Monday, 31 January 2011

Summary of Book VIII - Part 2

Having set the background, Augustine moves on to tell the story of how he was delivered from ‘the chain of sexual desire’. Augustine and his friend Alypius received a surprise visit from a baptized Christian believer named Ponticianus. Ponticianus shared the story of Antony the Egyptian monk. Augustine had never heard about the monk, and was even unaware of a monastery ‘full of good brothers’ outside of the Milan city walls. It was through this monastery that a friend of Ponticianus read the Life of Antony, and in reading was converted to the monastic way of life.

On hearing this story, Augustine despised his own hesitation about seeking wisdom and serving God fully. The day had come when his conscience started complaining against his own reservation and reluctance. After Ponticianus left Augustine moved out into his back garden, so that no-one could interfere with him in his struggle. In the agony of death Augustine was coming to life. Deeply disturbed, angry and in distress about his inability to enter into covenant with God, Augustine experienced the struggle of his two wills. He was powerless to make the change. As Augustine deliberated about serving God, he discovered that the self which willed to serve was identical with the self which was unwilling.

In his imagination, or in some form of vision, Lady Continence appeared to him. Augustine was made aware of numerous good examples that he could follow: all those who had achieved the very thing that Augustine desired. The Lord God had given all these people exactly what Augustine wanted too.

The debate in his heart was a struggle against himself. Augustine threw himself under a tree and repeatedly cried, “How long, O Lord? How long?” As he was saying this he heard a voice from a nearby house, repeating over and over again ‘Pick up and read, pick up and read.’ Taking the voice as a divine command, and reminded of how Antony had responded to a gospel reading, Augustine rushed back to his book, opened it and read the first passage his eyes fell on: “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.” A light of relief from all anxiety flooded his heart.

Alypius decided to join Augustine in his new found way of life. They went into the house and told Augustine’s mother, who was filled with joy at the answer to her prayers. The effect of Augustine’s conversion was that he no longer desired a wife, and he no longer had any ambition for success in the world.

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