St. Augustine

’s Journey In Confessions Essay, Research Paper

In the narrative of The Confessions of St. Augustine, Augustine is searching, testing and refuting different ways of the world through which he seeks happiness and contentment. Along his journey are several experiences that completely alter the direction of his course: the death of his friend and soulmate, which brings complete bitterness and melancholy upon all his former pleasures; the empty eloquence of Faustus, the man revered by all the Manichees as supremely wise; and his journey to Milan where he meets Bishop Ambrose and discovers that the Christian faith can indeed be defended upon logical grounds. The final turning point is the most important, for it marks the beginning of Augustine s conversion to the Christian faith, a complete turning over of his will to God. Ambivalence and affinity for worldly pleasures make this conversion a long and painful one that culminates with a cathartic shedding of tears.

Augustine makes his way to Rome in order to find students serious in their studies, not prone to subversive behavior in the classroom; he finds the students there serious as reported but prone to an equally maddening flaw: evading the fees of their scholarship. When the opportunity arises to make way for Milan and fill a position for professor of rhetoric, Augustine snatches the chance and begins yet another journey. Here he meets Bishop Ambrose, who he finds can defend the illogical nature of Scripture and make it sensible and logical. The beginning of monumental change in the Saint s life begins:

Though I did not realize it, I was led to him [Ambrose] by you so that, with full realization, I might be led to you by him. That man of God welcomed me as a father and, in the capacity of bishop, was kind enough to approve of my coming there I was drawing gradually nearer (p. 108).

Through the influence of Ambrose Augustine decides to abandon the Manichees altogether, convinced if nothing else of the futility and fallacy of their complex system.

With Manichaeanism discarded, our humble narrator and hero finds himself despairing of ever discovering the truth (p. 111). Though certainly intrigued by the call of Christian faith, Augustine finds it was the same with me as with a man who, having once had a bad doctor, is afraid of trusting himself even to a good one (p. 117). The pleasures of the flesh and his worldly ambition, those sirens upon the sea of the world, occupy much of Augustine s time and energy and restrict him to the knowledge that first you [God] exist and secondly, that the government of human affairs was in your hands (p. 118). Perhaps; yet at this point it is Augustine s will, towards secular pursuits and an ultimate knowledge of the metaphysical nature of God, that keeps his hands firmly in the way of God s, meddling with His governmental jurisdiction.

Not one to skimp on intensive self reflection and questioning, Augustine finds his unsteady nature challenged by the sight of a beggar in the midst of a pleasant drunk. The issue of means to happiness and contentment is brought to the forefront of his mind: while he has long been pursuing these qualities with his ambition for world renown, consistently restless and discontented, the man he confronts achieves just such desirable qualities through the drink. Yet if I were asked next whether I would prefer to be a man like the beggar or a man like I then was myself, I should choose to be myself, worn out with my cares and fears. Was this not absurd? (p. 120). Maybe, but it draws a crucial distinction between Augustine and the beggar: a sense of purpose and a search for meaning. The fleeting happiness of a drunk is in its essence meaningless, only deprecating one s rational outlook on life in the end. The achievement of happiness through understanding or faith holds far greater value, for it has permanence and is reached through individual effort, not the effortless byproduct of a liquid. Though his soul is in a state of crisis and disrepair, Augustine recognizes this fundamental difference between himself and the beggar and confirms the worthiness of his seemingly hopeless search.

A powerful and persuasive fuel of Augustine s ambivalence is his love for sex, the unquenchable lust within his nature. Unable to understand or accept the advice of his chaste friend Alypius, Augustine takes a rather morbid view of habitual fornication: I was the prisoner of this disease of the flesh and of its deadly sweetness, and I dragged my chain about with me, dreading the idea of its being loosed (p. 130). This realization is intensified when his lover is forced to depart in order to make his upcoming marriage respectable. While she returns to Africa and leads a chaste life, Augustine is compelled to take another lover in order to satiate his continuing desire for sex; shame and self-deprecation are the only responses he can manage to accompany his need to sleep with another. His relation to sex and women in general is of the all or nothing variety; he wants it all the time or a complete abstinence, as his later actions will show. Augustine too clearly perceives that even within the bonds of marriage God would have to be satisfied with nothing, yet his plans for the wedding remain fixed and his mood heavy and wearisome.

It is not entirely surprising that a man emerged in feelings of such a negative quality should question the nature of good and evil and wonder where their sources lie. Reflecting that the Manichean inquiry into evil is in itself evil, Augustine searches for its cause in his own way. He sees his will playing an active role in the evil of his life, the free will of man that has independent choices to make. Being just as certain that I had a will as that I had a life (p. 138) Augustine resolves that the act of willing was mine and not anybody else s, and I was now getting near to the conclusion that here was the cause of my sin (p. 138). Arriving at this logical step, he is confronted by a perplexing problem: for if God is all good and creates only good things, how could He create creatures to will evil and suffer just punishment for their evil?

Enter the legacy of Plato s forms, those loveable unchanging essences that remain fixed for eternity. Viewing God as the ultimate expression of the form, Augustine grabs the incorruptible aspect of His nature and runs with it: that s why God is all good and powerful, he can t be corrupted. On the other hand we creatures of this transient, ever changing world are not forms or essences (physically) and therefore find ourselves completely susceptible to a variety of corruption and decay. Evil, therefore, is merely the corruption of the good, which is everything; the will, if it so chooses to ignore the higher will of God, volunteers itself for a great assortment of these corruptions, including the several that Augustine faces.

Therefore, all things that are, are good, and as to that evil, the origin of which I was seeking for, it is not a substance, since, if it were a substance, it would be good. For it would either have to be an incorruptible substance (which is the highest form of goodness) or else a corruptible substance (which, unless it had good in it, could not be corruptible) (p. 151).

A rewarding and satisfactory conclusion for Augustine to reach, ending a great philosophical problem and clearing the path that Ambrose began furthermore. Unfortunately, our hero discovers another problem of an entirely different nature. What have all these calculations accomplished? Certainly they have broadened his knowledge and clarified his relation to God; yet his discontentment and restlessness linger on. The problem, Augustine comes to tell us, is not in the logic of his deductions (fuelled by the Platonists) but in the method as a whole. For while this method sees the Creator with utmost clarity, it doesn t lay hold upon him, interact with him. The Platonist method lacks and even disdains what is, for Augustine, a crucial and final step: Their pages make no mention of the face and look of pity, the tears of confession, your sacrifice-a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart, the earnest of the Holy Ghost, the cup of our redemption (p. 158). Pride in the accomplishment of seeing is a sin in the Christian morality, for it ignores the God who bestows the ability to see; this is the fundamental split between Augustine and the Platonists.

What is left for our noble, tenacious and thorough hero to accomplish? Only the hardest and most tiring part of the entire journey: the complete surrender of his will, the entire submission of it to God. Perhaps aesthetically inclined to make this painful conversion in a place of beauty, the scene occurs in a lovely garden with Augustine s close friend Alypius. Here he ultimately confronts his divided nature, the different attractions of the secular and religious callings, and lets free the huge storm within me bringing with it a huge downpour of tears (p. 182-3). He knows, in the surging of his accumulated wretchedness and misery, the time for choice is at hand.

I flung myself down on the ground somehow under a fig tree and gave free reign to my tears; they streamed and flooded from my eyes, an acceptable sacrifice to Thee. And I kept saying to you, not perhaps in these words, but with this sense: And Thou, O Lord, how long? How long, Lord; wilt Thou be angry forever? Remember not our former iniquities Why not now? Why not finish this very hour with my uncleanness? (p. 182).

This experience is followed by a mystical direction from the mouth of a child, directing Augustine to Take it and read it . He comes upon a passage in the book of Apostle urging him to put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ . The catharsis is complete and the difficult, painful portion of our hero s journey is behind him: For you converted me to you in such a way that I no longer sought a wife nor any other worldly hope (p. 183).

Of the variety of turning points throughout The Confessions of St. Augustine, none is so influential to his journey as his trip to Milan and introduction to Bishop Ambrose. In this crucial step lie the seeds to his long, winding path of complete devotion to Christ and the surrender of his will to God. What follows this turning point is a series of three steps forward, two steps back that bring our man to the place where he comes to know, within his heart and soul, he wants to be. The hindsight afforded to him in the writing of The Confessions perhaps lends a little more divine intervention than the recorded moments held; that, however, is entirely based upon one s perception of things. Whether it is really necessary to relinquish the pleasures of sex, profession and close friendship to attain an apparently enviable relationship with God is a question that everyone must answer for themselves; Augustine s personality and the period he lived in required the rejection of all such secular things. At any rate, the seed lain by Ambrose has grown into a monumental tree. The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost couldn t have asked for a more persistent and ultimately committed follower of their spirit and dogma than in St. Augustine of Hippo.


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