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Department of Philosophy

Arul Anandar College, Karumathur, Madurai

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FIRST AND SECOND CONVERSION OF ST. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO


S. Lourdunathan nathanlourdu1960@gmail.com
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new. Thou hast burst my bonds asunder; Unto Thee will I offer up an offering of praise. St. Augustine

Purpose The purpose of this reflection is to situate the life St. Augustine of Hippo (13 November 354 28 August 430) as a conversion movement towards Christian faith by pointing out the differences between his first and second conversion episodes. I proceed by pointing out (i) the Christian sense/significance of conversion, (ii) St. Augustines conversion as a Movement (iii) the difference between his First and Second Conversion followed (iv) and deriving possible conclusion from the discussions. The Christian Sense/Significance of Conversion The term conversion (from the classical Latin converto, depon. convertor, whence conversio, change, etc), within the Christian theological world means a specific sense of turning away from immorality and turning towards a life of spirituality continuously inspired and guided by God. The theology of conversion may be traced to the story of exodus, the people chosen by God, get themselves converted from the worship of false gods to the following up of and worship of the True God. It is can be described as return to the ways of God (kingdom of God) by ways of resisting evils of the world. The life of St. Paul of Constantine is a classical experience of the Christian sense of conversion. In the middle ages the word conversion was often used in the sense of forsaking the world to enter the religious state. Thus St. Bernard speaks of his conversion. The return of the sinner to a virtuous life is called conversion. More commonly conversion is a movement away from false ways of life to a true religious life, from heretic to the Catholic Church.1 According to the church doctrines, conversion can be understood as a movement from natural light of reason to the divine light of revelation. The exodus episode in the Old Testament, St. Pauls and St. Bernards conversion etc is instances of conversion within the catholic tradition. In India, the life of Lord Buddha is a comparable example of such conversion moment or movement which is but a mode of turning away from the pleasures of the earthly kingdom to a life of Enlightenment leading to a professional or religious life of commitment to serve the suffering people. Lord Buddhas Four Noble truths2 -(i) There is suffering, (ii) There is the origin of suffering, which is attachment to desire, (iii) there is the possibility of the removable of suffering and (iv) there is a way to the removal of suffering- are best instances of conceiving conversion as a movement. Conversion means two significant things: it is a change in ones attitude to life accompanied by change in perspective and personal experience. Within the Catholic tradition conversion is understood as a movement of change in ones personal life and faith-perspective

1 2

http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view. http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble.htm

Department of Philosophy
Arul Anandar College, Karumathur, Madurai

guided by the revelation of God, an occasion of His Grace. Such conversion is not momentary but implies a life-long conviction and commitment in the Service of God.

St. Augustines Conversion as a Movement and a Journey This is what has happened in the life of St. Augustine whose conversion took place over half a lifetime. Indeed, he was one of the most converted of men. His youthful conversion to the pursuit of wisdom was followed by conversion to Manicheism, then to Neo-Platonism, and finally to Christianity.3 Thus one could clearly see position the issue of St. Augustines conversion is a movement and not just momentary or a sudden change. It is a process, a lifelong search that Augustine undertook in search of the experience of God which in turn positioned him to be a great thinker and a theologian in the temple of god. Augustines conversion is often pinpointed at that moment in the garden when he hears a childs voice sayingtake and read, take and read. But it was not primarily at this moment. It began many years before. The process was an intricate and ambiguous one with many moments and setbacks over some thirty-three years of his life time. St. Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus) of Hippo was one of the greatest Christian theologians. He was born 13 November 354 in North Africa, about 45 miles south of the Mediterranean, in the town of Tagaste (modern Souk-Ahras) in Numidia, in what is now Algeria, but near ancient Carthage (modern Tunis). His mother, Monnica, was a Christian, who brought up his son Christian faith and his father remained a pagan but became a Christian before his death. Though Augustine was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been brought up a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride darkened his mind so much, that he could not see or understand the Divine Truth in the early part of his life. His good and devotional mother Monica and St. Ambrose were highly influential of Augustines conversion to Christian faith. Augustine's life as a young man was characterized by loose living and a search for answers to life's basic questions. He would follow various philosophers, only to become disillusioned with their teachings. For nine years he was associated with the Manichean sect. But he gradually became aware that Manichaeism was unable to provide satisfactory answers to his probing questions. Augustine was then teaching rhetoric in Milan. He went to hear the preaching of Saint Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. At first he went only to hear Ambrose's eloquent style of speaking. But the Bishop's preaching led Augustine to a new understanding of the Bible and the Christian Faith. He was baptized by Ambrose during the Easter Vigil April 24, 387. His friend Alypius and his son Adeodatus were baptized at the same time. It is said that reading the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 4 (Romans: 13: 13-14) had a great impact to Augustines conversion to Christian faith. The famous conversions of St. Augustine remains as a movement and a Journey in the history of Catholic Church inspiring its members to follow closely the will of God rooted in the catholic faith tradition. First Conversion as a lover of Wisdom During his youthful age, (19th year) Augustine had an occasion to read Ciceros Hortensius, which marks the beginning of Augustines conversion as lover of wisdom, to find explanations to human existence. Augustine himself claims that reading and reflecting such philosophical works
3

Robert A. Markus, Conversion and Disenchantment in Augustines Spiritual Career, (Villanova University Press, 1989), p. 2 4 Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.

Department of Philosophy
Arul Anandar College, Karumathur, Madurai

progressively turned him towards God.5 As a lover of wisdom in search of answers for ultimate meaning of life, Augustine returned to God. The readings of the life of St. Antony, biblical texts facilitated Augustine to dispel his sensually involved youthful life and turn to Gods experience. Augustine as a professor of Rhetoric and Philosophy was exposed to the study of the philosophy of Platos idealism. This wisdom of engaging reflective philosophical questions in fact lead him to the ways of God. The abstract wisdom he gained from the schools of rational thinking bloomed into a concrete fruit of the experience of God. He himself describes, I was on fire then, my God, I was on fire to leave earthly things behind and fly back to you, nor did I know what you would do with me.6 The conversion to philosophical thinking, I believe, paved the foundation to his second conversation i.e., the experience of Gods Calling. Pope BENEDICT XVI in his General Audience on 27th February 2008 notes that St Augustine was a passionate seeker of truth: he was from the beginning and then throughout his life. The first step of his conversion journey was accomplished exactly in his progressive nearing to Christianity. Actually, he had received from his mother Monica, to whom he would always remain very closely bound, a Christian education, and even though he lived an errant life during the years of his youth, he always felt a deep attraction to Christ, having drunk in with his mother's milk the love for the Lord's Name, as he himself emphasizes (cf. Confessions, III, 4, 8). But also philosophy, especially that of a Platonic stamp, led him even closer to Christ, revealing to him the existence of the Logos or creative reason. Philosophy books showed him the existence of reason, from which the whole world came, but they could not tell him how to reach this Logos, which seemed so distant. The Second Conversion as a Lover of God St. Augustines mind in spite of his achievements of fame and glory remains restless, as that of true seeker of divine wisdom. His readings of Manichaeism, neo-Platonism, and the Bible etc in fact progressively turned him towards of lover of God; perhaps his mothers upbringing of him should have sustained this love of God, more than the love the world and its wisdom. The criticism of Manichaeism against the biblical scriptures instead of becoming a critique brought him closer to the readings of scriptures more closely. Augustine was impressed by the intellectual problems discussed in philosophy regarding nature of God and the problem of evils of life, which in turn compelled him to turn to the reality of God. The influence of St. Ambrose was decisive during this span of his life. Ambrose provided the possible synthesis of neo-Platonism and Christian thought through his sermons and interactions that Augustine had with him. Augustine gradually came closer to the truth of Christianity. Intellectual search accompanied by spiritual yearning provided the basis for Augustines second conversion to Christian faith. Inclusive Readings from Holy Scriptures strengthened Augustines second conversion. This experience was summarized by Augustine in one of the most famous passages of the Confessions: he recounts that, in the torment of his reflections, withdrawing to a garden, he suddenly heard a child's voice chanting a rhyme never heard before: tolle, lege, tolle, lege, "pick up and read, pick up and read" (VIII, 12, 29). He then remembered the conversion of Anthony, the Father of Monasticism, and carefully returned to the Pauline codex that he had
5

Collins Starnes, Augustines Conversion: A Guide to the Argu ment of Confessions I-IX, (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier Press, 1990), pp 60-61 6 St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, Trans. Rex Warner (New York: Mentor Omega Books, 1963) p.56

Department of Philosophy
Arul Anandar College, Karumathur, Madurai

recently read, opened it, and his glance fell on the passage of the Epistle to the Romans where the Apostle exhorts to abandon the works of the flesh and to be clothed with Christ (cf. 13: 13-14). He understood that those words in that moment were addressed personally to him; they came from God through the Apostle and indicated to him what he had to do at that time. Thus, he felt the darkness of doubt clearing and he finally found himself free to give himself entirely to Christ: he described it as "your converting me to yourself" (Confessions, VIII, 12, 30). This was the first and decisive conversion.7 Augustines final submission to Christian faith came to be realized by reflective readings of the writings of St. Paul. Augustine become increasingly convinced of the truth of Christian life as the only possible way of responding to the critique of problems of life as pointed by Manichaeism, processed through Platonic idealism. This was a perfect synthesis that fostered Augustine to the conversion of Christian faith more fervently. From Confessions to The City of God: A Movement and a Journey to Christian Fulfillment St. Augustine was a productive writer8 in Christian theology. It is observed that there are nearly 113 books and treatises, over 200 letters, and over 500 sermons written by St. Augustine and many other works did not survive due to the onslaught of time. His Major Theological Works include (1) Confessions (2) The City of God and (3) On the Trinity ("De Trinitate "). The work on Confessions and his later works on The City of God and On the Trinity when placed in this particular order and perceived from the point of view of his conversion and Christian commitment, depicts clearly how St. Augustine set his pilgrim, like that of Exodus, from a world of fame and sensual attachment towards an in-depth spiritual life. Conversion of St. Augustine, I believe, (as enshrined in the dogma of the church) is a movement cum journey from natural light of reason to the divine light of revelation, a genuine way of being a Christian. Conclusion I would like to conclude this paper with the following observations: The search for Truth, the search for Good and the search for Meaning, processed through the life-story of Augustine finally finds abode in Christian faith. The Conversions of St. Augustine needs to be viewed as process towards ultimate truth i.e., GOD and not necessarily momentous shifting away from one facet of life to another. It is a movement and not a sudden momentary change. As movement it continuously inspires the Christian tradition. From the light of the famous Conversions of St. Augustine, Faith in God, I believe, must be preceded and guided by faith in reason. Proper intellectual formation is the pre-condition to spiritual formation and both have to perceived and practiced in harmony. Faith without reason and reason without faith-perspective cannot be authentically Christian. In the words of St. Anselm it is but faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum) and understanding in turn culminates in faith. Such a task is not necessarily a programme in religious life but a lifelong process. This is not an achievement but a spiritual manifestation by continuously positioning ourselves to the guidance of God. Thank You
7

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2008/documents/hf_benxvi_aud_20080227_en.html 8 http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/augustine/ I found this internet site gives an exhaustive list of all the works written by St. Augustine, collected from the years 386-430.