The Example of a Woman
Sexual Renunciation and Augustine's Conversion
to Christianity in 386
Department of Religious Studies
University of Pennsylvania
For you converted me to you so that I neither sought a wife nor any other worldly hope. I was now standing in the rule of faith in the same way that you had revealed me to her so many years before. And you transformed her mourning into a joy more abundant than she had wished and much dearer and more chaste than that of having grandchildren of my flesh.These are the words that conclude Bk. 8 of the Confessions, where Augustine recounts the dramatic final moments of his conversion to Christianity. In these words he speaks about God converting him "in such a way" that the varied desires and confusing interests that gathered around him in Milan were shed like old garments never to be taken up again. Augustine also
describes his mother's new joy, and relates for the first time that in Monnica's attempts for her son's marriage we must see not only her desire for his conversion but even the domestic joys of seeing Augustine's offspring.
This untoward domestic hope also reveals a remarkable imperfection. Why does Monnica cherish such a desire when there is already a grandson in the person of Adeodatus? Is it simply a wish for more grandchildren? Or, is it, as may well have been the case, a desire for grandchildren whose status in Roman society would not be so questionable? Monnica and Patricius had always been conscious of their precarious place in the social world of Tagaste, and this keen sense of their place in that society had contributed to the kind of aspirations they had entertained for Augustine's career.
The concern here for grandchildren falls into that general order of earthly desires which comes in for criticism in the early part of the Confessions. The conclusion of Bk. 8 recalls this other side of "pious" Monnica. In the moment of resolution for her son, Monnica too undergoes a conversion: her mourning is turned into a joy that is purer and more chaste, a joy that is not tied to earthly cares and hopes. The word used here to describe Monnica's transformation is conuertisti, the same word Augustine's uses to describe his own experience.
For himself, Augustine believes he has received a double portion. Not only is he converted to God, but he is converted from the desire for a wife and the honor of a respectable career. This tandem, of love for the world and a woman's embrace, emerge as the twin anxieties that overshadow Augustine's last year in Milan before his conversion. Augustine's words are the invocations of a renunciate: turning his back on the world --his hopes, desires and dreams. To have given up the hope of marriage meant that Augustine was turning his back on the Milanese girl on whom he was in waiting. But why this drastic change? And why so final an act of sexual renunciation? What brought Augustine from the position of seeking a wife in order to prepare himself for Christian baptism (hence conversion to Christianity) to the point where conversion entailed an act of sexual renunciation?
Studies of Augustine's conversion have been unusually silent on this point. Even when references have been made to a passage such as De bono coniugali 5.5, where Augustine describes a scenario that fits all too perfectly the circumstances under which his first concubine was separated from him, it has not led to reconsiderations of the events shortly preceding Augustine's conversion. Even less has it engendered a reevaluation of the role of the mother of Adeodatus in Augustine's conversion. Peter Brown, for example, sees the patent self-referentiality of Augustine's words and merely comments that in the circumstances Augustine failed. But the sense of failure is not seen as in any way constitutive of the equation of sexual renunciation with conversion to Christianity. In his much earlier biography of Augustine, Brown went so far as to acknowledge the ascetic implications of the vow of Augustine's first concubine, but the matter was made to rest there.
An oversight of another
kind shows up in Frederick Van Fleteren's essay on "Augustine's Theory
of Conversion." He counts at least twelve conversion
stories or retellings of conversions in the Confessions. But the experience
of the mother of Adeodatus is not included among them, even though there
are clear indications that some kind of conversion may have taken
In this study I will
attempt three things. First I will try to show that the equation of sexual
renunciation with Christian conversion is essential for a proper understanding
of the nature of Augustine's conversion. Second, that Augustine came to
make the link between conversion and continence through a belated response
to the vow of sexual renunciation made by the
As I have already indicated Augustine describes the final phase of his conversion to Christianity in highly personal terms, relegating to the background the way in which the scholarly debate over the past century has been shaped. Since Alfaric much of the discussion about Augustine's conversion has centered on whether he was converted to something less authentically Christian in 386. Alfaric put the matter bluntly by saying that the conversion in 386 was to Neo-Platonism and that the conversion to Christianity actually came years later, in 396. Not the least of the reasons given for this understanding of Augustine's conversions are the apparent differences between the early works (especially the so-called Cassiciacum dialogues written between his conversion and baptism) and the works coming out of the period following his De diversis quaestionibus VII ad Simplicianum. However much others have sought over the years to defend the putatively Christian basis of Augustine's conversion in 386 the literary record tended to get in the way, or was perceived to get in the way.
The view that now holds
the field is the carefully nuanced argument of P. Courcelle
who maintains that the Christianity vs. Neo-Platonism polarity is a tad
misleading when it comes to the Milanese background of Augustine's conversion
experience. Rather than seeing two distinct episodic conversions, one Neo-Platonic
and the other Christian, Courcelle describes a Milanese environment that
is at once Christian and Neo-Platonic. In which case, Augustine would have
encountered Neo-Platonism in Christian dress and vice-versa, and did not
have the opportunity to encounter one without the other. From Ambrose,
Simplicianus, Manlius Theodorus and others, he would have breathed a Christian
By removing the antithesis
between Christianity and Neo-Platonism in the Milan of the 380s Courcelle
allows for the kind of simultaneous influence which seems to be evident
in the early writings. The emphasis throughout Courcelle's analysis is
on the intellectual side of Augustine's experience over and against the
moral aspects of his conversion. Courcelle all but
overlooks the terms in which Augustine described and understood his conversion.
Even if one is inclined to accept the much later theological re-interpretation
of his experience found in the Confessions with some amount of skepticism,
it must still be recognized that for Augustine the conversion in 386 was
something very intensely personal. For him the important thing was that
at that time he was able to turn his back on the world in two very specific
ways: he was prepared to give up his ambitions for a public career and
was willing to resign himself to a life of sexual renunciation.
Some Early Accounts of Augustine's Conversion
they wander until they finally make the sailing. Sometimes they even suffer great peril in their wanderings, like star-gazing (a possible allusion to astrology?), when they ought to be boarding the ship that would bring them home.
However, Augustine believes that all who endeavor to reach the goal must encounter some obstacles. And here he alludes to a huge mountain before the port of call as befitting the kind of obstacles that one might well confront. Still the greatest obstacle, and Augustine gets a lot of mileage out of this one, is pride. This emphasis on pride as the greatest obstacle to the Truth and the blessed life anticipates his later critique of the Platonists as a band of philosophers too proud to submit themselves to the humility of Christ. Augustine appeals to Theodorus for an assessment of his advancement in philosophy. He expects help too as he submits this exercise in Christian dialectic to the philosophical wit of his friend.
Augustine goes on to recount what had happened since his nineteenth birthday. He refers to how Hortensius fired him with love for wisdom (tanto amore philosophiae succensus sum), his dalliance with astrology, a nine-year tenure with the Manichees, and a later infatuation with Academic skepticism. He mentions how the sermons of the Bishop (Ambrose) and Theodorus' words helped him to start thinking about God in spiritual terms rather than the crude corporeal image he had imagined since his boyhood. Then he notes one main impediment to his progress, namely, his desire for a wife and the love of honor. He makes the interesting admission that after reading the Platonists and comparing them with the scriptures he was all but ready to break his chains except for the esteem of certain people of repute. Finally, he adds that he was rescued from his predicament by the onset of medical problems, chest pains (pectoris dolor), which allowed him to take the desired rest (optate tranquillitati).
Augustine refers to his circumstances at Cassiciacum as philosophical leisure. He can chart his course from the time of reading Hortensius in his nineteenth year through the many turns of his life right up to Cassiciacum. It is not exactly a straight course, but he believes he has arrived at a point where he can devote himself to philosophy. It appears from Augustine's comments here that he was ready to give up both marriage and honors when he encountered the Platonists and the scriptures, but held back only because of the possible offense he might cause to some well-placed individuals in Milan (nisi me nonnullorum hominum existimatio commoueret). But who were these people? And exactly what influence did they exert on the young Augustine that he delayed his turn to a life of philosophical leisure? Besides, how is this in any way related to the dramatic experience recounted in Bk. 8 of the Confessions?
The account in De beata vita does not mention the anxiety that led to Augustine's visit to Simplicianus (Conf. 8.2.3). That part of Augustine's experience is elided from De beata vita 1.4, although in outline it is virtually identical with what Augustine offers in Confessions Bk. 7. The only possible allusion to his anxieties is the statement that he was hampered in his desire for philosophical retreat because of the esteem of certain individuals. But even this is too veiled.
An equally veiled outline is to be found at Contra Academicos 2.2.5. Here too Augustine speaks of his longing for philosophical retirement (2.2.4). He recalled how Romanianus had consoled him when Patricius died and how much that friendship had encouraged him towards the course that he was now pursuing at Cassiciacum. Augustine reminds Romanianus that during those difficult days he had always insisted that the truly happy life was one devoted to philosophical leisure, though he could not see abandoning his career because so many others depended on him. His longing had never been assuaged, and was set ablaze when certain books came into his hands. He no longer had any interest in honor, fame or the mitigation of this mortal existence. He sought better things. And the religion of his youth began to draw him back to his goal. The writings of Paul set him in the direction he had always longed for.
The fascinating detail about Augustine's description in Contra Academicos is that he conceives the entire process, from beginning to end, as a philosophical pilgrimage. It is after his encounter with Paul that philosophy beckons him home (tunc ... mihi philosophiae facies aperuit). Augustine sets his experience in the framework established by Cicero's Hortensius: Catholic Christianity is the way to philosophy, the love of wisdom.
Again Augustine leaves out any mention of a dramatic conversion. In fact, the pilgrimage could not be more straightforward. Here too the only intimation of difficulties comes in the oblique reference to the fact when he got hold of certain books he no longer desired honor and fame, and did not care to simply make a few amends to his life. But that is not saying very much in the way of drama. Like the narrative in De beata vita the account in Contra Academicos lacks the palpable regret one finds in Soliloquia, another one of the Cassiciacum dialogues, where the subject of Augustine's disavowal of marriage is more conspicuous.
"What about a wife?" Reason poses this question for Augustine. The response is emphatic. "However much you wish to paint her and to pile up on her every attraction, it will be of no account to me. I intend very much to be continent." Augustine goes on:
I think that nothing unbars the door to a man's mind more than feminine charm and that contact with a woman's body which is so essential to having a wife.Consequently, if, as part of his duty, a wise man --who I have not yet discovered-- takes heed to have children and has sexual relations on account of this, as far as I am concerned, it is to be seen as an amazing thing, but no one should imitate him. For these dangers are able to beguile more than any happiness they might give. For this reason it is sufficient, I believe, rightly and profitably, for the freedom of my soul that I have ordered myself not to desire, not to seek, not to marry a wife.Augustine's reasoning is based on the requirements of the philosophical life. And he finds it amazing that a wise man would consider having children as part of his duty and would then endure the great peril that is sleeping with a woman just for the sake of fulfilling his obligation. Augustine sees living with a woman as a great threat to intellectual life, it throws open the safe of a man's mind (ex arce deiciat animum virilem). However, reading between the lines the real problem seems to be one of self-control, the ability to guard the doorway of one's soul. So even though the philosophical rationale predominates, it is largely secondary to the self-legislation that Augustine has imposed on himself for the good of his soul (utiliter pro libertate animae meae).
Astonishingly, Augustine also unabashedly refers to wisdom as a woman, a lover, a theme that is at once biblical and Plotinian. And as Reason tries to find out what kind of lover Augustine is a problem emerges. Despite Augustine's confidence he is not quite healthy enough for all this talk about embracing wisdom in such a way that there is nothing that stands between them (nullo interposito velamento quasi nudam). He is soon reminded by Reason that for all his aplomb his life of continence is riddled with difficulties. In the previous days reflections he had sounded out confidently that a woman's embrace was too sordid a prospect to contemplate. And yet while he ruminated with himself during the night it all seemed so very different. Augustine continued to be tempted by the bitter sweetness (amara suavitas) of what he had so easily dismissed during the day.
"Be silent, I pray, be silent," Augustine pleads. "Why do you grieve me? Why do you dig and penetrate so deeply? I am already inured to tears. From now on I promise nothing, I presume nothing. Do not interrogate me about these things." The dissonance between what he thinks he has achieved and the troubles that still plague him here in the Soliloquies adumbrate similar concerns in Bk. 10 of the Confessions.
His troubles were far
from over as he lay in bed at Cassiciacum. Still, Augustine had chosen
continence over marriage and he intended to keep to that choice. The continuing
distress about his life of continence demonstrates the peculiarity of Augustine's
equation of continence and conversion in the months leading up to the dramatic
scene in the garden in Milan (Conf. 8.8.19-8.12.30). The highly textured
fashion in which the Confessions portray Augustine's anxieties is essential
Continence and A Possible Conversion to Christianity
In Bk. 7 Augustine speaks of the chains in which he was shackled as he sought desperately to find an answer for the question about the origin of evil. This was hardly an academic issue for him, he was suffering many inner torments which no one else knew. Much of the language here tends to link his chains with pride, with the effect that his intellectual difficulties remain at the forefront. However, by linking the language of censure and self-deprecation with his desire to serve God and thereby master his body, he offers a vague allusion that perhaps beside the managed air of intellectual problems that befuddle him there is another more fundamental problem. When he tries to work his way to think of God in non-corporeal terms other images seem to shout back, accusing him of being vile and unworthy (indigne et sordide).
Augustine does not begin to unravel his existential crisis until the opening lines of Bk. 8, with intellectual certainties on the one hand and a vacillating will on the other:
Of thy eternal life I was now certain, though I saw it in a figure and as through a glass. Yet I ceased to doubt that there was an incorruptible substance, whence was all other substances; nor did I now [desire] to be more certain of Thee, but more steadfast in Thee. But for my temporal life, all was wavering, and my heart had to be purged from the old leaven. The Way, the Saviour Himself, well pleased me, but as yet I shrunk from going through its straitness.So many people throng to the Church, but Augustine still leads a secular life (agabam in saeculo). The way seems too narrow, too constricting. Only now he has lost the desire for honor and attainment. So he is doubly miserable, displeased with himself, and his life a burden to bear (oneri mihi). He cannot quite keep away from the Church, but as yet he is hesitant. He still finds himself chained, as it were, to his desire for a woman's embrace (sed adhuc tenaciter conligabar ex femina).
He adds that the apostle (that is, Paul) does not forbid him marriage (nec me prohibebat apostolus coniugari) but he finds himself so self-indulgent that he cannot attain to the higher calling of continence. And then he notes that Truth (that is Jesus) teaches him similarly, quoting Matthew 19.12 about those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of God. All this is to show Augustine in a less than admirable position: he languishes in his weakness (ego imfirmior). It is an almost unrecognizable image of the man who had so adamantly urged against Alypius that for him marriage and a philosophical life went hand in hand, and moreover he could not envision a happy life without a woman's embrace (Conf. 6.13-14). Here, we catch a glimpse of his depression:
But I being weak, chose the more indulgent place; and because of this alone, was tossed up and down in all beside, faint and wasted with withering cares, because in other matters I was constrained against my will to conform myself to a married life, to which I was given up and enthralled.By this time Augustine had already been through the experience of seeing his first concubine sent back to Africa, and unwilling to observe continence he had taken another concubine (Conf. 6.15.25). In the meantime he waited to get married to someone of his own social class and rank. Although marriage was all but certain, Augustine seemed to be wearying of the idea. As we read him here, he seems to think that marriage is inconsistent with his conversion to Christianity. He acknowledges that he is not obliged to reject the married state, but he seems to think that marriage for him would be an honorable self-indulgence at best.
Augustine defines his problem in terms of the man in the parable in the Gospels who finds a pearl of great price and sells everything to acquire it. Except that in his case he hesitates. And to Simplicianus he goes, desperate for help, desperate for resolution. He expects to be helped on the way because by dint of age and experience Simplicianus would know what proper course someone in Augustine's situation needed to take (unde mihi ut proferret uolebam conferentis secum aestus meos). Augustine's emphasis here is on his uncertainty and lack of resolve (aestus).
Sensing the opportunity to tell a conversion story that would appeal to Augustine's own situation, Simplicianus speaks about the conversion of his friend Marius Victorinus. Victorinus had had something like a text-book philosophical conversion of the sort that Augustine should have found congenial to his temperament, that is, if the intellectual odyssey was all there had been. But the much hoped for conversion does not happen. Upon hearing Victorinus' story Augustine expresses a wish to imitate him (exarsi ad imitandum). But no sooner has he expressed the wish than he is brought to his senses to confront the reality that gnaws at him. We see Augustine again going over the nature of his anxiety, with an added comment that he found in himself the conflict between the flesh and the spirit spoken of by Paul (Gal 5; Rom 7-8). In his commentary on the events of that period Augustine now sees quite unmistakably the problem of the divided will. He had responded with ardor to the story of Victorinus' conversion only to regress.
Julian's ban, which compelled Victorinus to give up teaching, seemed propitious to Augustine because it allowed Victorinus to retire into philosophical leisure. Perhaps this is what Augustine would have wanted: a pretext of some sort to help him do what he thought needed doing. After all if he lacked one thing it was resolve, and anything which could get him there was welcome. Augustine's iron will held fast. The desire to retire from his profession was in any event the lesser of his worries.
My will the enemy held, and thence had made a chain for me, and bound me. For of a forward will, was a lust made; and a lust served became custom; and custom not resisted, became necessity. By which links, as it were, joined together (whence I called it a chain) a hard bondage held me enthralled. But that new will which had began to be in me, freely to serve Thee, and to wish to enjoy Thee, O God, the only assured pleasantness, was not yet able to overcome my former willfulness, strengthened by age. Thus did my two wills, one new, and the other old, one carnal, the other spiritual, struggle with me; and by their discord, undid my soul.By turns censorious and apologetic Augustine describes himself in Conf. Bk. 8 in terms of a conflict between two wills: one old, carnal and entrenched through years of habit and the other, new, spiritual and inchoate. Unable to follow the example set by a woman, he had the temerity to do even worse: take another concubine. To say that Augustine acted deplorably may seem overly harsh. Yet he seems to be passing that kind of judgment on his own past, and in doing so invites his interpreters to wonder to what extent the departure of his concubine may have been decisive for the terms in which he came to understand his possible conversion to Christianity. Exactly when and at what time he came to rethink what possible road he might take to becoming a full member of the church is not clear. What is beyond doubt is that sometime between the departure of his concubine and his conversion in 386 Augustine came to link his possible conversion to Christianity with sexual renunciation. More specifically, by the time he decides to pay a visit to Simplicianus (Conf. 8.1.1) Augustine has made the equation between conversion and continence.
For all the anguish he must have endured Augustine was unusually deliberate. The slow progression towards resolution may also have prolonged his distress. He hesitated when he heard the story of Victorinus. Again he would hesitate when he hears the story of Anthony. The conversion of Victorinus seemed too sedate and too well-managed a change, despite the fact that culturally, intellectually and professionally Augustine share a good deal with him. There is scarcely a hint that Victorinus underwent anything like the deep emotional and psychological trauma of Augustine's.
The stories told by Ponticianus were especially well suited for Augustine: the decisiveness of those two courtiers was what he needed. They had renounced the world for something more enduring. And they had done so just at the time in their careers when there were plying the very corridors of power and prestige in the Empire (Conf. 8.6.15). The effect on their own relations were almost immediate: the women to whom they were engaged also renounced the world, dedicating their virginity to God (dicauerunt etiam ipsae uirginitatem tibi).
Since his days as a Manichee, Augustine had never lost his fascination with exemplary lives. But what he was hearing now belonged to a different order. Hence the questions he vaguely remembers posing for Alypius:
What is wrong with us? What is this you have heard? The unlearned rise up and take heaven by force, while we (look at us!) with all our learning are wallowing in flesh and blood. Is it because they have gone ahead that we are ashamed to follow? And do we feel no shame at not even following at all?"Renunciation, continence, imitation and the shame of the learned and weak-willed who cannot do what the simple (indocti) dare to do: these are the issues around which Augustine's musings revolve.
The turning point began after Ponticianus left (Conf. 8.7.18). Augustine turned inward in a manner reminiscent of his Neo-Platonic contemplations in Bk. 7. What stands out here is the high moral awareness that Augustine brings to his introspection, which suggests that probably the most important thing he learned from his encounter with the Neo-Platonists, apart from his new found ability to think of non-material, spiritual, entities, was a vocabulary of inwardness and a moral consciousness which compelled him to even deeper introspection.
Earlier, I made the point
that the intellectual problems had been resolved in favor of Christianity,
and Augustine had no difficulty at Conf. 8.1 recognizing his ultimate good
in the church. However, in De beata vita he wrote about delaying
his philosophical retirement because of the esteem of some individuals
in Milan, and he related that delay also to his desire for a wife. Before
going any further I should like to suggest one possible way of construing
this aspect of Augustine's problems in the context of the anxieties brought
on by a possible marriage
In a world so conscious
of social rank and the probity of one's actions towards one's patrons it
would be reasonable for Augustine to worry about his reputation at this
point. One even suspects that the apparently shrewd (though not altogether
untruthful) way in which he resigned his chair may have been part of a
general desire not to elicit any undue attention in his
may have added to Augustine's anxiety, but it still leaves out why he made
the inextricable link between Christian conversion and sexual renunciation
in the first place. Getting married need not have been so problematic unless
Augustine had become convinced that there was something inherently wrong
and unchristian about getting married in his current condition. Although
beata vita 1.4 implies that reading the Platonists had formed in him
the conviction to disavow marriage, it does not account for the strength
and force of that conviction. It is one thing to be suddenly enamored of
the idea of total sexual renunciation because of the influence of Neo-Platonic
spirituality, it is quite another thing to be so convinced of this that
it becomes a test of one's integrity. Augustine, the onetime champion of
a life of philosophy which included marriage, must have had something more
fundamental on his mind in order to even contemplate breaking an engagement
to a daughter of the Milanese Christian aristocracy. Whatever it was, it
cut very close to his being, and so required a drastic change in orientation.
Continence and Augustine's Inner Circle
Even when Augustine talks
about the danger that had engulfed him, a danger that Ambrose knew nothing
of, Augustine appears to be talking of something other than incontinence.
What he has in mind when he first encounters the visage of Ambrose is the
skepticism of the Academics (Conf. 6.3.3). Having arrived in Rome a disconsolate
Manichaean auditor, he now found himself a wholly disaffected Manichee
and a skeptic. Shortly thereafter the Manichees would lose their tenuous
hold on him, but the Catholics had not yet won. It is in this state of
great uncertainty that Augustine sat in Ambrose's church. No longer a Manichee,
but not yet a Catholic he was for the taking. While the Manichees had made
him a materialist and something of a libertine in recognizing his responsibility
for his own evils, the skepticism of the Academics
went to the root. They removed the very foundations of knowing. For the
wise man there were to be no certainties, a pragmatism of
All the same, Ambrose's possible influence in the equation of conversion and sexual renunciation may have come in another way. It is more than likely that while Augustine may have considered Ambrose's celibacy an anomaly, that very anomaly may have been part of the complex of impressions that moved him to the position he came to hold eventually. As we catch Augustine pondering the kind of inner conflicts that might well confound a man of Ambrose's reputation and stature we can sense already that the Bishop's personal life is beginning to be more than just a curiosity. And it is not surprising that when he came to found his own monastic community later on in Hippo Regius Augustine would invoke Ambrose on many occasions. Possidius offers rare glimpses of how much Augustine referred to Ambrose's monastic example. All this is the stuff of later years, no doubt.
As far as Augustine's pre-conversion experience is concerned it is difficult to pinpoint exactly in what way he appropriated Ambrose's example. Nor can we even be sure how Augustine would have responded to Ambrose's sermons in those moments when he presented sexual renunciation as the ideal of the Christian experience.
A lost work of Ambrose's, De sacramento regenerationis siue de philosophia, a copy of which Augustine had been able to obtain for study at about the time that he was writing the Confessions seems a most likely candidate to have influenced Augustine's position, if he had known it prior to his conversion. The argument of the work would have met Augustine's problem head on: "the way of the philosophers is not the true way, it is not enough to know the truth, one must have in addition sacramental membership in the Christian church." It is an unusual argument. Moreover, Ambrose upped the ante. Ambrose found it polemically necessary and useful to counter the claims of the philosophers to have achieved a higher standard of moral life by their chastity; 'continence is the pedestal on which right worship rests', says Ambrose.
For someone in Augustine's position Ambrose's robust, "masculine" Christianity would have been congenial if a bit too rigorous in its aims: he who would take on true philosophy, he who would venture on the road to Christian philosophy, ought to prove by his life of continence the superiority of Christianity. Construed this way Ambrose's De sacramento regenerationis siue philosophia would reach Augustine as another "firing-me-up-for-philosophy" book, along the lines of Cicero's Hortensius. Or, failing that, Augustine could have received it like the Platonicorum libros which had precipitated one of his many conversions.
That Augustine does not mention Ambrose's text in the Confessions is a bit unusual since he has been at pains to indicate his philosophical and theological debts, not only to Cicero, but to the Platonists, and even other lesser figures who had been instrumental in turning him away from one error or another. What is more, he does not overlook Ambrose's influence in helping him gain a better handle on the problem of interpreting the Bible. In addition, he speaks about continence in reference to Ambrose and appears to have been naively unimpressed, so it would be very odd to have taken the decisive actions in response to Ambrose's text without acknowledging it in any way. Had he been moved towards continence and baptism by this lost work, it would have been a fitting denouement to his earlier assessment of Ambrose's celibacy. The absence of any reference to this lost work in the Confessions is therefore a bit of a problem.
But there is something else. Augustine rarely, if ever, uses the superiority of Christian asceticism as an argument against the philosophers. He reserves much of that ammunition for the Manichees, the first installment of which comes in De moribus ecclesiae Catholicae. As for the philosophers, and the Platonists in particular, he continues to praise them even as late as the writing of De civitate Dei. His main objection against them is their pride and lack of humility, not their unwillingness or inability to undertake rigorous asceticism. When he does criticize the philosophers, as we find him doing in De civitate Dei, Augustine chides them for having acquiesced to the religious practices of Roman society despite the high claims of their philosophies. It would be an intriguing idea if indeed Augustine is taking up a challenge put forth by Ambrose for those who would seek the happy life. However, the unfolding of the narrative in the Confessions seems to point in a direction away from Ambrose.
There had always been the personal example of Alypius. If there was a model that Augustine had had before him for a good part of his life it was Alypius. Part of the Alypius portrait in the Confessions prepares the way for the whole problem of marriage, sexual renunciation and the desire for philosophical rest. In the midst of all their concerns about worldly honors (Conf. 6.6) Augustine and his friends sought a way of life, a true guide for their troubled souls. They had hoped to find it in philosophical leisure. The plan faltered because they were sure the women would not agree to the arrangement.
Augustine tells us that Alypius prevented him from marrying because they feared losing the intimacy of their friendship. But in his studied intransigenceagainst Alypius Augustine continued to maintain that the pursuit of wisdom did not rule out a woman's love or even a wife. Alypius almost lost his ground when curiositas got the better of him, trying to figure out exactly what made Augustine's desire for a woman such a necessity. If Ambrose's De philosophia helped in any way it brought Augustine back to the views Alypius had always maintained.
It is a measure of Augustine's stubborn will that he could keep on living the way he did with Alypius for a friend and Monnica for a mother. While Alypius was making no headway and faltering while trying to understand Augustine, Monnica's arrival in Milan would prove more precipitous. When she arrived she saw Augustine nearer her Catholic faith than ever she had seen him, and so meant to help her son on the way. Marriage seemed a good idea to make Augustine's passage less turbulent. Monnica knew better than to suggest continence as the way for Augustine.
Augustine's concubine would be the casualty of Monnica's intervention. Augustine had lived with his concubine for about fourteen years in virtual defiance of his mother. When Monnica took the lead in arranging for a proper marriage for him the period of Augustine's defiance appeared to have come to an abrupt end. The language describing his attitude towards Monnica's intervention are much too passive, suggesting that Augustine may not have reached this judgment on his own initiative, and would probably not have taken decisive steps without the urging of his mother.
With the departure of
his concubine a mist descends on Augustine's soul. In this state of uncertainty
about a possible marriage Augustine asks his mother to pray to God for
a vision about the future he was embarking on. What else explains Augustine's
anxiety about marriage than the desire for dreams?
His youthful fascination with astrology may have reared its ugly head as
he sought desperately to know his future. Monnica apparently did have some
dreams but they were of such a
continued. The helpless creature of habit had meant to weather the storm
by taking another concubine, as he waited to be married. But he found himself
deeply troubled. By the time we meet him at Conf. Bk. 8.6.13 he is in the
throes of his anxieties, distraught over the prospect of having to consider
a life of continence as an essential aspect to
Continence and the Portrait of a Nameless Woman
Augustine drags his feet, hesitates, ponders, then inches a bit closer to his goal. Eventually Continence succeeds. Her inducements are more appealing to Augustine: "In the direction toward which I had turned my face and still trembled to take the last step, I could see the chaste dignity of Continence; she was calm and serene, cheerful without wantonness, and it was in truth and honor that she was enticing me to come to her without hesitation, stretching out to receive and to embrace me with those holy hands of hers, full of such multitudes of good examples." Then he goes on to point out the examples that Continence showed him: men and women, young and old, virgins and widows who had devoted themselves to her. Yet it should not have been such a great number.
After all, Augustine knew very little indeed of the various traditions of Christian asceticism prior to Ponticianus' visit. He came to know about Anthony of Egypt from what Ponticianus had told him. Even Ambrose's community in Milan was news just received. So the examples are at best second-hand, based on Ponticianus, and perhaps Augustine's recollections of certain individuals he may have seen in Milan. The example of renunciation closest to him which had any pretensions towards asceticism was that of his concubine, the mother of Adeodatus. If continence is presenting herself as a woman and showing Augustine examples of those who have chosen her way, what more likely candidate for such fair than the woman who had made a vow of sexual renunciation after years of living with Augustine? But note what happens at Conf. 8.7.18 and 8.8.19, just when Augustine begins to consider the implications of what he had heard from Ponticianus:
So I was being gnawed at inside, and as Ponticianus went on with his story I was lost and overwhelmed in a terrible kind of shame. When the story was over and the business about which he had come had been settled he went away, and I retired into myself. . . . And now inside my house great indeed was the quarrel which I had started with my soul in that bedroom of my heart which we shared together.The language evokes the image of something like the inner chamber of a Roman house (cubiculo nostro, corde meo). Whether all this is intended to evoke the memory of his concubine is hard to say. Yet one cannot overlook the language in which Augustine describes his relations with the mother of his son. Augustine's words reveal a strangely disquieting dignity, especially because the concubine appears in contrast to Monnica. At no point in his account about Monnica's life does Augustine's mother look so unendearing.
If modern readers have shown remarkable sympathy for the mother of Adeodatus and have tended to see Augustine (and his mother) as mean and heartless that is due largely to Augustine himself. It is his text, his portrait of the nameless woman, and his juxtaposition of those two women that engenders sympathy for the one and surprise at the other. On the scale of imperfection Monnica seems to be at the high end with Augustine somewhere in the middle; confused, dejected and put upon. Augustine does not say "I broke off my relationship with her." That at least would imply that while he was in great anguish over the decision he did it himself. What we read is: "she was torn from me." Passive, weak-willed and forlorn, all Augustine can say is that "my heart clung to her." Augustine's words are much too emotional, and may even be a bit of an embarrassment for someone who should have known better. The description of the separation also bears all the marks of Monnica's handiwork. However one looks at it Augustine points the finger of blame at Monnica and also at himself.
What do we make of all this? An advancing rhetorician who is saddened at losing a concubine. For a late antique audience this would be overly dramatic. Many a man had gotten rid of a concubine and no one seemed (except the women of course) the worse for it. To his contemporaries --if we understand the tragic world of late Roman marriage protocol-- Augustine should have felt nothing of the loss he describes. For him to decry that "she was separated from me because she was thought to be an obstacle to my marriage and my heart which clung to her was dripping blood" is a bit too pathetic a picture of the young Augustine. There is too much anguish here. And to his contemporaries and his modern readers he is difficult to comprehend. Whether or not we should follow some translators in saying that Augustine loved her is another matter. Augustine describes her as simply, "the woman I was in the habit of sleeping with" (qua cubare solitus eram).
Augustine gives no indication that on his own he had quite worked out in his mind that this was the cause he was going to take: marriage and then baptism. Nor is it clear that he had considered how a possible Christian conversion would impose on his relationship with his concubine. Had he ever thought he could take her into the Church? Would Ambrose condone such practice when he was holding up celibacy as the ideal?
In an environment where married Christians felt like second-class citizens it is highly doubtful that Augustine would have felt secure in thinking that he could keep his concubine. However, if he had no intention of receiving baptism and wanted to wait as long as it was possible then he could well remain on the fringes of the Christian community for a very long time indeed.
Ironically, the same Augustine who could not be constrained in his career by an early marriage in his youth found himself in his early thirties considering marriage as the only way into the life of the Church. In both instances Monnica's wishes predominate. Earlier she had unwittingly acquiesced to Augustine's profligacy, now she took the decisive steps to get him married only to watch her son slip in his tenuous steps toward marriage and Christian baptism.
The impending legal marriage, the departure of the concubine, and the taking of another woman all made Augustine's situation unbearable. And Augustine was not helped by the vow of his first concubine that she would not give herself to another man. It would have been easier on a man of such introspection if she had not made such a pledge. But she did, and it placed Augustine in a dubious position. She returned to Africa, but the unhappy, impatient, and weak-willed Augustine was in agony.
I, in my misery, could not follow the example of a woman. I had two years to wait until I could have the girl to whom I was engaged, and I could not bear the delay. So, since I was not so much a lover of marriage as a slave of lust, I found another woman for myself --not, of course, as a wife. In this way my soul's disease was fed and kept alive so that it might reach the domination of matrimony just as strong as before, or stronger, and still the slave of unbroken habit. Nor was the wound healed which had been made by cutting off my previous [concubine]. It burned, it hurt intensely, and then it festered, and if the pain became duller, it become more desperate.And so Augustine began in search of a cure for the disease of his soul. Notice the contrast between Adeodatus' mother's vow of continence (not to give herself to another man) and Augustine's impatience and inability to follow the woman's example. Whether she had intended to influence Augustine in this way we will never know. At the same time there must have been a note of desperation in the concubine's vow. She had arrived in Milan probably just about the time when Augustine had
set up house and had to leave shortly after Monnica's arrival. In many ways it would have been better not to have come to Milan at all.
Although it would appear that Monnica had displaced the mother of Adeodatus, the taking of another concubine by Augustine raised questions about how far Monnica could determine the manner in which Augustine entered the Church. At this juncture control slips from both of them. Monnica had arranged a marriage, the first concubine had been sent packing, but Augustine was still sleeping with a woman who was not his wife.
Monnica's worries may have intensified here, but Augustine says nothing about them. The willingness with which she accepts Augustine's final act of conversion (Conf. 8.12.30) not only to God but to continence suggests that Monnica had been aware of the terms in which Augustine framed his possible conversion to Christianity. His ongoing prodigality made Augustine's fidelity in a monogamous relationship with the mother of Adeodatus for those fourteen years or so look much more decent. Augustine's youthful prayer "give me continence but not yet" (Conf. 8.7.17) seemed an apt description of his current condition, but in fact it belonged to another kind of experience altogether. For at that time Augustine had not had several years of living in fidelity with a woman.
A number of interesting questions emerge at this point. If an attempt had not been made to get him married properly, would Augustine have stumbled on the idea that he had a terrible wound for which he needed a cure? Would he have linked Christian conversion with sexual renunciation had he been able to enter the fold of the Church with his concubine? And what would have been the shape of Augustine's views on human sexuality? These are speculations to be sure, but they warrant reflection because of the variegated ways in which Augustine's personal experiences enter into his theological thought.
This particular episode in Augustine's life determined a few important aspects of his later life. The mother of Adeodatus had not only pledged herself to a life of continence, she had made the vow to God, the same God the young rhetorician wanted to be converted to. Augustine was left to deal with the implications of his concubine's vow. The bonds of their relationship would become an issue.
When Augustine came to write his treatise "On the Good of Marriage" in 401, soon after finishing the Confessions he had occasion to reflect on a situation that in every way recalled his own circumstances with the mother of his son. The language, sentiments, and allusions are almost certainly self-referential:
This problem often arises: if a man and a woman live together without being legitimately joined, not to have children, but because they could not observe continence; and if they have agreed between themselves to have relations with no one else, can this be called a marriage? Perhaps: but only if they had resolved to maintain until death the good faith which they had promised themselves, even though this union did not rest on a desire to have children. . . . But if one or the other of these conditions is lacking, I cannot see how their alliance can be called a marriage. Indeed, if a man takes a woman only for a time, until he has found another who better suits his rank and fortune: and if he marries this woman, as being of the same class, this man would commit adultery in his heart, not towards the one he had married, but toward her with whom he had once lived without being legitimately married. The same can be said for the woman . . . . Nevertheless, if she was faithful to him, and if, after his marriage to another, she herself gave no thought to marriage, but abstained from all sexual relations, I would not dare to accuse her of adultery --even though she may have been guilty, in living with a man who was not her husband.It is instructive that in his assessment here Augustine exonerates the concubine who abstains from all sexual relations after she has been let go by a man to whom she was not properly married. He would not dare to accuse her of adultery. And indeed Augustine did not dare to accuse the mother of Adeodatus, and spoke rather of the example she had set him (Conf. 6.15.25).
If even an inkling of any of this understanding formed part of Augustine's thinking between the time of his concubine's departure and his conversion in 386 we would have the surest explanation of Augustine situation: a proper marriage to another woman who fit "his rank and fortune" would imply in Augustine's mind that he was living in adultery. This would be sufficient to bring Augustine to the position where he came to believe that continence was a necessary corollary to his conversion to Christianity.
The almost cursory reference to the example set by the concubine (ego infelix nec feminae imitator) makes it all too easy to overlook this model of continence in Augustine's inner circle. Augustine could see in her act the resolve he found terribly lacking in himself. They had lived together. On the question of habits they would bear the same burden. The woman's decision to be celibate for the rest of her life, demonstrated what Augustine was unable to do for himself or for another's sake. Living with a new concubine and "sinning all the while" (interea mea peccata multiplicabantur) Augustine seems to have recognized the necessity of a decisive act of renunciation. The example of the two courtiers of Trier would not be lost on him.
There had always been
Alypius, of course. But Alypius appeared to Augustine as something of a
different species, so that even when Alypius follows him in conversion
Augustine can still say that Alypius is simply following what is right
in his character (congruentissimo suis moribus).
Alypius knew nothing of the chains formed by habit. For Augustine habit
Much of what I have tried to suggest here is that Augustine's emerging conviction cannot be properly accounted for without recognizing the role of his first concubine's vow to continence. The language of adultery which shows up in De bono coniugali 5.5 makes sense only if Augustine came to recognize, quite apart from the allowances which Roman society accorded men and their concubines, that the mother of Adeodatus had been in every sense his wife. Consequently, to go through with the legal marriage to the Milanese girl would be adding more sin to an already ignoble record.
There is also a pastoral
issue worth noting. Augustine would not have had the integrity, nor would
he have had the audacity to chide the men in his congregation over and
over again about their infidelities, about their adulterous lives (because
Vovens tibi and the Idea of Conversion in the Confessions
Augustine's idea of his own conversion seems obvious enough because at Conf. 8.12.30 he says so explicitly (conuertisit enim me ad te). This notion of conversion is the most common use of conuersio in the Confessions. It is God who is doing the turning. In a good many of these instances Augustine is either quoting from scripture or commenting on the various turns which God gave to his life, sometimes over and against his best wishes at the time.
Van Fleteren's count of conversion narratives in the Confessions includes such stories as Augustine's encounter with Cicero's Hortensius (Conf. 3.4.7-8), Alypius' conversion from the Carthaginian circus (Conf. 6.7.11-12), Augustine's conversion from astrology (Conf. 7.6.8-10), and Monnica's decision not to drink wine (Conf. 9.8.19). We could even add to the count Alypius' change of mind about his Appollinarianism while in Milan (Conf. 7.19.25), or more to the point, the much earlier narrative about Augustine's boyhood friend who received baptism when he was deathly ill, had a remission, and then died shortly thereafter while Augustine was away (Conf. 4.4.8).
This last example, besides offering a witness to the practice of baptism for those who were thought to be near death, greatly affected Augustine in another way. The change that seemed to have come over his friend, who could not endure Augustine's mocking of the rite, offers an interesting example of what may well have been a crisis conversion. That he died a few days afterwards cut the story short. Still, Augustine appears to have been greatly shattered by the alienation that entered their friendship, an alienation that deepened with the death of his friend. There is the anguish of unfinished business --things that should have been said that were never said-- which linger in Augustine's grief over his friend (Conf. 4.4.9ff.). Augustine the mocker stood on the outside looking in on an experience in which he could not share.
Without knowing what
had been done to him --this was the point Augustine had tried to
stress by belittling the rite-- Augustine's boyhood friend seemed to have
changed his own attitude toward baptism when he regained consciousness.
In recounting this experience Augustine pits his own foolishness against
the sudden, unexpected, and newfound freedom of his friend (mirabili
et repentina libertate), who found the voice and the authority to take
Augustine to task. This was probably
What do I mean? First, there is the simple fact that the central characters in both stories (Conf. 4.4.8 and 6.15.25) are nameless, but this is the least interesting of the similarities. We never find out the name of Augustine's boyhood friend, nor are we told anywhere in Augustine's corpus the name of his concubine. Second, each story deals with a crisis situation for the protagonist and for Augustine too. Third, in each instance, the precipitating event leads to some unfinished business between Augustine and the persons involved. In the former, baptism creates a barrier between Augustine and his friend, in the latter, Augustine's impending marriage and the forced separation from the concubine is itself the barrier. In death his boyhood friend is lost to Augustine and we never find out whether Augustine knew what happened to his concubine or whether he even cared to find out. Fourth, God enters the respective stories at precisely the points where Augustine is alienated. His boyhood friend receives baptism and thereby enters the Church, the concubine makes a vow to God to live a life of continence. In either case the other person involved adopts a rite and a form of life that Augustine mocks or is incapable of imitating. It is tempting to think that Augustine does not get reconciled to either his boyhood friend or his concubine until the day of his conversion in 386 when, in a curious way, he embraces continence and prepares himself for baptism. Fifth, in each circumstance we find Augustine inconsolable. He sheds a lot of tears in the aftermath of his friend's death and after the departure of his concubine. When his friend died he could endure his native town no longer and fled to Carthage to overcome his misery, plunged headlong into new friendships yet found no rest. Similarly, when his concubine departs he tries to soften the blow by seeking the embrace of another woman. Instead what he discovers is a misery much deeper and more intolerable.
The similarities between
the stories suggests perhaps that if there is a crisis conversion in the
former, made explicit because Augustine's boyhood friend received baptism
and appears to have accepted the implications of the rite, there may also
have been a crisis conversion of another kind in the vow of his concubine.
Beyond this we may not press too far. But there is another parallel worth
remembering. When the two courtiers of Trier renounced the world in their
conversion to Christianity they left their respective fiancées in
marital limbo. And what did the two women do? As Augustine tells us, they
The helplessness of Augustine's concubine --and she was helpless-- does not in any way detract from the personal conviction that may have been involved in the act. Exactly how she may have lived the rest of her life is not the issue. She may well have been returning to a precarious existence. And the desire for continence may have been an attempt to give dignity to her hopelessness: covering her shame in a declared act of renunciation that would lend to her life a "divine" or religious purpose. Whatever may have been her prospects she obviously intended to set the terms in which she would endure that future. It is in this minimal sense of making a decided choice, all be it in a desperate situation, that underlines her act of renunciation. That the vow was also made to God greatly qualifies how she appears to have understood herself.
Furthermore, the narrator
(or rather, the praying voice) of the Confessions, on whose words we are
dependent for the portrait of the nameless woman, appears to have believed
that she made the vow to the very God to whom he was confessing. There
may also be a biblical allusion here: there are any number of nameless
women in the gospels who are commended for their faith. Since Augustine
recognized his concubine's vow to continence as an example he was to weak
and unhappy to
The Confessions make an implicit claim as a meta-narrative of conversion. It is not only Augustine's story but the stories of Victorinus, Ponticianus, the two courtiers, Anthony of Egypt, Ambrose, Simplicianus, Monnica, and, as I am inclined to think, the mother of Adeodatus. There are as many kinds of conversion narratives in the Confessions as there are people who are converted. To aver that any one of these conversion stories is the most fitting representation of Christian conversion in the Confessions is simply misleading.
Monnica, for example, had always offered one version of Christian experience to Augustine. Nevertheless, the portrait we have of Monnica is not a simple one, still less does it fit our common notions of hagiography. The image we seem to carry with us is the Monnica of Bk. 9, where Augustine speaks eloquently of the woman whose labors had given birth to him naturally and spiritually. Augustine states that he is passing over so much of what God has done for him because he is in hurry. But he refuses to pass over what he has to offer about God's servant, his mother. And so we have a tribute to Monnica.
It is all too easy to
forget that Augustine gives us another side of Monnica in Conf. Bks. 1-8
which is in every way as critical of Monnica's worldliness as it is laudatory
of the gift of God in her. She is, after all, the mother who cared so much
about Augustine's career that she was willing to endure her son's profligate
youth as long as the brilliant young man stayed the
It is after Monnica's conversion to a joy more pure and chaste that she enters the last phase of her life captured by such moments as her contributions at Cassiciacum (see especially her role in De beata vita) and the so-called vision at Ostia. Augustine had always recognized Monnica as a Christian and she remained that till the end. Yet as he describes a conversion for Monnica in late life Augustine also underlines Christian experience as always in need of perfecting. Conversion, in this sense, is an ongoing event. By recounting different kinds of conversion experiences Augustine points out that the path towards perfection are various.
Ponticianus did not become a monk, yet he saw himself as a Christian in good standing, while his two colleagues turned to the monastic life. Victorinus had given up his past ways and become a Christian, yet he remained a philosopher. Monnica had been a married woman, Ponticianus was serving in the imperial administration, Ambrose was a celibate Bishop reigning in Milan, preaching to both the simple and the sophisticates of that society.
Simple vows of renunciation were turning people into ascetics. And many of these were considered by Augustine and the Christian society of the late fourth and early fifth century as genuine manifestations of Christian conversion. If individuals were turning their backs on the world in simple vows of renunciation, then a vow to the Christian God made by a helpless woman on the verge of possible destitution ought to be seen as a conversion. If we simply accept the fact that there are various kinds of conversion stories in the Confessions, then there is little reason to doubt that the concubine's vow is also a conversion story. All I have tried to point out is that it is a muted conversion narrative, a veiled tribute to a woman whose decision to commit herself to a life of continence had prompted Augustine's journey down that road. By recognizing the mother of Adeodatus, the woman with whom he was in the habit of sleeping, as "flesh of his flesh" Augustine the catechumen come to see in sexual renunciation the only credible embodiment of his possible conversion to Christianity.
Let me conclude with the observation that the silences about Augustine's dramatic conversion in his early writings could well be due to just what I have been describing here, and perhaps De beata vita 1.4 alludes to this. Although we have come to form the idea --and a rather erroneous one-- that Augustine is very open about the inner details of his life, he deliberately omits a good many things we would very much like to have in the Confessions. And there is no mention of a concubine in De beata vita. We need to consider the very real possibility that Augustine had never intended to give the details of his life to the world. The Confessions, after all, is a highly selective retrospective of his life and an unusual example of the discipline of memory. That most curious passage about how he selected from memory what he wanted for his text (Conf. 10.8.12) reveals a thoroughgoing discipline and mastery of his material. Augustine is always in control.
If the terms in which he came to understand his possible conversion to Christianity (i.e. the equation of conversion and continence) had something to do with the vow of his concubine one would hardly expect Augustine to introduce the subject when he was trying to tell his story in the form of a conversion to philosophical leisure. The guarded, tactful language of a philosophical pilgrimage which one finds in the early writings allows Augustine to gloss over a good many aspects of his conversion. We should probably not be too surprised that the dramatic conversion scarcely shows up in the early works.
Of the Cassiciacum dialogues
the Soliloquies offers the most interesting corroboration of the intensely
emotional and traumatic experience that Augustine recounts in the Confessions.
We can see Augustine entering into himself to dredge out his
Continentia and Sapientia emerge as Augustine's new loves, although at times he appears to have a very tenuous hold on the former. Augustine can only think of Continence in connection with the many tears he shed during the trauma of his conversion. And while he appears tired of crying when Reason continues to probe and dig deeply into his being, nothing quite captures the intensely affective nature of Augustine's spirituality as the many tears he continued to shed to the very end of his life, weeping for his sin and seeking the mercy of God.
In this Augustine was anything but the model of the philosophical pilgrim. Tears were hardly the mark of the philosopher in late antiquity. For all his attempts to present his conversion as a philosophical pilgrimage the portrait of his soul that we find in the Soliloquies undermines that very effort. Hence the relevance of his comment in the Confessions that the Cassiciacum dialogues have something of the old air in them: pride (Conf. 9.4.7). All the same, to understand Augustine's attempt to lay hold of Continentia and Sapientia is to come close to the heart of his Christianity, especially in the early years after his conversion. And to think that a helpless, nameless woman had something to do with all this is remarkable in itself.
1 Conf. 8.12.30 (CCSL 27, 132): Conuertisti enim me ad te, ut nec uxorem quaererem nec aliquam spem saeculi huius stans in ea regula fidei, in qua me ante tot annos ei reuelaueras, et conuertisti luctum eius in gaudium multo uberius, quam uoluerat, ut multo carius atque castius, quam de nepotibus carnis meae requirebat.
4 A sampling
of recent studies include L. Daly, "Psychohistory and St. Augustine's Conversion
Process," Augustiniana 28 (1978), 231-254; P. Fredriksen, "Paul and Augustine:
Conversion Narratives, Orthodox Traditions, and the Retrospective Self,"
JTS, NS 37 (1986) 3-34; T. J. Van Bavel, "De la Raison à la Foi:
La Conversion d'Augustin", Augustiniana 36 (1986), 5-27; and a host of
articles by L. C. Ferrari, "Paul at the Conversion of Augustine (Conf.
VIII. 12, 29-30)," Aug. Stud. 11 (1980), 5-20; The Conversions of St. Augustine,
The Saint Augustine Lecture Series: St. Augustine and the Augustinian Tradition,
1982 (Villanova: University Press, 1984); "Saint Augustine on the Road
to Damascus," Aug. Stud. 13 (1982), 151-170; "Truth and Augustine's Conversion
Scene," Collectanea Augustiniana (New York: Peter Lang, 1990), 11-19.
9 P. Courcelle, Recherches sur les Confessions de saint Augustin (Paris, 1950; 2nd edn. Paris, 1968); P. Courcelle, Les Confessions de saint Augustin dans la tradition littéraire (Paris, 1963). For a summary see E. TeSelle, Augustine the Theologian (New York: Herder and Herder, 1970), 25-43.
11 Augustine uses the motif of a mountain in his sermons all too frequently. Often he is alluding to an idea in the Psalms --I look unto the hills and from whence comes my help but from Mt. Zion. He finds a way to link the mountain from whence comes our help with knowledge, and in the sermons on the Gospel of John he even links the evangelists with the mountains. See the first couple of sermons in Tractatus in euangelium Iohannis (CCSL 36).
12 De beata vita, 1.3 (CCSL 29, 66): nam quem montem alium uult intellegi ratio propinquantibus ad philosophiam ingressisue metuendum nisi superbum studium inanissimae gloriae . . . . See for example, De vera religione 4.7; Conf. 7.20.26; De civ. Dei Bk. 8.
13 De beata vita. 1.4 (CCSL 29, 66): Quae cum ita sint, accipe, mi Theodore --namque ad id, quod desidero, te unum intueor aptissimum semper admiror --accipe, inquam, et quod illorum trium genus hominum me tibi dederit et quo loco mihi esse uidear et abs te cuius modi auxilium certus expectum.
14 Lectis autem Plotini paucissimis libris, cuius te esse studiosissimum accepi, conlataque cum eis, quantum potui, etiam illorum auctoritate, qui diuina mysteria tradiderunt, sic exarsi, ut omnes illas uellem ancoras rumpere, nisi me nonnullorum hominum esitimatio commoueret.
15 Contra Academicos 2.2.5 (CCSL 29, 20-21): Quis me tunc honor, quae hominum pompa, quae inanis famae cupiditas, quod denique huius mortalis uitae fomentum atque retinaculum commouebat? Prorsus totus in me cursum redibam. Respexi tamen, confiteor, quasi de itinere in illam religionem, quae pueris nobis insita est et medullitus inplicata; uerum autem ipsa ad se nescientem rapiebat. Itaque titubans properans haesitans arripio apostolum Paulum. Neque enim uere, inquam, isti tanta potuissent uixissentque ita, ut eos uixisse manifestum est, si eorum litterae atque rationes huis tanto bono aduersarentur. Perlegi totum intentissime atque castissime.
17 Soliloquia 1.10.17 (CSEL 89, 27): Quantumlibet velis eam pingere atque cumulare bonis omnibus, nihil mihi tam fugiendum quam concubitum esse decrevi. Nihil esse sentio, quod magis ex arce deiciat animum virilem, quam blandimenta feminea corporumque ille contactus, sine quo uxor haberis non potest. Itaque, si ad officium pertinet sapientis --quod nondum comperis-- dare operam liberis, quisquis rei huius tantum imitandus nullo modo. Nam temptare hoc periculosius est quam posse felicus.Quamobrem satis, credo, iuste atque utiliter pro libertate animae meae mihi imperavi non cupere, non quaerere, non ducere uxorem.
21 Soliloquia 1.14.26 (CSEL 89, 39): Tace, obsecro, tace. Quid crucias? Quid tantum fodis alteque descendis? Iam flere non duro, iamiam nihil promitto, nihil praesumo, ne me de istis rebus interroges.
22 Conf. 7.7.11 (CCSL 27, 99-100): Iam itaque me, aduitor meus, illis uinculis solueras, et quaerebam, unde malum, et not erat exitus. . . . Et cum silentio fortiter quaererem, magnae uoces erant ad misericordiam tuam, tacitae contritiones animi mei. Tu sciebas, quid patiebar, et nullus hominum.
23 Conf. 7.7.11 (CCSL 27, 100): . . . tu gaudium uerum mihi subdito tibi et tu mihi subieceras quae infra me creasti. Et hoc erat rectum temperamentum et media regio salutis meae, ut manerem ad imaginem tuam et tibi seruiens dominarer corpori.
24 Conf. 7.7.11 (CCSL 27, 100): Ipsa occurrebant undique aceruatem et conglobatim cernenti, cogitanti autem imagines corporum ipsae opponebantur redeunti, quasi diceretur: "Quo is, indgine et sordide?" Et haec de uulnere meo creuerant, quia humiliasti tamquam uulneratum superbum, et tumore meo separabar abs te et nimis inflata facies claudebat oculos meos.
25 The Confessions of St. Augustine, translated by Edward B. Pusey (New York: Collier Books, 1961), 115; Translation of Conf. 8.1.1 (CCSL 27, 113): De uita tua aeterna certus eram, quamuis eam in aenigmate et quasi per speculum uideram; dubitatio tamen omnis de incorruptibili substantia, quod ab illo esset omnis substantia, ablata mihi erat, nec certior de te, sed stabilior in te esse cupiebam. De mea uero temporali uita nutabant omnia et mundandum erat cor a fermento ueteri; et placebat uia ipse saluator et ire per eius angustias adhuc pigebat.
27 Pusey's translation (116); Conf. 8.1.2 (CCSL 27, 114): Sed ego imfirmior eligebam moliorem locum et propter hoc unum uoluebar in ceteris languidus et tabescens curis marcidis, quod et in aliis rebus, quas nolebam pati, conguere cogebar uitae coniugali, cui deditus obstringebar.
31 Conf. 8.5.11 (CCSL 27, 120): Sic intellegebam me ipso experimento id quod legeram, quomodo caro concupisceret aduersus spiritum et spiritus aduersum carnem, ego quidem in utroque. sed magis ego, in eo, quod in me approbabam, quam in eo, quod in me improbaba. Ibi enim magis iam non ego, quia ex magna parte id patiebar inuitus quam faciebam uolens. Sed tamen consuetudo aduersus me pugnacior ex me facta erat, quoniam uolens quo nollem perueram.
33 Pusey's translation (120-121); Conf. 8.5. 10 (CCSL 27, 119-120): Velle meum tenebat inimicus et inde mihi catenam fecerat et constrinxerat me. Quippe ex uoluntate peruersa facta est libido, et dum seruitur libidini, facta est consuetudo, et dum consuetudini non resistur, facta est necessitas. Quibus quasi ansulis sibimet innexis --unde catenam appelaui-- tenebat me obstrictum dura seruitus. Voluntas autem noua, quae mihi esse coeperat, ut te gratis colerem fruique et uellem, deus, sola certa iucunditas, nondum erat idonea ad superandam priorem uestustate roboratam. Ita duae uoluntates meae, una uetus, alia noua, illa carnalis, illa spiritalis, confligebant inter se atque discordando dissipabant animam meam.
34 Rex Warner's translation (175); Conf. 8.8.19 (CCSL 27, 125): "Quid patimur? Quid est hoc? Quid audisti?" Surgunt indocti et caelum rapiunt, et nos cum doctrinis nostris sine corde ecce ubi uolutamur in carne et sanguine! An quia praecesserunt, pudet sequi et non pudet nec saltem sequi?
35 See Conf. 9.2.3 (CCSL 27, 134): Verum tamen quia propter nomen tuum, quod sanctificasti per terras, etiam laudatores utique haberet uotum et propositum nostrum, iactantiae simile uidebatur non opperiri tam proximum feriarum tempus, sed de publica professione atque ante oculos omnium sita ante discedere, ut conuersa in factum meum praeuenire uoluerim, multa dicerent, quod quasi appetissem mangus uideri. Et quo mihi erat istuc, ut putaretur et disputaretur de animo meo et blasphemaretur bonum nostrum?
40 Conf. 6.3.3 (CCSL 27, 75): Quid autem ille spei gereret, et aduersus ipsius excellentiae temptamenta quid luctaminis haberet quidue solaminis in aduersis, et occultum os eius, quod erat in corde eius, quam sapidi gaudia de pane tuo ruminaret, nec conicere noueram nec expertus eram.
48 Conf. 6.12.22 (CCSL 27, 88): Cum enim me ille miraretur, quem non parui penderet, ita haerere uisco illius uoluptatis, ut me affirmarem, quotienscumque inde inter nos quaereremus, caelibem uitem nullo modo posse, cum illum mirantem uiderem ... .
49 So O'Donnell, Augustine: Confessions, Vol. 2, 377: He comments, "Note the passives through here. 'instabatur ... promittebatur ... instabatur ... petebatur ... expetabatur': control is slipping out of A.'s hands." He also calls attention to the hankering for a sign.
50 Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 667, assumes that Augustine's preoccupation with dreams in his early letters show his commitment to Neoplatonism. But dreams had always featured in Christian experience both because people wanted to understand their dreams and also because of the biblical tradition's concern with dreams and visionary experience. See J. LeGoff, Medieval Imagination, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 193-231.
51 Conf. 8.6.13 (CCSL 27, 121): Et de uinculo quidem desiderii, quo artissimo tenebar, et saecularium negotiorum seruitate quemadmodum me exermeris, narrabo et confitebor nomini tuo, domine, adiutor meus et redemptor meus.
52 Conf. 8.11.26 (CCSL 27, 129): Retinebant nugae nugarum et uanitates uanitatum, antiquae amicae meae, et succutiebant uestem meam carnem et submurmurabant: "Dimittisne nos?" et "A momento isto non erimus tecum ultra in aeternum" et "A momento isto non tibi licebit hoc et illud ultra in aeternum".
53 Rex Warner's translation (181); Conf. 8.11.27 (CCSL 27, 130): Aperiebatur enim ab ea parte, qua intenderam faciem et quo transire trepidabam, casta dignitas continentiae, serena et non dissolute hilaris, honeste blandiens, ut uenirem neque dubitarem, et extendens ad me suscipiendum et amplectendum pias manus plenas gregibus bonorum exemplorum.
54 Ibid., 174; Conf. 8.7.18-8.8.19 (CCSL 27, 124-125): Ita rodebar intus et confundebar pudore horribili vehementer, cum Ponticianus talia loqueretur. Terminato autem sermone et causa, qua uenerat, abiit ille, et ego ad me ... . Tum in illa grandi rixa interioris domus meae, quam fortiter excitaueram cum anima mea in cubiculo nostro, corde meo ... .
56 O'Meara, The Young Augustine (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1954), 129, has tried to defend Augustine but he seems to overlook the very pathos of Conf 6.15.25. Augustine's anxiety needs more than the apology that he should have expected it. This is too open to the charge that O'Meara is simply defending what in any event appears troubling, especially because he is fully cognizant of Augustine worldliness at this point in his life (126ff.).
59 Ambrose's peculiar asceticism is a phenomenon in itself. This great champion of chastity (celibacy) as the pinnacle of Christian devotion could at other times show his aristocractic sensibilities by warning upper class Christians against marrying below their social rank. See Peter Brown's interesting portrait of Milanese snobbery and Ambrose's ascetic impulses in Augustine of Hippo, 79-90, and in Body and Society, 341-365, respectively.
60 Rex Warner's translation (133); Conf. 6.15.25 (CCSL 27, 90): At ego infelix nec feminae imitator, dilationis impatiens, tamquam post biennium accepturus eram quam petebam, quia non amotor coniugalii sed libidinis seruus enim, procuraui aliam, non utique coniugem, quo tamquam sustentaretur et perduceretur uel integer uel auctior morbus animae meae satellitio perdurantis meum, quod prioris praecisione factum erat, sed post feruorem doloremque acerrimum putrescebat et quasi frigidius, sed desperatius dolebat.
61 The translation is Peter Brown's [Augustine of Hippo, 89-90]; the passage is De Bono Coniugali 5.5. (CSEL 41, 193-194): Solet etiam quaeri, cum masculus et femina, nec ille maritus nec illar uxor alterius, sibimet not filiorum procreandorum, sed propter incontinentiam solius concubitus causa copulantur ea fide media, ut nec ille cum altera nec illa cum altero id faciat, utrum nuptiae sint uocandae. et potest quidem fortasse non absurde hoc appellari conubium, si usque ad mortem alicuius eorum id inter eos placuerit et prolis generationem, quamuis non ea causa coniuncti sint, non tamen uitauerint, ut uel nolint sibi nasci filios uel etiam opere aliquo malo agant, ne nascantur. ceterum si uel utrumque uel unum horum desit, non inuenio, quemadmodum has nuptias appellare possimus. etenim si aliquam sibi uir ad tempus adhibuerit, donec aliam dignam uel honoribus uel facultatibus suis inueniat, quam conparem ducat, ipso animo adulter est, nec cum illa, quam cupit inuenire, sed cum ista, cum qua sic cubat, ut cum ea non habeat maritale consortium. unde et ipsa hoc sciens ac uolens inpudice utique miscetur ei, cum quo non habet foedus uxorium. uerumtamen si ei tori fidem seruet et, cum ille uxorem duxerit, nubere ipsa non cogitet atque a tali porsus opere continere se praeparet, adulteram quidem fortassis facile appellare non audeam; non peccare tamen quis dixerit, cum eam uiro, quius uxor non est, misceri sciat? iam uero si ex illo concubitu, quantum ad ipsam attinet, nonnisi filios uelit et, quidquid ultra causam procreandi patitur, inuita patiatur, multis quidem ista matronis anteponenda est, quae tametsi non sunt adulterae, uiros tamen suos plerumque etiam continere cupientes ad reddendum carnale debitum cogunt non desiderio prolis, sed ardore concupisentiae ipso suo uore intemperanter utentes, in quarum tamen nuptiis bonum est hoc ipsum, quod nuptae sunt. ad hoc enim nuptae sunt, ut illa concupiscentia redacta ad legitimum uinculum non deformis et dissoluta fluitaret, habens de se ipsa inrefrenabilem carnis infirmitatem, de nuptiis autem indissolubilem fidei societatem, de se ipsa progressum inmoderate coeundi, de nuptiis modum caste procreandi. etsi enim turpe est libidinose uti uel marito, honestum est tamen nolle misceri nisi marito et non parere nisi de marito.
67 Conf. 4.4.8 (CCSL 27, 43-44): Cum enim laboraret ille febribus, iacut diu sine sensu in sudore laetali et, cum desperataretur, baptizatus est nesciens me non curante et preasumente id retinere potius animam eius quod a me acceperat, non quod in nescientis corpore fiebat. Longe autem aliter erat. Nam recreatus est et saluus factus, statimque, ut primo cum eo loqui potui --potui autem mox, ut ille potuit, quando non discedebam et nimis pendebaus ex inuicem-- temptaui apud illum inridere, tamquam et illo inrisuro mecum baptismum, quem acceperat mente atque sensu absentissimus. Sed tamen iam se accepisse didicerat.
69 Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 89, speculates that "In all probability she had been a good Catholic throughout her life with Augustine; and, by this vow, she intended either to become eligible for baptism, or to be re-admitted to the Eucharist."
70 Conf. 9.8.17 (CCSL 27, 143): Multa praetereo, quia multim festino. Accipe confessiones meas et gratiarum actiones, deus meus, de rebus innumerabilibus etiam in silentio. Sed non praeteribo quidquid mihi anima parturiuit et carne, ut in hanc temporalem, et corde,ut in aeternam lucem nascerer.
72 Possidius, Vita Augustini 31,1 (PL 32.63-64), writes about how Augustine dismissed everyone during his last hours and returned into himself, as it were, to meditate on the penitential Psalms as he waited for his final passage to meet his God.