An Answer to a Mother’s Ceaseless Prayer: The Story of Augustine

by Faith Myers, DBU Student

Day 11 of Advent

Wisdom is the application of knowledge and understanding—a statement that is far easier to write than to live out day by day. It is a hard feat to gain wisdom, one that may feel insurmountable, when a person does not know where the source of wisdom truly lies. After all, how can someone gain wisdom if they have no idea what they need to know and how they are supposed to understand it?

At one point in his life, Augustine of Hippo firmly believed that human thought was the source of true wisdom. His worldview stayed within the confines of secular philosophy, something he cherished as a professor and a student. The world’s philosophy says that the recompense for its studies is wisdom—that the study of human thought leads to understanding, one that liberates and saves the individual in a way in which faith cannot. As a teenager, Augustine accepted these ideas as his core beliefs. It would take years for him to change his view of the world.

“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8, NKJV

Born in North Africa, Augustine was raised by a Christian mother and a pagan father. Disinterested in religion altogether, he was a rambunctious teenager who loved to get into trouble. Theft was more alluring than his mother’s God, and deceit was more enjoyable than worshipping any of his father’s pagan idols. At the age of 17, it was as if Augustine’s actions were a direct refutation of faith.

While attending school in Carthage, Augustine molded his worldview to reflect that of Manichaean philosophers, whose teachings were a distortion of his mother’s Christianity. His beliefs fell in line with the philosophers he loved, ascertaining that good and evil were constantly at odds in the world, but that humanity was only caught in the mix by chance. To his mother’s detriment, Augustine wholeheartedly believed that the study of knowledge led to individual freedom and happiness. Despite her dismay, Augustine’s mother followed her son to Carthage, remaining a presence in his life and encouraging her son to turn to faith in the Lord.

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil.” Proverbs 3:7 NKJV

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In other words, a reverence for the Lord leads a person to seek the wisdom that can only be derived from God’s Word. This is the source of true wisdom, one that is finite and ageless, not subjective by any means. It is this truth that Augustine’s mother prayed he would discover.

After finishing his studies in Carthage, Augustine was offered a teaching position in Italy. His mother pleaded with him to refuse the offer. He deceived his mother, telling her he would stay, but instead left her without notice. He moved to Italy at once, teaching as a professor in both Rome and Milan.

Estranged from his mother, Augustine lived by his own rules: having a child with a woman he was not married to, and one he would not marry for the sake of his own reputation. His worldview changed with every new and intriguing idea that was presented to him, a trait that would eventually lead him to a cathedral in Milan. There, he finally discarded his Manichaeism views.

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5: 15-17, NKJV

In Milan, Augustine grew to love the preaching of Bishop Ambrose, slowly connecting the meanings of each message he heard from the Bible. It was during this time in his life that Augustine became a follower of Christ, finally seeing the Gospel message in its entirety. He no longer believed that philosophy was the bedrock of wisdom, but rather a tool that points back to Christ. After his conversion to Christianity, he penned his infamous Confessions, detailing his journey to Christ, his struggles with sin, and how his life had been radically changed through faith in God.

This drastic change would lead Augustine to take a change of course with his professional life. No longer a professor, he decided to return to Africa to live as a writer. Augustine suffered greatly, however, when his mother, son, and friend tragically died on the journey. The loss of his loved ones drew him to a deeper commitment to his faith in Christ, eventually leading to his position as the bishop of Hippo. In this role, he set out to bring Christ’s truth to all of those around him, even to the Sect of Manichees world of which he was once faithfully a member.

Ultimately, Augustine’s worldview was turned upside down when, after years of his mother’s ceaseless prayer, he decided to proclaim God as Lord of his life. No longer did he believe that the love of human wisdom was a path to joy and salvation, but rather that the true philosopher sought after the Lord, whose wisdom holds everlasting sustenance. This Christmas season, and with every “Merry Christmas” you say and hear, delight in the truth that the Lord is the source of all wisdom, the source of all joy, and the sole source of our salvation.