GIANTS OF THE FAITH: RAYMOND BROWN
Prior to a new, dramatic phase of the gifted scholer, Aurelius Augustinus, who was destined to become one of the greatest Christians of all times, he stayed amongst a group of friends in the ancient seaport of Hippo Regius in Northern Africa. His devout mother, Monica’s desire that her son become a committed Christian almost bordered on maternal possessiveness. She disapproved of his relationship with an African girl and was devastated when Augustine, his girlfriend and her son sailed away from Africa.
In the summer of 386 he experienced a dramatic encounter with Christ in a garden in Milan. His spiritual classic, Confessions, was written as a result, and more than a hundred books followed.
Three major themes emerge from Confessions.
1. KNOWING GOD
Sustained and sincere prayers are needed to know God. While writing Augustine entered into God’s presence, and he made exciting discoveries about God. Because we have limited intellectual resources, we cannot comprehend His fullness. Whoever comes to God, must do so by both emotion and will.
Furthermore, Augustine was searching for God on his own terms. Although man might strongly desire to know God, this will only happen as He reveals Himself to man. The haunting questions about life will remain unanswered without God.
The Bible is the centre of Augustine’s spiritual experience. He said that development in Christianity is impossible outside God’s message in the Scripture.
God’s nature is love. His love provides, pursues, protects and pardons. There is a sharp contrast between God’s love and the sin of man. Even in times that he did not regard God, He was pursuing and protecting him. God protected him in the face of sin and generously forgave when he cried for forgiveness.
God is patient and knows the right time to take action. Though the fulfillment of the promise may sometimes be long delayed, God is prepared to wait a long time.
2. ADMITTING NEED
The sense of ‘adoring wonder’ always stayed with Augustine. We only truly see ourselves when confronted by our holy, but loving God. This is how we learn to know how desperately we need His transformation in our lives.
We are arrogant
Human pride is the biggest sin. It can only be vanquished by Christ’s sacrifice. Every person has to descent from his own pride and kneels in humility.
We are rebellious
The Lord also came to transform the rebel. Sin is to persistently refuse to consider God’s perspective on our lives. It is both malevolent (willfully causing harm) and corporate (doing it in the company of other makes it even more attractive).
We are unfulfilled
“You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
The discovery of true rest only comes as all other values become less attractive. God is everything that we are not, Augustine learnt. He does not come to us, because we deserve Him, but because we need him.
3. RECEIVING HELP
A mother’s prayers
Augustine helped his readers by exposing both the strengths and frailties of his mother. In relating the story of his own conversion he offered encouragement to parents whose children did not yet accept their faith. When Augustine decided to sail to Rome Monica pleaded with God, saying that she had lost her influence on her son. Later, when joining him in Italy, she had the honor of seeing her son converted and baptized.
A friend’s death
The voice of God can be heard even during times of bereavement. During his stay at Thagaste an unknown friend of Augustine became desperately ill. Augustine realized that he was afraid of death.
This bereavement marked a very important stage in his spiritual journey. This death accentuated the importance of true friendship and to seriously think about death.
A teacher’s failure
God uses life’s costly experiences communicate great truths to us. Whoever yearns for spiritual maturity might discover that there are more tolearn from the disappointments of life than its pleasures.
A Preaher’s gifts
Augustine was impressed by three inseparable characteristics of Ambrose’s ministry, namely the integrity of his life, the quality of his work and his message’s authority. He did not only preach about love, but practiced it daily.
A Scholar’s testimony
Victorinus, a Latin translator of Greek philosophy, later became a committed Christian. Whenever we think we have the strength to do anything for Christ, we do not know how effective this work will be or how long the fruit will remain.
The touching story of Anthony, another convert to Christianity, made Augustine to look at his personal lifestyle and values. He discovered that those who want God in their life, must be willing to see themselves – their failure in the past, their present sin as well as their future danger.
His writings would be read and studies in all continents and far beyond his own lifetime. An eternal work starts when men and women surrender their lives to Christ.