Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Summary of Book VI

Monica. Ambrose. A Beggar. Companions. Frustration.

Monica moved to Milan to be with Augustine. But she was not over excited on learning that he had stopped being a Manichee. All the more she prayed for that thing which had been promised to her. As yet Augustine had not attained to the truth of the Catholic faith. Monica was impressed by Ambrose. Because of his influence, she was able to curtail her custom of bringing offerings to the memorial shrines.

No opportunity allowed for Augustine to spend significant time in discussion with Ambrose. But through hearing Ambrose ‘rightly preach the word of truth’ each Lord’s day, Augustine started to realize that he had not understood the Catholic faith. His objections about the nature of God’s being were false: ‘Being ignorant what your image consisted in, I should have knocked and inquired about the meaning of this belief, and not insulted and opposed it, as if the belief meant what I thought.’ The Catholic Church did not teach what Augustine had supposed her to teach.

Augustine still could not give assent to Catholic teaching. He was searching for certainty when only faith was the key to understanding and healing. Little by little the Lord touched and calmed his heart. The Bible started to impress Augustine more for its content than its form. The accessible words of the Bible and its humble style did not diminish ‘the dignity of its secret meaning for a profounder interpretation.’

A destitute beggar became an illustration of Augustine’s condition at this time. Although the beggar did not have true joy, he was happy in his drunkenness. For all Augustine’s privilege and effort, he was worse off than the beggar. He was unhappy because he used his education to the wrong end. Augustine shared this perspective on life with companions. Alypius and Nebridius shared the frustrations of seeking after truth and wisdom. They discussed the ultimate nature of good and evil. Plans for a community dedicated to the life of contemplation collapsed.

The quest for happiness was confused between the ideal and the actual. Augustine struggled over the marriage question, stuck fast in the glue of sexual pleasure. A lawful marriage was arranged. His concubine was sent away. Augustine took another woman while he awaited marriage. But the wound of parting with his concubine and son did not heal. As Augustine became unhappier, God came closer to him. Without God’s mercy, without God putting Augustine back onto the righteous path, the road ahead was bound to be tortuous.


  1. There are some really profound observations in this book about the true nature of happiness and how things may seem good to people but because they are outwith God's plan they are not truly good. For example when Augustine speaks about wanting to marry to satisfy his lust rather than for love or for a holy marriage and the procreation of children. I think thats a really good point because many people think that as long as we abstain from sex outside marriage, lust within marriage is acceptable. They don't understand the deep and true meaning of the sacrament of marriage. Has anybody read anything about the Theology of the Body? Its based on Pope John Paul's teaching about human sexuality and its absolutely amazing. Its caused a complete counter-revolution. However many people still know nothing about it.
    As an aside, why couldnt Augustine marry his concubine? Would that not have been acceptable because she wasnt Christian or simply because she was a concubine?

  2. Niamh, sorry, haven't really read very much about Theology of the Body. So not sure I should make any comments on it. At some stage on this blog - probably after we've finished reading all the Books - I might reflect on how Augustine understands marriage etc.

    Easier to answer your final question about Augustine's concubine. She might have been a Christian from a Catholic family - a catechumen at least. Some people think Augustine met her through the local church, (III.iii;IV.ii).

    She was probably a lower class free woman or slave. So the main reason there was no marriage was ambition and class. For Augustine to progress in his career, marriage to a socially acceptable woman was necessary.

    It is all very subtle. From what I've read it looks like monogamous concubinage was acceptable to the church at that time. Augustine as a bishop would later write to that effect. Although concubinage was not formal (legal) or sacramental, it was regarded as de facto marriage. Interesting... very different to our times.


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