The sixth chapter of the Confessions is particularly helpful in understanding St. Augustine’s spiritual growth. Here, shedding his adherence to ascetic isolation, Augustine contends that a spiritually fulfilling life is possible both in the presence of God as well as in the company of people. Thus, Augustine’s outwardly ‘selfish’ pursuit of God “charitably benefited others while also exposing the deficiencies of humans to love. This, in turn, led him back to the presence of God for genuine satisfaction.” (Smither, 2007) It is interesting to look at Augustine’s philosophical antecedents in the lead up to his conversion in 386 A.D. Prior to this period he and his close friends tried living a ‘happy life’ as a community in Milan (Chadwick, 2008). It is a sign of his inner strength and conviction that despite the failure in Milan, he initiated similar philosophical and spiritual communities at Cassiciacum numerous other towns in the months preceding his baptism in 387. In this communal context “of pursuing God in the company of others, Augustine broke with Cicero’s classical idea of friendship (amicitia) toward a uniquely Christian understanding that he eventually termed caritas.” (Smither, 2007)
Of the thirteen books that comprise the Confessions, it is only in the later half that St. Augustine contemplates Christianity in full measure. That too, it is in the eighth book that he finally converts to the religion. This shows that most of St. Augustine’s spiritual journey is one of seeking than finding answers. The totem that the journey is itself the destination is true in this case, for all the years that was spent wandering in search of religious truth were not wasted. They were the rites of passage toward spiritual salvation. All the early struggles had actually increased St. Augustine’s reverence for the Christian God. Understanding the nature and will of the Christian God was a central Augustinian preoccupation. For, everything else, including “culture, politics, nature, human relationships–is properly understood only in the measure that ultimate reality is grasped with at least a relative adequacy.” (Barron, 2007) In the tradition of other Christian luminaries of his time, St. Augustine his entire spiritual quest was cantered on that question. At the end of his questioning, Augustine found a truth that liberated from ignorance. The dialectical process through which Augustine achieved spiritual wisdom is remarkably relevant to our time, and “that finding for ourselves the truth that he found is of great moment not only for our personal spiritual fulfillment but also for the health of our Church and culture.” (Barron, 2007)
- Barron, R. (2007). Augustine’s Questions: Why the Augustinian Theology of God Matters Today. Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 10(4), 35+.
- Smither, E. (2007). The Way That Leads There: Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 50(3), 665+.
- Chadwick, Henry(2008). Saint Augustine: Confessions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-953782-8.