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Saint Augustine's Conversion

Garry Wills - Author

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ISBN 9780670033522 | 144 pages | 18 Nov 2004 | Viking Adult | 5.11 x 7.51in | Adult
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The fourth and final volume of Garry Wills's acclaimed translation of Saint Augustine's Confessiones

As relevant today as it was when it was originally written sixteen hundred years ago, Augustine’s Confessiones continues to influence contemporary religion, language, and thought. Reading with fresh, keen eyes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills has brought his superb gifts of analysis and insight to bear on this classic of Western tradition in a series of ambitious and critically acclaimed translations and interpretations. In Saint Augustine’s Conversion, Augustine’s story draws to its dramatic conclusion in what Wills calls the “hinge” chapter of the bishop’s confessional opus. With an illuminating introduction and extensive notes throughout, Wills provides a richly rewarding and inventive interpretation of Augustine’s seminal work for a new generation of readers.

part i

Introduction


1. The Book of Conversions

Book Eight of The Testimony tells the second most famous religious conversion story in Western literature, second only to that of Saint Paul, on which it is modeled. These two accounts have jointly determined much of what has been thought and written on the whole subject of conversion—in such classics on the subject as William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) or Arthur Darby Nock’s Conversion (1933). The stories of Paul and Augustine have led to a belief that “real” conversion is sudden, effected by the incursion of an outside force, and emotionally wrenching. Certainly Augustine does everything he can to create that image in the emotional paroxysm of the garden scene that closes Book Eight. He prepares for that moment by an elaborate arrangement of conversion stories—seven of them, with his own coming as the climactic eighth case, and with Paul’s as a ninth one implicit in the text that Augustine reads in the garden. The artistry of Augustine’s presentation as well as the gripping nature of its contents has made Book Eight the most famous and most cited book in The Testimony. Among other things, it contains the most frequently cited sentence—“Lord, give me chastity and self-control, but not just now” [17].

But what does conversion mean here? We often use the word to indicate the adoption of a new religion. One is a Jewish convert, or a Muslim convert. But Augustine tells us he had accepted the Christian faith before he went into the garden. He already believed in the basic doctrines of the church [1, 18]. In fact, only one of the conversion stories he uses involves the acceptance of a new creed, and that one, exceptionally, is not recounted to Augustine by another person but inserted by him into one such reported story. This tale- within-a-tale (of Sergius Paul’s conversion at Acts 12.6–12) is used to show that celebrity conversions are worth encouraging. Everyone else “converted” here was already a Christian in belief, and most of them (Anthony, the four in Trier) were not only doctrinal believers but had been baptized. The only such “convert” who had not been baptized is the subject of the first and longest story, about Victorinus, who was a believer though he did not want to sacrifice his worldly position by open profession of Christianity. His is a baptism story, and the story is expressly told to Augustine (by Simplician) to make him give up worldly ties by undergoing baptism.

With the exception of this baptism story, the other conversion narratives are more properly vocation narratives, telling how a person already Christian (and already baptized) receives a higher calling—to the monastic life (Pontician’s friends) or to a hermit’s life (Anthony). Augustine has chosen his parallel narratives carefully, since his own case will combine both kinds of spiritual change—he will come not only to accept baptism, but to undertake a further commitment, to celibacy. These are separate matters, as Augustine tells his mother in reporting the garden struggle’s outcome. He reports that her prayers have been rewarded beyond her own expectation. She had wanted him, when she had a dream about him (T 3.19), to be converted from Manicheism to Christianity, joining her on the ruler’s edge of belief in Jesus. He now tells her that the garden experience has gone beyond the conversion she prayed for, giving him the further call to celibacy [20]. This is more properly a vocation story than a conversion one—which is why he chose six of his seven parallel narratives from people already converted to the faith.

Of course, conversion in the broad sense does not necessarily entail a change of creed. It can refer to any significant spiritual reorientation (whether sudden or gradual). In that sense, Augustine’s life up to the garden scene was one long tale of conversions—from Christianity to Manicheism, from Manicheism to a Ciceronian Skepticism, from Skepticism to Materialism, from Materialism to Neoplatonism, and from Neoplatonism to Christianity. None of these breaks was absolutely clean. As a Skeptic, he still felt a need for the savor of Christ’s name (T 5.25), something that had retained its hold on him from the time when he begged for baptism during a childhood sickness (T 1.17). And he would always retain a Manichean sense of the struggle with evil (O 3.48). The Christianity he embraced in Milan retained for a long time as many Neoplatonic as gospel elements. “The conversions of Augustine were many, and they did not end in the garden in Milan”

(O 1.xlii). There was as much continuity as disjunction in his life’s development—which makes the clean break described in Book Eight so striking by its contrast with what went before.

It is a contrast striking enough that one must ask whether Augustine has not, for theological or other purpose, exaggerated its suddenness and violence. This suspicion is reinforced by the conflict between what he was writing, in or near Milan, at the time of his conversion and what he tells us, over ten years later, in Book Eight. The garden story has long been doubted—at least from 1888, when Boissier and Harnack challenged it, and that has involved Book Eight in controversy. It is hard to sort out all the problems of the book because so many of us first approached it with presuppositions derived from what we knew, or thought we knew, or had been told, about Augustine’s life and conversion. There are many myths that have accumulated around this subject. In calling them myths I do not claim that they lack truth of some order—just what kind and degree of order will be the matter for decision—but that they do not give a literal report of what was happening or being thought at the time being described. There are at least four such myths—that of Monnica, that of Ambrose, that of Paul at Damascus, and that of Augustine in the garden. In order, then:

2. The Myth of Monnica1
His mother joined him at Milan, and he was
under the influence of her life and faith ...
—Nock, Conversion

It is often assumed or asserted that Augustine’s conversion was the result of his mother’s efforts and prayers. It is true that by the time Augustine wrote The Testimony, he attributed his conversion to God’s grace, and attributed much of that grace to Monnica’s prayers. But the idea that she had a controlling influence at the time, or even a very strong one, cannot be substantiated in the natural order, or by any literal reading of the evidence. The hagiographical approach to her life has greatly inflated her role—yet all that we know of her comes from The Testimony, which does not present her as a perfect mother or Christian. The exaggeration of her influence reaches a dark apogee in Rebecca West’s biography of Augustine:

She did not want her son to grow up.... It was fortunate that in her religion she had a perfect and, indeed, noble instrument for obtaining her desire that her son should not become a man. Very evidently Christianity need not mean emasculation, but the long struggles of Augustine and Monnica imply that in his case it did.... With her smooth competence she must have been able to make the Church a most alluring prospect.2

The most significant thing Augustine says of his mother during his own youth was that she had fled from the epicenter of Babylon (worldly corruption) but was loitering (tardior ibat) in other parts of it (T 2.8), which is not the definition of a saint, by his own exacting standards. He rebukes Monnica for worldliness on several occasions—when she did not baptize him after his childhood sickness (T 1.18), when she did not urge marriage on him earlier (T 2.8), when she arranged a worldly marriage to an underage heiress (T 6.23). She was far from controlling his life. He ignored her advice on sexual continence, saying he would have blushed to obey words he considered “womanish” (T 2.7). He remained a Manichean for a decade despite her objections. He lied in order to give her the slip before leaving Africa (T 5.15). He mentions her name only once (T 9.37) in all his five million words of writings.

He did not initially share her admiration for Ambrose, the bishop of Milan who would baptize him. He did not join her in the church when Ambrose held his long vigil of defiance against the empress Justina (T 9.15). He did not, at that point, believe in church miracles (as opposed to gospel miracles), and he no doubt differed with her on Ambrose’s theatrical introduction of miracle-working martyrs’ bodies into his fight with the empress (T 9.15).3 This attitude toward miracles would not have made him well-disposed to his mother’s claim that she could tell divine visions by their odor (T 6.23). Nor would he have sympathized with her semi-Manichean rites at martyrs’ tombs, from which she would not have desisted but for her reverence toward Ambrose (T 6.2).

These misgivings, no doubt stronger at the time than when he records them a decade later, are countered, of course, by the marvelous tribute he pays to Monnica in Book Nine of The Testimony. But that tribute follows on his rediscovery of Monnica at Cassiciacum, just before his baptism, when for the first time she was included in the discussions of his philosophical friends. Before this, he had the prejudice of his time and class against the intellects of women. His first plan of a philosophical community, formed in Milan, fell through over the issue of including women (T 6.24). O’Donnell suggests that Monnica may have been illiterate (O 3.115). Monnica at first resisted her inclusion in the Cassiciacum discussions, but Augustine encouraged her.4 He laughed with surprise at her earthy wisdom, on this first occasion of her displaying it to him.5 He tells her, “I am daily struck anew by your natural ability.”6 The sexist compliment he pays her is itself revealing: “Forgetting her sex, we almost thought that some important man had joined us.”7

On the basis of his new respect for Monnica, the mystical experience he shared with this unlettered woman (as first reported a decade later from his bishop’s residence) is meant to destroy the presumption that soul- culture demands exercise in the liberal arts—though he continued to hold that view for some time after the reported experience. Monnica did not lead him to baptism. Rather, baptism led him to Monnica. The long excursus on her in Book Nine is very likely derived from a eulogy composed first for the benefit of her children and grandchildren. We know how much his own son loved his grandmother (T 9.29). Presumably, Augustine’s sister and brother had the same feeling for her, as did his brother’s children. If, as Courcelle plausibly maintained, Augustine could write the tribute to Alypius (T 6.11–16) for Paulinus of Nola, surely he could have done the same for his own relatives.8 Augustine only realized her worth in Monnica’s last months, after his conversion—for which she was not responsible, except by prayer.

3. The Myth of Ambrose

... he was under the influence of her life and faith,
as well as of Ambrose’s sermons.
—Nock, Conversion

It is a commonplace that Ambrose, presiding in Milan, played the key role in Augustine’s conversion, mainly by showing him that the Jewish scripture, which had seemed crude, could be read symbolically. Ambrose’s sermons are supposed to have brought about this change in attitude. But Augustine tells us that he listened to the sermons for their style, not their content, and that he thought the style inferior to that of Faustus the Manichean (T 5.23). Far from opening the scripture to him, Ambrose just recommended that he read Isaiah after Augustine told him he was already willing to be baptized—and Augustine, far from reading Isaiah symbolically, found the book impenetrable (T 9.13). Augustine found what he needed with the help of Simplician, who directed him to the New Testament, to the letters of Paul, which would play a key role in the garden. Ambrose was still a distant and useless figure when Augustine underwent what he describes in that garden:

He [Ambrose] was unaware of my seethings at the pit of peril. I could not inquire of him what I wished, crowded out as I was from his hearing and speaking by a swarm of those with worldly needs, to whose demands he gave his attention (T 6.3).

Except for brief interviews on business, there was clearly no occasion to pursue fully all that I desired from that oracle of yours, his breast. To pour out my needs would have taken up time that was simply not available (T 6.4).

Those passages are enough to refute the old idea that Augustine was referring to Ambrose when he wrote his Neoplatonist mentor, Mallius Theodore, about “conversations held with you and our priest friend” (presbyter noster).9 The man referred to is clearly Simplician, Ambrose’s Neoplatonist teacher, who baptized Ambrose and succeeded him as bishop of Milan. Augustine went to him for spiritual guidance. He corresponded with Simplician in later years (Epistle 37), something that Augustine never did with Ambrose.10 It was as the doyen of Milan Neoplatonists that Simplician would have known and conversed with Theodore. And Theodore, to whom The Testament makes only glancing and denigrating reference (T 7.13), is described by Augustine, when he was at Cassiciacum, as a leading force in his conversion and Christian aspirations.11

Since, my Theodore, I look only to you for what I need, impressed by your possession of it, consider what type of man is presented to you, what state I believe I am in, what kind of help I am sure you can give me.... I came to recognize, in the conversations about God held with you and our priest friend, that He is not to be considered as in any way corporeal.... After I read a few books of Plotinus, of whom you are a devotee, and tested them against the standard of the sacred writings, I was on fire.... So I beg you by your own goodness, by your concern for others, by the linkage and interaction of our souls, stretch out your hand to me—to love me and believe you are loved in return and held dear. If I beg this, I may, helped by my own poor effort, reach the happiness in this life that I suspect you have already gained. That you may know what I am doing, how I am conducting my friends to shelter, and that you may see in this my very soul (for I have no other means to reveal it to you), I thought I should address you and should dedicate in your name this early discourse, which I consider more religious than my other ones, and therefore worthy of you. Its subject is appropriate, since together we pondered the subject of happiness in this life, and I hold no gift of God could be greater than that. I am not abashed by your eloquence (why should that abash me which, without rivaling it, I honor) nor by the loftiness of your position—however great it is, you discountenance it, knowing that only what one masters can turn a truly favorable countenance on one.12

Augustine complains that at the point when he was desperately seeking enlightenment, “There was no time to be had from Ambrose” (T 6.18), and in his early writings he says that it was cruel of the bishop not to help him in his need.13 His comments on the bishop’s concern with worldly adjustments indicate that he thought he and his fellow Christian philosophers considered such a life beneath them: “I thought him [Ambrose] the kind of man made happy in worldly terms by the respect that great people paid him” (T 6.3). This is a reflection of the more sneering tone Augustine took in his early convert days, when he said of church rulers that they were too much in love with power. Even three years after his baptism he could write:

I hold that neither the men who are swept into administrative tasks by love of earthly glory, nor those who, not yet in office, pine for a public role, have been given the gift, in the babble of their endless meetings and missions, to become death’s intimates, as we mean to be—though they could have divinized themselves (deificari) had they retired from the world.14

To Augustine, in his haughty early days, Ambrose looked like a demagogue, a trader in dubious miracles, one more interested in adjudicating worldly claims than in paying heed to spiritual distress like Augustine’s.

Ambrose no doubt did have an influence on Augustine, but only after the garden scene. Augustine did, finally, get a very full sample of Ambrose’s symbolic reading of Scripture—but only during his intensive preparation for baptism, six months after the garden scene—and he did, finally, come to realize the importance of that indoctrination. He first acknowledged its importance five years later.15 Indeed, Ambrose became increasingly useful to Augustine after he became a bishop himself and had to address many issues of power that he had scorned in his fervent days after baptism. Then, when Augustine’s consecration as a bishop was challenged, it became important that he be known as Ambrose’s convert. Furthermore, in the fight with the Pelagians over continence, Ambrose was a powerful and moderate alternative to Jerome’s views on virginity and sex (O 1.xxxix). But it is anachronistic to read such indebtedness back into Augustine’s state of mind before and during the garden scene.

4. The Myth of Suddenness: William James

If what Augustine is telling us is not so much a conversion story as a vocation story, then its use as a pattern of conversion may be misleading. Yet, as I said earlier, it is often taken, along with Paul’s story, to establish the very essence of conversion. Both conversions seem abrupt, emotionally charged, with a great lightning bolt dividing the lives of Paul and Augustine into two main parts—and they have been offered as the highest exemplars of conversion. William James had a great deal to do with instilling the notion that conversion is a sudden and once-for-all-time phenomenon. In the two chapters he devoted to conversion in his Gifford Lectures, he wrote, of deep psychological change, that “if the change be a religious one, we call it a conversion, especially if it be by crisis, or sudden” (emphasis added).16 Though James was trying to define the typical experience, he admits that cultural expectation has a great deal to do with how one undergoes (and may invite) mental change. Protestantism, for instance, which throws the whole weight of salvation on a personal and intimate acceptance of grace, leads to a higher rate of conversion in his sense than does Catholicism, which allows one to receive a mediated and socially shared salvation through sacrament and ceremony. But he thinks this is not a matter of mere cultural relativism. Protestantism is closer to the authentic type of conversion because “the adequacy of his [Luther’s] view of Christianity to the deeper parts of our human mental structure is shown by its wildfire contagiousness when it was a new and quickening thing.”17 Methodism, too, the religion of revivals, “follows, if not the healthier-minded, yet on the whole the profounder spiritual instinct.”18

James admits the existence of more gradual, conscious, and self-governing conversion, which he calls the “volitional” change of the “once-born.” But he prefers the sudden, semiconscious, and self-surrendering type of the “twice-born,” because it is more radical and more “interesting.”19 He thinks it is more authentic because less consciously controlled: “self surrender has been and always must be regarded as the vital turning point of the religious life.”20 Protestantism lacks some of the aesthetic awareness of Catholicism, “however superior in spiritual profundity it may be to Catholicism”—but that is a small price to pay for profundity.21 Which should one prefer, better art or “spiritual profundity”?

James was drawing on a burst of new interest in conversion at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1881, Granville Stanley Hall had delivered at James’s own university, Harvard, a series of public lectures on the religiosity of the young. He concluded, from surveys and interviews, that conversion is most common in and around puberty, a thesis he developed in his two-volume work Adolescence.22 He also found that more conversions are gradual than sudden (two thirds to one third). Hall’s work was extended and verified in 1897 by Edwin Starbuck, from whom James took the terminology of two types of conversion, those of “volition” and of “self-surrender,” while he ignored Starbuck’s finding that the average age for conversion of females was 13.8 years and of boys 15.7.23 Of Starbuck’s study, expanded later into the two-volume Psychology of Religion (1899), a later scholar wrote: “His work remains today as the most complete and authoritative of its kind.”24

Starbuck, too, found that most conversions are gradual, not sudden. Though James refers to Starbuck’s findings on adolescent conversion, he preferred to collect and study adult accounts of sudden conversion, since they seemed to him more interesting and profound than adolescent stories.25 That means he is studying the least common type of conversion in the age group where it least occurs. Survey after survey, subjected to analysis after analysis, found the average age of conversion somewhere in the span between ten and nineteen. Paul Emanuel Johnson, conflating the findings of five major studies of conversion, pinpointed the average age at 15.2 years.26

Naturally, the experience is not uniform for all teenagers entering into this average—there are variables by class, locale, and education.27 As James Bissett Pratt put it, conversions come most often to those “brought up in a church or community which taught them to look for it if not to cultivate it.”28 And Johnson says: “The type of conversion is influenced by social expectation. There are styles of conversion, as there are of worship and theology.”29 He thought that adolescent conversions would decline in numbers as “sterner” religion faded in America; but cults, Eastern spirituality, Transcendental Meditation, and New Age concepts continue to provide ample opportunity for teenage conversions. Later studies of converts have confirmed the basic outline of these pioneer investigations.30

James’s emphasis on suddenness is misleading, since “With most religious people conversion (of the genuine moral sort) is a gradual and almost imperceptible process, with an occasional intensification of emotion now and then during adolescence.”31 James’s celebration of crisis-conversions may be unfortunate since it could lead to complacency about the sudden feeling of being saved. One of the most frequent and most studied forms of conversion in our time is the treatment of addiction by “twelve step” programs, where one is warned against the feeling that one heady moment of resolve is an adequate “cure.” The emphasis on “steps,” on social reinforcement, on mentoring, on “one day at a time,” is meant to dispel the illusion that a quick reorientation can be effected. James noticed the conversion experiences of alcoholics—indeed, he quoted an unnamed “medical man” as saying, “The only radical remedy I know for dipsomania is religiomania.”32 But he did not let that distract him from the study of conversions he found “interesting.”

Why did James so exclusively direct his attention to sudden conversion? The reason for that must go farther back than sociological studies at the end of his own century. He grew up in a culture that staked a great deal on the “saving experience” of Puritan culture. He was not raised in a Calvinist family—quite the opposite—and he did not belong to any Congregationalist church. But the individualism, the introversion, the autobiographical urges of the New England region pervaded the culture. The private and temporally precise experience of “being saved” was the condition of membership in Congregationalist churches. This need preyed on the minds of young people, whether they were yearning to join the church, afraid that they could not do so, or determined to defy expectation.

Each person had to meet the Spirit alone, and then give a convincing account of this transforming moment to the examiners of the church. The specific time and place of the rescue were important—as they were in Augustine’s garden experience. Joseph Addison, in The Spectator, mocked this obsession with the timetable of a Calvinist’s conversion, asking a character in one of his essays “what was the occasion of his conversion, upon what day of the month and hour of the day it happened.”33 What Edmund Morgan calls the “demonstration of saving grace” became an art form as well as a personal rite of passage in seventeenth-century Massachusetts.34 It was something no one else could do for the individual. Even those born into God-fearing families were not presumed to be saved, and therefore qualified to join the church’s “visible saints,” until the conversion had been privately experienced and publicly aired. It was considered a backsliding, a tainting of the church, when later “halfway covenants” let children of the saved take communion without undergoing their own saving moment.35

These conversions would seem to come as close as anyone could wish to the pure model James presents. They are highly conscious, tested by the one undergoing the experience and by those best qualified to judge its nature and effects. Many of them were keyed, like Augustine’s conversion, to the impact of a single verse from Scripture.36 If anything could heal the sick soul and give permanent comfort, it should be this. But the diaries of the time show that the sudden stroke was not as efficacious as the theology shaping it would suggest. Even that paragon of Calvinist awakening, Jonathan Edwards, could never be sure his conversion “took.” After he became a pastor in the church, he could still write:

It seems to me that, whether I am now converted or not, I am so settled in the state that I am in, that I shall go on in it all my life. But, however settled I may be, yet I will continue to pray to God not to suffer me to be deceived about it, not to sleep in an unsafe condition, and ever and anon will call all into question and try myself, using his helps, some of the old divines, that God may have opportunities to answer my prayers, and the spirit of God to show me my error if I am in one.37

Edwards was not alone in his uneasiness. The diaries of the converted “saints” in his era show distress and fear that the conversion was not genuine or lasting. Social and personal failings reflected and reinforced each other. As “Jeremiad” sermons said that the community remained sinful, the individuals making it up found their private distress increasing.

Drawing on her extensive use of the letters and diaries of the saints, Patricia Caldwell concluded “that the failure of New England, of state and country alike, to meet the spiritual expectations of the individual who is trying to articulate his experiences, devolves back upon that person and presses him into a doubtful limbo of semiconversion or even nonconversion.”38 The stakes placed on conversion were so high that they induced the very anxieties conversion was meant to dispel. This record makes it seem that James was too sunny-minded himself on the efficacy and permanence of sudden conversions. Conversion was a process, even for those who felt that they must be changed suddenly. Edwards deplored the way fervent mass conversions during the Awakening led to relapse. All things considered, it seems that James underestimated what the great Quaker Anthony Benezet called “the inward gradual work of grace.”39

5. The Myth of Suddenness: Paul
Of course, James could always validate his view of conversion by invoking the least questioned examples of sudden change—the voice that came to Paul on the road to Damascus and the voice that came to Augustine in the garden of Milan. These conversion narratives have some similarities. Both were not only sudden, but were triggered by the intrusion of an external authority. Each involves not a vision but an audition. A voice from heaven asks Paul, “Why do you persecute me?” Another voice, which Augustine takes to be intended for him by God (divinitus), says, “Lift! Look!” Former conduct is implicitly condemned—Paul’s actions against Christians, Augustine’s sexual indulgence. A crisis is passed, leading to the resolution of inner turmoil. On the literal level, there is much to be compared. But how far is a literal reading trustworthy?

It is significant that Paul himself, in all his extensive writings, never tells the story of his experience on the road to Damascus. He tells of other mystical revelations (II Corinthians 12.2–4). He says that Jesus appeared to him (I Corinthians 9.1, 15.8), and that he received his teachings direct from him (Galatians 1.12). But he connects none of his own visions to a conversion experience in general, or to the Damascus road in particular. That story is told only by Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, where the story is told three different times, a little bit differently each time (9.1–19, 22.1–21, 26.15–18)—which suggests that literal reporting is not the main concern. The important thing for consideration here is that none of Luke’s three versions of his tale matches anything Paul says of his mystical experiences. He says later that he saw Jesus, but he does not see anyone in the Damascus event, which involves not a vision but a photism (bright light) and an audition (disembodied voice). Nor does a conversion take place on the spot. Saul is told that he should go to the city and await further enlightenment. It is only after Ananias heals his blindness that Saul is baptized. This seems to be shorthand for a gradual teaching and healing process that takes place after the photism.

Sending Paul to a city resembles the messages sent to prophets in the Scripture, who are given a mission and a message to deliver. Though Saul is told to receive a teaching rather than to deliver a message, the literary genre that Luke is using to create a double ministry—one for Peter, with direct experience of Jesus, and one for Paul, with indirect experience—seems to draw on vocation stories, not conversion ones. Alan Segal argues that Luke is using the genre of prophetic commissionings as his model in Acts—the Damascus story is especially close to that of Ezekiel’s calling.40 After being stunned by a vision of God’s glory (Hebrew kavod), Ezekiel says:

When I saw that, I threw myself on my face, and heard a voice speaking to me: Man, he said, stand up and let me talk with you. As he spoke a spirit came into me and stood me on my feet, and I listened to him speaking. He said to me, Man, I am sending you to the Israelites, a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me. Past generations of them have been in revolt against me to this very day, and this generation to which I am sending you is stubborn and obstinate. When you say to them, These are the words of the Lord God, they will know that they have a prophet among them, whether they listen or whether they refuse to listen, because they are rebels. But you, man, must not be afraid of them or of what they say, though they are rebels against you and renegades, and you find yourself sitting on scorpions. There is nothing to fear in what they say, and nothing in their looks to terrify you, rebels though they are. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or whether they refuse to listen, rebels that they are. But you, man, must listen to what I say and not be rebellious like them (Ezekiel 1.28–2.8, NEB).

At this, a hand appears with a scroll in it, and Ezekiel is told to eat the scroll—acquiring the knowledge he needs for his mission (which is given to Paul by Ananias).

That Segal is not just making a wild guess is confirmed by Luke’s third telling of the Damascus tale. In the first two, the voice says simply, “I am Jesus, whom you persecute. Rise up and enter the city and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9.6). But in the third account, a long speech is recorded, and it is clearly a vocation statement, the call to a mission:

Saul, Saul, why do your persecute me? It is hard only on you to kick back when prodded.... I am Jesus, whom you persecute. But rise up and stand firm on your feet. This is why I have appeared to you, to single you out as my worker, as a witness to what you have seen of me and what further things I shall reveal to you, as I rescue you from this people and from the nations to which I am sending you, that you may open their eyes and convert (epistrepsai) them from darkness to light, from Satan’s thrall to God, so they may, by faith in me, gain forgiveness of sins and a share with the sanctified (Acts 26.15–18).

Luke makes clear here his theological purpose in telling the Damascus story. He intertwines in Acts the missions of Peter and of Paul, one to the Jews, the other to the Gentiles. And since Peter knew Jesus and was directly called by him from his fishing boat, it is important to emphasize that Paul, too, was called, however indirectly. Luke presents the roles of Peter and Paul as complementary, and plays down the conflict between them that Paul is frank about (Galatians 2.11–14). Luke is the author who used Hebrew poetry to create the great canticles of his nativity narrative (Luke 1.46–55, 1.68–79). He has used similar artistry in drawing on the Hebrew tradition of prophetic callings to shape his theological reflection on the meaning of Paul’s mission. It compresses into symbolic form what was a more gradual process, made with the help of Ananias, that took Paul from being a Pharisee to being a Christian.

It is important, for Luke’s purpose, that all three versions of the Damascus experience begin with the question “Why do you persecute me?” Paul’s former persecution is the recommendation he himself uses to show the authority of a gospel even he has come to receive. That is how Paul uses his earlier life as a teaching credential (Galatians 1.13). In the same way, Augustine uses the fact that he was not only a heretic but a sinner to show that grace can redeem even him. This is typical of the evangelical use of conversion stories (a tactic Augustine justifies in his citation of celebrity converts like Victorinus and Sergius Paul). It is most reasonable to conclude that the Damascus story is Luke’s theological construct to give the inner meaning of Paul’s ministry its supernatural credentials.

We should also note that the recruiting of other apostles came from a vocation call that only gradually led to conversion in their beliefs: “Come with me, and I shall make you fishers of men” (Mark 1.17). The “conversion” of the disciples, the revelation of the meaning of Jesus, was gradual, and was not completed even by Christ’s passion and resurrection—since they were told that the full meaning of these would be revealed to them only by the Paraclete, sent after Christ’s ascension (John 15.26, 16.7–9). Even if we take the Damascus event as literally true, therefore, Paul would be the exception among apostles in undergoing a sudden conversion, as Pratt noticed.41 But there are many reasons for not reading Luke literally. Paul himself does not use conversion language (metanoein, epistrephesthai) of his response to God, but mission and vocation language (kl¯etos, apostolos).42 The Luke story is misleading if it is used to say something not only about sudden conversions but about conversion itself. It is mainly a tale of vocation, not of conversion.

6. The Myth of Suddenness: Augustine
Since Augustine tells us he already accepted the doctrines of the church, the only “conversion” in the garden scene is the embrace of celibacy. But why did he think that was a precondition of baptism? The answer to that question is enough to throw doubt on the suddenness of his conversion. He was being pulled toward celibacy and pushed toward it. The pull came from the fact that he was not simply accepting Christianity but aspiring to be a Christian philosopher. Ascetic separation from bodily exigency was part of the concept of a philosopher in Late Antiquity. Augustine tells us in Book Eight [17] that he had aspired to this high calling since reading Cicero’s Hortensius. That book made Augustine first ask for “chastity, but not yet.” The view of the body in Hortensius appears from Cicero’s comment that the soul is manacled to the body the way corpses were strapped, face to face, on the prisoners of Etruscan pirates.43 Augustine’s low opinion of Ambrose came from the fact that he was too involved in earthly concerns. Augustine and his fellows meant to “divinize” themselves in lofty ascetical contemplation. Their thought was to be too esoteric for general communication. As he wrote from Cassiciacum to another of his circle:

I think we make enough concessions to our time if some pure stream of Plotinus is channeled through dark and thorny tangles to refresh a few, rather than loosed indiscriminately in the open, where its purity cannot be preserved from the random trampling of cattle.44

The distance of this man from the Augustine we know from his later works can be seen in the fact that he dedicates Happiness in This Life to Mallius Theodore because he thinks true happiness is not only available on earth but that Theodore has achieved it. We can imagine the derision with which Augustine the bishop would treat such a claim.

The vocation to which Augustine felt called used celibacy only as a means—as one of the disciplines to free the mind for philosophical adventures. Augustine shows his bent at Cassiciacum in the Dialogue with Myself (line 20) where it is the intellectual life that concerns him.

Reason: I ask you now why you are so concerned that those you love should remain alive, whether with you or away from you?
Self: That we may by joint effort explore our own souls and God, so that any who happens first on some knowledge can the more readily share it with the others.
Reason: What if they are not interested in such exploration?
Self: I shall make them interested.
Reason: But what if you fail—what if they think they have sufficient knowledge, or that more is not discoverable, or that other things are more interesting or pleasing?
Self: I shall deal with them, and they with me, as best we can.
Reason: But what if their presence interferes with your own explorations? If they don’t change their ways, won’t you take steps, or try to, to be rid of them and their ways?
Self: Yes, that’s right.
Reason: So neither their life in general nor their life with you is desired for its own sake, but only insofar as it helps you in your quest for wisdom?
Self: That’s it.

If Augustine was being pulled to celibacy by his high intellectual yearnings, he was also being pushed there by his misgivings about marriage. What does he mean by being “forced to put up with unwanted aspects of married life, once bound to it” [2]? If he could not even bear a friend near him who was not dedicated to the intellectual life, is he expressing a fear that any wife would not join his spiritual quest? Of course, he lived with the mother of his child, and loved her deeply, though there is no indication that she had intellectual interests, or was even literate. But that was before he had made his decision to live the pure life of contemplation. The very labored and circuitous way he refers to his problem with marriage indicates that he is being delicate about a more touchy subject—chastity in marriage.

Augustine, like many Christians and some non-Christians, took the view that concupiscence in marriage was sinful. Admittedly, one was allowed to indulge in sex for procreation, though even that should be done in a decorous way, without losing self-control (T 6.22). But where procreation was not possible, sex in marriage was a sin, though a venial one, for the one demanding the act, though not sinful for the one acceding to the demand (out of what Paul called the marriage “debt”—I Corinthians 7.3).45 Augustine knew himself well enough to recognize that he would not find it easy to be as close to a woman as he was to his son’s mother and abstain from sex on all occasions when procreation was not desired and possible. Even if this was only a venial sin in itself, inordinate repetition of the demand could become a more serious matter.46 Besides, repeated sinfulness and indulgence of the flesh would clash too painfully with the pure aspirations he was entertaining for himself and his intellectual soul mates. Marriage would make a mockery of those ideals. If he could not be “chaste in marriage,” it were better to forgo marriage entirely. It was a matter of all or nothing. His attitude at the time of his conversion is plainly stated in the Dialogue with Myself (17), When asked by Reason if a beautiful and virtuous wife would appeal to him, Augustine answers:

Portray her as you will, endow her with every good, yet have I made up my mind that nothing is more to be shunned than union with woman. I know nothing that so topples a man from the defense of his own soul’s battlements than female attractions and the fleshly couplings that are the condition of having a wife. If a philosopher is allowed to beget children—a point I am not sure of—then he who has sex only for that purpose gets my admiration but not my imitation. The risk is greater than the chance of success. I have therefore laid this command on myself, rightly and usefully I believe, to protect the freedom of my soul by giving up any concern or quest or contract with a wife.

That passage does not necessarily conflict with the story of the garden, though its tone is certainly different. In the garden, grace breaks the impasse. In the dialogue, Augustine has laid a command on himself, to secure his own freedom. Throughout this section of the dialogue (17), Augustine is being asked about his progress—which is a matter of process, not of an abrupt break or sudden gift.

Reason: I was not asking about what command you gave yourself, but whether you were still struggling with it. Or have you won a clear factor over lust? The subject is still the soundness of your eyes [desire].
Self: Well I am surely not seeking such things any more, nor even longing for them, and when I remember them it is with horror and contempt. What more can you call for? I am making daily progress, since the more I hope to see the beauty I burn for, the more my love and resolve focus on it.

This is a description of gradual conversion (“I am making daily progress”), and of natural motivation (hope strengthens resolve). That the changes being discussed are still in process becomes apparent on the next day (25), when Reason recalls the assurance with which Augustine said that he no longer desired the sex act, but abominated it.

Reason: Last night, surely, as we lay awake pondering between us what had been said, you became aware, for all your confidence to the contrary, how much you were still incited by the bitter sweetness of tempting images, admittedly less powerful than before, yet stronger than you had presumed. It was as if your most intimate Healer were impressing on you both how far you had advanced under his treatment and how far you had to go toward healing.
Self: No more I beg, no more! Why torture me? Why probe me so sharp and deep? I have no strength left for weeping. I can still, even now, keep no promise, make no boast, so do not question me further on this.

Is this the same man who said, at the end of his garden experience, that he was flooded with assurance [29]? The dialogue, written at the time, expresses a state of mind far different from the one described eleven years later in The Testimony.

7. The Garden
Just as the Damascus story is not told by Paul but only later by Luke, so the garden story is not told by Augustine in any of the discussions of his conversion written at the time, but only later in The Testimony. That has been enough to raise doubts about its literal truth. A long line of scholars denied the garden story’s veracity—Boissier (1888), Harnack (1888), Loofs (1897), Gourdon (1900), Becker (1908), Thimme (1908), Alfaric (1918).47 But it was not till 1950, when Pierre Courcelle published his assault on the literal reading of Book Eight (among other things), that the debate became widespread and impassioned.48 O’Donnell says that Courcelle’s book “worked a Copernican revolution in Augustine scholarship” (O 1.xxi). He thinks that the emotional resistance to Courcelle’s book resembled the previous century’s struggle over “higher criticism” of the Bible: “The controversy replicated the earlier battles occasioned by application of scholarly instruments and criteria to biblical texts: literal narrative seemed threatened, and with literal narrative faith itself seemed threatened” (O 1.xxv).

The doubters of the garden story so far cited all work from the contrast between the writings at Cassiciacum and The Testimony. But some have been troubled, more generally, by the artificial presentation of the tale, the pat way conversion narratives surge up opportunely and converge on the dramatic climax to Book Eight. Even the highly wrought rhetorical presentation makes some uneasy about the sincerity of the account. Book Eight does not give us a spontaneous account, but a calculated one. Augustine relishes his storytelling gifts—the heightened alliteration, for instance: volvens et versans me in vinculo (churning and chafing in my chains). Or the epigrammatic paradoxes: “crazed to be sane ... dying to be alive.” Or the patterns of antithesis: “aware of how bad things were with me, unaware of how good ...” But if rhetoric of itself precludes truthfulness, then we had better give up on Augustine entirely. He cannot speak at all without using his inmost language, which is rhetoric.

The idea that calculation cannot go with sincerity is naive. Bach’s religious music is not insincere because of his immense technical cleverness. Nor is Fra Angelico lacking in piety because he learned Florentine perspective and sophisticated color harmonies. Augustine, in the same way, is a master of words because he sees in their paradoxes the mysteries of the Word. He could describe the soul’s interior only through convolutions of language he had mastered as a tool for knowledge, not a mere exercise in ornament. The rhetorical presentation of his own turmoil is no different from his highly rhetorical presentation of the life and suffering of Jesus. He is entirely serious and sincere in both.

Of course, everyone admits that some points in Augustine’s treatment of the garden scene are a matter of imagery, not of reportage—the way lusts pluck at his garment, for instance, or attack him from the back; or the way God wields over him a “double whip.” No one could think those things were actually seen or suffered in a literal sense. Even more striking is the “revelation” of Self-Control as a female beckoning him to cross over into the company of the pure. Such personification as a way of representing a moral problem was traditional—like the appearance of the Laws to Socrates, asking if he will disobey them by escaping the verdict of his fellow citizens.49

Well, what about the fig tree? Was that real or figurative? Why mention it at all if it were real? This was not a moment to digress into dendrology. What relevance can the species of tree have to Augustine’s inner state? Courcelle argued, convincingly, that the fig tree was charged with such scriptural symbolism in sermons and Bible commentary, that Augustine must have that tradition in mind when he refers to the fig tree.

In that case, which scriptural reference was foremost in his mind—the fig tree under which Jesus saw the disciple Nathaniel (John 1.47–48), or the blasted fig tree of the parable (Matthew 21.19–21), or the fig tree from which Adam and Eve took leaves to cover their nakedness (Genesis 2.7)? Courcelle thinks it is the first of these.50 O’Donnell says that it is all three (O 3.57–58).

One could go along easily with the idea that Self-Control was figurative, as well as the nagging lusts, and the “double whip,” and even the fig tree. But Courcelle destroyed the last vestige of literalism when he said that even the voice telling Augustine Tolle! Lege!, even the reading of a crucial Pauline verse, were also figurative. He said that the voice was internal, and the reading was a summary of longer delvings into Paul’s work. He found support for this in a textual variant. Instead of saying that the voice came from vicina domo (a nearby house), one manuscript said that it came from divina domo (God’s house).51 But the computer indexing of Augustine’s words now establishes that domus divina was not a locution Augustine used, with one possible and partial late exception—his preferred form for God’s house was domus Dei (O 3.59–61).

Besides, if the voice were coming directly from God, why would Augustine not only take the singsong as being chanted by a child, but search his mind to decide whether this was a chant connected with any childhood game he knew? Augustine treats this voice in a way different entirely from the way he responds to his own image of Self-Control. He did not ask himself whether that virtue normally had her arms full of temperate people. He says that Self-Control addressed him in “some such words” as the ones used, not in the direct but puzzling quotation Tolle! Lege! Unless that quote were exact, Augustine could not have asked himself to make sense of it. The whole presentation of the child’s voice is meant to emphasize its literal reality. If there was no such literal reality, then Augustine has been at some pains to deceive us. If we are not to call Augustine a liar, then, we must conclude, as unambiguously as Courcelle concludes the opposite, that the voice was real.

But that does not mean that Courcelle’s approach is fundamentally wrong. The point is not whether the voice occurred, but what Augustine made of its occurrence, both at the time and in writing The Testimony. After all, other events actually occurred, but were used retrospectively to make theological points in Augustine’s program for The Testimony. The pear theft’s meaning is elaborated far beyond the literal facts involved, presuming (as I do) that there were some literal facts at the base of the elaborations. The same is true for his father’s comment in the public baths, for the death of Augustine’s friend, and for the garden experience with Monnica. All are the subject of later reflection on their ultimate meaning for Augustine; yet all depart in some way from what can be accepted as a real event.

I would go further, and say that they all have meanings that are linked with the overall structure of The Testimony, and therefore with the book of Genesis. The entire Testimony moves toward the probing of the mysteries of God to be found in the opening book of the Bible. Augustine’s Testimony is an act of purification from sin, of the kind priests invoke as they prepare to read Scripture in public. It is, then, a prayer to be made worthy, a petition for entry into the sacred revelation. In this light, Augustine is approaching Genesis by a process that attunes him to it, makes him see its patterns in his own life, revealing the relevance of what he has undergone to what he is proposing. It is a case of ontogeny forecasting phylogeny. Each of the events in the book that is given profound theological reflection has a relationship to the Genesis mysteries.

1. The public baths. The first vivid event reported in The Testimony comes near the beginning of Book Two—the observation of Augustine’s sexual maturity by his father (T 2.6). Up to this point, Augustine’s memories were vague or generic—of childhood stealing, delinquency from school, resistance to learning Greek. The most specific thing mentioned in Book One was an illness that made him cry for baptism; but this event too is described vaguely—the disease is not named, nor are his mother’s comments directly quoted. The scene in the public baths is far more specific—it even tells us what was going through his father’s mind (that now he could have grandchildren).

Why is this vivid scene included in the book? Various psychosexual explanations have been resorted to; but the norms of inclusion in this book are primarily theological. Considering how much is omitted—all about his siblings, for instance, or his life under Romanian’s patronage in Thagaste—one must ask why this, of all things, is reported. Those who think Augustine is obsessed with sex have answers for this—too many answers, in fact.52 Few concentrate on what is the most surprising and revealing word in the passage, indutum. Augustine says that he was nude but was “clothed in unstable young manhood.” “Unstable” (inquietum) because man is fallen, no longer secure in the garden of Eden—our heart, Augustine memorably says, is unstable (inquietum) until stabilized in God (T 1.1).53 He is clothed, as the naked Adam was “clothed,” in the shame of a damaged humanity—which Adam tried to cover with fig leaves.

The encounter with his father in the public baths looks forward to Book Eight’s garden scene, where he moves from the fig tree to Paul’s admonition to “be clothed (induite) in Christ.” That is what happens at baptism. The baptizands, after undergoing a scrutatio—an inspection of the body, like (but how unlike) his father’s gaze—went naked into the water, to come out on the other side and be clothed in Christ, wearing white robes of regained innocence.

2. The pear theft. Critics of Augustine, typified by Nietzsche, have mocked the inflation of what would later be called “a second-rate burglary” in the long agonizings of Book Two. The first sin reported in Augustine’s time of young manhood is not sexual, but a gratuitous act, not motivated by desire for the stolen fruits. Because the act seems at first undriven by passion, this sin comes close to what Augustine considered the primary characteristic of Adam’s sin—that it took place without the distortions of passion resulting from that act. It was sin in an unfallen state, a cold act of disobedience [22]. Augustine’s sin-for- its-own-sake approximates the passionless original sin.

Of course, after long psychological rumination, Augustine concludes that his sin was not really motiveless—he would not have done it alone, so his motive was solidarity with his fellow delinquents (T 2.17). That, too, brings the sin close to Adam’s, since Augustine argued that Adam was not swayed, as Eve was, by the Devil’s spurious promises—Adam knew they were false. Then whey did he sin? He did it for the comradely compulsion (socialis necessitudo) of solidarity with Eve.54 There can be no doubt that Augustine wants this scene to be read as referring back to the sin of Adam. He says that the young felons took away huge loads (onera ingentia, T 2.9) of pears, and the hell-raising would hardly have made its mark if only one tree were stripped—yet Augustine refers to a symbolic single tree, to underline its relationship with the tree in Eden. A passionless sin is what is at issue when Augustine takes up the heritage of original sin by, in effect, repeating its commission. This puts the pear scene in alignment, as well, with the scene in the baths that preceded it in Book Two. The shame-in-nudity at the baths showed the potential of sin inherited from Adam. The pear theft shows that potential becoming a reality.55

3. The friend’s death. A second occasion for agonizing, and for Nietzsche’s mockery of Augustine’s self- reference, is the emotional reaction to his friend’s death described in such detail at The Testimony 4.7–12. It is the impurity of his motives for grief that is emphasized there, the selfishness at his own loss, the anger that he could not bring the friend to renounce the baptism he had undergone. He uses a citation from Psalm 41.6 to reveal his anger at not being able to deprive his friend of the gift God had given him. The psalm says: Quare tristis es, anima mea, et quare conturbas me? (Why, in your anguish, are you, my soul, whirling me about?) God asks of Cain, angry at Abel’s acceptance by God: Quare tristis factus es, et quare concidit facies tuus? (Why, in your anguish, is your face twisted about?) Once again, Genesis is echoed in Augustine’s own life.

4. The garden scene with Monnica. The garden, that recurring scriptural image, once again plays a key role in the scene of Augustine’s shared mystical silence with his mother (T 9.25). After his baptism, Augustine is clothed in Christ, saved from the consequences of original sin, so far as that is possible in one’s lifetime, and the harmony of the garden of Eden (before original sin ruined it) is partly experienced, or almost experienced, for a moment in this scene of reconciliation not so much between Monnica and Augustine, as between humankind and its Creator.

5. The garden scene in Book Eight. All of the other references to Genesis themes in Augustine’s life come to a climax in his garden “conversion.” He reverses the progress of Adam by moving from the fig tree of sinful shame to the innocence regained by being clothed in Christ. But there is a further resonance here as well. Gardens are symbolically charged places in Scripture, and Augustine’s agony in the garden is bound to suggest the greatest agony in a garden, that of Jesus himself. What some consider the emotionally overwrought descriptions of Augustine’s suffering are not more extreme than the words used of Jesus in the gospels. He is sorrowful unto death, so worked upon that he sweats blood, so afflicted that he asks that the cup of suffering pass him by—though he finally surrenders his will to the will of another, using the very words of the greatest Christian prayer, “Thy will be done” (Fiat voluntas tua).

Augustine, too, is tortured unto death—“dying to be alive” [19]. He too is asked to undergo a suffering sent by God, who is “wielding the double whip” over him [25]. Though he does not sweat blood, he is drenched “in great sheets of showering tears” [28]. To stress the connections between these two agonies in the garden, Augustine first enters the garden with Alypius, then leaves him behind, silent and excluded from the agony, before rejoining him to go forth to Monnica. In the same way, Jesus enters the garden with three of his closest disciples, leaves them behind to fall asleep in their ignorance of what he is undergoing, then rejoins them to go forth to his task. The New Testament garden is here joined with that of Genesis, since clothing oneself in Christ can only happen because God suffered with man by becoming incarnate, clothing himself in flesh. The anguish of Adam has to be undone by the agony of Jesus. Augustine, as the heir of that great triumph, moves backward from sin to regain innocence through the redemptive suffering of Christ. He goes from being clothed (indutus) in nakedness to the passage of Paul that says “Be clothed.” (This is not a matter of Augustine “presuming” to link his suffering with Christ’s, but of Christ coming down to share all the miseries of humankind, while remedying them.) The rich resonances of the garden scene contain more of Christ than of Adam. That is the theological meaning of the decision to be baptized. The myths of conversion in Book Eight are, therefore, all myths elaborated by Augustine himself. They reveal what was going on “behind the scenes,” as it were, things he was not aware of at the time—the power of grace in Monnica’s prayer and Ambrose’s example, the action of God in his own efforts toward chastity. This is a kind of palinode to the earlier writings, which relied too much (Augustine has come to believe) on natural causes and personal effort, on Mallius Theodore and “Platonic books.” The conversion myths are devised to show that God directed the sequence by which Augustine was “making daily progress.”

Is the garden scene not true, then? Only if we assume, as too many do, that Augustine is writing an autobiography. He is not. The whole work, and not just the final books, is a theological work, a preparation for the reading of Scripture, for an entry into God’s mysteries which God must himself make possible. The God of Genesis is not a text in the past, but an unrecognized constant in Augustine’s life, “deeper in me than I am in me” (intimior intimo meo, T 3.11). The garden scene is based on a real event, as were the scenes in the public baths, in the pear orchard, at his friend’s deathbed, or with Monnica in Ostia. But they all fit into a larger testimony that celebrates the word of God more than the life of Augustine.

Notes to Introduction
1. For Monnica as the proper (African) spelling of her name, see W.H.C. Frend, The Donatist Church (Oxford University Press, 1951), p. 250.
2. Rebecca West, St. Augustine (D. Appleton & Co., 1933), pp. 26–27.
3. For Augustine’s early rejection of post–New Testament miracles, see Order in Creation 2.7.7, on people “daunted by hollow claims of the miracles,” and The True Religion 25.47, “Miracles are not permitted to stretch into the present, or the soul would always be looking for sensations, and the human race would grow jaded with their con- tinual occurrence.”
4. Augustine, Order in the Universe 1.11.
5. Augustine, Happiness in This Life 2.10, 2.16.
6. Order in the Universe 2.45.
7. Ibid. 2.10.
8. Pierre Courcelle, Recherches sur les Confessions de saint Augustin (Boccard, Editeur, 1950), pp. 28–32.
9. Happiness in This Life 1.45.
10. Given the importance of both figures, any genuine correspondence between Augustine and Ambrose would instantly have been copied and widely disseminated. It is striking that not even forged letters have ever surfaced.
11. For Augustine’s changed views of Theodore, see his Reconsiderations on Happiness in This Life: “Though the man I dedicated this book to was a scholar and a Christian, I gave him more credit than he deserved” (O 2.419–20).
12. Happiness in This Life 1.4–5.
13. Augustine, Dialogue with Myself 2.26.
14. Epistle 10.2.
15. Augustine, The Uses of Belief 8.20. 16. William James, The Variety of Reli
gious Experience, in Writings 1902–1910 (The Library of America, 1987), p. 183.
17. Ibid., p. 226.
18. Ibid., p. 211.
19. Ibid., p. 193.
20. Ibid., p. 196.
21. Ibid., p. 213.
22. G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence (D. Appleton & Co., 1904).
23. Edwin D. Starbuck, “A Study of Conversion,” American Journal of Psychology, January 1897, p. 80.
24. Elmer T. Clark, The Psychology of Religious Awakening (Macmillan, 1929), p. 19. Starbuck’s book is The Psychology of Religion (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899).
25. James, op. cit., pp. 185–86.
26. Paul Emanuel Johnson, Psychology of Religion (Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1920, 1959), pp. 100–101: “The more radical awakenings of crisis tend to occur about the age of seventeen—which coincides with earlier reports of Starbuck and Hall. But when religion develops as a gradual process, the awakening comes as early as twelve years. If the process is interrupted or resisted at this age, it is then deferred about five years and requires an emotional crisis to overcome obstruction.” Twelve was the average age Elmer T. Clark set for conversion (op. cit., p. 17).
27. There are elaborate tables breaking down this information in Clark, op. cit.
28. James Bissett Pratt, The Religious Consciousness (Macmillan, 1920), p. 153.
29. Johnson, op. cit., p. 99.
30. See, for instance, Bernard Spilka, Ralph W. Hood, Jr., and Richard L. Gorsuch, The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach (Prentice-Hall, 1985), pp. 199–224.
31. Pratt, op cit., p. 153.
32. James, op. cit., p. 246.
33. Joseph Addison, The Spectator (Oxford University Press, 1965), vol. 4, p. 252.
34. Edmund Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (New York University Press, 1963), p. 90.
35. Ibid., pp. 10–38.
36. Patricia Caldwell, The Puritan Conversion Narrative (Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 169–72.
37. Edwards diary quoted in George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003), p. 105.
38. Caldwell, op. cit.
39. George S. Brookes, Friend Anthony Benezet (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1937), p. 308.
40. Alan F. Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (Yale University Press, 1990), pp. 8–11.
41. Pratt, op. cit., p. 155.
42. Segal, op. cit., p. 19.
43. Albert Grilli, Ciceronis Hortensius (Istituto editoriale cisalpina, 1962), p. 52.
44. Epistle 1.1.
45. Augustine, What Is Good in Marriage 6–7.
46. Ibid. 6.
47. The doubters’ works are cited in Charles Boyer, Christianisme et néo-platonisme dans la formation de Saint Augustin (Gabriel Duchesne, 1920), pp. 2–6.
48. Courcelle, op. cit.
49. Plato, Crito 50–54.
50. Courcelle, op. cit., p. 193.
51. Ibid., pp. 195–96.
52. Psychiatrist Charles Kligerman thinks that Augustine’s father found him with an erection (Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 5, 1957, pp. 469 ff.). Psychiatrists R. Braendle and W. Neidhardt think he found his son masturbating (Theologische Zeitschrift 40, 1984, pp. 157 ff.). The claims have nothing to do with the text or with the practices of Roman baths. See further in my Saint Augustine (Viking, 1999), pp. xvii–xix.
53. For more on Augustine’s statics, see my Saint Augustine’s Childhood (Viking, 2001), pp. 83–89.
54. Augustine, City of God 14.11.
55. For more on the pear theft, see my Saint Augustine’s Sin (Viking, 2003), pp. 7–19.


contents

Key to Brief Citations xiii

part i. introduction 1
1. The Book of Conversions 3
2. The Myth of Monnica 7
3. The Myth of Ambrose 10
4. The Myth of Suddenness: Wiliam James 14
5. The Myth of Suddenness: Paul 20
6. The Myth of Suddenness: Augustine 25
7. The Garden 31

part ii. THE TESTIMONY, book eight 45
searching for help 47
first conversion story: victorinus 53
second conversion story: sergius paul 63
back to victorinus 67
four more converts: pontician’s friends and their wives 73
the garden 83
seventh conversion story: anthony 101
eighth conversion story: augustine 103

part iii. commentary 107


Augustine flourishes in Wills’s hands. (James Wood, The London Review of Books)


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