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The Battle Between Faith And Desire In The Confessions Of Saint Augustine

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The Shift of Augustine’s Faith

In the Confessions of Saint Augustine Book VIII begins with an immediate praise and worship to God thanking him for allowing Augustine to be converted. Throughout the book we see a major shift of Augustine’s faith, where all doubt of God’s work has been completely stripped and Augustine is fully ready to be devoted to the Lord. In his confession, it is mentioned that God does have “a spiritual substance”. This means that unlike everything on Earth God is not limited and never will be. Finally realizing this, Augustine is now able to sacrifice not only his ambitions but his desire to marry in order to fully commit to God as well as improve his practices.

The Visit of Ponticanius

For a while Augustine struggled to fully embrace the fact that he wanted to convert to God. When both him and his friend Alypius was visited by an African man named Ponticanius, Ponticanius told them about the officials in the Emperor’s court who’s scrolls caught on fire while reading them. Ponticanius decided to tell his friends that he will be converting to the Lord. His friends decide to support him in this decision, congratulating him. Meanwhile Augustine while hearing this story felt great uncomfort because he is still conflicted in his relationship with God. After Ponticanius visits him, Augustine looks back on his prayers, disgusted by the fact that his desire for lust is what is stopping him from fully committing. He says ” Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet” (145). This shows that Augustine is still fighting between himself ; fighting between his devotion of God and his ambitions.

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A Walk in the Garden

Clearly upset with his own reactions, Augustine turns to Alypius and shouts ” What is wrong with us?….. Is it because they are ahead of us that we are ashamed to follow?” (146). To where Alypius responds in complete silence. Deciding to cool off, Augustine takes a walk in the garden. Like most, he begins to cry out to God, questioning where he was when he needed him the most. His “madnesses” got so bad to the point where he began not only tear at his clothes but rip his hair and beat himself up. He begins to use a paradox of will to will, mind to body. He indicates that by beating himself up, his body follows the will of his mind even though his own mind does not even obey itself. Augustine begins to get haunted by his inner voice nagging that continued to hold him back asking the daunting question “Do you think you can live without them?” (151). Agustin is then “approached” by Lady Continence who stretched out her hands and embraced him with knowledge. There she talks to him about the many women and men who are virgins. She encourages him to take a chance and put his trust in the Lord for he “will catch you and heal you” (151).

Reading the Book of Paul

Feeling overcomed, he decided to weep on the bench when suddenly he hears a child’s voice who says “pick up and read, pick up and read” (152). Opening his bible, beginning to read the Book of Paul. As he begins to read his eyes quickly to a passage that says “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the flesh in its lust” ( Romans 13, 13-14). In this passage Paul encourages those to change the way we live. He begins to go on about human appetite and desire to get what we want. Though these things are not wrong, if not careful these “cravings” can become sinful. We must follow Jesus’ footsteps and not only put our trust in God but put others first.

After reading the text, a great deal of emotions washed upon Augustine, one of these is feeling at peace with himself. After calming down he decided to share everything he went through with his friend Alypius, who also decided to join Augustine in converting. Filled with great joy Augustine decides to tell his mother about his decision for she expressed great joy and triumph. In the end Augustine is fully converted and willing to put all his trust in God as well as give up his desires to marry.

Conclusion

Augustine who is deeply admired today is a prime example that he too is like many of us who battle between faith and desire. Before him converted, he constantly questioned God and went out his way to search for answers on his own despite the nudges that encouraged him to convert in the first place. Today, Augustine is greatly admired for his integrity for his process along the way was genuine and relatable to many.

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