St Augustine Conversion to Monastic Life and Ordination
Help came in a curious way. A countryman of his, Pontitianus, visited him and
told him things which he had never heard about the monastic life and the
wonderful conquests over self which had been won under its inspiration.
Augustine's pride was touched; that the unlearned should take the kingdom of heaven by violence, while he with all his learning was still held captive by the flesh, seemed unworthy of him.
When Pontitianus had gone, with a few vehement words to Alypius, he went hastily with him into the garden to fight out this new problem. Then followed the scene so often described. Overcome by his conflicting emotions he left Alypius and threw himself down under a fig-tree in tears. From a neighboring house came a child's voice repeating again and again the simple words Tolle, lege,
"Take up and read." It seemed to him a heavenly indication;
he picked up the copy of St. Paul's epistles which he had left where he and
Alypius had been sitting, and opened at Romans xiii. When he came to the words,
"Let us walk honestly as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in
chambering and wantonness," it seemed to him that a decisive message had been
sent to his own soul, and his resolve was taken.
Alypius found a word for himself a few lines further, " Him that is weak in the faith receive ye;" and together they went into the house to bring the good news to Monnica. This was at the end of the summer of 386.
Augustine, intent on breaking wholly with his old life, gave up his position,
and wrote to Ambrose to ask for baptism. The months which intervened between
that summer and the Easter of the following year, at which, according to the
early custom, he intended to receive the sacrament, were spent in delightful
calm at a country-house, put at his disposal by one of his friends, at
Cassisiacum (Casciago, 47 m. n. by w. of Alilan).
Here Monnica Alypius, Adeodatus, and some of his pupils kept him company, and he still lectured on Vergil to them and held philosophic discussions.
The whole party returned to
Milan before Easter (387), and Augustine, with Alypius and Adeodatus, was
baptized. Plans were then made for returning to Africa; but these were upset by
the death of Monnica, which took place at Ostia as they were preparing to cross
the sea, and has been described by her devoted son in one of the most tender and
beautiful passages of the Conlessiones.
Augustine remained at least another year in Italy, apparently in Rome, living the same quiet life which he had led at Cassisiacum, studying and writing, in company with his countryman Evodius, later bishop of Uzalis.
Here, where he had been most closely associated with the
Manicheans, his literary warfare with them naturally began; and he was also
writing on free will, though this book was only finished at Hippo in 391. In the
autumn of 388, passing through Carthage, he returned to Thagaste, a far
different man from the Augustine who had left it five years before.
Alypius was still with him, and also Adeodatus, who died young, we do not know when or where. Here Augustine and his friends again took up a quiet, though not yet in any sense a monastic, life in common, and pursued their favorite studies. About the beginning of 391, having found a friend in Hippo to help in the foundation of what he calls a monastery, he sold his inheritance, and was ordained presbyter in response to a general demand, though not without misgivings on his own part.
The years which he spent in the presbyterate (391-395) are the last of his
formative period. The very earliest works which fall within the time of his
episcopate show us the fully developed theologian of whose special teaching we
think when we speak of Augustinianism.
There is little externally noteworthy in these four years. He took up active work not later than the Easter of 391, when we find him preaching to the candidates for baptism. The plans for a monastic community which had brought him to Hippo were now realized.
In a garden given for the purpose by the bishop, Valerius, he founded his monastery, which seems to have been the first in Africa, and is of especial significance because it maintained a clerical school and thus made a connecting link between monasticis and the secular clergy.
Other details of this period are that he appealed to Aurelius, bishop of Carthage, to suppress the custom of holding banquets and entertainments in the churches, and by 395 had succeeded, through his courageous eloquence, in abolishing it in Hippo; that in 392 a public disputation took place between him and a Manichean presbyter of Hippo, Fortunatus; that his treatise De fide et symbols was prepared to be read before the council held at Hippo October 8, 393; and that after that he was in Carthage for a while, perhaps in connection with the synod held there in 394.
Extract from St Augustine IEP 2001 Ref url: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/a/augustin.htm
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