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Faith and Reason: Augustine’s Road to Conversion Essay

“Faith is the basis of human life; man cannot discover that truth which holy scripture has disclosed.” (Augustine) “The love of God, in his nature superior to all creatures, is acquired by the knowledge of the senses and the exercise of reason.”   (Augustine) Even though Augustine’s “Confessions” recounts specific events in Augustine’s life, it is not a purely autobiographical book for the purpose of Augustine to confess his sins.

Confessions, does give voice to Augustine’s many discretions as a child, and young adult, however the book a testimony of faith by reason, demonstrates Augustine’s ability to bridge the gap between the two and to ultimately find happiness.  “That the knowledge of terrestrial and celestial things does not give happiness, but the knowledge of God only.” His quest for love, truth, wisdom, and understanding lead him down many roads, from studying Manichaeism to Neoplatonism and conversion to Catholicism.

Faith was a recurring theme throughout this book, mentioned 100 times throughout the reading, it is critical to mention that Augstine sought faith and understanding and saw it as a road to ultimate happiness.  Faith was first introduced to him by his mother Monica.  His mother, Monica (devout Catholic) and father Patrick (Pagan who later converted and became Catholic near his death), in some ways could be the foreshadowing into Augustine’s struggle.

His mother, Monica’s faith made a lasting impression upon Augustine, preaching abstinence, praying for him, and ultimately willing him to come to the church and leave the worldy things behind him.  She saw the weary place he was in but did not give up hope.  Augustine during that time turned far from God, and sought to satisfy himself through sin, fornication, and childhood pranks, he continues with his sinful ways even while at church .  “And Thy faithful mercy hovered over me afar”. (Augustine, Bk. III, Ch. III).

“Upon how grievous iniquities consumed I myself pursuing a sacrilegious curiosity, that having forsaken Thee, it might bring me to the treacherous abyss, and the beguiling service of devils, to whom I sacrificed my evil actions, and in all these things Thou didst scourge me!” (Augustine, Bk. III, Ch. III).

“And Thou sentest Thine hand from above, and drewest my soul out of that profound darkness, my mother, Thy faithful one, weeping to Thee for me, more than mothers weep the bodily deaths of their children. For she, by that faith and spirit which she had from Thee, discerned the death wherein I lay, and Thou heardest her, O Lord; Thou heardest her, and despisedst not her tears, when streaming down, they watered the ground under her eyes in every place where she prayed; yea Thou heardest her.

For whence was that dream whereby Thou comfortedst her; so that she allowed me to live with her, and to eat at the same table in the house, which she had begun to shrink from, abhorring and detesting the blasphemies of my error?”. (Augustine, Bk. III, Ch. XI )

Reason, was the change agent that drove Augustine to faith.  At age 18, Augustine discovers a book called Hortensius, by Cicero, which brought forth his quest for knowledge, sent Augustine on a search for wisdom and happiness through Manicheism.  For nine years subscribed to the beliefs of the Manichees, which denounces the that God is all mighty, omnipresent.

Augustine eventually begins to examine the beliefs of the Manichees, and challenges assumptions that he believes are untrue and begins to draw closer to God and Christianity.  Shortly thereafter, he meets Ambrose, who is an influential part of his conversion.  Although Augustine is impressed by astronomy’s reliability he comes to the conclusions that reason without faith is not reason at all.  (Augustine, Bk V).

Augustine now armed with all of the faith and reasons to choose Christianity still struggled because of his sexual or worldy desires.  He has attained faith, and has a better understanding through reasoning however still he had not chosen to convert.  He began to study his life, think about where he had been and where he was now.

He was depressed by his lack of will and began to fight himself, but moved closer to conversion.  Augustine, even closer to converting heard testimony of the story of Victorinus, who gave up all of his worldly possessions to pursue his life of Christianity,  Simplicianus, Ambroses’ father shared this story with Augustine, and yet still he did not convert.

During the argument with himself, Augustine could not help but notice the irony of his ability to will his arms against himself but not his mind against his transgressions.  It was during this time that he wept, and was called to pick up the bible and read.  It was then that Augustine’s conversion was complete.  He tells his friends and his mother the good news and Alypius decides to join him in the conversion.

Thru free will, Augustine chose to convert to Christianity and to quit his job.  Shortly there after Monica became very ill and passed away into the afterlife, but not before having a “transient experience with Augustine”. (Augustine, Bk. 9).It was as though her job on this earth was done now that Augustine had converted to Christianity.  After her death Augustine was saddened, but he did not grieve as he had before when his close friend died, because he realized that she had gone to be with her God and that was good.

This story was one filled with many twists and turns reaching opposite ends of the pendulum.  Augustine started life out as a sinner, as a young child continued to sin and even took on the religions of the world.  He turned away from God, but never forgetting him.  Augustine, always seemed to know that Christianity was ultimately his way to happiness, wisdom, but his curiosity took him elsewhere.  He ultimately reached his conversion thru the faith of his mother, the faith inside of him instilled by his mother and through reason, and the understanding of faith.

It was not enough for Augustine to accept blind faith, he spent much of his life examining faith through reason and challenging assumptions.  His quest for truth lead him down the rocky path called life, but ultimately he arrived at his destination.  Faith and reason can complement each other, work together for the common goal and are not required to operate in silos.

In summary, the story of Augustine’s Confessions, was complex but inspirational.  The humility in which he shares the stories of his life and analyzes his growth in faith toward God, demonstrates the wisdom that one can challenge religion.  It is ok to question the unknown, as well as accept it.  This book is all about Augustine’s return to God, the beginning or the end.  In his “confession”, there were two meanings of what was taking place, not only was Augustine’s confession an admonishment of guilt, it also was a way to praise him.

To honor the Lord thy God, for the journey and for allowing him to come to him on his own terms when he was ready with free will. The factors that ultimately contributed to Augustine’s conversion were in my opinion were as follows, his mother’s faith, and his inability to accept that faith without reason.  There were also several underlying factors that lead to Augustine’s life long quest.

Love and lust is a recurring them in the story.  Initially the book starts off recounting the love and lust of mother’s milk, the love of play, then on to the love and lust of words of affirmation, or being accepted.  “For I disobeyed, not from a better choice, but from love of play, loving the pride of victory in my contests, and to have my ears tickled with lying fables, that they might itch the more; the same curiosity flashing from my eyes more and more, for the shows and games of my elders”.  (Augustine, Bk. I, Ch V)

Acceptance was another key theme that continued to drive Augustine toward his downward spiral and his ultimate redemption as well.  Although he often goes through trials and darkness he does not give up his search for happiness or God.  In the end, Augustine recognized that God had made all things and it was through God’s word, he would find truth.

Works Cited

Augustine. Fathers of the Church : Saint Augustine : Christian Instruction, Admonition and Grace, the Christian Combat, Faith, Hope and Charity. [S.l.]: Catholic University Of America Pr, 1950. Print.

Miles, Margaret R. Desire and Delight: a New Reading of Augustine’s Confessions. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2006. Print.

Saint, Bishop of Hippo (345-430, Augustine). “Book Information | Christian Classics Ethereal Library.” Welcome to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library! | Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Web. 17 Nov. 2010. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/confess.html>.

Starnes, Colin. Augustine’s Conversion : a Guide to the Argument of Confessions I-IX. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 1990. Print.

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