If Augustine is to be believed, his life was not ordered by chance or fortune. God’s invisible hand orchestrated event after event to lead him down a particular pathway. Having this in mind, we can’t read Confessions Book 8 – or any of Confessions for that matter – as if it’s a series of unrelated events. According to Augustine, God wove each event – each moment even – together into one whole.
In Confessions Book 8, Augustine’s journey reaches its climax. Up until this point, he’s wandered and searched for something to believe in. But nothing has satisfied. And yet, through it all he’s been drawing ever closer to the Truth.
Today, we read about how he finally takes ahold of it.
Confessions Book 8: Coming to Christ
The earlier books in Confessions seem – to me at least – to move quickly from one event and idea to the next. Confessions Book 8, on the other hand, settles on and digs deep into one event – perhaps the event – of Augustine’s life: his conversion.
He begins the story by telling God, “You inspired in me the idea that I ought to go to Simplicianus, and even I could see the sense of this. I regarded him as your good servant, a man from whom grace radiated.” It’s telling that Augustine doesn’t claim any responsibility for this idea. Instead, it was God who inspired him. God had been leading Augustine up until this point and he was still in the drivers seat.
It’s worth noting that Simplicianus was no average Joe. He was, in fact, the mentor of Ambrose – Augustine’s mentor. And though he was older by about 20 years, he actually succeeded Ambrose as bishop of Milan after his death in 397.
As Augustine and Simplicianus talk, Simplicianus finds out that Augustine had been reading the writings of the Platonists. In particular, he had been reading these Greek writings in a translation done by a philosopher named Victorinus. What Augustine didn’t know, was that Victorinus had been converted to Christianity under Simplicianus a number of years earlier. And so, Simplicianus recounts his conversion. Augustine is immediately inspired.
“On hearing this story,” he writes, “I was fired to imitate Victorinus.”
But there was a problem. Augustine couldn’t let go of certain sinful habits.
He couldn’t repent.
Meeting St Antony and Letting Go of Sin
“I had grown used to pretending that the only reason why I had not yet turned my back on the world to serve you was that my perception of the truth was uncertain, but that excuse was no longer available to me, for by now it was certain. But I was still entangled by the earth and refused to enlist in your service.”
As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of my own life – and the lives of many others I’ve known. As a young man, I too, rejected God out of this idea that “my perception of the truth was uncertain.” Now I believe I was merely using that as an excuse to remain in rebellion against my creator. I wanted what I wanted and any excuse to give me what I wanted would do. But there came a time in my life – and perhaps in yours as well – when I could no longer use that excuse. At that point, I knew that God was who he said he was.
And so my own habits kept me bound and far from God’s service.
I thank God now that he didn’t leave me there. And it’s evident, from Augustine’s writings, that he felt the same way.
Augustine continues his narrative by discussing how he overcame this final hurdle. A man named Ponticianus – a fellow African – came to visit Augustine and Alypius. While there, he shared the story of Antony – a monk who gave up all worldly pleasure to devote himself to God. He also shared about a couple of men he knew who were converted after listening to Antony’s story. This pierced Augustine’s heart and he immediately left for a nearby garden.
“Pick It Up and Read!”
He begins to pray. And as pours out his heart before God, he hears a voice – perhaps from a neighboring home: “Pick it up and read!” He takes it as a word from God so he returns, takes up the letters of St Paul that are sitting on his desk and reads the first verse his eyes come to: Romans 13:13-14.
“Not in dissipation and drunkenness, nor in debauchery and lewdness, nor in arguing and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh or the gratification of your desires.”
And like that, it was over. The journey that he’d been walking since his birth hit its climax. And Augustine was converted. “No sooner had I reached the end of the verse than the light of certainty flooded my heart and all dark shades of doubt fled away.”
Once again, we’re reminded that God is able to – and often does – use any tool to accomplish his ends. For Augustine, he used Platonists, the life of St Antony, and a voice saying, “Pick it up and read.” For me, he used Lee Stroebel and Answers in Genesis. For others it was a particular preacher or friend or book or passage of scripture. God isn’t picky when it comes to reaching people. He’ll use any tool available.
Knowing this, we should be looking for opportunities where God might want to use us. He may desire to make us the ‘Simplicianus’ to someone’s ‘Augustine.’
But when that time comes, will we be ready? Will we be looking? Will we be willing?
I sure hope so.
As always, there’s a lot more I wish I could touch on. 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 8!
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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