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.