Carthage. Cicero and scripture. False seeking. Justice. Reading.
Love remains a major theme as Augustine gives an account of his time in Carthage. But so does confusion about the true nature of love. The account of his student days continues the story of how created things failed to satisfy a hunger within. Theatre provides an opportunity to analyse the nature of true compassion. Love of theatre led to a life that was not real life at all. Yet even though God punished, the punishment was not equivalent to the guilt. Mercy hovered over Augustine even as he wandered far from God.
Study involved textbooks on eloquence. Cicero captured Augustine, and encouraged a return to God. He discovered a longing for the immortality of wisdom. His values and priorities changed. Reading Cicero encouraged Augustine to seek wisdom wherever found. Yet the lack of Christ’s name in Cicero’s work dampened enthusiasm. This deficiency led Augustine to read the holy scriptures to find out what they were like. In his youthful pride what he discovered disappointed him. The scriptures seemed unworthy of comparison with Cicero.
This disappointment explains the attraction of the Manichees. They combined “slick talk” with reference to Christ. They spoke much of truth but actually knew nothing about it. Augustine continued in confusion. Desire for God was frustrated through seeking God in created things. Just as food in dreams does not nourish the body, so the wisdom of the Manichees did not satisfy. Augustine was seeking God, yet he was travelling further away from the truth he sought.
One consequence of this waywardness was ignorance about the nature of justice. The art of poetic composition becomes an illustration of how justice is prescribed at various times in different contexts. Augustine’s youthful and foolish reading of the scriptures made him highly critical of biblical heroes. They simply acted according to God’s timely commands. What God commands has to be done, even if it has never been previously done.
There are proper good actions that people do not approve. And there are many actions praised by humankind which on God’s testimony are to be censured. For Augustine, a just human society is one which submits to God. Happy are those people who know that God is the source of moral precepts. As a young man Augustine was not happy.
Monica’s vision pictured her son’s restoration. But for nine years he would remain in the deep mire and darkness of falsehood. Seeking advice from a bishop, Monica is told that her son remains unready to learn. Earlier we read Augustine confess how unprepared he was to read and understand holy scripture. Monica is told to pray. She is encouraged to think that by his reading her son will discover the error of his ways. Reading becomes a significant theme in Augustine’s salvation and success.