Augstine’ s Account of his Conversion
This is Augustine’s account of his conversion to Christ as it occurred in the garden in Milan in the spring of 386 A.D.
But when a deep consideration had from the secret bottom of my soul drawn together and heaped up all my misery in the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm within me, bringing forth a mighty shower of tears. So that I might pour this forth wholly, in expression unrestrained, I rose from Alypius. Solitude was suggested to me as fitter for the business of weeping, so I retired so far that even his presence could not be a burden to me. Thus was it then with me, and he perceived something of it; for something I suppose I had spoken, wherein the tones of my voice appeared choked with weeping, and so had risen up. He then remained where we were sitting, most extremely astonished. I cast myself down I know not how, under a certain fig tree, giving full vent to my tears; and the floods of mine eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to Thee. And, though not actually in these words, yet to this purpose, I spoke much unto Thee, saying, “O Lord, how long? How long, Lord? Wilt Thou be angry forever? Remember not our former iniquities, for I felt that I was held by them. I sent up the sorrowful words: ‘How long, how long, tomorrow and tomorrow?” Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness?
Thus was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighboring house a voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, chanting and oft repeating, “Take up and read, take up and read.” Instantly my countenance altered, and I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words; but I could not remember ever having 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. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read was spoken to him: “Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me.” And by such oracle he was forthwith converted unto Thee. Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting, for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, in concupiscence.” 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.
Then putting my finger between, or some other mark, I shut the volume and with a calmed countenance made it known to Alypius. And what was wrought in him, which I knew not, he thus showed me. He asked to see what I had read; I showed him. And he looked even further than I had read, and I knew not what followed. This followed: “Him that is weak in the faith, receive”; which he applied to himself, and disclosed to me. And by this admonition he was strengthened, and by a good resolution and purpose, and most corresponding to his character, wherein he did always very far differ from me for the better, without any turbulent delay he joined me. Thence we go into my mother; we tell her; she rejoiceth: we relate in order how it took place; she leaps for joy, and triumpheth, and blesseth Thee, Who are able to do above that which we ask or think. For she perceived that Thou hadst given her more for me than she was wont to beg by her pitiful and most sorrowful groanings. For Thou convertedst me unto Thyself, so that I sought neither wife nor any hope of this world, standing in that rule of faith where Thou hadst showed me unto her in a vision so many years before.
By Augustine of Hippo
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #15 in 1987]From the 1961 edition of Edward B. Pusey’s translation of The Confessions of St. Augustine. By permission of Everyman’s Library and J.M. Dent & Sons, London.
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