Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Summary of Book V

Restlessness. Faustus. Hidden providence. Illness. Ambrose.

God is always everywhere. So those who try to flee him fail. God knows all things too, so Augustine’s prayer and confession is praise. The entire creation never ceases to praise. Those who flee are encouraged to (re)turn. But God finds them even before the lost turn. They cannot find themselves far less God.

Augustine is now 29. His reading in science and philosophy was beginning to undermine some of what the Manichees taught him. But none of the philosophers knew the Way, the Word. They turned the truth into a lie, and worshipped the creation rather than the Creator. Nevertheless the truth they had made Mani appear foolish. Augustine had heard that Faustus would be able to answer his questions. But for all his style he could not. Fine style does not make something true. Faustus appeared prudent and wise because he charmed people with his talk.

God is the only teacher of the truth. God was teaching Augustine in wonderful and hidden ways, and Augustine was learning. In discussion it turned out Faustus was limited in his knowledge of the liberal arts. All this was God’s hidden secret providence to show Augustine the error of his ways. Faustus was likeable and good company. Spending time with him actually turned Augustine against progressing in the ways of Mani. God, in his hidden providence, was intent on remaking Augustine.

Providence saw Augustine move to Rome. Monica did not realise that the absence of her son would bring her joy. On arriving at Rome Augustine experienced the ‘scourge of physical sickness’. In a remarkable section (paragraph 16), Augustine describes his peril during this time. He was still carrying the burden of his sins. He still was trapped by the chain of original sin. He had not yet been forgiven. As the fevers became worse Augustine was on his way to the underworld. Unlike his childhood illness, during this illness Augustine had no desire for baptism. God did not allow death in ‘this sad condition of both body and soul.’ The prayers of Monica were being answered according to God’s predestinating order.

Augustine was still a sinner in sin. Yet as a Manichee he denied any such connection. The Manichees had turned Augustine away from the Church. He could not believe humanity was in God’s image. Neither could he imagine anything other than the material. God was some form of physical mass. Evil was a material substance. Augustine was trapped in a form of dualism.

Teaching in Rome turned out to be a disappointment. Students were dishonourable in not paying their fees. Through friends and contacts Augustine secured an appointment in Milan. Here he encountered Ambrose. He liked him at first, not as a teacher of truth, but as a person who was kind. Ambrose taught the sound doctrine of salvation. That doctrine drew Augustine closer to salvation. Rhetoric remained the chief attraction. Eventually the doctrine and rhetoric could not be separated. Truth gradually entered Augustine’s heart breaking down objections to the Catholic faith. The philosophers undermined the arguments of the Manichees. But they were without Christ. They could not heal the soul. Augustine chose to enter the Church as a cathechumen. He was waiting for clear light to direct his course.

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