Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Quick Look at Augustine's Conversion

From a cursory reading of our Ferguson’s Church History volume one, you might assume that St. Augustine was converted merely by the words of a young child singing.[1]It is a little surprising that it took Augustine as long as it did to come to faith in Christ, since his mother was a Christian. Some believe that he may have at one point believed in Christ, but merely walked away from his faith because of his intellectual nature.  He also had been involved in heresy or what some may call pseudo-Christianity in Manichism. It has been noted that there were even conversations with Ambrose before his conversion.
            Gary Wills asks the question and answers it like this, “If Ambrose did not play the leading role in Augustine’s conversion, who did? Simplicain- Ambrose’s own mentor….”[2]  Wills says that Simplician helped Augustine in four crucial ways. He received Augustine while Ambrose shrugged him off, he recommended he read Paul’s letters, he introduced him to Christian Neoplatonism in Milan, and lastly he pointed Augustine to the conversions of others.[3]It would be during this time frame he would escape his surroundings that he would be in his garden and hear the voice of a child saying “Pick up and read.”[4] There are some who say that this was merely an inner voice that Augustine heard and others argue that it was the voice of God. Wills cites Courcelle as saying, “…the child’s voice that Augustine now hears must also be a psychic event, not literal—Courcelle even used the textual variant to say the voice came from God’s house (divina domo) not from a nearby house (vicina domo). Either way Augustine heard the Lord speak to him that day and from the words of Romans 13:13-14 his life would be forever changed.
            Augustine had become extremely disenfranchised with the whole Manichian movement, while being a part of it had its benefits such as getting him rank in the government; he knew that something was amiss. Augustine also began to learn about monasticism and the ascetic lifestyle they led. And since he was tired of committing the sins of the flesh such as debauchery, this lifestyle became very interesting to him. [5]

[1] Everett Ferguson, Church History Vol One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005) 270.
[2] Wills, Gary. Saint Augustine. (New York: Penguin Group, 1999)44.
[3] Wills, Augustine, 44-45.
[4] Ferguson, History, 270.
[5] Ibid, 270.