and Patricius was baptized before he died.
In conversation with Augustine, she told him that she had no more pleasure in life and that her “hope in this world is already fulfilled” with his baptism and new life in Christ. Shortly after that, she became ill and after nine days, she died.
Book X starts this way: “May I know you, who know me. May I ‘know as I am known’ (1 Cor. 13:12). Power of my soul, enter into it and fit it for yourself, so that you may have and hold it ‘without spot or blemish’ (Eph. 5:27).”
It all comes together for Augustine in Book X: the end of his fruitless searching; his realization of the need for a personal relationship with a personal God; the understanding that he is loved by God. The quote, above, pretty much summarizes Augustine’s ultimate desire. His exploits, wrong turns and general bad behaviour that caused so much anxiety for his poor, sainted mother eventually led him to Truth and the fulfillment of that desire.
Remember that old song, “Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places”? That could be Augustine’s theme song before his conversion. Reflecting on his past and using his intellect which is from God, he discerns that fulfillment and joy are not found in things of this world, although even they owe their existence to God.
He talks about the lusts that continue to plague him: lusts of the flesh, the eyes, and gluttony. Through these sins, kind of like the “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7) of St. Paul, he is reminded that he is completely dependent on the mercy of God. “So under the three forms of lust I have considered the sicknesses of my sins, and I have invoked your right hand to save me (Ps. 102:3).”
Augustine’s journey isn’t unlike our own. I see myself in his struggles and in his triumphs. If we choose to look at all the events of our life through the eyes of faith, we can be assured that God has a hand in everything and all that happens to us works together for our good (cf. Romans 8:28). We don’t all have Augustine’s intellectual brilliance, but we have all been endowed with right reason and that helps us to discern what is good and Godly versus what is worldly and fleeting.
As the course instructor pointed out, we have a natural affinity for truth, goodness, beauty because we are made in the image of God Who is Truth, Goodness, Beauty. Everything points to God. Ultimately, fulfillment only comes with knowing and loving God, our neighbours and ourselves.
I found Book X to be lengthy, difficult to read but beautiful. It contains some breathtakingly lovely literary passages, too many to quote in this post. I wrote a reflection (here) on my favourite passage that begins “late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new…..”
The seminar course ends with Book X. Although the reading kept me up late some nights and at times (many times) I walked in late to early afternoon class because of work commitments, I’m so thankful that I was able to attend. My blog reflections were my way of internalizing what we discussed in class but I hope that even in a small way, you were able to learn something too.