Augustine & Conversion

Tomorrow, April 24, my community will be celebrating the Conversion of Saint Augustine. As some of you know, I am an Augustinian Friar, and we, as well as many other Religious Orders, have a calendar of unique Feasts. April 24 commemorates Augustine’s conversion, as perhaps any conversion ought to mark celebration (Luke 15:7). Historically, April 24 would have more likely marked Augustine’s actual Baptism at the Easter Vigil, rather then his conversion in the garden.

The scene is described in his Confessions VIII.29 (St Augustine Confessions transl. Maria Boulding OSB, New City Press, New York, 2001).

I went on… weeping in the intense bitterness of my broken heart. Suddenly I heard a voice from a house nearby–perhaps a voice of some boy or girl, I do not know–singing over and over again, “Pick it up and read, pick it up and read.” … I stemmed the flood of tears and rose to my feet, believing that this could be nothing other than a divine command to open the Book and read the first passage I chanced upon… Stung into action, I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting, for on leaving it I had put down there the book of the apostle’s letters. I snatched it up, opened it and read in silence the passage on which my eyes first lighted: Not in dissipation and drunkenness, nor in debauchery and lewdness, nor in arguing and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh or the gratification of your desires (Rom 13:13-14). I had no wish to read further, nor was there need. No sooner had I reached the end of the verse than the light of certainty flooded my heart and all dark shades of doubt fled away.

Augustine’s Three Stages of Conversion

Augustine analyzes Conversion in his exegesis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This is, no doubt, highly informed by his own experience of conversion, as well as his mastery of rhetorical skill. Augustine describes the three stages of conversion, as 1) aversio: a wandering from home, 2) perversio: a immersion in sin and wickedness, and finally 3) conversion.

The Latin term of Conversion that Augustine would have been familiar with would have a very dynamic connotation. Conversion implies an orientation and redirecting oneself to something specific. In this case, it would have been a precise redirected movement toward God. Conversion would not have been a merely adopting a new philosophical disposition, or identifying oneself with a new religious outlook. Conversion would not have been so clearly fixed.

Likewise, the stages leading to conversion, would have dynamically drawn one away from the good path, into sin, and eventually into eternal condemnation. Because Augustine always saw God’s hand reaching out and through all of his own perversion, it was God’s love and mercy which interrupted eternal condemnation. By this mercy, the sinner has a return.

Despite the lavish recounts of Augustine’s story, he still admits that his mother taught him about Jesus from his youth. As was common at that time, his baptism was postponed, and eventually avoided. It would be hard to say Augustine was ever much of a disciple, but it would be hard to claim that he started out as a pagan. He, like many of today’s young Catholics, did wander from the faith his parent desired to raise him in.

Aversio or Perversio?

Maybe Augustine’s scale might be helpful for people in measuring where some people are. Maybe some people are so immersed, if not trapped, in sin that sharing Good News is really hard. Perhaps they are more wanderers. Perhaps they are young, Catholic, and only beginning to curiously desire to wander.

Augustine never attempted to deliver a foolproof plan to minister to people in these states. His conversion itself is an invaluable witness, as well as a resource to all Christian Disciples. If Augustine were to comment, I believe he would point explicitly to God’s grace and love which overwhelm our wretchedness and sinfulness. Further, I believe that Augustine would direct us to the Sacraments, where we directly encounter God’s love and grace.

Augustine as Resource

Although I am highlighting Augustine’s Conversion, and implying that his Confession are the most significant resource for us to have, I would suggest an even better resource. Augustine wrote his Confessions for a limited audience, and it would eventually find the largest audience.

Augustine delivered his Sermons for a larger audience, and over the ages became limited to an exclusive group. Whereas Augustine’s Confessions may have been more scholarly, it certainly has popular appeal. While Augustine’s Sermons were meant for the people, and were certainly popular at the time, Augustine’s Sermons have, over time, become more a resource for scholars.

I highly recommend that Disciples and Evangelists become familiar with Augustine’s Sermons, because in them, you will find him speak to us.

Copyright © 2013, Mark Menegatti

Mark Menegatti

Mark Menegatti

Brother Mark Menegatti is a Friar with the Order of Saint Augustine. He is a hip hop beatmaker & lyricist for the New Evangelization. Under the patronage of Saint Ephrem of Syria, he integrates theology, mysticism, and hip hop in his blog and in all of his music. He is currently in his fourth year of Theology in Chicago, and looks forward to ordination to the Priesthood. You can find his writings, theological reflections, chastity exhortations, and original music on his tumblr. He’s also found at Bandcamp music page, Twitter, and Facebook.

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