With Confessions Book 6 finished, we’re right on the cusp of being halfway done with Augustine’s famous memoir. If you aren’t caught up, take your time and comment when you get a chance. I’ll still be here, ready to discuss whenever you are.
Confessions Book 6: Wandering Down the Wide Road of the World
In Confessions Book 6, Augustine contrasts two ways of life: the way of Christ, pictured in Bishop Ambrose of Milan – and the way of the world, pictured in Augustine’s own life, as well as that of his two friends, Alypius and Nebridius.
Ambrose: Christian Role-Model
Ambrose is stalwart and saintly – devoted to God and his congregation. “He was habitually available to serve them in their needs, and in the very scant time that he was not with them he would be refreshing either his body with necessary food or his mind with reading.” And yet, Ambrose has an irresistible quality about him. Though he doesn’t have the time to sit and converse for hours, Augustine can’t help but want to be around him.
But just as someone who has suffered under a bad physician may often be afraid to entrust himself to a good one, so it was in my soul’s case.
At one point, Augustine remembers how he and his friends would sit with him and watch him read silently. It’s obvious that Ambrose was magnetic.
I can think of people in my own life who have had a similar appeal. I remember Brother Moore, an old preacher I could sit and listen to for hours. And he didn’t have to be talking about anything particularly extraordinary. His presence (or maybe fellowship would be a better word) was enough.
What Role Are We Modeling?
This is the kind of person I aspire to be. And it’s the kind of person I think every Christian should want to be. Our lives should reflect God’s love so clearly that people are drawn to us, and therefore to him. Meditating on this kind of life forces us to examine our own. Can I truly say, along with Paul, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1)?
We are drawn to lives worthy of imitation.
Why did Ambrose so affect Augustine? Was it his rhetoric? Or perhaps his preaching? Certainly that played a part. But more than that, Augustine saw in Ambrose a life worthy of imitation. So it’s no surprise that when Augustine became a bishop, in many respects, he imitated what he had seen in Ambrose.
Praise be to you, glory be to you, O fount of all mercy! As I grew more and more miserable, you were drawing nearer.
Now, as you read this, you may be thinking, “No one is ever going to imitate me. I’m a nobody. I’m not a preacher or teacher.” But I disagree. If you have children, you have people who will imitate you (for better or worse). And for that matter, if you attend church or go to work or school, there will be people who you’ll influence. It’s inevitable. The question isn’t, “Will I ever influence those around me?” It’s “How will I influence those around me?”
And that’s a question worth pondering.
Augustine & His Friends: Wanderers in the World
That question also leads us to the second part of Confessions Book 6. Augustine doesn’t just describe Ambrose, he also describes himself and his two friends, Alypius and Nebridius. Whereas Ambrose is holy and dedicated to God, Augustine, Alypius, and Nebridius are caught up in sex, violence, and entertainment. It’s in the latter half of this book that we read about Alypius’s obsession with the circus (this one was significantly more violent than Ringling Bros.) and Augustine’s penchant for ‘sensual’ pleasures.
If you ever think things have changed over the past 1700 years, don’t. Augustine quickly lays that idea to rest. We’ve always enjoyed our pleasures and entertainments. When Augustine recounts a scene of graphic violence that took place at a gladiator match, he could just as easily have been describing something on Pay-Per-View. And so, again, Augustine forces us to ask ourselves how the things that entertain us are forming us. Are they really just movies? Or are they changing us – even if ever so imperceptibly?
All the while, Lord, as I pondered these things you stood by me; I sighed and you heard me; I was tossed to and fro and you steered me aright. I wandered down the wide road of the world, but you did not desert me.
Throughout this book, you can feel Augustine drawing ever closer to faith. His excuses are, one by one, dropping away. And in the process, he’s slowly coming to the realization that every believer eventually gets to: there is a God, he loves us, and he has sent his son into the world to save us.
The Power of the Gospel
And this Gospel that Augustine had such a hard time believing is more than just something we ‘believe.’ It’s something we live.
There’s power in the Gospel.
The power to change violence-loving, sex-obsessed, self-oriented men into saints of God.
Power to turn an Augustine into an Ambrose.
And it’s still available for each of us.
If we’d only reach out in faith.
As always, there’s a lot more I wish I could touch on. I scattered some of my favorite quotes throughout the post. If you had a favorite quote or thought as you read, comment below and let us know what it was.
I can’t wait to hear what all of you are thinking about Confessions Book 6!
Oh, and by the way, there’s currently a digital, modern language edition of Augustine’s Confessions available from Amazon for only $3.99!
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