Simplicianus. Victorinus. Two wills. The law of sin.
Augustine begins this chapter by confessing God’s mercies over his life. He also admits to being certain about the nature of eternal life; as well as the idea of an ‘indestructible substance’ from which all other substances derive. His theological distinction between the eternal and the temporal is illustrated when he describes how he remained unstable and in need of purification of heart. Attracted to the Christian way, Augustine still needed to start walking on that way. He visited Simplicianus in Milan for counsel.
Career aspirations no longer gripped Augustine. But the attraction of marriage remained a problem. The problem he experienced – knowing St Paul’s teaching exhorting something better, but choosing the softer option – seemed to lead onto other anxieties and struggles. Augustine knew that he had discovered how the created things declare and witness to God and his Word. But he had to give up those things in his grip, in order to pick up the good pearl that he had discovered.
Simplicianus listened to Augustine, and shared stories and wisdom which helped his spiritual struggle. This included the example of Victorinus, a learned man expert in the liberal disciplines. Victorinus, after much reading and study of the Christian scriptures, eventually requested to join the Christian Church. He professed his faith in public just as he had taught rhetoric in public. Augustine comments on this example by describing how God and the heavens rejoice when the lost are found and recovered. The example of Victorinus was significant. A strong and influential man against Christ had been made fit to serve Christ’s cause.
Augustine was keen to follow that example. But two wills were struggling within him. Progress towards conversion was slow and gradual. Augustine interprets his experience with reference to Paul’s arguments about the flesh and the spirit in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. He no longer had the excuse of ignorance or lack of perception in relation to the truth. His lack of serving God totally and fully could only be explained by the law of sin, “the violence of habit by which even the unwilling mind is dragged down and held, as it deserves to be, since by its own choice it slipped into the habit.”