At this point in Augustine's life, he was well on the way to becoming a Christian. All of the obstacles, intellectual and moral, real or fabricated, had been overcome. All, that is, but one, and by Augustine's own admission, the last was the most difficult. There was now nothing standing in Augustine's way except Augustine himself. He had by this time given his intellectual assent to Christian teaching. There remained nothing in his way but one cherished but hated habit, the habit of lust. "All arguments were used up, and all had been refuted. There remained only speechless dread and my soul was fearful, as if of death itself, of being kept back from that flow of habit by which it was wasting away unto death" (194).
First, the intellectual obstacles. Augustine makes it very clear that he was laboring under a two-fold intellectual burden prior to his conversion, the first was the fact that he did not have a true idea concerning some very important Christian teachings, and secondly, that he was attached to various false beliefs as well. The primary Christian teachings about which Augustine was in ignorance were two: the nature of God, and the nature of evil. The false beliefs to which Augustine was committed were Manicheism, astrology, and for a very brief time skepticism. I will consider first Augustine's commitment to the various falsehoods, and the individuals whom he credits with helping him detach himself from them.
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The fact that there was now nothing standing in the way of Augustine's conversion except Augustine himself prompts him to reflect upon human willing. Augustine describes himself as being bound, "not by another's irons, but by my own iron will...For in truth lust is made out of a perverse will, and when lust is served, it becomes habit, and when habit is not resisted, it becomes necessity" (188). To break the habit of lust, Augustine first needed to will to do so. True, in the past he had prayed for chastity, but always and only conditionally, "Give me chastity and continence, but not yet" (194). What he wanted now was unlike other actions that must first be willed and then undertaken. This was different. To will would be to accomplish the act. To begin to live chastely Augustine had merely to will it. As he writes, "In such an act the power to act and the will itself are the same, and the very act of willing is actually to do the deed. Yet it was not done..." (196).
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It is probably a stretch to speak of Augustine's to skepticism, but he does mention that, for a time, after he had given up on Manicheism and before he was able to give his assent to Christianity, skepticism became an attractive option. Augustine did not require anyone's intervention to persuade him against skepticism, however. His own native intelligence provided him arguments enough to reject it.
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374 Augustine returned home to Thagaste to teach grammar, theunderlying foundation for the study of rhetoric. Monica, appalled at hisalliance with the heretical Manichees, at first refused to allow him toenter her house. She prayed unceasingly for his conversion to the CatholicChurch.
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There were two individuals who were largely responsible for helping Augustine over this obstacle, the one, Victorinus, by his example, the other, Simplicianus, through sharing with Augustine his reminiscences concerning Victorinus. Augustine wished to talk with some representative of the Christian community about his difficulties, but realizing that Ambrose was extremely busy, he turned to the older priest, Simplicianus.
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O glorious mother, St. Monica, who, despite the many means you employed to accomplish the conversion of your son Augustine seemed fruitless, though for a long time God himself appeared deaf to your earnest prayer and unmoved by your ever-flowing tears, did never lose confidence in obtaining the long-sought grace for Augustine.
You did lovingly and tenderly admonish your erring son; you did watch over him ever with all a mother's love, and fearless of danger and heedless of fatigue, follow him from place to place in his weary and wayward wanderings; in a word, all that a mother's tender love could suggest, all that a mother's anxious solicitude could inspire, all that a wondrous prudence and true wisdom could dictate, you, O great St. Monica, cheerfully did to effect the return to God of your firstborn and darling child.
By all these generous efforts, so happily crowned in the end, hear, O mother, the petitions we make to you. Pray for us, too, and pray especially for those who are unmindful of and ungrateful to God. To you, O dearest mother, we are especially dedicated; look upon us, then, as your children, and win for us the grace we need. Regard mercifully the most destitute amongst us, that sin being diminished, the number of the faithful may increase, and greater glory may be given to Him who is the best of friends, the truest of benefactors, our first beginning and last end, the source of all our hope, our Savior, our God. Amen