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The Conversion of Augustine

Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:13–14

Watch Week Seven, Day One

Aside from the New Testament writers themselves, no other theologian had as great an impact on the church as Augustine. For the next three days, we will look at his life and longstanding impact on the Christian faith.

early life

Augustine was born to middle-class parents on November 13, 354 in Tagaste (present day Algeria). His father, Patricius, continued to practice the old Roman religion worshipping many gods and determined his son should become a rhetorician (a skilled public speaker). Augustine’s mother, Monica, came from a Christian family and was a devout believer. Patricius seems to have had little influence over his son. Monica, however, would be a central figure in Augustine’s life. She prayed fervently for the salvation of her son and husband.

At a young age, Augustine’s parents observed that their son possessed exceptional gifts. They poured their resources into his education. He eventually went to Carthage to continue his studies in rhetoric. While philosophy was the search for truth, rhetoric studied the way in which a point was argued. Through reading the Roman philosopher Cicero, Augustine became equally concerned with the quest for truth.

Unlike some of the other early Christian leaders we’ve studied, Augustine embraced the temptations available in the city. When he was about nineteen, he met a woman who bore his son. He named him Adeodatus, meaning “gift of God.” Augustine lived with the unnamed woman as his unofficial wife for thirteen years.

The Manichaeans and Wandering

Augustine’s mother, Monica, had taught Augustine the Christian faith, but when he looked at the Old Testament, he found it crude compared to the philosophy he was studying. He broke his mother’s heart when he turned from Christianity to a rival religion called Manichaeism. The Manichaeans, as its followers were called, believed the material world was evil and the spiritual world was good. They used persuasive rhetorical techniques, which surely drew the inquisitive Augustine. He participated in this religion for nine years, ultimately leaving because it couldn’t satisfy his questions concerning evil and guilt.

During this time, he traveled as a teacher of rhetoric, from his hometown Tagaste to Carthage, to Rome, eventually settling in Milan. By then he had gained a reputation as a skilled speaker and teacher. Even though his professional career appeared poised to take off, he was miserable.

At his mother’s request, he attended sermons by Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. He agreed to go, intending only to judge Ambrose’s skill as a speaker. Before long, Augustine was engrossed in Ambrose’s sermons. He discovered a Christian who was eloquent and who used rational arguments. Ambrose also helped him see the Old Testament in a new light, so Augustine no longer saw it as crude and barbaric. In all, Ambrose answered Augustine’s intellectual challenges with Christianity.

surrendering to christ

In spite of this, Augustine still felt reluctant to fully commit himself to God. After another season of debauchery, a traveler told him of the hermits in the Egyptian desert who were mastering their physical desires. Augustine was despondent. If these unlearned men could conquer their passions, how could he, as educated as he was, still be enslaved to them?

One day, as he despaired over these things, he broke down weeping in the garden. A child nearby shouted, “Take up and read!” He interpreted this as a divine message and picked up the book he happened to be reading, the book of Romans. He opened it and read, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:13–14). At that moment, Augustine gave his life to Christ. On Easter day 387, at the age of thirty-two, Augustine was baptized by Ambrose.

Augustine coined many phrases we still use today, but none captured his own life as well as this: “Because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”

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