Tag Archives: Conversion

On the Confessions of St. Augustine

Dearest Father,

The last time I wrote you about the Numidian it was on his recent conversion, an act sparked by the death of a very dear friend. While I was dubious at the time that a similar situation would be the catalyst that brought me back to you, I was undeterred in my desire to finish the Numidian’s long letter, hopeful that at its end I would have come to a deeper understanding of what it means to have strayed and returned to the fold. I have at long last concluded his Confessions, but I must confess Father that no such understanding has come over me.

We left Augustine with his decision to become a catechumen and it appears that after this decision he was blessed with meeting the most favourable people, from his friend in conversion Alypius to the wonderful and eloquent Ambrose, the bishop of Milan. Such men helped our Numidian in his early days post-conversion, assisting him in weathering the storms of doubt, fear, pain and sorrow, and enabling him to rise above these calamities and finally see you with a clarity he had never before experienced. He studied very closely your scriptures, questioned the very nature of good and evil, and finally came to what can only be described as a breathless joy at being in your embrace. His words reveal an immense appreciation for his trials, and he even began to look fondly upon his past, saying that the joy of his conversion was made sweeter by the tribulations that preceded it.

Having fully returned to the House in heart as well as in body, and filled with what I suppose must have been a burning desire to know you intimately, he turned his mind to you and your creation, contemplating your grace and beauty, the power contained in your works, and the difficulty (if not impossibility) of describing such wonderful things in terms that simple mortal minds could comprehend.

And in this, his sudden acquiescence to all the doctrines and dogmas of the House, lies my problem Father. Like Augustine I have asked very many questions on very many topics. I have pondered the effects of your creation, the paradoxes inherent in your sacrifice. I have struggled with the whispers of Doubt. But unlike the great Numidian, I have no easy recourse to emotion. I have no friends whose deaths would cause me to seek you out, whose losses would make me crave the steady comfort of the House’s teachings. Unlike him I understand fundamentally that life is fleeting and that pain is real; ironically it is for this reason that I left the House and began my journey in the first place. Where he sought answers to calm the turbulent emotions in his heart, I seek answers to quiet the numerous questions in my head. Too quickly did he brush aside the very contradictions he raised, willing to overlook all inconsistencies before your might, whilst tearing down even the smallest errors in the teachings of the heretics.

Perhaps it was my mistake, reading his Confessions and hoping to be swayed in your favour. The heresy of my day lies not in some twisted interpretation of the works of your son, but in the very nature and existence of you, dearest Father, something our Numidian had already taken for granted.

But what is most troubling about his Confessions is not that they failed to move me, Father; it is the manner in which he concluded them. After waxing poetic on the wonders contained in your being, Augustine ended his missive with this:

“And what man can teach man to understand this? or what Angel, an Angel? or what Angel, a man? Let it be asked of Thee, sought in Thee, knocked for at Thee; so, so shall it be received, so shall it be found, so shall it be opened. Amen.”

Once again I am told that the answers I seek will not come to me from any man, or angel, or book, but from you Father, and once again I am compelled to ask when you will answer me. When will you put my mind to rest?

With disappointment and longing,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Power of Loss

Dear Father,

I apologise most profusely for my long silence. As you must know, I have been heavily occupied these past weeks with worldly duties, compelled by your world and the rest of your children to put aside pen and paper and focus on things more directly affecting my survival. I am starting a new phase in my earthly life you see, one not at all tied to my quest for the great Sophia, and as you know such moments of change are often fraught with much activity and little respite. In addition this new phase brings with it new responsibilities, and so I am afraid such silences may become more frequent in the coming months. I will, of course, do my best to write with the expected regularity.

But no matter, Father, no matter; as always it is never my intent to fill my missives with descriptions of my mundane life. While I may have been busy with the trappings of my childish form, I have not completely abandoned my quest. My journey continues, with the words of Augustine and Russell keeping me company and providing much needed food for thought.

I must apologise for my stagnation with Augustine’s Confessions; even though I started reading his work at the same time I did Platocrates, I have since finished the Greek’s dialogue on justice but am yet to pass the halfway mark on the Numidian’s narrative. His prose is most dense dearest Father, a throwback to another time, and it is often rather difficult to process. With that in mind, however, I seem to have stumbled upon a seminal moment in his journey.

When I last read the Numidian he had made a most important decision; he had decided to become a catechumen, a student in the doctrines of your as yet undivided House. It took a series of (un)fortunate events to push the great saint in this direction, prime among which was the loss of a friend most dear to his heart. This loss and its subsequent transformation came during his many years of decadence and debauchery, at a time when he was young and given to the indulgence of varied human vices. He was most impressionable in those years, proud in the gifts of his intellect and content in the contrived praises of his friends. Reading his words it is evident that he considered himself happy at the time, fulfilled both in worldly outlook and in his daily habits.

The death of his friend, a man he claimed to love so much his soul could not be without, had a most profound effect on our Numidian, but I dare say it was the conversion of this fellow before his death that dealt the most damaging blow to Augustine. The man had fallen sick you see, and after an involuntary baptism it seemed he had become a changed man, marveling in the beauties of your works and shrinking away from the heathen proclivities he and Augustine had once shared. Our Numidian was stunned, heartbroken; but before he could get to the bottom of this change his friend was taken from him, killed by a relapse of the very illness that brought upon the baptism.

Augustine was grief-stricken, as you can imagine. In what I suspect was a few weeks he had twice lost a very close friend, in mind as well as in body. Such is the price we humans pay for attachment to things so temporal and fleeting, and it seems to me that it was this loss, and the confusion and grief that came with it, that drove the frightened child into your arms. Of course, we read his words after the fact; we see his experiences from the eyes of one that has already found you, and so it is only natural, as a member of the House, that he attribute whatever thoughts and transformations from this event to you. To use his words:

“Blessed whoso loveth Thee, and his friend in Thee, and his enemy for Thee. For he alone loses none dear to him, to whom all are dear in Him who cannot be lost. And who is this but our God, the God that made heaven and earth, and filleth them, because by filling them He created them? Thee none loseth, but who leaveth. And who leaveth Thee, whither goeth or whither teeth he, but from Thee well-pleased, to Thee displeased? For where doth he not find Thy law in his own punishment? And Thy law is truth, and truth Thou.”

Perhaps he felt that by loving you, by loving his friends in you, all death would become meaningless. After all if one is in you, one cannot really be lost.

Of course the fear of death and the grief it brings have long been used as tools to draw many into your House, and so in many ways Augustine’s thoughts are not out of the ordinary. They are to be expected, after all. His experience leaves me wondering Father, whether or not such a loss would be the tool by which you bring me back to you. It would be a most interesting turn of events, for while I hold a deep love for the members of my family and a number of friends, I cannot say that my grief at their passing would cause me to seek you out. I am already on this path for personal reasons; taking the few of your children I hold most dear may not do anything to sway me.

Now there are marked differences between the nature of Augustine’s journey and mine, and so it is no surprise that I doubt this would be the tool of my conversion. I am not quite as given to vice as he was; I derive my enjoyment more from exercises of the mind than the occasional indulgence of the flesh. Where he still believed in you, if not quite the you of House dogma, my questions are on your very presence and not on some ‘heretic’ interpretation of your existence.

Of course there are a few similarities; he mentions that he was called Agnostic by an old physician, a term I find myself leaning towards more and more, what with the buzzings and mutterings of Doubt above my head and the strong and as yet irrefutable words of both Russell and Descartes floating in my mind.

I would be remiss if I did not add that I am a little put off by the conclusion in his quote, for he references your justice, a system that as you know I have very strong feelings about. Such a calm acceptance of acts which do not appear to do any good further highlights the fundamental differences between himself and me, but once again in the interests of keeping an open mind I chalk it up to the fact that his words have been written after the fact. Perhaps when he lost his friend he did not think this way; perhaps when, if ever, I return home I shall look upon my time away with the Father-tinted glasses customary of all within the House.

I see my friend shaking his head and I must say that I am inclined to agree with him; in my current state it is difficult to imagine an experience that would send me running into your arms. Still, Father, stranger things have happened, and with Doubt beside me I am willing to think that perhaps my time shall come, as it did with the Numidian. One can only hope at such a time that all my questions would have been answered.

With tainted hope,

Your Prodigal Son

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