“Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”
St. Ambrose baptising St. Augustine
Benozzo Gozzoli (1464-65)
Today is the feast day of St. Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria) and Doctor of the Church. Not only is Augustine considered one of the most intelligent men to ever have lived, but also the most influential among the Early Church Fathers. His writings (of which his most important works are ‘City of God’ and ‘Confessions’) and his numerous sermons, containing a clear vision of theological anthropology, were of enormous importance in the development of Western Christianity.
Augustine had been brought up a Christian, but his sins of impurity and pride had darkened his mind so much, that he could not see or understand the Divine Truth anymore. After many years of leading a dissolute life, resisting each stirring of renewed faith in his heart, his deeply debated discussions with the great St. Ambrose finally broke his resistance. His Baptism was performed by St. Ambrose in Milan in 387. This excerpt from his great work, ‘Confessions’, vividly describes his troubled soul before his conversion:
“I was greatly disturbed in spirit, angry at myself with a turbulent indignation because I had not entered thy will and covenant, O my God, while all my bones cried out to me to enter, extolling it to the skies. The way therein is not by ships or chariots or feet – indeed it was not as far as I had come from the house to the place where we were seated. For to go along that road and indeed to reach the goal is nothing else but the will to go. But it must be a strong and single will, not staggering and swaying about this way and that – a changeable, twisting, fluctuating will, wrestling with itself while one part falls as another rises…
I was weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which – coming from the neighbouring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. …
So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book [Paul's letter to the Romans] when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”[Romans 13:13] I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”
St. Augustine in his study – Sandro Botticelli (1480)
Augustine’s life changed completely and abruptly after his conversion. He worked tirelessly, with growing fervour against the heresies of his time and to bring all men to the Truth of Christ and the Church. He was made Bishop of Hippo and was greatly loved and sought after by his flock to whom he attended with great charity. The great love of God, which burned in his heart, caused him to repent unceasingly of the iniquities of his past life. He therefore often exclaimed with a sorrowful heart: “Too late have I known thee; too late have I loved thee, thou Beauty ever ancient, and ever new! O unhappy time in which I did not love thee!” This repentance continued until his death, which took place in his 76th year.
“Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom. And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee. Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to invoke thee or to praise thee; whether first to know thee or call upon thee. But who can invoke thee, knowing thee not? For he who knows thee not may invoke thee as another than thou art. It may be that we should invoke thee in order that we may come to know thee. But “how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?”Now, “they shall praise the Lord who seek him,” for “those who seek shall find him,” and, finding him, shall praise him. I will seek thee, O Lord, and call upon thee. I call upon thee, O Lord, in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through the ministry of thy preacher.”
With his hope set on his Heavenly home, and despite the turbulent troubled times he lived through during his final years, he was able to say:
“I look forward, not to what lies ahead of me in this life and will surely pass away, but to my eternal goal. I am intent upon this one purpose, not distracted by other aims, and with this goal in view I press on, eager for the prize, God’s heavenly summons. Then I shall listen to the sound of Your praises and gaze at Your beauty ever present, never future, never past. But now my years are but sighs. You, O Lord, are my only solace. You, my Father, are eternal. But I am divided between time gone by and time to come, and its course is a mystery to me. My thoughts, the intimate life of my soul, are torn this way and that in the havoc of change. And so it will be until I am purified and melted by the fire of Your love and fused into one with You.”