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AUGUSTINE


85


AUGUSTINE


Augustine liimself tells it'; that he was enticed by the promises of a free philosophy unbridled by faith; by the boasts of the Manich^aiis, who claimed "to have discovered contradictions in Holy Writ; and, above all, by the hope of finding in their doctrine a scien- tific explanation of nature and its most mysterious phenomena. Augustine's inquiring mind was en- thusiastic for the natural sciences, and the Mani- oha>ans declared that nature withheld no secrets from Faustus, their doctor. Moreover, being tor- titfed by the problem of the origin of evil, Augustine, in default of solving it, acknowledged a conflict of two principles. And then, again, there was a very powerful charm in the moral irresponsibility re- sulting from a doctrine which denied liberty and attributed the commission of crime to a foreign prin- ciple.

Once won over to this sect, Augustine devoted himself to it with all the ardour of Ms character; he read all its books, adopted and defended all its opinions. His furious proselj'tism drew into error his friend Alypius and Romanianus, his Maecenas of Tagaste, the friend of his father who was defraying the expenses of Augustine's studies. It was during this Manichaean period that Augustine's literarj- faculties reached their full development, and he was still a student at Carthage when he embraced error. His studies ended, he should in due course have entered the jorum b'tigiosrtm, but he preferred the career of letters, and Possidius tells us that he re- turned to Tagaste to "teach grammar". The young Erofessor captivated liis pupils, one of whom, Alj-pius, ardly yoimger than his master, loath to leave him, after following him into error, was afterwards bap- tized with liim at Milan, eventually becoming Bishop of Tagaste, liis native city. But Monica deeply deplored .Augustine's heresy and would not have received him into her liome or at her table but for the advice of a saintly bishop, who declared that "the son of so many tears could not perish". Soon afterwards Augustine went to Carthage, where he continued to teach rhetoric. His talents shone to even better advantage on tliis wider stage, and by an indefatigable pursuit of the liberal arts liis in- tellect attained its full maturity. Having taken part in a poetic tournament, he carried off the prize, and the Proconsul \^indicianus publicly conferred upon him the corona af/onisticn. It was at this moment of literarj- intoxication, when he had just completed his first work on esthetics, now lost, that he began to repudiate Manich.jeism. Even when Augustine was in his first fervour, the teachings of Mani had been far from quieting his restlessness, and although he has been accused of becoming a priest of the sect, he was never initiated or numbered among the "elect", but remained an "auditor" — the lowest degree in the hierarchy. He himself gives the reason for his disenchantment. First of all there was the fearful depra\-ity of Manichsan philosophy — "They destroy everything and build up nothing"; then, the dreadful immorality in contra.st with their af- fectation of \-irtue; the feebleness of their arguments in controversy with the Catholics, to whose Scrip- tural arguments their only reply was: "The Scrip- tures have been falsified". But, worse than all, he did not find science among them — science in the modem sense of the word — that knowledge of nature and its laws which they had promised him. When he questioned them concerning the movements of the stars, none of them could answer him. "Wait for Faustus", they said, "he will explain everything to you". Faustus of Mileve, the celebrated Mani- ehspan bishop, at last came to Carthage; Augastine visited and questioned him, and discovered in his responses the ^^llgar rhetorician, the utter stranger to all scientific culture. The spell was broken, and, although Augtistine did not immediately abandon


the sect, his mind rejected Manichaean doctrines. The illusion had lasted nine years.

But the religious crisis of this great soul was only to be resolved in Italy, under the influence of Ambrose. In 383 Augustine, at the age of twenty-nine, yielded to the irresistible attraction which Italy had for liim, but his mother suspected liis departure and was so reluctant to be separated from him that he resorted to a subterfuge and embarked under cover of the night. He had only just arri\ed in Rome when he was taken seriously ill; upon recovering he opened a school of rhetoric, but, disgusted by the tricks of liis pupils, who shamelessly defrauded him of their tuition fees, he applied for a vacant professorship at Milan, obtained it, and was accepted bj' the prefect, SjTiimachus. Having visited Bishop Ambrose, the fascination of that saint's kindness induced him to become a regular attendant at his preachings. How- ever, before embracing the Faith, Augustine under- went a three years' struggle during which his mind passed tlirough several distinct pha.ses. At first he turned towards the philosophy of the Academics, with its pessimistic scepticism; then neo-Platonic philosophy inspired Iiim with genuine enthusiasm. At Milan he had scarcely read certain works of Plato and, more especially, of Plotinus, before the hope of finding the truth dawned upon him. Once more he began to dream that he and his friends might lead a life dedicated to the search for it, a life purged of all vulgar aspirations after honours, wealth, or pleasure, and with celibacy for its rule (Confessions, VI). But it was only a dream; his passions still enslaved him. Monica, who had joined her son at Milan, prevailed upon him to become betrothed, but his affianced bride was too yovmg, and although Augustine dismissed the mother of Adeodatus, her place was soon filled by another. Thus did he pass through one last period of struggle and anguish. Finally, through the reading of the Holy Scriptures light penetrated his mind. Soon he possessed the certainty that Jesus Christ is the only way to truth and salvation. After that, resistance came only from the heart. An inter\'iew \\'ith Simplicianus, the future successor of St. Ambrose, who told Augustine the story of the conversion of the celebrated neo- Platonic rhetorician, Victorinus (Confessions, VHI, i, ii), prepared the way for the grand stroke of grace which, at the age of thirty-three, smote him to the ground in the garden at Milan (September, 386). A few days later Augustine, being ill, took advantage of the autumn holidays and, resigning his professor- ship, went with Monica, Adeodatus. and liis friends to Cassisiacum, the country estate of Verecundus, there to devote himself to the pursuit of true philoso- phy wliicli, for lum, was now inseparable from Christianity.

(2) (From 386 to 595).— Augustine gradually be- came acquainted with Christian doctrine, and in his mind the fusion of Platonic pliilosophy with re- vealed dogmas was taking place. The law that governed this change of thought has of late years been frequently misconstrued; it is sufficiently im- portant to be precisely defined. The solitude of Cassisiacum realized a long-cherished dream. In liis books "Against the Academics", Augustine has described the ideal serenity of this existence, en- livened only by the passion for truth. He completed the education of his young friends, now by literarj- readings in common, now by philosophical con- ferences to which he sometimes invited Monica, and the accounts of which, compiled by a secretarj', have supplied the foundation of the "Dialogues. Licen- tiiLs, in his "Letters", would later on recall these delightful philosophical mornings and evenings, at which Augustine was wont to evolve the most ele- vating discussions from the most commonplace in- cidents. The favourite topics at their conferences