From Sinner to Saint: Augustine's Conversion to Christianity

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During his youth, Saint Augustine attained a level of wealth and renown that many might consider indications of a life well spent. His rhetorical abilities provided him with a means to access nearly any form of bodily pleasure, a luxury that all people strive for and often confuse with true happiness. However, despite achieving what countless individuals hope for, Augustine realized that the life he was leading did not bring him happiness. The philosophies of Manichaeism and Neo-Platonism to which he previously adhered left him disillusioned and dissatisfied. The quest to fill his spiritual void led to his eventual adoption of Catholicism. Before making the commitment to God, Augustine underwent a lengthy process of addressing all of the questions that stood in the way of his full acceptance of God, and took the situations he faced as signs of God's overwhelming grace and willingness to accept humankind. This process included an extensive probing of God's nature, the realities of time, and the beginnings of Earth and the Universe: topics that Augustine felt must be confronted in order to base one's faith upon a foundation of reason. This conversion of the mind was followed by a conversion of heart, a process that fulfilled Augustine's conversion by complementing his rationalization of God with true faith. The Confessions chronicles this exhaustive trial and gives us insight into Augustine's conversion from a life of sin to a life carried out in accordance with the rules of the Catholic Church.

To Augustine, God represents the sole constant in a universe that is continuously undergoing change. He is unwavering in his belief that God is imperishable, inviolable, and unchangeable. Were any of these three conditions proven false, it would imply that there existed a power capable of competing with God. God's knowledge is so all encompassing that there is nothing in existence that can "surprise" him and alter his will in any way. Augustine states that, "corruption can touch our God in no way what whatever: neither by will, nor by necessity, nor by any unexpected misfortune." There are no conditions under which a human may be subject to corruption that are applicable to God.

God himself is the essence of unity and synchronization. His power and his will are not separate entities but are identical to his being. His thoughts, words, and deeds to not occur separately, but instead all exist simultaneously, and have existed for all eternity. This notion is at the heart of Augustine's assertion that God is eternal. All that God entails has been and will be in existence forever, and will at no point be subject to modification of any sort. Augustine's God operates on the same plane as Plato's "Form of the Good," in that he is the purest form of existence and nothing that exists in his image is capable of achieving his perfection, although on some level this state may be viewed as the underlying goal of all life that abides under God.

In creating the universe, God did not use preexisting materials, nor did he use any of his being. Were he to have used any materials that he had not created himself while molding the Earth, how could he be considered omnipotent? In addition, were he to have used part of his being to form the Earth, how could anything be subject to damage if God is imperishable? We thus can conclude that God created the universe with nothing other than his will. This then brings up the question of how evil can exist among the material created by God. Augustine's solution to this conundrum is to view all of God's creations as subject to different spheres of goodness, some closer to God than others. The idea that God only created good things is rooted in the reality that all things are destructible, implying that there was something good to be destroyed. Therefore, although God's creations might not be made of God, they are all God-like to some degree in that they possess some amount of goodness.

In addressing the...
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