Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Saint Augustin by Louis Bertrand

Part 3 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

and yet ordered to be served up, from three o'clock in the afternoon, all
kinds of fruit and vegetables, the most exquisite too, rendered piquant
by spices, the Manichees holding that spices were very full of fiery and
luminous principles. Then, their palates titillating from pepper, they
swallowed large draughts of mulled wine or wine and honey, and the juice
of oranges, lemons, and grapes. And these junketings began over again at
nightfall. They had a preference for certain cakes, and especially for
truffles and mushrooms--vegetables more particularly mystic.

Such a diet put human gluttony to a heavy test. Many a scandal came to
light in the Roman community. The Elect made themselves sick by devouring
the prodigious quantity of good cheer brought to them with a view to
purification. As it was a sacrilege to let any be lost, the unhappy people
forced themselves to get down the lot. There were even victims: children,
gorged with delicacies, died of stuffing. For children, being innocent
things, were deemed to have quite special purifying virtues.

Augustin was beginning to get indignant at all this nonsense. Still, except
for these extravagances, he continued to believe in the asceticism of the
Elect--asceticism of such severity that the main part of the faithful found
it impossible to practise. And see! just at this moment, whom should he
discover very strange things about but Bishop Faustus, that Faustus whom he
had looked for at Carthage as a Messiah. The holy man, while he preached
renunciation, granted himself a good many indulgences: he lay, for one
thing, on feathers, or upon soft goatskin rugs. And these puritans were not
even honest. The Manichee Bishop of Rome, that man of rough manners who had
so offended Augustin, was on the point of being convicted of stealing the
general cash-box. Lastly, there were rumours in the air, accusing the Elect
of giving themselves over to reprehensible practices in their private
meetings. They condemned marriage and child-bearing as works of the devil,
but they authorized fornication, and even, it is said, certain acts against
nature. That, for Augustin, was the final disillusion.

In spite of it, he did not separate openly from the sect. He kept his
rank of _auditor_ in the Manichee Church. What held him to it, were some
plausible considerations on the intellectual side. Manicheeism, with its
distinction of two Principles, accounted conveniently for the problem of
evil and human responsibility. Neither God nor man was answerable for sin
and pain, since it was the other, the Dark Principle, who distributed
them through the world among men. Augustin, who continued to sin,
continued likewise to be very comfortable with such a system of morals and
metaphysics. Besides, he was not one of those convinced, downright minds
who feel the need to quarrel noisily with what they take to be error.
No one has opposed heresies more powerfully, and with a more tireless
patience, than he has. But he always put some consideration into the
business. He knew by experience how easy it is to fall into error, and he
said this charitably to those whom he wished to persuade. There was nothing
about him like St. Jerome.

Personal reasons, moreover, obliged him not to break with his
fellow-religionists who had supported him, nursed him even, on his arrival
at Rome, and who, as we shall see in a moment, might still do him services.
Augustin was not, like his friend Alypius, a practical mind, but he had
tact, and in spite of all the impulsiveness and mettle of his nature,
a certain suppleness which enabled him to manoeuvre without too many
collisions in the midst of the most embarrassing conjunctures. Through
instinctive prudence he prolonged his indecision. Little by little, he who
had formerly flung himself so enthusiastically in pursuit of Truth, glided
into scepticism--the scepticism of the Academics in its usual form.

And at the same time that he lost his taste for speculative thinking, new
annoyances in his profession put the finishing touch on his discouragement.
If the Roman students were less noisy than those of Carthage, they had a
deplorable habit of walking off and leaving their masters unpaid. Augustin
was ere long victimized in this way: he lost his time and his words. As at
Carthage, so at Rome, he had to face the fact that he could not live by his
profession. What was he to do? Would he have to go back home? He had fallen
into despair, when an unforeseen chance turned up for him.

The town council of Milan threw open a professorship of Rhetoric to public
competition. It would be salvation for him if he could get appointed. For
a long time he had wanted a post in the State education. In receipt of a
fixed salary, he would no longer have to worry about beating up a class,
or to guard against the dishonesty of his pupils. He put his name down
immediately among the candidates. But no more in those days than in ours
was simple merit by itself enough. It was necessary to pull strings. His
friends the Manichees undertook to do this for him. They urged his claims
warmly on the Prefect Symmachus, who doubtless presided at the competitive
trials. By an amusing irony of fate, Augustin owed his place to people he
was getting ready to separate from, whom even he was soon going to attack,
and also to a man who was in a way the official enemy of Christianity.
The pagan Symmachus appointing to an important post a future Catholic
bishop--there is matter for surprise in that! But Symmachus, who had been
Proconsul at Carthage, protected the Africans in Rome. Furthermore, it
is likely that the Manichees represented their candidate to him as a man
hostile to Catholics. Now in this year, A.D. 384, the Prefect had just
begun an open struggle with the Catholics. He believed, therefore, that he
made a good choice in appointing Augustin.

So a chain of events, with which his will had hardly anything to do,
was going to draw the young rhetorician to Milan--yes, and how much
farther!--to where he did not want to go, to where the prayers of Monnica
summoned him unceasingly: "Where I am, there shall you be also." When he
was leaving Rome, he did not much expect that. What he chiefly thought of
was that he had at last won an independent financial position, and that he
was become an official of some importance. He had a flattering evidence
of this at once: It was at the expense of the city of Milan and in the
Imperial carriages that he travelled through Italy to take up his new post.



Before he left Rome, and during his journey to Milan, Augustin must have
recalled more than once the verses of Terence which his friend Marcianus
had quoted by way of encouragement and advice the night he set sail for

"This day which brings to thee another life
Demands that thou another man shalt be."

He was thirty years old. The time of youthful wilfulness was over. Age,
disappointments, the difficulties of life, had developed his character.
He was now become a man of position, an eminent official, in a very large
city which was the second capital of the Western Empire and the principal
residence of the Court. If he wished to avoid further set-backs in his
career, it behoved him to choose a line of conduct carefully thought out.

And first of all, it was time to get rid of Manicheeism. A Manichee would
have made a scandal in a city where the greatest part of the population
was Christian, and the Court was Catholic, although it did not conceal
its sympathy with Arianism. It was a long time now since Augustin had
been a Manichee in his heart. Accordingly, he was not obliged to feign
in order to re-enter a Church which already included him formally among
its catechumens. Doubtless he was a very lukewarm catechumen, since at
intervals he inclined to scepticism. But he thought it decent to remain,
at least for the time being, in the Catholic body, in which his mother had
brought him up, until the day when some sure light should arise to direct
his path. Now St. Ambrose was at that time the Catholic Bishop of Milan.
Augustin was very eager to gain his goodwill. Ambrose was an undoubted
political power, an important personage, a celebrated orator whose renown
was shed all across the Roman world. He belonged to an illustrious family.
His father had been Praetorian prefect of Gaul. He himself, with the
title of Consul, was governing the provinces of Emilia and Liguria when
the Milanese forced him, much against his will, to become their bishop.
Baptized, ordained priest, and consecrated, one on top of the other, it
was only apparently that he gave up his civil functions. From the height
of his episcopal throne he always personified the highest authority in the

As soon as he arrived at Milan, Augustin hurried to call upon his bishop.
Knowing him as we do, he must have approached Ambrose in a great transport
of enthusiasm. His imagination, too, was kindled. In his thought this was
a man of letters, an orator, a famous writer, almost a fellow-worker, that
he was going to see. The young professor admired in Bishop Ambrose all the
glory that he was ambitious of, and all that he already believed himself
to be. He fancied, that however great might be the difference in their
positions, he would find himself at once on an equal footing with this high
personage, and would have a familiar talk with him, as he used to have at
Carthage with the Proconsul Vindicianus. He told himself also that Ambrose
was a priest, that is to say, a doctor of souls: he meant to open to him
all his spiritual wretchedness, the anguish of his mind and heart. He
expected consolation from him, if not cure.

Well, he was mistaken. Although in all his writings he speaks of "the holy
Bishop of Milan" with feelings of sincere respect and admiration, he lets
it be understood that his expectations were not realized. If the Manichean
bishop of Rome had offended him by his rough manners, Ambrose disconcerted
him alike by his politeness, his kindliness, and by the reserve,
perhaps involuntarily haughty, of his reception. "He received me," says
Augustin, "like a father, and as a bishop he was pleased enough at my
coming:"--_peregrinationem meam satis episcopaliter dilexit_. This _satis
episcopaliter_ looks very like a sly banter at the expense of the saint. It
is infinitely probable that St. Ambrose received Augustin, not exactly as a
man of no account, but still, as a sheep of his flock, and not as a gifted
orator, and that, in short, he shewed him the same "episcopal" benevolence
as he had from a sense of duty for all his hearers. It is possible too
that Ambrose was on his guard from the outset with this African, appointed
a municipal professor through the good offices of the pagan Symmachus,
his personal enemy. In the opinion of the Italian Catholics, nothing
good came from Carthage: these Carthaginians were generally Manichees
or Donatists--sectaries the more dangerous because they claimed to be
orthodox, and, mingling with the faithful, hypocritically contaminated
them. And then Ambrose, the great lord, the former Governor of Liguria, the
counsellor of the Emperors, may not have quite concealed a certain ironic
commiseration for this "dealer in words," this young rhetorician who was
still puffed up with his own importance.

Be this as it will, it was a lesson in humility that St. Ambrose, without
intending it, gave to Augustin. The lesson was not understood. The rhetoric
professor gathered only one thing from the visit, which was, that the
Bishop of Milan had received him well. And as human vanity immediately
lends vast significance to the least advances of distinguished or powerful
persons, Augustin felt thankful for it. He began to love Ambrose almost as
much as he admired him, and he admired him for reasons altogether worldly.
"Ambrose I counted one of the happy ones of this world, because he was held
in such honour by the great." The qualification which immediately follows
shews naively enough the sensual Augustin's state of mind at that time:
"Only it seemed to me that celibacy must be a heavy burthen upon him."

In those years the Bishop of Milan might, indeed, pass for a happy man
in the eyes of the world. He was the friend of the very glorious and
very victorious Theodosius; he had been the adviser of the young Emperor
Gratian, but lately assassinated; and although the Empress Justina, devoted
to the Arians, plotted against him, he had still great influence in the
council of Valentinian II--a little Emperor thirteen years old, whom a
Court of pagans and Arians endeavoured to draw into an anti-Catholic

Almost as soon as Augustin arrived in Milan, he was able to see for himself
the great authority and esteem which Ambrose possessed, the occasion being
a dispute which made a great noise.

Two years earlier, Gratian had had the statue and altar of _Victory_
removed from the _Curia_, declaring that this pagan emblem and its
accompaniments no longer served any purpose in an assembly of which the
majority was Christian. By the same stroke, he suppressed the incomes of
the sacerdotal colleges with all their privileges, particularly those of
the Vestals; confiscated for the revenue the sums granted for the exercise
of religion; seized the property of the temples; and forbade the priests
to receive bequests of real estate. This meant the complete separation
of the State and the ancient religion. The pagan minority in the Senate,
with Symmachus, the Prefect, at its head, protested against this edict.
A deputation was sent to Milan to place the pagan grievances before
the Emperor. Gratian refused to receive them. It was thought that his
successor, Valentinian II, being feebler, would be more obliging. A new
senatorial committee presented themselves with a petition drawn up by
Symmachus--a genuine piece of oratory which Ambrose himself admired, or
pretended to admire. This speech made a deep impression when it was read
in the Imperial Council. But Ambrose intervened with all his eloquence.
He demanded that the common law should be applied equally to pagans as to
Christians, and it was he who won the day. _Victory_ was not replaced in
the Roman _Curia_, neither were the goods of the temples returned.

Augustin must have been very much struck by this advantage which
Catholicism had gained. It became clear that henceforth this was to be
the State religion. And he who envied so much the fortunate of the world,
might take note, besides, that the new religion brought, along with the
faith, riches and honours to its adepts. At Rome he had listened to the
disparaging by pagans and his Manichee friends of the popes and their
clergy. They made fun of the fashionable clerics and legacy hunters. It was
related that the Roman Pontiff, servant of the God of the poor, maintained
a gorgeous establishment, and that his table rivalled the Imperial table in
luxury. The prefect Praetextatus, a resolute pagan, said scoffingly to Pope
Damasus: "Make me Bishop of Rome, and I'll become a Christian at once."

Certainly, commonplace human reasons can neither bring about nor account
for a sincere conversion. Conversion is a divine work. But human reasons,
arranged by a mysterious Will with regard to this work, may at least
prepare a soul for it. Anyhow, it cannot be neglected that Augustin, coming
to Milan full of ambitious plans, there saw Catholicism treated with so
much importance in the person of Ambrose. This religion, which till then he
had despised, now appeared to him as a triumphant religion worth serving.

But though such considerations might attract Augustin's attention, they
took no hold on his conscience. It was well enough for an intriguer about
the Court to get converted from self-interest. As for him, he wanted all or
nothing; the chief good in his eyes was certainty and truth. He scarcely
believed in this any longer, and surely had no hope of finding it among
the Catholics; but still he went to hear Ambrose's sermons. He went in the
first place as a critic of language, with the rather jealous curiosity of
the trained man who watches how another man does it. He wanted to judge
himself if the sacred orator was as good as his reputation. The firm and
substantial eloquence of this former official, this statesman who was more
than anything a man of action, immediately got control of the frivolous
rhetorician. To be sure, he did not find in Ambrose's sermons the
exhilaration or the verbal caress which had captivated him in those of
Faustus the Manichean; but yet they had a persuasive grace which held him.
Augustin heard the bishop with pleasure. Still, if he liked to hear him
talk, he remained contemptuous of the doctrine he preached.

Then, little by little, this doctrine forced itself on his meditations:
he perceived that it was more serious than he had thought hitherto, or,
at least, that it could be defended. Ambrose had started in Italy the
exegetical methods of the Orientals. He discovered in Scripture allegorical
meanings, sometimes edifying, sometimes deep, always satisfying for a
reasonable mind. Augustin, who was inclined to subtilty, much relished
these explanations which, if ingenious, were often forced. The Bible
no longer seemed to him so absurd. Finally, the immoralities which the
Manichees made such a great point of against the Holy Writ, were justified,
according to Ambrose, by historical considerations: what God did not allow
to-day, He allowed formerly by reason of the conditions of existence.
However, though the Bible might be neither absurd nor contrary to morals,
this did not prove that it was true. Augustin found no outlet for his

He would have been glad to have Ambrose help him to get rid of them. Many a
time he tried to have a talk with him about these things. But the Bishop of
Milan was so very busy a personage! "I could not ask him," says Augustin,
"what I wanted as I wanted, because the shoals of busy people who consulted
him about their affairs, and to whose infirmities he ministered, came
between me and his ear and lips. And in the few moments when he was not
thus surrounded, he was refreshing either his body with needful food, or
his mind with reading. While he read his eye wandered along the page and
his heart searched out the meaning, but his voice and his tongue were at
rest. Often when we attended (for the door was open to all, and no one was
announced), we saw him reading silently, but never otherwise, and after
sitting for some time without speaking (_for who would presume to trouble
one so occupied?_) we went away again. We divined that, for the little
space of time which was all that he could secure for the refreshment of his
mind, he allowed himself a holiday from the distraction of other people's
business, and did not wish to be interrupted; _and perhaps he was afraid
lest eager listeners should invite him to explain the harder passages of
his author, or to enter upon the discussion of difficult topics_, and
hinder him from perusing as many volumes as he wished.... _Of course
the reason that guided a man of such remarkable virtue must have been

Nobody could comment more subtly--nor, be it said also, more
maliciously--the attitude of St. Ambrose towards Augustin, than Augustin
himself does it here. At the time he wrote this page, the events he was
relating had happened a long time ago. But he is a Christian, and, in his
turn, he is a bishop: he understands now what he could not understand
then. He feels thoroughly at heart that if Ambrose withdrew himself, it
was because the professor of rhetoric was not in a state of mind to have a
profitable discussion with a believer: he lacked the necessary humility of
heart and intellect. But at the moment, he must have taken things in quite
another way, and have felt rather hurt, not to say more, at the bishop's
apparent indifference.

Just picture a young writer of to-day, pretty well convinced of his value,
but uneasy about his future, coming to ask advice of an older man already
famous--well, Augustin's advances to Ambrose were not unlike that, save
that they had a much more serious character, since it was not a question of
literature, but of the salvation of a soul. At this period, what Augustin
saw in Ambrose, even when he consulted him on sacred matters, was chiefly
the orator, that is to say, a rather older rival.... He enters. He is shewn
into the private room of the great man, without being announced, _like any
ordinary person_. The great man does not lay aside his book to greet him,
does not even speak a word to him.... What would the official professor of
Rhetoric to the City of Milan think of such a reception? One can make out
clearly enough through the lines of the _Confessions_. He said to himself
that Ambrose, being a bishop, had charge of souls, and he was surprised
that the bishop, no matter how great a lord he might be, made no attempt
whatever to offer him spiritual aid. And as he was still devoid of
Christian charity, no doubt he thought too that Ambrose was conscious
that he had not the ability to wrestle with a dialectician of Augustin's
strength, and that, into the bargain, the prelate was to seek in knowledge
of the Scriptures. And, in truth, Ambrose had been made a bishop so
suddenly that he must have found himself obliged to improvise a hasty
knowledge. Anyhow, Augustin concluded that if he refused to discuss, it was
because he was afraid of being at a disadvantage.

Very surely St. Ambrose had no notion of what the catechumen was thinking.
He soared too high to trouble about miserable stings to self-respect. In
his ministry he was for all alike, and he would have thought it against
Christian equality to shew any special favour to Augustin. If, in the brief
talks he had with the young rhetorician, he was able to gather anything of
his character, he could not have formed a very favourable opinion of it.
The high-strung temperament of the African, these vague yearnings of the
spirit, these sterile melancholies, this continual temporizing before the
faith--all that could only displease Ambrose, the practical Roman, the
official used all his life to command.

However that was, Augustin, in following years, never allowed himself the
least reproach towards Ambrose. On the contrary, everywhere he loads him
with praise, quotes him repeatedly in his treatises, and takes refuge on
his authority. He calls him his "father." But once, when he is speaking
of the spiritual desolation in which he was plunged at Milan, there does
escape him something like a veiled complaint which appears to be aimed at
Ambrose. After recalling the eagerness with which he sought truth in those
days, he adds: "If any one could have been found then to trouble about
instructing me, he would have had a most willing and docile pupil."

This phrase, in such marked contrast with so many laudatory passages in
the _Confessions_ about St. Ambrose, seems to be indeed a statement of
the plain truth. If God made use of Ambrose to convert Augustin, it is
nevertheless likely that Ambrose personally did nothing, or very little, to
bring about this conversion.



But even as he draws nearer the goal, Augustin would appear, on the
contrary, to get farther away from it. Such are God's secret paces, Who
snatches souls like a thief: He drops on them without warning. Till the
very eve of the day when Christ shall come to take him, Augustin will be
all taken up with the world and the care of making a good figure in it.

Although Ambrose's sermons stimulated him to reflect upon the great
historical reality which Christianity is, he had as yet but dim glimpses
of it. He had given up his superficial unbelief, and yet did not believe
in anything definite. He drifted into a sort of agnosticism compounded of
mental indolence and discouragement. When he scrutinized his conscience to
the depths, the most he could find was a belief in the existence of God and
His providence--quite abstract ideas which he was incapable of enlivening.
But whatever was the use of speculating upon Truth and the Sovereign Good!
The main thing to do was to live.

Now that his future was certain, Augustin endeavoured to arrange his life
with a view to his tranquillity. He had no longer very large ambitions.
What he principally wanted to do was to create for himself a nice little
existence, peaceful and agreeable, one might almost say, middle-class. His
present fortune, although small, was still enough for that, and he was in a
hurry to enjoy it.

Accordingly, he had not been long in Milan ere he sent for his mistress and
his son. He had rented an apartment in a house which gave on a garden. The
owner, who did not live there, allowed him the use of the whole house. A
house, the dream of the sage! And a garden in Virgil's country! Augustin,
the professor, should have been wonderfully happy. His mother soon joined
him. Gradually a whole tribe of Africans came down on him, and took
advantage of his hospitality. Here was his brother, Navigius, his two
cousins, Rusticus and Lastidianus, his friend Alypius, who could not make
up his mind to part from him, and probably Nebridius, another of his
Carthage friends. Nothing could be more in harmony with the customs of the
time. The Rhetorician to the City of Milan had a post which would pass
for superb in the eyes of his poor relations. He was acquainted with very
important people, and had access to the Imperial Court, whence favours and
bounties came. Immediately, the family ran to put themselves under his
protection and be enrolled beneficiaries, to get what they could out of
his new fortune and credit. And then these immigrations of Africans and
Orientals into the northern countries always come about in the same way. It
is enough if one of them gets on there: he becomes immediately the drop of
ink on the blotting-paper.

The most important person in this little African phalanstery was
unquestionably Monnica, who had taken in hand the moral and material
control of the house. She was not very old--not quite fifty-four--but she
wanted to be in her own country. That she should have left it, and faced
the weariness of a long journey over sea and land, she must have had very
serious reasons. The poverty into which she had fallen since the death of
her husband would not be an adequate explanation of her departure from
her native land. She had still some small property at Thagaste; she could
have lived there. The true motives of her departure were of an altogether
different order. First of all, she passionately loved her son, to the point
that she was not able to live away from him. Let us recall Augustin's
touching words: "For she loved to keep me with her, as mothers are wont,
yes, far more than most mothers." Besides that, she wanted to save him. She
completely believed that this was her work in the world.

Beginning from now, she is no longer the widow of Patricius: she is already
Saint Monnica. Living like a nun, she fasted, prayed, mortified her body.
By long meditating on the Scriptures, she had developed within her the
sense of spiritual realities, so that before long she astonished Augustin
himself. She had visions; perhaps she had trances. As she came over the sea
from Carthage to Ostia, the ship which carried her ran into a wild gale.
The danger became extreme, and the sailors themselves could no longer hide
their fear. But Monnica intrepidly encouraged them. "Never you fear, we
shall arrive in port safe and sound!" God, she declared, had promised her

If, in her Christian life, she knew other minutes more divine, that was
truly the most heroic. Across Augustin's calm narrative, we witness the
scene. This woman lying on the deck among passengers half dead from fatigue
and terror, suddenly flings back her veils, stands up before the maddened
sea, and with a sudden flame gleaming over her pale face, she cries to the
sailors: "What do you fear? We shall get to port. _I am sure of it!_" The
glorious act of faith!

At this solemn moment, when she saw death so near, she had a clear
revelation of her destiny; she knew with absolute certainty that she was
entrusted with a message for her son, and that her son would receive this
message, in spite of all, in spite of the wildness of the sea--aye, in
spite of his own heart.

When this sublime emotion had subsided, it left with her the conviction
that sooner or later Augustin would change his ways. He had lost himself,
he was mistaken about himself. This business of rhetorician was unworthy
of him. The Master of the field had chosen him to be one of the great
reapers in the time of harvest. For a long while Monnica had foreseen the
exceptional place that Augustin was to take in the Church. Why fritter
away his talent and intelligence in selling vain words, when there were
heresies to combat, the Truth to make shine forth, when the Donatists were
capturing the African basilicas from the Catholics? What, in fact, was the
most celebrated rhetorician compared to a bishop--protector of cities,
counsellor of emperors, representative of God on earth? All this might
Augustin be. And he remained stubborn in his error! Prayers and efforts
must be redoubled to draw him from that. It was also for herself that she
struggled, for the dearest of her hopes as a mother. To bear a soul to
Jesus Christ--and a chosen soul who would save in his turn souls without
number--for this only had she lived. And so it was that on the deck, tired
by the rolling of the ship, drenched by the seas that were breaking on
board, and hardly able to stand in the teeth of the wind, she cried out to
the sailors: "What do you fear? We shall get to port. I am sure of it...."

At Milan she was regarded by Bishop Ambrose as a model parishioner. She
never missed his sermons and "hung upon his lips as a fountain of water
springing up to eternal life." And yet it does not appear that the great
bishop understood the mother any better than he did the son: he had not
the time. For him Monnica was a worthy African woman, perhaps a little odd
in her devotion, and given to many a superstitious practice. Thus, she
continued to carry baskets of bread and wine and pulse to the tombs of the
martyrs, according to the use at Carthage and Thagaste. When, carrying
her basket, she came to the door of one of the Milanese basilicas, the
doorkeeper forbade her to enter, saying that it was against the bishop's
orders, who had solemnly condemned such practices because they smacked
of idolatry. The moment she learned that this custom was prohibited by
Ambrose, Monnica, very much mortified, submitted to take away her basket,
for in her eyes Ambrose was the providential apostle who would lead her son
to salvation. And yet it must have grieved her to give up this old custom
of her country. Save for the fear of displeasing the bishop, she would
have kept it up. Ambrose was gratified by her obedience, her fervour and
charity. When by chance he met the son, he congratulated him on having such
a mother. Augustin, who did not yet despise human praise, no doubt expected
that Ambrose would in turn pay some compliments to himself. But Ambrose did
not praise him at all, and perhaps he felt rather vexed.

He himself, however, was always very busy; he had hardly any time to profit
by the pious exhortations of the bishop. His day was filled by his work
and his social duties. In the morning he lectured. The afternoon went in
friendly visits, or in looking up men of position whom he applied to for
himself or his relations. In the evening, he prepared to-morrow's lecture.
In spite of this very full and stirring life, which would seem to satisfy
all his ambitions, he could not manage to stifle the cry of his heart in
distress. He did not feel really happy. In the first place, it is doubtful
whether he liked Milan any better than Rome. He felt the cold there very
much. The Milanese winters are very trying, especially for a southerner.
Thick fogs rise from the canals and the marsh lands which surround the
city. The Alpine snows are very near. This climate, damper and frostier
even than at Rome, did no good to his chest. He suffered continually from
hoarseness; he was obliged to interrupt his lectures--a most disastrous
necessity for a man whose business it is to talk. These attacks became so
frequent that he was forced to wonder if he could keep on long in this
state. Already he felt that he might be obliged to give up his profession.
Then, in those hours when he lost heart, he flung to the winds all his
youthful ambitions. As a last resort, the voiceless rhetorician would take
a post in one of the administrative departments of the Empire. The idea of
being one day a provincial governor did not rouse any special repugnance.
What a fall for him! "Yes, but it is the wisest, the wisest thing,"
retorted the ill-advising voice, the one we are tempted to listen to when
we doubt ourselves.

Friendship, as always with Augustin, consoled him for his hopeless
thoughts. Near him was "the brother of his heart," the faithful Alypius,
and also Nebridius, that young man so fond of metaphysical discussions.
Nebridius had left his rich estate in the Carthaginian suburbs, and a
mother who loved him, simply to live with Augustin in the pursuit of truth.
Romanianus was also there, but for a less disinterested reason. The Maecenas
of Thagaste, after his ostentatious expenditure, found that his fortune
was threatened. A powerful enemy, who had started a law-suit against him,
worked to bring about his downfall. Romanianus had come to Milan to
defend himself before the Emperor, and to win the support of influential
personages about the Court. And so it came about that he saw a great deal
of Augustin.

Besides this little band of fellow-countrymen, the professor of rhetoric
had some very distinguished friends among the aristocracy. He was
especially intimate with that Manlius Theodorus whom the poet Claudian
celebrates, and to whom he himself later on was to dedicate one of his
books. This rich man, who had been Proconsul at Carthage, where no doubt he
had met Augustin, lived at this time retired in the country, dividing his
leisure hours between the study of the Greek philosophers, especially of
the Platonists, and the cultivation of his vineyards and olive trees.

Here, as at Thagaste, in these beautiful villas on the shores of the
Italian lakes, the son of Monnica gave himself up once more to the
sweetness of life. "I liked an easy life," he avows in all simplicity.
He felt himself to be more Epicurean than ever. He might have chosen
Epicureanism altogether, if he had not always kept a fear of what is beyond
life. But when he was the guest of Manlius Theodoras, fronting the dim blue
mountains of lake Como, framed in the high windows of the _triclinium_,
he did not think much about what is beyond life. He said to himself: "Why
desire the impossible? So very little is needed to satisfy a human soul."
The enervating contact of luxury and comfort imperceptibly corrupted him.
He became like those fashionable people whom he knew so well how to charm
with his talk. Like the fashionable people of all times, these designated
victims of the Barbarians built, with their small daily pleasures, a
rampart against all offensive or saddening realities, leaving the important
questions without answer, no longer even asking them. And they said:
"I have beautiful books, a well-heated house, well-trained slaves, a
delightfully arranged bathroom, a comfortable vehicle: life is sweet. I
don't wish for a better. What's the use? This one is good enough for me."
At the moment when his tired intellect gave up everything, Augustin was
taken in the snare of easy enjoyment, and desired to resemble these people
at all points, to be one of them. But to be one of them he must have a
higher post than a rhetorician's, and chiefly it would be necessary to put
all the outside forms and exterior respectability into his life that the
world of fashion shews. Thus, little by little, he began to think seriously
of marriage.

His mistress was the only obstacle in the way of this plan. He got rid of

That was a real domestic drama, which he has tried to hide; but it must
have been extremely painful for him, to judge by the laments which he gives
vent to, despite himself, in some phrases, very brief and, as it were,
ashamed. In this drama Monnica was certainly the leader, though it is
likely that Augustin's friends also played their parts. No doubt, they
objected to the professor of rhetoric, that he was injuring his reputation
as well as his future by living thus publicly with a concubine. But
Monnica's reasons were more forcible and of quite another value.

To begin with, it is very natural that she should have suffered in her
maternal dignity, as well as in her conscience as a Christian, by having to
put up with the company of a stranger who was her son's mistress. However
large we may suppose the house where the African tribe dwelt, a certain
clashing between the guests was unavoidable. Generally, disputes as to
who shall direct the domestic arrangements divide mother-in-law and
daughter-in-law who live under one roof. What could be Monnica's feelings
towards a woman who was not even a daughter-in-law and was regarded by her
as an intruder? She did not consider it worth while to make any attempt at
regulating the entanglement of her son by marrying them: this person was
of far too low a class. It is all very well to be a saint, but one does
not forget that one is the widow of a man of curial rank, and that a
middle-class family with self-respect does not lower itself by admitting
the first-comer into its ranks by marriage. But these were secondary
considerations in her eyes. The only one which could have really preyed on
her mind is that this woman delayed Augustin's conversion. On account of
her, as Monnica saw plainly, he put off his baptism indefinitely. She was
the chain of sin, the unclean past under whose weight he stifled. He must
be freed from her as soon as possible.

Convinced therefore that such was her bounden duty, she worked continually
to make him break off. By way of putting him in some sort face to face with
a deed impossible to undo, she searched to find him a wife, with the fine
eagerness that mothers usually put into this kind of hunt. She discovered
a girl who filled, as they say, all the requirements, and who realized all
the hopes of Augustin. She had a fortune considerable enough not to be a
burthen on her husband. Her money, added to the professor's salary, would
allow the pair to live in ease and comfort. So they were betrothed. In
the uncertainty about all things which was Augustin's state just then, he
allowed his mother to work at this marriage. No doubt he approved, and like
a good official he thought it was time for him to settle down.

From that moment, the separation became inevitable. How did the poor
creature who had been faithful to him during so many years feel at this
ignominious dismissal? What must have been the parting between the child
Adeodatus and his mother? How, indeed, could Augustin consent to take him
from her? Here, again, he has decided to keep silent on this painful drama,
from a feeling of shame easy to understand. Of course, he was no longer
strongly in love with his mistress, but he was attached to her by some
remains of tenderness, and by that very strong tie of pleasure shared. He
has said it in words burning with regret. "When they took from my side, as
an obstacle to my marriage, her with whom I had been used for such a long
time to sleep, my heart was torn at the place where it was stuck to hers,
and the wound was bleeding." The phrase casts light while it burns. "At the
place where my heart stuck to hers"--_cor ubi adhaerebat_. He acknowledges
then that the union was no longer complete, since at many points he had
drawn apart. If the soul of his mistress had remained the same, his had
changed: however much he might still love her, he was already far from her.

Be that as it will, she behaved splendidly in the affair--this forsaken
woman, this poor creature whom they deemed unworthy of Augustin. She was a
Christian; perhaps she perceived (for a loving woman might well have this
kind of second-sight) that it was a question not only of the salvation of
a loved being, but of a divine mission to which he was predestined. She
sacrificed herself that Augustin might be an apostle and a saint--a great
servant of God. So she went back to her Africa, and to shew that she
pardoned, if she could not forget, she vowed that she would never know any
other man. "She who had slept" with Augustin could never be the wife of any
one else.

However low she may have been to begin with, the unhappy woman was great at
this crisis. Her nobility of soul humiliated Augustin, and Monnica herself,
and punishment was not slow in falling on them both--on him, for letting
himself be carried away by sordid plans for success in life, and upon her,
the saint, for having been too accommodating. As soon as his mistress was
gone, Augustin suffered from being alone. "I thought that I should be
miserable," says he, "without the embraces of a woman." Now his promised
bride was too young: two years must pass before he could marry her. How
could he control himself till then? Augustin did not hesitate: he found
another mistress.

There was Monnica's punishment, cruelly deceived in her pious intentions.
In vain did she hope a great deal of good from this approaching marriage:
the silence of God shewed her that she was on the wrong track. She begged
for a vision, some sign which would reveal to her how this new-planned
marriage would turn out. Her prayer was not heard.

"Meanwhile," says Augustin, "my sins were being multiplied." But he did
not limit himself to his own sins: he led others into temptation. Even in
matrimonial matters, he felt the need of making proselytes. So he fell upon
the worthy Alypius. He, to be sure, guarded himself chastely from women,
although in the outset of his youth, to be like everybody else, he had
tried pleasure with women; but he had found that it did not suit his taste.
However, Augustin put conjugal delights before him with so much heat, that
he too began to turn his thoughts that way, "not that he was overcome by
the desire of pleasure, _but out of curiosity_." For Alypius, marriage
would be a sort of philosophic and sentimental experience.

Here are quite modern expressions to translate very old conditions of soul.
The fact is, that these young men, Augustin's friends and Augustin himself,
were startlingly like those of a generation already left behind, alas! who
will probably keep in history the presumptuous name they gave themselves:
_The Intellectuals_.

Like us, these young Latins of Africa, pupils of the rhetoricians and the
pagan philosophers, believed in hardly anything but ideas. All but ready to
affirm that Truth is not to be come at, they thought, just the same, that
a vain hunt after it was a glorious risk to run, or, at the very least, an
exciting game. For them this game made the whole dignity and value of life.
Although they had spasms of worldly ambition, they really despised whatever
was not pure speculation. In their eyes, the world was ugly; action
degrading. They barred themselves within the ideal garden of the sage, "the
philosopher's corner," as they called it, and jealously they stopped up all
the holes through which the painful reality might have crept through to
them. But where they differed from us, is that they had much less dryness
of soul, with every bit as much pedantry--but such ingenuous pedantry!
That's what saved them--their generosity of soul, the youth of their
hearts. They loved each other, and they ended by growing fond of life and
getting in contact with it again. Nebridius journeyed from Carthage to
Milan, abandoning his mother and family, neglecting considerable interests,
not only to talk philosophy with Augustin, but to live with him as a
friend. From this moment they might have been putting in practice those
words of the Psalm, which Augustin ere long will be explaining to his monks
with such tender eloquence: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for
brethren to dwell together in unity!"

This is not baseless hypothesis: they had really a plan for establishing a
kind of lay monastery, where the sole rule would be the search after Truth
and the happy life. There would be about a dozen solitaries. They would
make a common stock of what means they possessed. The richest, and among
these Romanianus, promised to devote their whole fortune to the community.
But the recollection of their wives brought this naive plan to nothing.
They had neglected to ask the opinions of their wives, and if these, as
was likely, should refuse to enter the convents with their husbands, the
married men could not face the scheme of living without them. Augustin
especially, who was on the point of starting a new connection, declared
that he would never find the courage for it. He had also forgotten that
he had many dependents: his whole family lived on him. Could he leave his
mother, his son, his brother, and his cousins?

In company with Alypius and Nebridius, he sincerely lamented that this
fair dream of coenobite life was impracticable. "We were three famishing
mouths," he says, "complaining of our distress one to another, and waiting
upon Thee that Thou mightest give us our meat in due season. And in all
the bitterness that Thy mercy put into our worldly pursuits, we sought the
reason why we suffered; and all was darkness. Then we turned to each other
shuddering, and asked: 'How much longer can this last?'..."

One day, a slight commonplace fact which they happened upon brought home
to them still more cruelly their intellectual poverty. Augustin, in his
official position as municipal orator, had just delivered the official
panegyric of the Emperor. The new year was opening: the whole city was
given over to mirth. And yet he was cast down, knowing well that he had
just uttered many an untruth, and chiefly because he despaired of ever
being happy. His friends were walking with him. Suddenly, as they crossed
the street, they came upon a beggar, quite drunk, who was indulging in the
jolliest pranks. So there was a happy man! A few pence had been enough
to give him perfect felicity, whereas they, the philosophers, despite
the greatest efforts and all their knowledge, could not manage to win
happiness. No doubt, as soon as the drunkard grew sober, he would be more
wretched than before. What matters that, if this poor joy--yes, though it
be an illusion--can so much cheer a poor creature, thus raise him so far
above himself! That minute, at least, he shall have lived in full bliss.
And to Augustin came the temptation to do as the beggar-man, to throw
overboard his philosophical lumber and set himself simply to live without
afterthoughts, since life is sometimes good.

But an instinct, stronger than the instinct of pleasure, said to him:
"_There is something else!_--Suppose that were true?--Perhaps you might be
able to find out." This thought tormented him unceasingly. Now eager, now
disheartened, he set about trying to find the "something else."



"I was tired of devouring time and of being devoured by it." The whole
moral crisis that Augustin is about to undergo might be summed up in these
few words so concentrated and so strong. No more to scatter himself among
the multitude of vain things, no more to let himself flow along with the
minutes as they flowed; but to pull himself together, to escape from the
rout so as to establish himself upon the incorruptible and eternal, to
break the chains of the old slave he continues to be so as to blossom forth
in liberty, in thought, in love--that is the salvation he longs for. If it
be not yet the Christian salvation, he is on the road which leads to that.

One might amuse oneself by drawing a kind of ideal map-route of his
conversion, and fastening into one solid chain the reasons which made him
emerge at the act of faith: he himself perhaps, in his _Confessions_,
has given way too much to this inclination. In reality, conversion is an
interior fact, and (let us repeat it) a divine fact, which is independent
of all control by the reason. Before it breaks into light, there is a long
preparation in that dark region of the soul which to-day is called the
subconscious. Now nobody has more _lived_ his ideas than did Augustin
at this time of his life. He took them, left them, took them up again,
persisted in his desperate effort. They reflect in their disorder his
variable soul, and the misgivings which troubled it to its depths. And yet
it cannot be that this interior fact should be in violent contradiction
with logic. The head ought not to hinder the heart. With the future
believer, a parallel work goes on in the feelings and in the thought. If we
are not able to reproduce the marches and counter-marches, or follow their
repeatedly broken line, we can at least shew the main halting-places.

Let us recall Augustin's state of mind when he came to Milan. He was a
sceptic, the kind of sceptic who regards as useless all speculation upon
the origin of things, and for whom cognition is but an approximation of the
true. Vaguely deist, he saw in Jesus Christ only a wise man among the wise.
He believed in God and the providences of God, which amounts to this: That
although materialist by tendency, he admitted the divine interference in
human affairs--the miracle. This is an important point which differentiates
him from modern materialists.

Next, he listened to the preaching of Ambrose. The Bible no longer seemed
to him absurd or at variance with a moral scheme. Ambrose's exegesis,
half allegorical, half historic, might be accepted, taken altogether,
by self-respecting minds. But what, above all, struck Augustin in the
Scriptures, was the wisdom, the practical efficiency. Those who lived by
the Christian rule were not only happy people, but, as Pascal would say,
good sons, good husbands, good fathers, good citizens. He began to suspect
that this life here below is bearable and has a meaning only when it is
fastened to the life on high. Even as for nations glory is daily bread, so
for the individual the sacrifice to something which is beyond the world is
the only way of living in the world.

So, little by little, Augustin corrected the false notions that the
Manichees had filled him with about Catholicism. He acknowledged that in
attacking it he had "been barking against the vain imaginations of carnal
thoughts." Still, he found great difficulty in getting free of all his
Manichean prejudices. The problem of Evil remained inexplicable for him,
apart from Manichee teachings. God could not be the author of evil. This
truth admitted, he went on from it to think, against his former masters,
that nothing is bad in itself--bad because it has within it a corrupting
principle. On the contrary, all things are good, though in varying degrees.
The apparent defects of creation, perceived by our senses, blend into
the harmony of the whole. The toad and the viper have their place in the
operation of a perfectly arranged world. But physical ill is not the only
ill; there is also the evil that we do and the evil that others do us.
Crime and pain are terrible arguments against God. Now the Christians
hold that the first is the product solely of the human will, of liberty
corrupted by original sin, and that the other is permitted by God as a
means of purifying souls. Of course, this was a solution, but it implied a
belief in the dogmas of the Fall and of the Redemption. Augustin did not
accept them yet. He was too proud to recognize an impaired will and the
need of a Saviour. "My puffed-out face," he says, "closed up my eyes."

Nevertheless he had taken a great step in rejecting the fundamental dogma
of Manicheeism--the double Principle of good and evil. Henceforth for
Augustin there exists only one Principle, unique and incorruptible--the
Good, which is God. But his view of this divine substance is still
quite materialistic, to such an extent is he governed by his senses. In
his thought, it is corporeal, spatial, and infinite. He pictures it as
a kind of limitless sea, wherein is a huge sponge bathing the world
that it pervades throughout.... He was at this point, when one of his
acquaintances, "a man puffed up with immense vanity," gave him some of
the Dialogues of Plato, translated into Latin by the famous rhetorician
Victorinus Afer. It is worth noting, as we pass, that Augustin, now
thirty-two years old, a rhetorician by profession and a philosopher by
taste, had not yet read Plato. This is yet another proof to what extent the
instruction of the ancients was oral, resembling in this the Mussulmans'
instruction of to-day. Up to now, he had only known Plato by hearsay. He
read him, and it was as a revelation. He learned that a reality could exist
without diffusion through space. He saw God as unextended and yet infinite.
The sense of the divine Soul was given to him. Then the primordial
necessity of the Mediator or Word was borne in upon his mind. It is the
Word which has created the world. It is through the Word that the world,
and God, and all things, including ourselves, become comprehensible to us.
What an astonishment! Plato corresponded with St. John! "In the beginning
was the Word"--_in principio erat verbum_--said the fourth Gospel. But
it was not only an Evangelist that Augustin discovered in the Platonist
dialogues, it was almost all the essential part of the doctrine of Christ.
He saw plainly the profound differences, but for the moment he was struck
by the resemblances, and they carried him away. What delighted him, first
of all, is the beauty of the world, constructed after His own likeness by
the Demiurgus. God is Beauty; the world is fair as He who made it. This
metaphysical vision entranced Augustin; his whole heart leaped towards
this ineffably beautiful Divinity. Carried away by enthusiasm he cries: "I
marvelled to find that now I loved Thee, O my God, and not a phantasm in
Thy stead. If I was not yet in a state to enjoy Thee, _I was swept up to
Thee by Thy beauty_."

But such an abandonment could not endure: "I was not yet in a state to
enjoy Thee." There is Augustin's main objection to Platonism. He felt
that instead of touching God, of enjoying Him, he would be held by purely
mental conceptions, that he would be always losing his way among the
phantasmagoria of idealism. What was the use of giving up the illusory
realities of the senses, if it were not to get hold of more _solid_
realities? Though his intelligence, his poet's imagination, might be
attracted by the glamour of Platonism, his heart was not satisfied. "It is
one thing," he says, "from some wooded height to behold the land of peace,
another thing to march thither along the high road."

St. Paul it was who shewed him this road. He began to read the _Epistles_
carefully, and the more he read of them the more he became aware of the
abyss which separates philosophy from wisdom--the one which marshals the
ideas of things, the other which, ignoring ideas, leads right up to the
divine realities whereon the others are suspended. The Apostle taught
Augustin that it was not enough to get a glimpse of God through the crystal
of concepts, but that it is necessary to be united to Him in spirit and in
truth--to possess and enjoy Him. And to unite itself to this Good, the soul
must get itself into a fit state for such a union, purify and cure itself
of all its fleshly maladies, descry its place in the world and hold to it.
Necessity of repentance, of humility, of the contrite and humble heart.
Only the contrite and humble heart shall see God. "The broken heart shall
be cured," says the Scripture, "but the heart of the proud man shall be
shattered." So Augustin, the intellectual, had to change his methods,
and he felt that this change was right. If the writer who wants to write
beautiful things ought to put himself beforehand into some sort of a state
of grace, wherein not only vile actions, but unworthy thoughts become
impossible, the Christian, in like manner, must cleanse and prepare
his inward eye to perceive the divine verities. Augustin grasped this
thought in reading St. Paul. But what, above all, appealed to him in the
_Epistles_, was their paternal voice, the mildness and graciousness hidden
beneath the uncultivated roughness of the phrases. He was charmed by this.
How different from the philosophers! "Those celebrated pages have no trace
of the pious soul, the tears of repentance, nor of Thy sacrifice, O my God,
nor of the troubled spirit.... No one there hearkened to the Christ that
calleth, 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour!' They think it scorn to learn
from Him, because He is meek and lowly of heart. For Thou hast hidden these
things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes."

But it is not much to bend: what is, above all, requisite for him is to get
rid of his passions. Now Augustin's passions were old friends. How could
he part with them? He lacked courage for this heroic treatment. Just think
of what a young man of thirty-two is. He is always thinking of women. Lust
holds him by the entanglements of habit, and he takes pleasure in the
impurity of his heart. When, yielding to the exhortations of the Apostle,
he tried to shape his conduct to his new way of thinking, the old friends
trooped to beg of him not to do anything of the kind. "They pulled me," he
says, "by the coat of my flesh, and they murmured in my ear--What, are you
leaving us? Shall we be no more with you, for ever? _Non erimus tecum ultra
in aeternum?_... And from that instant, the thing you well know, and still
another thing, will be forbidden you for ever--for eternity...."

Eternity! Dread word. Augustin shook with fear. Then, calming himself, he
said to them: "I know you; I know you too well! You are Desire without
hope, the Gulf without soundings that nothing can fill up. I have suffered
enough because of you." And the anguished dialogue continued: "What
matters that! If the only possible happiness for you is to suffer on our
account, to fling your body into the voracious gulf, without end, without
hope!"--"Let cowards act so!... For me there is another happiness than
yours. There is _something else_: I am certain." Then the friends, put
a little out of countenance by this convinced tone, muttered in a lower
voice: "Still, just suppose you are losing this wretched pleasure for
a phantasm still more empty.... Besides, you are mistaken about your
strength. You cannot--no, you never can exist without us." They had touched
the galling spot: Augustin knew his weakness only too well. And his burning
imagination presented to him with extraordinary lucidity these pleasures
which he could not do without. They were not only embracements, but also
those trifles, those superfluous nothings, "those light pleasantnesses
which make us fond of life." The perfidious old friends continued to
whisper: "Wait a bit yet! The things you despise have a charm of their
own; they bring even no small sweetness. You ought not to cut yourself off
light-heartedly, for it would be shameful to return to them afterwards."
He passed in review all the things he was going to give up; he saw them
shine before him tinted in the most alluring colours: gaming, elaborate
entertainments, music, song, perfumes, books, poetry, flowers, the coolness
of forests (he remembered the woods about Thagaste, and his hunting days
with Romanianus)--in a word, all that he had ever cared about, even to
"that freshness of the light, so kind to human eyes."

Augustin was not able to decide in this conflict between temptation and the
decree of his conscience, and he became desperate. His will, enfeebled by
sin, was unable to struggle against itself. And so he continued to endure
life and to be "devoured by time."

The life of that particular period, if it was endurable for quiet folk
who were careful to have nothing to do with politics--this life of the
Empire near its end, could be nothing but a scandalous spectacle for an
honest-minded and high-souled man such as Augustin. It ought to have
disgusted him at once with remaining in the world. At Milan, connected as
he was with the Court, he was in a good position to see how much baseness
and ferocity may spring from human avarice and ambition. If the present
was hideous, the future promised to be sinister. The Roman Empire no longer
existed save in name. Foreigners, come from all the countries of the
Mediterranean, plundered the provinces under its authority. The army was
almost altogether in the hands of the Barbarians. They were Gothic tribunes
who kept order outside the basilica where Ambrose had closed himself in
with his people to withstand the order of the Empress Justina, who wished
to hand over this church to the Arians. Levantine eunuchs domineered over
the exchequer-clerks in the palace, and officials of all ranks. All these
people plundered where they could. The Empire, even grown feeble, was
always an excellent machine to rule men and extract gold from nations.
Accordingly, ambitious men and adventurers, wherever they came from, tried
for the Purple: it was still worth risking one's skin for. Even more than
the patriots (and there were still some very energetic men of this sort
who were overcome with grief at the state of things), the men of rapine
and violence were interested in maintaining the Empire. The Barbarians
themselves desired to be included, so that they might pillage it with more

As for the emperors, even sincere Christians, they were obliged to become
abominable tyrants to defend their constantly threatened lives. Never were
executions more frequent or more cruel than at this time. At Milan they
might have shewn Augustin, hard by the Imperial sleeping apartments, the
cave where the preceding Emperor, choleric Valentinian, kept two bears,
"Bit of Gold" and "Innocence," who were his rapid executioners. He fed them
with the flesh of those condemned to die. Possibly "Bit of Gold" was still
living. "Innocence"--observe the atrocious irony of this name--had been
restored to the liberty of her native forests, as a reward for her good and
loyal services.

Was Augustin, who still thought of becoming an official, going to mix in
with this lot of swindlers, assassins, and brute beasts? As he studied them
near at hand, he felt his goodwill grow weak. Like all those who belong
to worn-out generations, he must have been disgusted with action and the
villainies it involves. Just before great catastrophes, or just after,
there is an epidemic of black pessimism which freezes delicate souls.
Besides, he was ill--a favourable circumstance for a disappointed man if he
entertains thoughts of giving up the world. In the fogs of Milan his chest
and throat became worse and worse. And then it is likely enough that he was
not succeeding better as rhetorician than he had at Rome. It was a kind
of fatality for all Africans. However great their reputation in their own
country, that was the end of it as soon as they crossed the sea. Apuleius,
the great man of Carthage, had tried the experiment to his cost. They had
made fun of his guttural Carthaginian pronunciation. The same kind of thing
happened to Augustin. The Milanese turned his African accent into ridicule.
He even found among them certain purists who discovered solecisms in his

But these scratches at his self-respect, this increasing disgust of men
and things, were small matters compared to what was going on within him.
Augustin had a sick soul. The forebodings he had always been subject to
were now become the suffering of every moment. At certain times he was
assailed by those great waves of sadness which unfurl all of a sudden from
the depths of the unknown. In such minutes we believe that the whole world
is hurling itself against us. The great wave rolled him over; he got up
again all wounded. And he felt stretch forth in him a new will which was
not his own, under which the other, the will to sin, struggled. It was
like the approach of an invisible being whose contact overcame him with an
anguish which was full of pleasure. This being wanted to open out within
him, but the weight of his old sins prevented. Then his soul cried out in

In those moments, what a relief it was to let himself float on the
canticles of the Church! The liturgical chants were then something new in
the West. It was in the very year we are dealing with that St. Ambrose
started the custom in the Milanese basilicas.

The childhood of our hymns! One cannot think about that without being
moved. One envies Augustin for having heard them in their spring freshness.
These lovely musics, which were to sound during so many centuries, and
still soar against the vaults of cathedrals, were leaving the nest for the
first time. We cannot think that a day will come when they will fold their
wings and fall silent. Since human bodies, temples of the Holy Ghost, will
live again in glory, one would like to believe with Dante that the hymns,
temples of the Word, are likewise immortal, and that they will still be
heard in the everlasting. Doubtless in the twilight glens of Purgatory the
bewailing souls continue to sing the _Te lucis ante terminum_, even as in
the star-circles, where the Blessed move ever, will always leap up the
triumphant notes of the _Magnificat_....

Even on those who have lost the faith, the power of these hymns is
irresistible. "If you knew," said Renan, "the charm that the Barbarian
magicians knew how to put into their canticles. When I remember them, my
heart melts." The heart of Augustin, who had not yet the faith, melted too
in hearing them: "How I have cried, my God, over the hymns and canticles
when the sweet sound of the music of Thy Church thrilled my soul! As the
music flowed into my ears, and Thy truth trickled into my heart, the tide
of devotion swelled high within me, and the tears ran down, and there was
gladness in those tears." His heart cast off its heaviness, while his mind
was shaken by the heavenly music. Augustin loved music passionately. At
this time he conceived God as the Great Musician of the spheres; and soon
he will write that "we are a strophe in a poem." At the same time, the
vivid and lightning figures of the Psalms, sweeping over the insipid
metaphors of the rhetoric which encumbered his memory, awoke in the depths
of him his wild African imagination and sent him soaring. And then the
affectionate note, the plaint in those sacred songs: _Deus, Deus meus!_--"O
God! O _my_ God!" The Divinity was no longer a cold abstraction, a phantom
that withdrew into an unapproachable infinite; He became the actual
possession of the loving soul. He leant over His poor scarred creature,
took him in His arms, and comforted him like a kind father.

Augustin wept with tenderness and ecstasy, but also with despair. He wept
upon himself. He saw that he had not the courage to be happy with the only
possible happiness. What, indeed, was he seeking, unless it were to capture
this "blessed life" which he had pursued so long? What he had tried to get
out of all his loves was the complete gift of his soul--to realize himself
completely. Now, this completeness of self is only in God--_in Deo salutari
meo_. The souls we have wounded are in unison with us, and with themselves,
only in God.... And the sweet Christian symbolism invited him with its
most enticing images: the Shades of Paradise; the Fountain of Living
Water; the Repose in the Lord God; the green Branch of the Dove, harbinger
of peace.... But the passions still resisted. "To-morrow! Wait a little
yet! Shall we be no more with you, for ever? _Non erimus tecum ultra in
aeternum?_..." What a dismal sound in these syllables, and how terrifying
for a timid soul! They fell, heavy as bronze, on the soul of Augustin.

An end had to be put to it somehow. What was needed was some one who would
force him out of his indecision. Instinctively, led by that mysterious will
which he felt had arisen within him, he went to see, and consult in his
distress, an old priest named Simplicianus, who had converted or directed
Bishop Ambrose in his young days. No doubt Augustin spoke to him of what he
had lately been reading, and particularly of his Platonist studies, and of
all the efforts he made to enter the communion of Christ. He acknowledged
that he was convinced, but he could not bend to the practice of the
Christian life. Then, very skilfully, as one artful in differentiating
souls, perceiving that vanity was not yet dead in Augustin, Simplicianus
offered him as an example the very translator of those Platonic books which
he had just been reading so enthusiastically--that famous Victorinus Afer,
that orator so learned and admired, who had his statue in the Roman Forum.
Because of some remains of philosophical pride, and also from fear of
offending his friends among the Roman aristocracy, who were still almost
altogether pagan, Victorinus was a Christian only in his head. In vain
Simplicianus pointed out to him how illogical his conduct was. But suddenly
and unexpectedly he decided. The day of the baptism of the catechumens,
this celebrated man mounted the platform set up in the basilica for the
profession of faith of the newly converted, and there, like the meanest of
the faithful, he delivered his profession before all the assembled people.
That was a dramatic stroke. The crowd, jubilant over this fine performance,
cheered the neophyte. And on all sides they shouted: "Victorinus!

Augustin listened to this little story, whereof all the details were so
happily chosen to act on an imagination like his:--the statue in the
Roman Forum; the platform from the height of which the orator had spoken
a language so new and unexpected; the exulting shouts of the crowd:
"Victorinus! Victorinus!" Already he saw himself in the same position.
There he was in the basilica, on the platform, in presence of Bishop
Ambrose; he too repeated his profession of faith, and the people of Milan
clapped their hands--"Augustin! Augustin!" But can a humble and contrite
heart thus take pleasure in human adulation? If Augustin did become a
convert, it would be entirely for God and before God. Very quickly he put
aside the temptation.... Nevertheless, this example, coming from so exalted
a man, made a very deep and beneficial impression. He looked upon it as a
providential sign, a lesson in courage which concerned him personally.

Some time after that, he received a visit from a fellow-countryman, a
certain Pontitianus, who had a high position in the Imperial household.
Augustin happened to be alone in the house with his friend Alypius. They
sat down to talk, and by chance the visitor noticed the Epistles of St.
Paul lying on a table for playing games. This started the conversation.
Pontitianus, who was a Christian, praised the ascetic life, and especially
the wonders of holiness wrought by Antony and his companions in the
Egyptian deserts. This subject was in the air. In Catholic circles at
Rome, they spoke of little else than these Egyptian solitaries, and of
the number, growing larger and larger, of those who stripped themselves
of their worldly goods to live in utter renunciation. What was the good
of keeping these worldly goods, that the avarice of Government taxation
confiscated so easily, and that the Barbarians watched covetously from
afar! The brutes who came down from Germany would get hold of them sooner
or later. And even supposing one might save them, retain an ever-uncertain
enjoyment of them, was the life of the time really worth the trouble of
living? There was nothing more to hope for the Empire. The hour of the
great desolation was at hand....

Pontitianus, observing the effect of his words on his hearers, was led
to tell them a quite private adventure of his own. He was at Treves, in
attendance on the Court. Well, one afternoon while the Emperor was at
the circus, he and three of his friends, like himself attached to the
household, went for a stroll beyond the city walls. Two of them parted
from the others and went off into the country, and there they came upon
a hut where dwelt certain hermits. They went in, and found a book--_The
Life of St. Antony_. They read in it; and for them that was a conversion
thunder-striking, instantaneous. The two courtiers resolved to join the
solitaries there and then, and they never went back to the Palace. And they
were betrothed!...

The tone of Pontitianus as he recalled this conscience-drama which he
had witnessed, betrayed a strange emotion which gradually took hold of
Augustin. His guest's words resounded in him like the blows of a clapper in
a bell. He saw himself in the two courtiers of Treves. He too was tired of
the world, he too was betrothed. Was he going to do as the Emperor--remain
in the circus taken up with idle pleasures, while others took the road to
the sole happiness?

When Pontitianus was gone, Augustin was in a desperate state. The repentant
soul of the two courtiers had passed into his. His will uprose in grievous
conflict and tortured itself. He seized Alypius roughly by the arm and
cried out to him in extraordinary excitement:

"What are we about? Yes, I say, what are we about? Did you not hear? Simple
men arise and take Heaven by violence, and we with all our heartless
learning--look how we are wallowing in flesh and blood!"

Alypius stared at him, stupefied. "The truth is," adds Augustin, "that I
scarcely knew what I said. My face, my eyes, my colour, and the change in
my voice expressed my meaning much better than my words." If he guessed
from this upheaval of his whole frame how close at hand was the heavenly
visitation, all he felt at the moment was a great need to weep, and he
wanted solitude to weep freely. He went down into the garden. Alypius,
feeling uneasy, followed at a distance, and in silence sat down beside him
on the bench where he had paused. Augustin did not even notice that his
friend was there. His agony of spirit began again. All his faults, all his
old stains came once more to his mind, and he grew furious against his
cowardly feebleness as he felt how much he still clung to them. Oh, to tear
himself free from all these miseries--to finish with them once for all!...
Suddenly he sprang up. It was as if a gust of the tempest had struck him.
He rushed to the end of the garden, flung himself on his knees under a
fig-tree, and with his forehead pressed against the earth he burst into
tears. Even as the olive-tree at Jerusalem which sheltered the last watch
of the Divine Master, the fig-tree of Milan saw fall upon its roots a sweat
of blood. Augustin, breathless in the victorious embrace of Grace, panted:
"How long, how long?... To-morrow and to-morrow?... Why not now? Why not
this hour make an end of my vileness?..."

Now, at this very moment a child's voice from the neighbouring house began
repeating in a kind of chant: "_Take and read, take and read_." Augustin
shuddered. What was this refrain? Was it a nursery-rhyme that the little
children of the countryside used to sing? He could not recollect it; he had
never heard it before.... Immediately, as upon a divine command, he rose to
his feet and ran back to the place where Alypius was sitting, for he had
left St. Paul's Epistles lying there. He opened the book, and the passage
on which his eyes first fell was this: _Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof_.... The
flesh!... The sacred text aimed at him directly--at him, Augustin, still so
full of lust! This command was the answer from on high....

He put his finger between the leaves, closed the volume. His frenzy had
passed away. A great peace was shed upon him--it was all over. With a calm
face he told Alypius what had happened, and without lingering he went into
Monnica's room to tell her also. The Saint was not surprised. It was long
now since she had been told, "Where I am, there shalt thou be also." But
she gave way to an outburst of joy. Her mission was done. Now she might
sing her canticle of thanksgiving and enter into God's peace.

Meanwhile, the good Alypius, always circumspect and practical, had opened
the book again and shewn his friend what followed the verse, for Augustin,
in his excitement, had neglected to read further. The Apostle said, "_Him
that is weak in the faith receive ye_." This also applied to Augustin.
That was only too certain: his new faith was still very unsteady. Let not
presumption blind him! Yes, no doubt with all his soul he desired to be a
Christian. It now remained for him to become one.



Fac me, Pater, quaerere te.
"Cause me to seek Thee, O my Father."

_Soliloquies_, I, i.



Now that Augustin had been at last touched by grace, was he after all
going to make a sensational conversion like his professional brother, the
celebrated Victorinus?

He knew well enough that there is a good example set by these noisy
conversions which works on a vast number of people. And however "contrite
and humble" his heart might be, he was quite aware that in Milan he
was an important personage. What excitement, if he were to resign his
professorship on the ground that he wished to spend the rest of his life in
the ascetic way of the Christians!... But he preferred to avoid the scandal
on one side, and the loud praise on the other. God alone and some very dear
friends should witness his repentance.

There were now hardly twenty days before the vacation. He would be patient
till then. Thus, the parents of his pupils would not have any ground to
reproach him for leaving them before the end of term, and as his health
was getting worse, he would have a good excuse to give up his post. The
dampness of the climate had given him a sort of chronic bronchitis which
the summer had not cured. He had difficulty in breathing; his voice was
muffled and thin--so much so, that he began to think his lungs were
attacked. Augustin's health really needed care. This was a quite good
enough reason to interrupt his lectures. Having fulfilled his professional
duties to the very end--and he assures us that it took some courage--he
left the professorial chair with the declared intention of never occupying
it again.

Here, then, he is free from all worldly ties. From now on he can prepare
himself for baptism in silence and retreat. But still he must live somehow!
Augustin had more souls depending on him than ever: his son, his mother,
his brother, his cousins--a heavy burthen which he had been struggling
under for a long time. It is probable that once more Romanianus, who was
still in Milan, came to his assistance. It will be remembered that the
Maecenas of Thagaste had taken up warmly the plan of a lay monastery which
Augustin and his friends had lost their heads over, and he had promised
to subscribe a large sum. Augustin's retreat was a first step towards
realizing this plan in a new shape. Romanianus, no doubt, approved of
it. In any case, he asked Augustin to keep on giving lessons to his son
Licentius. Another young man, Trygetius, begged for the same favour.
Augustin therefore did not intend to give up his employment altogether. He
had changed, for the present at least, from a Government professor into a
private one.

This meant that he had a certain living. All he wanted now was a shelter.
A friend, a colleague, the grammarian Verecundus, graciously offered him
this. Verecundus thus repaid a favour which Augustin had quite recently
done him. It was at Augustin's request that Nebridius, who was a friend of
both, agreed to take over the classes of the grammarian, who was obliged
to go away. Although rich, full of talent, and very eager for peace and
solitude, Nebridius, simply out of good-nature, was willing to take the
place of Verecundus in his very modest employment. One cannot too much
admire the generosity and kindliness of these ancient and Christian
manners. In those days, friendship knew nothing of our narrow and shabby

Now Verecundus owned a country house just outside Milan, at Cassicium. He
suggested to Augustin to spend the vacation there, and even to live there
permanently with all his people, on condition of looking after the property
and keeping it up.

Attempts have been made to find traces of this hospitable dwelling where
the future monk of Thagaste and Hippo bade farewell to the world. Cassicium
has disappeared. The imagination is free to rebuild it fancifully in any
part of the rich country which lies about Milan. Still, if the youthful
Licentius has not yielded too much to metaphor in the verses wherein he
recalls to Augustin "Departed suns among Italian mountain-heights," it is
likely that the estate of Verecundus lay upon those first mountain-slopes
which roll into the Brianza range. Even to-day, the rich Milanese have
their country houses among those hills.

To Augustin and his companions this flourishing Lombardy must have seemed
another promised land. The country, wonderfully fertile and cultivated,
is one orchard, where fruit trees cluster, and, in all ways, deep streams
wind, slow-flowing and stocked with fish. Everywhere is the tremor of
running water--inconceivably fresh music for African ears. A scent of mint
and aniseed; fields with grass growing high and straight in which you
plunge up to the knees. Here and there, deeply engulfed little valleys
with their bunches of green covert, slashed with the rose plumes of the
lime trees and the burnished leaves of the hazels, and where already the
northern firs lift their black needles. Far off, blended in one violet
mass, the Alps, peak upon peak, covered with snow; and nearer in view,
sheer cliffs, jutting fastnesses, ploughed through with black gorges which
make flare out plainer the bronze-gold of their slopes. Not far off, the
enchanted lakes slumber. It seems that an emblazonment fluctuates from
their waters, and writhing above the crags which imprison them drifts
athwart a sky sometimes a little chill--Leonardo's pensive sky of shadowed
amethyst--again of a flushed blue, whereupon float great clouds, silken
and ruddy, as in the backgrounds of Veronese's pictures. The beauty of the
light lightens and beautifies the over-heavy opulence of the land.

And wherever the country house of Verecundus may be placed, some bit of
this triumphal landscape will be found. As for the house itself, Augustin
has said enough about it for us to see it fairly well. It was no doubt one
of those old rustic buildings, inhabited only some few months of the year,
in the warmest season, and for the rest of the time given over to the
frolics of mice and rats. Without any pretence to architectural form, it
had been enlarged and renovated simply for the greater convenience of those
who lived there. There was no attempt at symmetry; the main door was not in
the middle of the building, and there was another door on one of the sides.
The sole luxury of this country house was perhaps the bath-houses. These
baths, however simple they might be, nevertheless reminded Augustin of
the decoration of gymnasiums. Does this mean that he found there rich
pavements, mosaics, and statues? These were quite usual things in Roman
villas. The Italians have always had, at all periods, a great fondness
for statues and mosaics. Not very particular about the quality, they made
up for it by the quantity. And when they could not treat themselves to
the real thing, it was good enough to give themselves the make-believe in
painting. I can imagine easily enough Verecundus' house, painted in fresco
from top to bottom, inside and out, like those houses at Pompeii, or the
modern Milanese villas.

There was no attempt at ornamental gardens at Cassicium. The surroundings
must have been kitchen-garden, grazing-land, or ploughed fields, as in
a farm. A meadow--not in the least the lawns found in front of a large
country house--lay before the dwelling, which was protected from sun and
wind by clumps of chestnut trees. There, stretched on the grass under the
shade of one of these spreading trees, they chatted gaily while listening
to the broken song of the brook, as it flowed under the windows of the
baths. They lived very close to nature, almost the life of field-tillers.
The whole charm of Cassicium consisted in its silence, its peace, and,
above all, its fresh air. Augustin's tired lungs breathed there a purer air
than in Milan, where the humid summer heat is crushing. His soul, yearning
for retirement, discovered a retreat here in harmony with his new desires,
a country solitude of which the Virgilian grace still appealed to his
literary imagination. The days he passed there were days of blessedness for
him. Long afterwards he was deeply moved when he recalled them, and in an
outburst of gratitude towards his host, he prayed God to pay him his debt.
"Thou wilt recompense him, O Lord, on the day of the resurrection of the
just.... For that country house at Cassicium where we found shelter in Thee
from the burning summer of our time, Thou wilt repay to Verecundus the
coolness and evergreen shade of Thy paradise...."

That was an unequalled moment in Augustin's life. Following immediately
upon the mental crisis which had even worn out his body, he seems to be
experiencing the pleasure of convalescence. He slackens, and, as he says
himself, he rests. His excitement is quenched, but his faith remains
as firm as ever. With a cairn and supremely lucid mind he judges his
condition; he sees clearly all that he has still to do ere he becomes a
thorough Christian. First, he must grow familiar with the Scripture, solve
certain urgent questions--that of the soul, for example, its nature and
origin--which possessed him just then. Then he must change his conduct,
alter his ways of thought, and, if one may so speak, disinfect his mind
still all saturated with pagan influences: a delicate work--yes, and an
uneasy, at times even painful, which would take more than one day.

After twenty centuries of Christianity, and in spite of our claim to
understand all things, we do not yet realize very well what an abyss
lies between us and paganism. When by chance we come upon pagan traces
in certain primitive regions of the South of Europe, we get muddled, and
attribute to Catholicism what is but a survival of old abolished customs,
so far from us that we cannot recognize them any more. Augustin, on the
contrary, was right next to them. When he strolled over the fields and
through the woods around Cassicium, the Fauns and woodland Nymphs of the
old mythology haunted his memory, and all but stood before his eyes. He
could not take a walk without coming upon one of their chapels, or striking
against a boundary-mark still all greasy from the oil with which the
superstitious peasants had drenched it. Like himself, the old pagan land
had not yet quite put on the Christ of the new era. He was like that Hermes
Criophorus, who awkwardly symbolized the Saviour on the walls of the
Catacombs. Even as the Bearer of Rams changed little by little into the
Good Shepherd, the Bishop of Hippo emerged slowly from the rhetorician

He became aware of it during that languid autumn at Cassicium--that autumn
heavy with all the rotting of summer, but which already promised the
great winter peace. The yellow leaves of the chestnuts were heaped by the
roadside. They fell in the brook which flowed near the baths, and the
slowed water ceased to sing. Augustin strained his ears for it. His soul
also was blocked, choked up by all the deposit of his passions. But he knew
that soon the chant of his new life would begin in triumphal fashion, and
he said over to himself the words of the psalm: _Cantate mihi canticum
novum_--"Sing unto me a new song."

Unfortunately for Augustin, his soul and its salvation was not his only
care at Cassicium: he had a thousand others. So it shall be with him
throughout his life. Till the very end he will long for solitude, for the
life in God, and till the end God will charge him with the care of his
brethren. This great spirit shall live above all by charity.

At the house of Verecundus he was not only the head, but he had a complete
country estate to direct and supervise. Probably all the guests in the
house helped him. They divided the duties. The good Alypius, who was used
to business and versed in the twisted ways of the law, took over the
foreign affairs--the buying and selling, probably the accounts also. He was
continually on the road to Milan. Augustin attended to the correspondence,
and every morning appointed their work to the farm-labourers. Monnica
looked after the household, no easy work in a house where nine sat down to
table every day. But the Saint fulfilled her humble duties with touching
kindness and forgetfulness of self: "She took care of us," says Augustin,
"as if we had all been her children, and she served us as if each of us had
been her father."

Let us look a little at these "children" of Monnica. Besides Alypius, whom
we know already, there was the young Adeodatus, the child of sin--"my son
Adeodatus, whose gifts gave promise of great things, unless my love for
him betrays me." Thus speaks his father. This little boy was, it seems,
a prodigy, as shall be the little Blaise Pascal later: "His intelligence
filled me with awe"--_horrori mihi erat illud ingenium_--says the father
again. What is certain is that he had a soul like an angel. Some sayings
of his have been preserved by Augustin. They are fragrant as a bunch of

The other members of the family are nearer the earth. Navigius, Augustin's
brother, an excellent man of whom we know nothing save that he had a bad
liver--the icterus of the African colonist--and that on this account he
abstained from sweetmeats. Rusticus and Lastidianus, the two cousins,
persons as shadowy as the "supers" in a tragedy. Finally, Augustin's
pupils, Trygetius and Licentius. The first, who had lately served some time
in the army, was passionately fond of history, "like a veteran." Although
his master in some of his Dialogues has made him his interlocutor, his
character remains for us undeveloped. With Licentius it is different. This
son of Romanianus, the Maecenas of Thagaste, was Augustin's beloved pupil.
It is easy to make that out. All the phrases he devotes to Licentius have a
warmth of tone, a colour and relief which thrill.

This Licentius comes before us as the type of the spoiled child, the son of
a wealthy family, capricious, vain, presuming, unabashed, never hesitating
if he sees a chance to have a joke with his master. Forgetful, besides,
prone to sudden fancies, superficial, and rather blundering. With all
that, the best boy in the world--a bad head, but a good heart. He was a
frank pagan, and I believe remained a pagan all his life, in spite of the
remonstrances of Augustin and those of the gentle Paulinus of Nola, who
lectured him in prose and verse. A great eater and a fine drinker, he
found himself obliged to do penance at St. Monnica's rather frugal table.
But when the fever of inspiration took hold of him, he forgot eating and
drinking, and in his poetical thirst he would would have drained--so his
master says--all the fountains of Helicon. Licentius had a passion for
versifying: "He is an almost perfect poet," wrote Augustin to Romanianus.
The former rhetorician knew the world, and the way to talk to the father
of a wealthy pupil, especially if he is your benefactor. At Cassicium,
under Augustin's indulgent eyes, the pupil turned into verse the romantic
adventure of Pyramus and Thisbe. He declaimed bits of it to the guests
in the house, for he had a fine loud voice. Then he flung aside the
unfinished poem and suddenly fell in love with Greek tragedies of which,
as it happened, he understood nothing at all, though this did not prevent
him from boring everybody he met with them. Another day it was the Church
music, then quite new, which flung him into enthusiasm. That day they heard
Licentius singing canticles from morning till night.

In connection with this, Augustin relates with candid freedom an anecdote
which to-day needs the indulgence of the reader to make it acceptable. As
it gives light upon that half-pagan, half-Christian way of life which was
still Augustin's, I will repeat it in all its plainness.

It happened, then, one evening after dinner, that Licentius went out and
took his way to a certain mysterious retreat, and there he suddenly began
singing this verse of the Psalm: "Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause
Thy face to shine; and we shall be saved." As a matter of fact, he had
hardly sung anything else for a long time. He kept on repeating this verse
over and over again, as people do with a tune they have just picked up. But
the pious Monnica, who heard him, could not tolerate the singing of such
holy words in such a place. She spoke sharply to the offender. Upon this
the young scatter-brains answered rather flippantly:

"Supposing, good mother, that an enemy had shut me up in that place--do you
mean to say that God wouldn't have heard me just the same?"

The next day he thought no more about it, and when Augustin reminded him,
he declared that he felt no remorse.

"As far as I am concerned," replied the excellent master, "I am not in the
least shocked by it.... The truth is, that neither that place, which has
so much scandalized my mother, nor the darkness of night, is altogether
inappropriate to this canticle. For whence, think you, do we implore God
to drag us, so that we may be converted and gaze upon His face? Is it not
from that jakes of the senses wherein our souls are plunged, and from that
darkness of which the error is around us?..."

And as they were discussing that day the order established by Providence,
Augustin made it a pretext to give a little edifying lecture to his pupil.
Having heard the sermon to the end, the sharp Licentius put in with sly

"I say, what a splendid arrangement of events to shew me that nothing
happens except in the best way, and for our great good!"

This reply gives us the tone of the conversation between Augustin and
his pupils. Nevertheless, however free and merry the talks might be, the
purpose was always instructive, and it was always substantial. Let us not
forget that the Milanese rhetorician is still a professor. The best part of
his days was devoted to these two youths who had been put under his charge.
As soon as he had settled the business of the farm, talked to the peasants,
and given his orders to the workmen, he fell back upon his business of
rhetorician. In the morning they went over Virgil's _Eclogues_ together. At
night they discussed philosophy. When the weather was fine they walked in
the fields, and the discussion continued under the shade of the chestnut
trees. If it rained, they took refuge in the withdrawing-room adjoining the
baths. Beds were there, cushions, soft chairs convenient for talking, and
the equal temperature from the vapour-baths close at hand was good for
Augustin's bronchial tubes.

There is no stiffness in these dialogues, nothing which smacks of the
school. The discussion starts from things which they had under the eyes,
often from some slight accidental happening. One night when Augustin could
not sleep--he often suffered from insomnia--the dispute began in bed, for
the master and his pupils slept in the same room. Lying there in the dark,
he listened to the broken murmur of the stream. He was trying to think out
an explanation of the pauses in the sound, when Licentius shifted under the
bedclothes, and reaching out for a piece of stick lying on the floor, he
rapped with it on the foot of the bed to frighten the mice. So he was not
asleep either, nor Trygetius, who was stirring about in his bed. Augustin
was delighted: he had two listeners. Immediately he put this question: "Why
do those pauses come in the flow of the stream? Do they not follow some
secret law?..." They had hit upon a subject for debate. During many days
they discussed the order of the world.

Another time, as they were going into the baths, they stopped to look
at two cocks fighting. Augustin called the attention of the youths "to
a certain order full of propriety in all the movements of these fowls
deprived of reason."

"Look at the conqueror," said he. "He crows triumphantly. He struts and
plumes himself as a proud sign of victory. And now look at the beaten one,
without voice, his neck unfeathered, a look of shame. All that has I know
not what beauty, in harmony with the laws of nature...."

New argument in favour of order: the debate of the night before is started
rolling again.

For us, too, it is well worth while to pause on this little homely scene.
It reveals to us an Augustin not only very sensitive to beauty, but very
attentive to the sights of the world surrounding him. Cockfights were still
very popular in this Roman society at the ending of the Empire. For a long
time sculptors had found many gracious subjects in the sport. Reading this
passage of Augustin's, one recalls, among other similar designs, that
funeral urn at the Lateran upon which are represented two little boys, one
crying over his beaten cock, while the other holds his tenderly in his
arms and kisses it--the cock that won, identified by the crown held in its

Augustin is always very close to these humble realities. Every moment
outside things start up in the dialogues between the master and his
pupils.... They are in bed on a rainy night in November. Gradually, a vague
gleam rests on the windows. They ask each other if that can be the moon, or
the break of day.... Another time, the sun rises in all its splendour, and
they decide to go into the meadow and sit on the grass. Or else, the sky
darkens and lights are brought in. Or again, it is the appearance of
diligent Alyphis, just come back from Milan....

In the same way as he notes these light details in passing, Augustin
welcomes all his guests into his dialogues and admits them to the debate:
his mother, his brother, the cousins, Alypius between his business
journeys, down to the child Adeodatus. He knew the value of ordinary good
sense, the second-sight of a pure heart, or of a pious soul strengthened by
prayer. Monnica used often to come into the room when they were arguing,
to let them know that dinner was ready, or for something of the kind. Her
son asked her to remain. Modestly she shewed her astonishment at such an

"Mother," said Augustin, "do you not love truth? Then why should I blush
to give you a place among us? Even if your love for truth were only
half-hearted, I ought still to receive you and listen to you. How much more
then, since you love it more than you love me, _and I know how much you
love me_.... Nothing can separate you from truth, neither fear, nor pain
of whatever kind it be--no, nor death itself. Do not all agree that this
is the highest stage of philosophy? How can I hesitate after that to call
myself your disciple?"

And Monnica, utterly confused by such praise, answered with affectionate

"Stop talking! You have never told bigger lies."

Most of the time these conversations were simply dialectic games in the
taste of the period, games a little pedantic, and fatiguing from subtilty.
The boisterous Licentius did not always enjoy himself. He was often
inattentive; and his master scolded him. But all the same, the master
understood how to amuse his two foster-children while he exercised their
intelligence. At the end of one discussion he said to them laughing:

"Just at this hour, the sun warns me to put the playthings I had brought
for the children back in the basket...."

Let us remark in passing that this is the last time, before those
centuries which are coming of universal intellectual silence or arid
scholasticism--the last time that high questions will be discussed in this
graceful light way, and with the same freedom of mind. The tradition begun
by Socrates under the plane-trees on the banks of the Ilissus, is ending
with Augustin under the chestnuts of Cassicium.

And yet, however gay and capricious the form, the substance of these
dialogues, "On the Academics," "On Order," and "On the Happy Life," is
serious, and even very serious. The best proof of their importance in
Augustin's eyes is, that after taking care to have them reported in
shorthand, he eventually published them. The _notarii_ attended these
discussions and let nothing be lost. The rise of the scrivener, of the
notary, dates from this period. The administration of the Lower-Empire was
frightfully given to scribbling. By contact with it, the Church became so
too. Let us not press our complaints about it, since this craze for writing
has procured for us, with a good deal of shot-rubbish, some precious
historical documents. In Augustin's case, these reports of his lectures at
Cassicium have at least the value of shewing us the state of soul of the
future Bishop of Hippo at a decisive moment of his life.

For these _Dialogues_, although they look like school exercises, reveal the
intimate thoughts of Augustin on the morrow of his conversion. While he
seems to be refuting the Academics, he is fighting the errors from which
he, personally, had suffered so long. He clarified his new ideal. No; the
search for truth, without hope of ever reaching it, cannot give happiness.
And genuine happiness is only in God. And if a rhythm is to be found in
things, then it is necessary to make the soul rhythmic also and so enable
it to contemplate God. It is necessary to still within it the noise of the
passions. Hence, the need of inward reformation, and, at a final analysis,
of asceticism.

But Augustin knew full well that these truths must be adapted to the
weakness of the two lads he was teaching, and also to the common run of
mankind. He has not yet in these years the uncompromising attitude which
ere long will give him a sterner virtue--an attitude, however, unceasingly
tempered by his charity and by the persistent recollections of his reading.
It was now that he shaped the rule of conduct in worldly morals and
education which the Christian experience of the future will adopt: "If you
have always order in your hearts," he said to his pupils, "you must return
to your verses. _For a knowledge of liberal sciences, but a controlled and
exact knowledge_, forms men who will love the truth.... But there are other
men, or, to put it better, other souls, who, although held in the body, are
sought for the eternal marriage by the best and fairest of spouses. For
these souls it is not enough to live; they wish to live happy.... But as
for you, go, _meanwhile_, and find your Muses!"

"Go and find your Muses!" What a fine saying! How human and how wise! Here
is clearly indicated the double ideal of those who continue to live in the
world according to the Christian law of restraint and moderation, and of
those who yearn to live in God. With Augustin the choice is made. He will
never more look back. These Dialogues at Cassicium are his supreme farewell
to the pagan Muse.



They stayed through the winter at Cassicium. However taken up he might be
by the work of the estate and the care of his pupils, Augustin devoted
himself chiefly to the great business of his salvation.

The _Soliloquies_, which he wrote then, render even the passionate tone of
the meditations which he perpetually gave way to during his watches and
nights of insomnia. He searched for God, moaning: _Fac me, Pater, quaerere
te_--"Cause me to seek Thee, O my Father." But still, he sought Him more as
a philosopher than as a Christian. The old man in him was not dead. He had
not quite stripped off the rhetorician or the intellectual. The over-tender
heart remained, which had so much sacrificed to human love. In those ardent
dialogues between himself and his reason, it is plain to see that reason
is not quite the mistress. "I love only God and the soul," Augustin states
with a touch of presumption. And his reason, which knows him well, answers:
"Do you not then love your friends?"--"I love the soul; how therefore
should I not love them?" What does this phrase, of such exquisite
sensibility, and even already so aloof from worldly thoughts--what does
it lack to give forth a sound entirely Christian? Just a slight change of

He himself began to see that he would do better not to philosophize so much
and to draw nearer the Scripture, in listening to the wisdom of that with
a contrite and humble heart. Upon the directions of Ambrose, whose advice
he had asked by letter, he tried to read the prophet Isaiah, because
Isaiah is the clearest foreteller of the Redemption. He found the book so
difficult that he lost heart, and he put it aside till later. Meanwhile,
he had forwarded his resignation as professor of Rhetoric to the Milan
municipality. Then, when the time was come, he sent to Bishop Ambrose
a written confession of his errors and faults, and represented to him
his very firm intention to be baptized. He was quietly baptized on the
twenty-fifth of April, during the Easter season of the year 387, together
with his son Adeodatus, and his friend Alypius. Alypius had prepared most
piously, disciplining himself with the harshest austerities, to the point
of walking barefoot on the frozen soil.

So now the solitaries of Cassicium are back in Milan. Augustin's two pupils
were gone. Trygetius doubtless had rejoined the army. Licentius had gone
to live in Rome. But another fellow-countryman, an African from Thagaste,
Evodius, formerly a clerk in the Ministry of the Interior, came to join
the small group of new converts. Evodius, the future Bishop of Uzalis, in
Africa, and baptized before Augustin, was a man of scrupulous piety and
unquestioning faith. He talked of devout subjects with his friend, who,
just fresh from baptism, experienced all the quietude of grace. They spoke
of the community which St. Ambrose had either founded or organized at
the gates of Milan, and in comparison with a life so austere, Augustin
perceived that the life he had led at Cassicium was still stained with
paganism. He must carry out his conversion to the end and live as a hermit
after the manner of Antony and the solitaries of the Thebaid. Then it
occurred to him that he still owned a little property at Thagaste--a house
and fields. There they would settle and live in self-denial like the
monks. The purity of the young Adeodatus predestined him to this ascetic
existence. As for Monnica, who long since had taken the widow's veil, she
had to make no change in her ways to lead a saintly life in the company of
her son and grandson. It was agreed among them all to go back to Africa,
and to start as soon as possible.

Thus, just after his baptism, Augustin shews but one desire: to bury
himself in a retreat, to lead a humble and hidden life, divided between the
study of the Scripture and the contemplation of God. Later on, his enemies
were to accuse him of having become a convert from ambition, in view of the
honours and riches of the episcopate. This is sheer calumny. His conversion
could not have been more sincere, more disinterested--nor more heroic
either: he was thirty-three years old. When we think of all he had loved
and all he gave up, we can only bow the head and bend the knee before the
lofty virtue of such an example.

In the course of the summer the caravan started and crossed the Apennines
to set sail at Ostia. The date of this exodus has never been made quite
clear. Perhaps Augustin and his companions fled before the hordes of the
usurper Maximus, who, towards the end of August, crossed the Alps and
marched on Milan, while the young Valentinian with all his Court took
refuge at Aquileia. In any case, it was a trying journey, especially in the
hot weather. When Monnica arrived she was very enfeebled. At Ostia they had
to wait till a ship was sailing for Africa. Propitious conditions did not
offer every day. At this period, travellers were at the mercy of the sea,
of the wind, and of a thousand other circumstances. Time did not count; it
was wasted freely. The ship sailed short distances at a time, skirting the
coasts, where the length of the stay at every point touched depended on the
master. On board these ships--feluccas hardly decked over--if the crossing
was endless and unsafe, it was, above all, most uncomfortable. People were
in no hurry to undergo the tortures of it, and spaced them out as much
as possible by frequent stoppages. On account of all these reasons, our
Africans made a rather long stay at Ostia. They lodged, no doubt, with
Christian brethren, hosts of Augustin or Monnica, in a tranquil house far
out of earshot of the cosmopolitan crowd which overflowed in the hotels on
the quay.

Ostia, situated at the mouth of the Tiber, was both the port and
bond-warehouse of Rome. The Government stores-ships landed the African oil
and corn there. It was a junction for commerce, the point where immigrants
from all parts of the Mediterranean disbarked. To-day there is only left
a wretched little village. But at some distance from this hamlet, the
excavations of archaeologists have lately brought to light the remains of
a large town. They have discovered at the entrance a place of burial with
arcosol-tombs; and here perhaps the body of St. Monnica was laid. In this
place of graves they came upon also a beautiful statue injured--a funeral
Genius, or a Victory, with large folded wings like those of the Christian
angels. Further on, the forum with its shops, the guard-house of the
night-cohort, baths, a theatre, many large temples, arcaded streets paved
with large flags, warehouses for merchandise. There may still be seen,
lining the walls, the holes in which the ends of the amphorae used to be
dropped to keep them upright. All this wreckage gives an idea of a populous
centre where the stir of traffic and shipping was intense.

And yet in this noisy town, Augustin and his mother found means to withdraw
themselves and join together in meditation and prayer. Amid this rather
vulgar activity, in a noise of trade and seafaring, a mystic scene develops
where the purified love of mother and son gleams upon us as in a light of
apotheosis. They had at Ostia a foretaste, so to speak, of the eternal
union in God. This was in the house where they had come on arrival. They
talked softly, resting against a window which looked upon the garden....
But the scene has been made popular by Ary Scheffer's too well-known
painting. You remember it: two faces, pale, bloodless, stripped of flesh,
in which live only the burning eyes cast upward to the sky--a dense sky,
baffling, heavy with all the secrets of eternity. No visible object,
nothing, absolutely nothing, distracts them from their contemplation. The
sea itself, although indicated by the painter, almost blends into the
blue line of the horizon. Two souls and the sky--there you have the whole

It is living poetry congealed in abstract thought. The attitude of the
characters, majestically seated, instead of leaning on the window-ledge,
has, in Scheffer's picture, I know not what touch of stiffness, of slightly
theatrical. And the general impression is a cold dryness which contrasts
with the lyric warmth of the story in the _Confessions_.

For my part, I always thought, perhaps on the testimony of the picture,
that the window of the house at Ostia opened above the garden in view of
the sea. The sea, symbol of the infinite, ought to be present--so it seemed
to me--at the final conversation between Monnica and Augustin. At Ostia
itself I was obliged to give up this too literary notion; the sea is not
visible there. No doubt at that time the channel was not so silted up as it
is to-day. But the coast lies so low, that just hard by the actual mouth of
the Tiber, the nearness of the sea can only be guessed by the reflection of
the waves in the atmosphere, a sort of pearly halo, trembling on the edge
of the sky. At present I am inclined to think that the window of the house
at Ostia was very likely turned towards the vast melancholy horizon of the
_Agro Romano_. "We passed through, one after another," says Augustin, "all
the things of a material order, unto heaven itself." Is it not natural to
suppose that these things of a material order--these shapes of the earth
with its plantations, its rivers, towns, and mountains--were under their
eyes? The bleak spectacle which unrolled before their gaze agreed, at all
events, with the disposition of their souls.

This great desolate plain has nothing oppressive, nothing which retains
the eyes upon details too material. The colours about it are pale and
slight, as if on the point of swooning away. Immense sterile stretches,
fawn-coloured throughout, with here and there shining a little pink, a
little green; gorse, furze-bushes by the deep banks of the river, or a few
_boschetti_ with dusty leaves, which feebly stand out upon the blondness
of the soil. To the right, a pine forest. To the left, the undulations of
the Roman hills expire into an emptiness infinitely sad. Afar, the violet
scheme of the Alban mountains, with veiled and dream-like distances, shape
indefinitely against the pearl light, limpid and serene, of the sky.

Augustin and Monnica, resting on the window-ledge, looked forth. Doubtless
it was towards evening, at the hour when southern windows are thrown open
to the cool after a burning day. They looked forth. "We marvelled," says
Augustin, "at the beauty of Thy works, O my God!..." Rome was back there
beyond the hills, with its palaces, its temples, the gleam of its gilding
and its marbles. But the far-off image of the imperial city could not
conquer the eternal sadness which rises from the _Agro_. An air of funeral
loneliness lay above this plain, ready to be engulfed by the creeping
shadows. How easy it was to break free of these vain corporeal appearances
which decomposed of themselves! "Then," Augustin resumes, "we soared with
glowing hearts still higher." (He speaks as if he and his mother were risen
with equal flight to the vision. It is more probable that he was drawn
up by Monnica, long since familiar with the ways of the spirit, used to
visions, and to mystic talks with God....) Where was this God? All the
creatures, questioned by their anguished entreaty, answered: _Quaere super
nos_--"Seek above us!" They sought; they mounted higher and higher: "And
so we came to our own minds, and passed beyond them into the region of
unfailing plenty, where Thou feedest Israel for ever with the food of
truth.... And as we talked, and we strove eagerly towards this divine
region, _by a leap with the whole force of our hearts, we touched it for
an instant_.... Then we sighed, we fell back, and left there fastened the
first fruits of the Spirit, and heard again the babble of our own tongues,
this mortal speech wherein each word has a beginning and an ending."

"We fell back!" The marvellous vision had vanished. But a great silence was
about them, silence of things, silence of the soul. And they said to each

"If the tumult of the flesh were hushed; hushed these shadows of earth,
sea, sky; suppose this vision endured, and all other far inferior modes of
vision were taken away, and this alone were to ravish the beholder, and
absorb him, and plunge him in mystic joy, so that eternal life might be
like this moment of comprehension which has made us sigh with Love--might
not that be the fulfilment of 'Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord'? Ah,
when shall this be? Shall it not be, O my God, when we rise again among the

Little by little they came down to earth. The dying colours of the
sunset-tide smouldered into the white mists of the _Agro_. The world
entered into night. Then Monnica, impelled by a certain presentiment, said
to Augustin:

"My son, as for me, I find no further pleasure in life. What I am still to
do, or why I still linger here, I know not.... There was only one thing
made me want to tarry a little longer in this life, that I might see you a
Christian and a Catholic before I died. My God has granted me this boon far
beyond what I hoped for. So what am I doing here?"

She felt it; her work was done. She had exhausted, as Augustin says, all
the hope of the century--_consumpta spe saeculi_. For her the parting was
near. This ecstasy was that of one dying, who has raised a corner of the
veil, and who no longer belongs to this world.

* * * * *

And, in fact, five or six days later she fell ill. She had fever. The
climate of Ostia bred fevers, as it does to-day, and it was always
unsanitary on account of all the foreigners who brought in every infection
of the Orient. Furthermore, the weariness of a long journey in summer had
worn out this woman, old before her time. She had to go to bed. Soon she
got worse, and then lost consciousness. They believed she was in the agony.
They all came round her bed--Augustin, his brother Navigius, Evodius, the
two cousins from Thagaste, Rusticus, and Lastidianus. But suddenly she
shuddered, raised herself, and asked in a bewildered way:

"Where was I?"

Then, seeing the grief on their faces, she knew that she was lost, and she
said in a steady voice:

"You will bury your mother here."

Navigius, frightened by this sight of death, protested with all his
affection for her:

"No. You will get well, mother. You will come home again. You won't die in
a foreign land."

She looked at him with sorrowful eyes, as if hurt that he spoke so little
like a Christian, and turning to Augustin:

"See how he talks," she said.

And after a silence, she went on in a firmer voice, as if to impress on her
sons her final wishes:

"Lay this body where you will, and be not anxious about it. Only I beseech
you, remember me at the altar of God, wherever you are."

That was the supreme renunciation. How could an African woman, so much
attached to her country, agree to be buried in a stranger soil? Pagan
notions were still very strong in this community, and the place of burial
was an important consideration. Monnica, like all other widows, had settled
upon hers. At Thagaste she had had her place prepared beside her husband
Patricius. And here now she appeared to give that up. Augustin's companions
were astonished at such abnegation. As for himself, he marvelled at the
completeness of the change worked in his mother's soul by Grace. And as he
thought over all the virtues of her life, the strength of her faith--from
that moment, he had no doubt that she was a saint.

She still lingered for some time. Finally, on the ninth day of her illness,
she died at the age of fifty-six.

Augustin closed her eyes. A great sorrow surged into his heart. And yet he
who was so quick to tears had the courage not to cry.... Suddenly a noise
of weeping rose in the room of death: it was the young Adeodatus, who
lamented at the sight of the corpse. He sobbed in such a heartbroken way
that those who were there, demoralized by the distress of it, were obliged
to rebuke him. This struck Augustin so deeply, that many years afterwards
the broken sound of this sobbing still haunted his ears. "Methought," he
says, "that it was my own childish soul which thus broke out in the weeping
of my son." As for him, with the whole effort of his reason struggling
against his heart, he only wanted to think of the glory which the saint
had just entered into. His companions felt likewise. Evodius caught up a
psalter, and before Monnica's body, not yet cold, he began to chant the
Psalm, "My song shall be of mercy and judgment; unto Thee, O Lord, will I
sing." All who were in the house took up the responses.

In the meantime, while the layers-out were preparing the corpse for burial,
the brethren drew Augustin into another room. His friends and relations
stood round him. He consoled the others and himself. He spoke, as the
custom was, upon the deliverance of the faithful soul and the happiness
which is promised. They might have imagined that he had no sense of grief,
"But in Thy hearing, O my God, where none of them could hear, I was chiding
the softness of my heart, and holding back the tide of sorrow.... Alas!
well did I know what I was choking down in my heart."

Not even at the church, where the sacrifice was offered for Monnica's
soul, nor at the cemetery before the coffin, did he weep. From a sense of
Christian seemliness, he feared to scandalize his brethren by imitating
the desolation of the pagans and of those who die without hope. But this
very effort that he made to keep back his tears became another cause of
suffering. The day ended in a black sadness, a sadness he could not shake
off. It stifled him. Then he remembered the Greek proverb--"The bath
drives away sorrow;" and he determined to go and bathe. He went into the
_tepidarium_ and stretched himself out on the hot slab. Useless remedy!
"The bitterness of my trouble was not carried from my heart with the sweat
that flowed from my limbs." The attendants rolled him in warm towels and
led him to the resting-couch. Worn out by tiredness and so many emotions,
he fell into a heavy sleep. The next day, upon awaking, a fresh briskness
was in all his being. Some verses came singing into his memory; they were
the first words of the confident and joyous hymn of St. Ambrose:

"Creator of the earth and sky,
Ruling the firmament on high,
Clothing the day with robes of light,
Blessing with gracious sleep the night,--

That rest may comfort weary men
To face their usual toil again,
And soothe awhile the harassed mind,
And sorrow's heavy load unbind."

Suddenly, at the word _sorrow_, the thought of his dead mother came back
to him, with the regret for that kind heart he had lost. A wave of despair
overwhelmed him. He flung himself sobbing on the bed, and at last wept all
the tears he had pent up so long.



Almost a year went by before Augustin continued his journey. It is hard to
account for this delay. Why should he thus put off his return to Africa, he
who was so anxious to fly the world?

It is likely that Monnica's illness, the arrangements about her funeral,
and other matters to settle, kept him at Ostia till the beginning of
winter. The weather became stormy, the sea dangerous. Navigation was
regularly interrupted from November--sometimes even earlier, from the
first days of October, if the tempests and the equinox were exceptionally
violent. It would then be necessary to wait till spring. Besides, word
came that the fleet of the usurper Maximus, then at war with Theodosius,
blockaded the African coast. Travellers ran the risk of being captured by
the enemy. From all these reasons, Augustin would be prevented from sailing
before the end of the following summer. In the meantime, he went to live in
Rome. He employed his leisure to work up a case against the Manichees, his
brethren of the day before. Once he had adopted Catholicism, he must have
expected passionate attacks from his former brothers in religion. To close
their mouths, he gathered against them an elaborate mass of documents,
bristling with the latest scandals. He busied himself also with a
thorough study of their doctrines, the better to refute them: in him the
dialectician never slept. Then, when he had an opportunity, he visited the
Roman monasteries, studying their rule and organization, so as to decide on
a model for the convent which he always intended to establish in his own
country. At last, he went back to Ostia some time in August or September,
388, where he found a ship bound for Carthage.

Book of the day: