161. Saint Augustine. Part three; Conversion
A fellow countryman of Augustine by the name of Ponticianus visited him in his house and saw St Paul’s epistles at his table. His close friend and fellow countryman from Africa, Alypius was also there. Ponticianus told them the story of Antony, the Egyptian monk, whose name was held in high honor. They were astonished to hear of the wonders You had worked so recently, almost in their own times, and witnessed by so many. Then he told them of the time when he and three of his companions were strolling in the gardens. Two of them got separated and came to the house of some men, who were although poor in spirit, but had the kingdom of heaven within them. In that house they found a book containing the life of Antony. One of them started to read it. The book had a profound impression upon him. Augustine writes:
“All at once he was filled with the love of holiness. Angry with himself and full of remorse, he looked at his friend and said, ‘What do we hope for the efforts we make?.......Can we hope for anything better at court than to be Emperor’s friends?.......’
While he was reading, a cry broke from him. He said to his friend ‘I have torn myself free of all ambitions and have decided to serve God. From this very moment, here and now, I shall start to serve Him.’ The other answered that he would stand by his comrade….. So these two, now Your servants, built their tower at the cost which had to be made, that is, at the cost of giving up all they possessed and following You.
Both these men were under a promise of marriage, but once the two women heard what had happened, they too dedicated their virginity to You.”
The story had a tremendous effect on Augustine. He writes:
‘In the heat of the fierce conflict which I had stirred up against my soul……I turned to Alypius and explained “What is the matter with us? What is the meaning of this story? These men have not had our schooling, yet they stand up and storm the gate of heaven,………….while we lie here groveling in this world of flesh and blood!’
Augustine took refuge in the garden attached to the house. He was beside himself with madness. He was frantic, overcome with violent anger with himself for not accepting His will. He was wracked with indecision. He tore his hair and hammered his forehead with fists. He locked his fingers and hugged his knees. He wanted to take the course of serving God, but also he willed himself not to take it.
A great storm broke into him, bringing with it a deluge of tears. He states:
“I was asking myself questions, weeping all the while with the most bitter sorrow in my heart, when all at once I heard the sing-song voice of a child in a nearby house. Again and again it repeated the refrain
‘Take it and read, take it and read ’. At this I looked up, thinking hard whether there was any kind of game in which children used to chant words like these, but I could not remember ever hearing it before. I stemmed my tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall. For I had heard the story of Antony who had heard in a church a counsel which he thought was addressed to him. He heard ‘Go home and sell all that belongs to you. Give it to the poor…………….then come back and follow me’.
He had obeyed the counsel”.
He rushed back and opened the book of Paul’s Epistles. He read the first passage on which his eyes fell:
Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrel and rivalries. Rather, arm yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thoughts on nature and nature’s appetite
As he came to the end of sentence, a light of confidence surged in his heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled. He was now calm. He told Alypius what had happened to him. Alypius asked to see what he had read. He read on beyond the text Augustine had read. It said:
Find room among you for a man of over-delicate conscience.
Alypius applied this to himself and told Augustine so. The admonition was enough to give him strength and he also made his resolution without any hesitation. And it very well suited his moral character, which had long been far, far better than Augustine’s.
Then they went and told Monica (mother of Augustine), who was overjoyed. As has been stated in a previous blog, she had been praying and weeping daily to the Lord, for Augustine’s conversion.
To be continued