160. Saint Augustine. Part two; Conversion
St Augustine carried on his pursuit for worldly gains and passions till he was 32 years old. He taught the art of public speaking to pupils. He was studying for the law. He was at the top of the school for rhetoric. He was pleased with his superior status and swollen with conceit. He was vain and ambitious and wanted to cut a fine figure in the world. He was eager for fame, wealth and marriage. He consulted imposters, the astrologers (although he refused to consult sorcerers because they sacrificed animals and prayed to spirits). He went to the theatre and watched the spectators enjoy their sadness, by witnessing the tragedy and suffering on the stage (although to his credit, he never liked the gladiatorial shows because of the cruelty).
He described himself: ‘But why do I talk of these things? I lived in misery, like every man whose soul is tethered by the love of things that cannot last and then is agonized to lose them’
He was a slave of lust. He had a mistress and together they had a son. After she left him and went back to Africa, he found another mistress. He describes those days:
“I had prayed to You for chastity and said ‘Give me chastity and continence, but not yet’. For I was afraid that You would answer my prayer at once and cure me too soon for the disease of lust, which I wanted satisfied, not quelled”
His dear friend died. He mourned for him. He narrates his grief in eight pages ‘What madness, to love a man as something more than human! What folly to grumble at the lot man has to bear! I lived in a fever, convulsed with tears and sighs that allowed me neither rest nor peace of mind’
He wondered about the powers the astronomers possessed; they could foretell eclipses of sun and moon many years before they happened, and whether the eclipse would be total or partial.
But he still searched for truth. He read many books, including Aristotle’s ‘Ten Categories’. He talked to many learned men but none could satisfy him. He writes:
‘Truth! Truth! How the marrow of my soul within me yearned for it’
And finally, he met a man of God; Bishop Ambrose, in Milan (now called St. Ambrose), who was known throughout the world for his goodness. He writes: ‘Unknown to me, it was You who led me to him, so that I might knowingly be led by him to You. This man of God received me like a father…….My heart warmed to him’.
Although he could not talk to Ambrose face to face, because the Bishop was always busy, but at least, over a period of time, after listening to the sermons of Ambrose he turned towards Catholic teaching. He writes:
‘I was glad too that at last I had been shown how to interpret the Holy Scripture of the law and the prophets in a different light from that which I had previously made them seem absurd’.
He narrates a strange incident. It is not clear whether it was day or night, and whether he was asleep or awake.
‘I entered the depth of my soul…….I saw the Light……….. What I saw was quite different from any light we know on earth…... It shown above my mind……... It was above me because it was the Light itself that made me, and I was below because I was made by it. All who know that Light, and all who know this Light know eternity’.
‘I heard your voice calling from on high, saying “I am the food of full-grown men. Grow and you shall feed on Me. But you shall not change Me into Your own substance, as you do with the food of your body. Instead you shall be changed into Me’”
He now started loving God! But he was amazed that he did not persist in enjoying Him. He began to search the means to gain strength in enjoying God. He found the strength through the mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ.
He derived great joy and comfort in writing of Apostle Paul.
This mote has learnt that if one adopts the path of religion to reach God (which unfortunately I could not) then due to certitude the task becomes easier. St Augustine makes this point:
‘It is one thing to catch sight of the land of peace……and unable to find the way to it, struggle on through trackless wastes where traitors and runaways, captained by their prince,……lie in wait to attack. It is another thing to follow the high road to that land of peace, the way that is defended by the care of the Commander’.
Two mystics (Shahab and the mystic from Bhaun, Pakistan, blogs 65-6,103) have written in their books, that they were never assailed by doubts.
Now, the chain of events which led to the most important event of his life; the episode of the garden.
To be continued.