Augustine, one of the most prolific and the most famous of the church fathers, was born to a Christian mother (Monica) and pagan father (Patricias) in the small town of Tagaste (Souk Arras in modern Algeria) in 354. His devout mother provided a home where he was nurtured in the Lord, and Augustine had marked spiritual sensitivity, but he was dissatisfied by the simple country preachers near his home. Desiring to give him every advantage, Patricias and Monica sent Augustine to study in Madaura and Carthage (370-375). He read Cicero’s Hortensius and was captivated by the intellect and language therein, moving away from his Christian background and towards philosophy. Given to sexual temptation, Augustine took a concubine, who bore him Adeodatus. Augustine went through a phase when he embraced Manichaeanism, a belief of rational dualism, but grew disenchanted when his concerns could not be answered. Augustine migrated to magic and astrology, and then moved with his mother to Rome at the age of 28 (382).
Having teaching experience in Carthage, Augustine was made professor of rhetoric in Rome (384). He had largely broken with Manichaeanism and one day went to a speech by Bishop Ambrose in Milan, a famous Christian, intellectual and orator. Ambrose presented a much more intellectual and, to Augustine, a much more satisfying explanation of Christianity and Augustine was interested. Simplicianus, a presbyter at Ambrose’ church, met Augustine and decided to try to lead him to the Lord.The story of how the famous pagan orator Victorinus became a Christian was also a great encouragement to Augustine. In Confessions, Augustine later wrote that he “burned to imitate him (Victorinus).”
Monica, meanwhile, ever promoting her son’s career, convinced him to send his concubine back to North Africa and arrange a respectable marriage. Augustine, age 30, did so, and shortly thereafter contracted an engagement with a ten year old girl from a wealthy family. Waiting for her to turn 12, the eligible age to marry, Augustine took another lover. The marriage was never consummated.
Ponticianus, a friend from North Africa who was also living in Italy, told Augustine about his conversion to Christianity several years before. The amazing stories of the conversions of Victorinus and Ponticianus deeply moved Augustine, and his guilt about his lusts and his treatment of his concubine, were eating away at him. To Augustine, conversion to Christianity wasn’t adopting a belief system but adopting as ascetic lifestyle, and he wasn’t willing to part with his carnal desires. Under crushing emotional pressure, Augustine went to a garden, saw a vision of Lady Chastity and heard the voice of child telling him to read a Bible passage, Romans 13:13-14. It was enough. His lifelong friend Alypius joined him in the garden and joined him in the Lord. Bishop Ambrose baptized Augustine in Milan on Easter Sunday, 25 April 387.
Augustine’s conversion was a powerful example of how the “hounds of heaven” will not fail when pursuing one of God’s elect. Monica, Ambrose, Simplicianus, Ponticianus, Alypius, and Victorinus were instrumental in his faith. The concubine he so wronged, the Manichaens and philosophers who could not lead him to the truth also played a supporting role, although they probably never knew it. The influence of Plato is powerful in his writings, God was working to accomplish His perfect purpose, and He uses people for His work.
“A teacher should always be a learner, and a mentor should always be a disciple.” Augustine