The Example of a Woman Sexual Renunciation and Augustine’s Conversion to Christianity in 386 For you converted me to you so that I neither sought awife nor any other worldly hope. I was now standing inthe 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 theConfessions, where Augustine recounts the dramatic final moments of his conversion to Christianity. In these words he speaks about God converting him “in such away”> 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 ” marriage we must see not only her desire for hisconversion but even the domestic joys of seeingAugustine’s offspring. This untoward domestic hope also reveals a remarkable imperfection. Why does Monnica cherish such desire when there is already a grandson in the person ofAdeodatus 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 beso questionable Monnica and Patric ius had always been conscious of their precarious place in the social worldof Tag aste, and this keen sense of their place in that society had contributed to the kind of aspirations theyhad entertained for Augustine’s career.
... Monica greatly disapproved of this and of his sexual desires. Augustine meets Ambrose later on in life, becomes a ... her life has been fulfilled, which was her desire for Augustine to become a Catholic. My son, as ... it During the conversation, Monica tells Augustine that she has no desire to live any longer and that ... talked together, she and I alone, in deep joy. And while we were thus talking of His ...
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 jo 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 iscouertisti, 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 heis converted from the desire for a wife and the honor ofa 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 hisconversion. Augustine’s words are the invocations of ar enunciate: 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 onthe Milanese girl on whom he was in waiting.
But why this drastic change And why so final an act of sexualrenunciation What brought Augustine from the position of seeking a wife in order to prepare himself for Christian baptism (hence conversion to Christianity) tothe point where conversion entailed an act of sexualrenunciation 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 firstconcubine was separated from him, it has not led tore considerations of the events shortly precedingAugustine’s conversion. Even less has it engendered a reevaluation of the role of the mother of Adeodatus inAugustine’s conversion. Peter Brown, for example, sees the patent self-referential ity of Augustine’s words and merely comments that in the circumstances Augustine failed.
> But the sense of failure is not seen as in anyway 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 ofAugustine’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 ofConversion.” > He counts at least twelve conversion stories or retelling’s 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 place.
The Term Paper on Reasons For Vladimir I's Conversion To Christianity And How It Changed The Culture Of Eastern Slavs
... was destroyed and the mass conversion of the Eastern Slavs begun.27 The conversion to Christianity although described as rapid and without trouble ... .11 There was probably individual Christians living among them long before Vladimir and his conversion, which is evident in the ... a result translated scripture and ritual helped missionaries explain Christian values and ideas in Slavic terms.38 This then ...
Since Augustine weaves his own story around theother conversion narratives, the absence of hisconcubine from the circle of those individuals whose conversions may have affected Augustine’s means that her possible influence is all but precluded. In this study I will attempt three things. First Iwill try to show that the equation of sexualrenunciation with Christian conversion is essential fora proper understanding of the nature of Augustine ” sconversion. Second, that Augustine came to make the link between conversion and continence through a belated response to the vow of sexual renunciation made by theother of Adeodatus.
And third, the nature of hisconcubine’s vow and Augustine’s description of it in theConfessions constitutes a muted conversion narrative -perhaps the most pivotal conversion story in the whole text, because it established the terms in whichAugustine came to understand his possible conversion toChristianity. 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 inwhich the scholarly debate over the past century has been shaped. Since Alfaric> much of the discussion aboutAugustine’s conversion has centered on whether he was converted to something less authentically Christian in 386. Alfaric put the matter bluntly by saying that theconversion in 386 was to Neo-Platonism and that theconversion 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 hisconversion and baptism) and the works coming out of the period following his De divers us queastionibus VII adSimplicianum.
... fully aware yet of what is the real Christian way of life. Maybe “personal relationship” with God is ... through the guidance of a university which values Christianity, I can become more disciplined and responsible in ... own spiritual doubts and questions about life and about being a Christian. I also consider myself as ... s students to become full-pledged or devout Christians is what attracts me most in the ...
However much others have sought over the years to defend the putatively Christian basis ofAugustine’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 ofAugustine’s conversion experience. Rather than seeing two distinct episodic conversions, one Neo-Platonic andthe 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 Neo-Platonism without any perceptual sense that this was an odd way of receiving one’s Christianity. By removing the antithesis between Christianity and Neo-Platonism in the Milan of the 380 s Courcelle allows for the kind of simultaneous influence which seems to be evident in the early writings. The emphasis throughoutCourcelle’s analysis is on the intellectual side ofAugustine’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 hisexperience found in the Confessions with some amount of skepticism, it must still be recognized that forAugustine 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 Some of the earliest literary accounts of Augustine ” sconversion deserve mention at this point because they tend to support the intellectual side of his conversion to the possible exclusion of the dramatic moral crisis that he appears to have gone through. The preface to De beata vita contains one such account.
... in converting make his psychology on conversion a plausible one. Augustine's long road to becoming a Christian started when he first became ... best platform on which to build a philosophical and ethical system. Another thing that interested Augustine was that its moral code was ... acts almost entirely on faith, giving up the life that seemed right, a life in which they were comfortable, relying only on ...
In a dedication to Manlius Theodorus, Augustine presents De beata vita as aphilosophical exercise that had long been overdue. He tells Theodorus that he had delayed his full embrace ofphilosophy for reasons that were less than estimable. Instating the reasons, there is no mention whatsoever of a traumatic experience preceding his conversion. Rather, Augustine refers first to the three classes of people who would be fit for philosophy. He places himself inthe third class, those who, since youth through wasting their lives in useless pursuit yearn for a standard, hankering for a homeland they remember only too vaguely.
Some return directly or, delayed by some enticements, 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, andAugustine 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 thephilosophical 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 amorephilosphiae suc census sum), his dalliance with astrology, a nine-year tenure with the Manichees, and 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 hehad imagined since his boyhood. Then he notes one main impediment to his progress, namely, his desire for awife and the love of honor.
... has his own conception. Aristotle has trully philosophical answer for that. He tells that happiness ... accumulation of material things or fullfilling desires can lead to a happy life. But, there is a ... most people, especially the young. For these reasons, the nurture and pursuits of the young should ... sake of something else. But honor, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves, ...
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 (opiate tranquillitati).
Augustine refers to his circumstances atCassiciacum 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 fromAugustine’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 nonnullorumhominum 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 ofthe 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 inConfessions Bk. 7.
The only possible allusion to hisanxieties 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.
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He recalled how Romanianus had consoled him when Patriciusdied and how much that friendship had encouraged him towards the course that he was now pursuing atCassiciacum. 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 interesting honor, fame or the mitigation of this mortal existence. He sought better things. And the religion ofhis 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 ” sdescription in Contra Academicos is that he conceives the entire process, from beginning to end, as aphilosophical pilgrimage. It is after his encounter with Paul that philosophy beckons him home (tunc… mihi philosophiae facies aperu it).
> Augustine sets hisexperience in the framework established by Cicero ” hortensius: Catholic Christianity is the way to philosophy, the love of wisdom. Again Augustine leaves out any mention of dramatic conversion. In fact, the pilgrimage could note 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 inthe 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 forAugustine. 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 -whoI have not yet discovered- takes heed to have children and has sexual relations on account of this, as far as Iam 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. Forth is 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 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 agreat threat to intellectual life, it throws open the safe of a man’s mind (ex arce dei ciat animus virile m).
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 thephilosophical rationale predominates, it is largely secondary to the self-legislation that Augustine has imposed on himself for the good of his soul (utiliterpro libertate animal mean).
Astonishingly, Augustine also unabashedly refers to wisdom as a woman, a lover, a theme that is at once biblical and Plo tinian.
> And as Reason tries to findout 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 way that there is nothing that stands between them (null interposito velamen to quasi nud am).
He is soon reminded by Reason that for all his aplomb his life ofcontinence is riddled with difficulties. In the previous days reflections he had sounded out confidently that awoman’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 atCassiciacum. 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 ofcontinence and conversion in the months leading up tothe dramatic scene in the garden in Milan (Conf. 8. 8. 19-8.
The highly textured fashion in which theConfessions portray Augustine’s anxieties is essential to understanding this equation. Continence and A Possible Conversion to ChristianityAugustine’s conversion narrative proper begins inConfessions Bk.
7. In a retrospective, reminiscent ofthe account in De beata vita, he recounts the various turns he had taken since adolescence: First the Manichees, then astrology, Academic skepticism, Neo-Platonism, and finally Paul and the Scriptures. Chronologically he goes over material that he has already described in Bks. 4-6. However, Bk. 7 gives a coherent and tidy account of the various errors from which he was converted, preparing the way for the climactic overture in Bk.
8. Yet the intellectual odyssey in Bk. 7 seems to have little bearing on the theme of sexual renunciation which concludes Bk. 8.
In Bk. 7 Augustine speaks of the chains in which hewas 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 thelanguage here tends to link his chains with pride, withthe effect that his intellectual difficulties remain atthe 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 (indign e et sordid e).
> 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 i tin 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 before 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 (agawam in sae culo).
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 (on eri 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 awoman’s embrace (sed ad huc tenaciter conligabar ex femina).
He adds that the apostle (that is, Paul) does not forbid him marriage (nec me prohibebat apostolusconiugari) but he finds himself so self-indulgent thathe 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 into show Augustine in a less than admirable position: he languishes in his weakness (ego imfirmior).
It is anal most 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 ” embrace (Conf. 6.
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 give nup 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 main the parable in the Gospels who finds a pearl of great price and sells everything to acquire it. Except that inhis 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 pro ferret uolebam conferentis secu m aestusmeos).
> Augustine’s emphasis here is on his uncertainty and lack of resolve (aest us).
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 text-book philosophical conversion of the sort thatAugustine 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’s tory Augustine expresses a wish to imitate him (exarsit adimitandum).
> 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 ofVictorinus’ 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 forme, 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, andthe 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 ofhis concubine may have been decisive for the terms inwhich he came to understand his possible conversion toChristianity. Exactly when and at what time he came to rethink what possible road he might take to becoming full member of the church is not clear. What is beyond doubt is that sometime between the departure of hisconcubine and his conversion in 386 Augustine came to link his possible conversion to Christianity with sexualrenunciation. 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 Victorinusunderwent 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 twocourtiers 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.
The effect on their own relations were almost immediate: the women to whom they were engaged also renounced the world, dedicating their virginity toGod (dicauerunt etiam ipsa e uirginitatem tibi).
Since his days as a Manichee, Augustine had never lost his fascination with exemplary lives. But what hewas hearing now belonged to a different order. Hence the questions he vaguely remembers posing for Alypius: Whatis 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 thathe 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 (indo cti) 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 thatAugustine 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, andAugustine 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, andthe 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 ” problems in the context of the anxieties brought on by possible marriage. Having arrived at the conviction that Christianconversion required of him a life of sexualrenunciation, Augustine recognized the need to abrogate the marriage he had all but contracted. In this situation only the courtesies of the aristocratic circles in Milan prevented him from doing what he thought necessary. It is highly doubtful that Augustinecould have stayed in Milan after annulling the marriage, even if he had not dreamed of a philosophical retirement. It is doubtful too that the Milanese Christian aristocracy could endure what would have been perceived as an affront, a slight by the young rhetorician who had sought their patronage, and from an African no less. 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 direction (Conf. 9. 2. 2-9.
It would have been exciting to renounce rhetoric the way Victorinus had done, but for Augustine such a public disavowal of the old ways would have been too flaunting. He had not reached anyway near the status and reputation ofVictorinus (another African) to go through so public a rejection of the old ways. Besides, turning down proper marriage would not commend Augustine to the very well-connected families in Milan. A quiet retreat was reasonable and much to be desired.
> These considerations may have added to Augustine ” 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 De beata vita 1. 4 implies that reading the Platonists had formed in him the conviction to disavow marriage, it does not account forthe 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 beso convinced of this that it becomes a test of one ” s integrity. Augustine, the onetime champion of a life ofphilosophy 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 The language of continence appears in one very telling reference to Ambrose.
The mood is distant and almost academic. From his vantage point as a listener ofAmbrose’s sermons Augustine evaluates the MilaneseBishop’s presence. Augustine does not seem to have foundAmbrose’s example relevant to his own life at the time-except perhaps in the negative sense that he felt a strange sympathy for the man he admired but did not know personally, whose only trouble, he thought, was having to endure a life of sexual continence (caelibatus tantum eius mihi laborious videbatur).
> Of Ambrose’s celibacy he has only naive pity. 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 ofthe Academics (Conf.
6. 3. 3).
Having arrived in Rome a disconsolate Manichean 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 inAmbrose’s church. No longer a Manichee, but not yet 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 wiseman there were to be no certainties, a pragmatism of suspended judgment was all one could hope for. Augustinewould continue for the better part of his life negotiating the dialectic between reason and authority because of all this. > This and other questions he would have liked to pose to Ambrose who had very little time for the young rhetorician. 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 whileAugustine 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 became 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 wec an sense already that the Bishop’s personal life is beginning to be more than just a curiosity. > And it i snot surprising that when he came to found his own monastic community later on in Hippo Regius Augustinewould invoke Ambrose on many occasions. Possidius offers rare glimpses of how much Augustine referred toAmbrose’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 ” sermons in those moments when he presented sexualrenunciation as the ideal of the Christian experience. > A lost work of Ambrose’s, De sacramentoregenerationis siue de philosophia, a copy of whichAugustine 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 ” position, if he had known it prior to his conversion. >The argument of the work would have met Augustine ” 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 worshiprests’, 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 onthe road to Christian philosophy, ought to prove by his life of continence the superiority of Christianity.
>Construed this way Ambrose’s De sacramentoregenerationis 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 Platonicorumlibros which had precipitated one of his many conversions. That Augustine does not mention Ambrose’s text inthe 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 havebeen naively unimpressed, so it would be very odd tohave taken the decisive actions in response to Ambrose ” 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, i fever, 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 ecclesia e Catholic ae. A sfor 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, a swe 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, sexualrenunciation and the desire for philosophical rest. Inthe 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 intransigence against 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 whencuriositas got the better of him, trying to figure out exactly what made Augustine’s desire for a woman such necessity. > If Ambrose’s De philosophia helped in anyway it brought Augustine back to the views Alypius had always maintained.
It is a measure of Augustine’s stubborn will thathe could keep on living the way he did with Alypius fora 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 ofMonnica’s intervention.
Augustine had lived with hisconcubine 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. Thelanguage describing his attitude towards Monnica ” s intervention are much too passive, suggesting thatAugustine 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 possible marriage Augustine asks his mother to pray toGod 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.
Monnicaapparently did have some dreams but they were of such nature that she did not think much of them. Augustine, in his usual sense of tact, does not say what they were; only that Monnica assured her that she could always tell which dreams were from God and which ones were simply the products of her own anxieties, fears and imaginings. Perhaps one should not be surprised at Monnica here. What is surprising is that Augustine sought such assurances. And it appears to be the first indication of trouble (Conf.
6. 13. 23).
Augustine’s depression 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 hisanxieties, distraught over the prospect of having to consider a life of continence as an essential aspect tohis possible conversion to Christianity. > The issue now is whether Augustine will make the choice for continence.
Continence and the Portrait of a Nameless Woman In a curious transposition, much in keeping with his earlier depiction of wisdom as a lover, Augustine portrays continence as a woman beckoning him to a lifeof renunciation. But, Continence is not alone in her enticements. Augustine’s former loves are just as solicitous, continually reminding him of his past, whispering in his ears, taunting him that he just does not have what it takes to venture on a life of chastity.” Can you live without us” they cry. > 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, 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 agreat number. After all, Augustine knew very little indeed of the various traditions of Christian asceticism prior toPonticianus’ visit. He came to know about Anthony of Egypt from what Ponticianus had told him. Even Ambrose ” 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 awoman 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, cordemeo).
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 theconcubine appears in contrast to Monnica. At no point inhis account about Monnica’s life does Augustine’s mother look so un endearing. 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 issue 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 imperfectionMonnica 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 says 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 alate 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.
Tohis contemporaries -if we understand the tragic worldof 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 58 is another matter. Augustine describes hewas simply, “the woman I was in the habit of sleeping with” (qua cub are solidus era).
Augustine gives no indication that on his own hehad quite worked out in his mind that this was the cause he was going to take: marriage and then baptism. Nor visit clear that he had considered how a possible Christianconversion would impose on his relationship with hisconcubine. Had he ever thought he could take her intothe Church Would Ambrose condone such practice when hewas holding up celibacy as the ideal> In an environment where married Christians felt like second-class citizens it is highly doubtful thatAugustine would have felt secure in thinking that hecould keep his concubine. However, if he had no intention of receiving baptism and wanted to wait along 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 shehad 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 theconcubine, and the taking of another woman all madeAugustine’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 awoman. 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, andthe 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 betweenAdeodatus’ 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 tohave 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 ofthe. Monnica had arranged a marriage, the firstconcubine 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 inwhich Augustine framed his possible conversion toChristianity.
His ongoing prodigality made Augustine ” s fidelity in a monogamous relationship with the mother ofAdeodatus 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 ofhis 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 infidelity 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 havebeen 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 whichAugustine’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 toa 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 ofhis 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 theConfessions he had occasion to reflect on a situation that in every way recalled his own circumstances withthe 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 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 reston a desire to have children… But if one or theother of these conditions is lacking, I cannot see how their alliance can be called a marriage. Indeed, if aman 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 onthe 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.
If even an inkling of any of this understanding formed part of Augustine’s thinking between the time ofhis 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 hisconversion to Christianity. The almost cursory reference to the example set bythe concubine (ego in felix nec femina e imitator) makes it all too easy to overlook this model of continence inAugustine’s inner circle. Augustine could see in her act the resolve he found terribly lacking in himself.
Theyhad 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 thataugustine was unable to do for himself or for another ” s sake. Living with a new concubine and “sinning all the while” (interna mea pec cata multiplicabantur) >Augustine seems to have recognized the necessity of decisive act of renunciation. The example of the twocourtiers of Trier would not be lost on him. There had always been Alypius, of course.
But Alypius appeared to Augustine as something of 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 had led directly to his chains. So we come full circle: the man who had earlier looked at Ambrose with pity arrived at a point where he could now look on the Bishop of Milan as the more fortunate, because he was not bound by any chains. Much of what I have tried to suggest here is thatAugustine’s emerging conviction cannot be properly accounted for without recognizing the role of his firstconcubine’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 withthe 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 some insisted on keeping concubines), if Augustine had shrugged off his relationship with his concubine as something excusable and therefore incidental to hisconversion to Christianity. > Perhaps, if the concubine had not been dismissed on the pretext that she was an impediment to Augustine’s conversion then Augustinecould have approached his possible conversion toChristianity on slightly different terms. But there is patent irony all over this story. Augustine could dissolve the relationship with the mother of Adeodatus on only two grounds. One, if he wanted to live a life ofcontinence, and two, if he wished to marry someone else befitting his status. There were no other options.
Consequently, when the concubine chose continence, shehad unwittingly committed Augustine to follow suit, that is, if Augustine wanted to be converted to Christianity. Under the circumstances his belated response was all but certain. If he wanted to be converted to Christianity hecould not go through with the marriage because that would mean living in adultery. Augustine took the only doorway into the Church left open for him. Vovens Tibi and the Idea of Conversion in the Confessions Thus far I have referred in various ways to conversion without defining exactly what I mean.
In this I havebeen following Augustine’s usage. I have also assumed all along that the concubine’s vow and Augustine ” sdescription of it should be recognized as a conversion story, one of the many conversion narratives that dot the landscape of the Confessions. Now I will attempt to make a case for it. It may be objected that the claim to conversion for his concubine rests on a simple vow, but such an objection would be presuming on what conversions in the first place.
The crucial question to ask is what Augustine means to convey by vovens tibi 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 ofconversion is the most common use of conuersio in theConfessions. It is God who is doing the turning. In 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 inthe Confessions includes such stories as Augustine ” 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.
> We could even add to the countAlypius’ 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 whileAugustine was away (Conf. 4.
This last example, besides offering a witness tothe 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 acrisis conversion.
That he died a few days afterwards cut the story short. Still, Augustine appears to havebeen 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. 9 ff. ).
Augustine the mocker stood onthe outside looking in on an experience in which hecould 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 (mirabiliet repenting libertate), who found the voice and the authority to take Augustine to task.
This was probably the surest indication to the young Augustine that something had taken place. > Something astonishing (mirabilis) had happened. To recognize a conversion inhis earlier narrative about Augustine’s boyhood friends to inch a bit closer to what one can expect in the story of his concubine. There are far too many similarities between the two stories. 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 hisconcubine. 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 hisboyhood friend is lost to Augustine and we never findout whether Augustine knew what happened to hisconcubine or whether he even cared to find out. Fourth, God enters the respective stories at precisely the points where Augustine is alienated.
Hisboyhood friend receives baptism and thereby enters the Church, the concubine makes a vow to God to live a lifeof continence. In either case the other person involved adopts a rite and a form of life that Augustine mocks oris incapable of imitating. It is tempting to think thatAugustine 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 alot 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 acrisis conversion of another kind in the vow of hisconcubine. 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 fianc es in marital limbo. And what did the two women do As Augustine tells us, they followed suit, dedicating their chastity to God (dicauerunt etiam ipsaeuirginitatem tibi).
In this respect the dicauerunt… tibi of the two betrothed 334.