Augustine is known today by most as one of the most important theologians of the church. His contributions to Christian thought are immense and his writings highly influential. God has used his mightily throughout the history of the church, so today we are going to look briefly at this conversion.
He was born in 354 AD in North Africa, modern day Algeria to parents of very few means. His mother was a devout Christian who modelled the faith for her son. He studied Rhetoric in Carthage and garnered an interest in Philosophy by reading the book Hortensius by Cicero. After his father died, Augustine began living with a mistress with whom he fathered a son and became a proponent of Manichaeism, a Christian heresy holding to gnostic teachings.
He grew in his intellect and his career blossomed, even as inwardly he struggled with conflicting philosophies. He thought Christianity was lacking in intellect, but heard a sermon by a bishop named Ambrose that made him think again. He was struggling with ideas of reason and faith. Around this time his mother also arranged a marriage for him, meaning he had to send away his mistress.
Augustine was inwardly struggling with his sin and temptations, wanting to submit to God, but not knowing how. Then one day at his friend Alpius’ house, he was in the garden pouring out his heart to God that the miraculous happened. Told in Augustine’s own words:
“So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read. “ Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find.”
He picked up the Scriptures and his eyes fell on these verses:
“…not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:13-14
Augustine again says:
“No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”
His conversion changed everything. He dedicated himself to the church and to God. He called off his marriage, choosing celibacy. He was baptised, entered the ministry and proved an able and powerful defender of orthodox Christianity. He wrote extensively on many different issues, preaching over 300 sermons and producing many books and letters. He fought for the truth against the Donatists and the Pelagians, and produced much theological material which we are still benefiting from to today.
His conversion shows again the wonders of the Lord in saving his people. Augustine was far from a perfect man, but God used him mightily for his kingdom.
Quotes from “The Confessions of Saint Augustine” Translated by Edward Bouverie Pusey. http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/augconf.htm
For more on the life of Augustine:
2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Part One by N.R. Needham