A Fifth Kind of Conversion

A Fifth Kind of Conversion

On January 13, 2023, in the apostolic island of Malta, there was the launching of a book about Saint Augustine of Hippo named: Searching and Confessing. Augustine of Hippo’s Quench for Wisdom and Truth. Malta: Augustinian Province, 2023 (ISBN: 978-9918-0-0430-0).

Searching and Confessing is a recent publication of the Augustinian Professor Fr Salvino Caruana. The book of 255 pages consists of five main chapters on an extremely detailed and well documented elaboration of various themes from Augustine of Hippo’s oeuvre. In the opening chapter the author delineates Augustine’s journey, and inner travail, until he was conquered by the Grace of Christ. Thanks to the insistence on him of his saintly mother Monica to accompany her to the basilica where the saintly Bishop of Milan, Ambrose, preached. Although he was never able to meet the saint much to Augustine’s dismay, he was, however, convinced to abandon the Manicheans and embrace the Catholic faith in which Ambrose baptized him on the 24th of April 387.

All along this New Way of life, Augustine acknowledges a series of conversions, which he describes as confessions too. A confessio peccatorum, a confession of sins; a confessio humilitatis, a confessions of humility; a confessio infirmitatis, namely, a confession of weakness, infirmity; and a confessio laudis, a confession of praise of God, his Maker and Creator. All four kinds of conversion he marvellously described in the very first paragraph of the first chapter of The Confessions, a masterpiece of Early Christian literature. Augustine eventually confesses: Give what You command, and command what You will (10,29,40).

According to Fr Salvino, there is yet another, a fifth kind of conversion, namely, a confessio pastoralis, the unquenchable desire, and power of words, with which the Saint strived to carry along and convert his hearers in Hippo Regius. In one particular Sermon the Bishop confessed: I will not save myself without you (17,12). Augustine contrasted four major streams of false doctrine, namely, that of the Manicheans regarding the True Faith; that of the Donatists regarding the True Church of Christ; that of the Pelagians with regards to spiritual endeavours and the Grace of Christ;, and, finally, that of the Semipelagians, regarding the merits of the good actions (spiritual) of some Monks of the monastery of Hadrumetum.

Fr Salvino then proves how mistaken one would be should one consider Augustine’s whole pastoral activity in Hippo as primarily directed towards the spiritual well-being of the Catholic population of the Saint’s diocese. In the fourth chapter the author considers in detail Augustine’s relentless and unflinching efforts in order to alleviate the severe consequences of a number of social injustices which his community in Hippo Regius was daily subjected to by dishonest and wicked local political administrators. He set up the renowned matricula pauperum (Letter 20* (Divjak) 2), from where all kinds of goods and daily needs were distributed freely to the poor. Augustine also saw to the setting up of a sort of hospital, known as a Xenodochium (Sermon 10), where everyone could receive medical care and cure gratis. This, Fr Caruana, describes as another form of confession, namely, a confessio caritatis.

The apex of Augustine’s spiritual march the author considers in the fifth and final chapter. In it Fr Caruana describes in detail the Person and work of Christ, the Christus Medicus, the Divine Doctor. Augustine understood very well the necessity of cure in the body’s unending struggle for survival. Christ had seen to this in His mission for the Jews first, and then for all His contemporaries. He cured miraculously all the sick that were brought to Him, and in a few cases, raised them back to life from the clutches of death. According to Augustine, Christ was thus not just the divine Doctor but also the divine Medicine that cures all. He alone, and no other medical doctor, was able to cure all kinds of ailments as He alone knew from which stuff man had been created and He alone therefore knew best where to place His curing hands on mens’ sick bodies. He was the Creator and Saviour of all, and knows also man’s weaknesses and sins, and whom he considered as the poor traveller who fell victim to some highway robbers.

Augustine understood very well the depth of the wound which the evil one had caused, namely pride. It was in order to heal us from this wound that Christ had come as our Doctor, unique and humble. The Sacred Scriptures define Christ as the heavenly sent Medicine to cure man’s pride and help him on the way towards health; all this is revealed and considered, according to Augustine, in the account of the Eight Beatitudes according to Matthew.

A discussion of the book took place on Friday, January 13, 2023 at 18.00 hours at the Millennium Chapel Hall, Paceville, St Julian’s. The panel was made up of the Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Malta Revd Dr Stefan Attard, and the HOD for Patrology of the same Faculty, Revd Dr Jonathan Farrugia. Parking was free accessible to all those who wanted to attend this important event within the Augustine scholastic year, with prior arrangement with Fr Hilary Tagliaferro OSA. Furthermore, entrance was free and after the event drinks were served for the occasion. The book was on sale at a reduced price for those present for the launching event.

The book Searching and Confessing. Augustine of Hippo’s Quench for Wisdom and Truth by Professor Fr Salvino Caruana OSA is another valid instrument in bringing into life the great Father of the Church Saint Augustine, which the Church as well as society badly needs his intellectual and pastoral insights.

The insightful text on the book’s blurb, written by Rev Professor Enrique A. Eguiarte Bendimez OAR, the Editor of Augustinus, says it all. He writes: Augustine of Hippo was a man that could be distinguished because of his quest for Wisdom and Truth. In the last chapter of The Trinity – written in his late sixties, sometime after 420 CE -, Augustine confesses to the Lord in the last pages of this magisterial text, his desire to continue searching for God, Wisdom, and Truth: O Lord my God, my one hope, hear me, lest through weariness I be unwilling to seek You, but that I may always ardently seek your face. Do give strength to seek, who has made me find You, and has given the hope of finding You more and more (15,28,51). Professor Salvino Caruana too, like Augustine, in the rich season nearing his third quarter of a century, invites us to follow Augustine’s path towards Wisdom, Truth and salvation. The experience of many years as a teacher and as a prolific writer can easily be seen in the pages of this book, in which he invites us to follow Augustine’s story, and be able to discover how our own personal story could be very similar to that of this great Saint.

Thus, in Augustine’s words, tolle, lege; tolle, lege, that is “take, read, take, read!”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap