February/March 2014 - Vol. 72

“Our Hearts Are Restless - Until They Rest in Thee” 
– from the Confessions of Augustine (354-430 AD)

Can any praise be worthy of the Lord's majesty? How magnificent his strength! How inscrutable his wisdom! Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you. He bears about him the mark of death, the sign of his own sin, to remind him that you thwart the proud. But still, since he is a part of your creation, he wishes to praise you. The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.        (Confessions, Book 1,1)

The following selection of quotes come from St. Augustine of Hippo's autobiographical book, Confessions. Augustine, in the following passages, sheds light on the struggle of the will and its surrender to Christ. - ed.

A House Divided
My inner self was a house divided against itself. The mind gives an order to the body and it is at once obeyed, but when it gives an order to itself, it is resisted. What is the cause? the mind orders itself to make an act of will and it would not give the order unless it willed to do so; yet it does not carry out its own command. the mind commands the mind to make an act of will, these two are one and the same and yet the order is not obeyed. (Confessions, Book 8,8)

Weighed Down by Habit 
The reason the command is not obeyed is that it is not given with the full will. Therefore it is no strange phenomenon partly to will to do something and partly not to will to do it. It is a disease of the mind which does not wholly rise to the heights where it is lifted by the truth, because it is weighed down by habit. So there are two wills in us, because neither by itself is the whole will and each possesses what the other lacks. (Confessions, Book 8,9)

Torn Between Conflicting Wills 
When I was trying to reach a decision about serving the Lord my God, as I had long intended to do so, it was I who willed to take this course and again it was I who willed not to take it. So I was at odds with myself. My action did not come from me but from the sinful principal that dwells in me (Romans 7:17). It was part of the punishment of a sin freely committed by Adam, my first father. (Confessions, Book 8,10)

On the Brink of the Resolution 
This was the nature of my sickness, I was in torment, reproaching myself more bitterly than ever as I twisted and turned in my chain. I hoped that my chain might be broken once for all. I tried again and again and came a little closer to my goal and then a little closer still, so that I could almost reach out and grasp it. But I did not reach it. I could not reach out and grasp it because I held back from the step by which I should die to death and become alive to life. And the closer I came to the moment which was to mark the great change in me, the more I shrank from it is horror. But it did not drive me back or turn me from my purpose; it merely left me hanging in suspense. (Confessions, Book 8,11)

My State of Indecision 
I was held back by my old attachments. In my state of indecision, these old attachments, the delights of the world, the lusts of the flesh kept me from tearing myself away, from shaking myself free of them and leaping across the barrier to the other side where you were calling me Lord. Habit was too strong for me when it asked 'Do you think you can live without these things?'

Trembling at the Barrier
I was overcome with shame because I was still listening to the futile mutterings of my lower self and I was still hanging in suspense. But my Lord seemed to be saying to me 'Close your ears to the unclean whispers of your body so that it may be mortified. it tells you of things that delight you, but not such things as the law of the Lord your God has to tell.'  (Confessions, Book 8,11)

Why Not Now? 
I probed the hidden depths of my soul and wrung its pitiful secrets from it and when I mustered them all before the eyes of my heart, a great storm broke out within me. Somehow I flung myself down beneath a fig tree and gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes. For I felt that I was still captive of my sins and I cried out 'How long shall I go on saying Tomorrow, tomorrow? Why not mow? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?' (Confessions, Book 8,12)

I was asking myself these questions, weeping all the while with the most bitter sorrow in my heart, when all at once I heard the singing of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or girl I don't know but again and again it repeated the refrain, 'Take it and read, take it and read.'  I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall.  (Confessions, Book 8,12)

I hurried back to the place I had kept the book  containing Paul's epistles. I seized it and opened it, and in silence I read the first passage on which my eyes fell: 'Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature's appetites.' (Romans 13:13-14) I had no wish to read more nor no need to do so. For an instant as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled. I marked the place with my finger and closed the book. You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer placed any hope in this world but stood firmly upon the rule of faith. (Confessions, Book 8,12)

[Excerpts from Confessions of Augustine, translation by R.S. Pines-Coffin (c) 1961, Penguin Books and Devotional Classics by Richard Foster, Hodder & Stoughton]

[Top film clip: Restless Heart, DVD film by Ignatius Press, 2012]

Aurelius Augustine was born in 345 in the town of Tagaste, in Roman North Africa, in what is today Algeria. His mother was Monica, a very devout Christian who had a significant influence on her son’s life. His father, named Patricius, was a pagan of significant status in society. Patricius became a Christian shortly before his death. 

Augustine was educated at Carthage where he enjoyed academic success. He also enjoyed the party life, and at the age of 17 fell in love with a woman whom he never named. They lived together unmarried for 13 years and had a son whom Augustine named Adeodatus, meaning “gift from God.” His son died in his youth.

At the age of 19, after reading Cicero's Hortensiusat, Augustine fell in love with philosophy. He later wrote, “It gave me different values and priorities. Suddenly every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardour in my heart.” While he pursued Platonic philosophy and the theology of the Manichaens, a Christian heretical sect, he became restless for truth and virtue. Shortly before his 30th birthday, Augustine encountered Ambrose, the saintly bishop of Milan. Augustine was moved by Ambrose’s example and his inspired teaching and preaching of the gospel. At the age of 32 Augustine found peace with God and was baptized by Ambrose during the Easter liturgy in 387. Augustine returned to North Africa and formed a monastic community with a group of friends. He was ordained a priest in 391 and became a noted preacher. In 396 he reluctantly became a bishop and remained the bishop of Hippo until his death in 430. He left his monastic community, but continued to lead a monastic life with the parish priests of Hippo in his episcopal residence. Augustine died on August 28, 430, during the siege of Hippo by the Vandals.

Augustine was a prolific writer and original thinker. His numerous writings, including theological treatises, sermons, scripture commentaries, and philosophical dialogues, number into the hundreds. His autobiography, the Confessions, was considerded the first Western autobiography. It was highly read among his contemporaries and has continued as a classic throughout the ages. 

Augustine is one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity. He is esteemed as a great Latin church father and a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. Many Protestants consider him to be one of the theological fathers of Reformation teaching. Among Orthodox he is called St. Augustine the Blessed.

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