Friday, November 30, 2007

This Week in History : A Garden in Milan

[Meant to post this on the 28th, the anniversary of Augustine's death 1,577 years ago in 430. But since I haven't posted in so long, I suppose it'll be alright if I post it now instead.

I was browsing through old essays I had written for school and found this one I wrote several years back in the Schola Great Books II class. Wow, that seems like such a long time ago. =) It's a dramatization of Augustine's conversion.

If you haven't read any of Augustine's works, I highly recommend his Confessions. Augustine is one of the most important figures of the early Western Church and, while his theology wasn't always correct, his writing was extremely influential and helped strengthen the Christian church when the Roman Empire fell in 410.]

A Garden in Milan

I wished to speak to him, but I saw the tears rise to his eyes. He cast me a look full of sorrow and misery. The words I would have said choked in my throat.

Longing for solitude, he picked himself up and with trembling step, hurried off to a further corner of the garden.

I believe he thought I could not see him, but I could and I watched him intently. I knew what emotions racked his mind, for they racked mine as well, and I grew frightened for him.

He stumbled and threw himself down by a fig tree. The leaves danced fiercely in the harsh wind that had unexpectedly sprung up. He buried his face in his hands, weeping. I could see that from where I stood and I began to weep as well.

And then he spoke. At first, I could not catch the words, but as I listened closely, they became easier to understand. They pierced my heart and the tears fell more freely from my eyes.

“How long shall I go on saying ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?” he cried.

I had already seen the turmoil in my friend’s soul moments before. It was just after our guest, Ponticianus, had left. This man had noticed a book containing Paul’s epistles lying on our table. He immediately became overjoyed at our interest in the Scriptures and related to us a story about Antony, an Egyptian monk, who had given up everything he had to follow Christ. These things filled us with amazement at the greatness of such a sacrifice, but I noticed that they seemed to tear my friend apart inside.

When Ponticianus left, my friend addressed me in feverish tones. Although I do not recall the words he used, I knew by the strange high tone in his voice and the horrible expression in his face that he could not yet give up his sinful practices.

He ran out into the garden and I followed. In his agony, he tore at his hair and beat his forehead with his hands. And then he had run off to the fig tree and I thought it best to leave him alone.

I watched and I waited.

Then suddenly another voice fell upon my ears, light and sing-song, the voice of a child. Whether it the voice of a girl or a boy I could not tell, and at first, I was afraid it should disturb my friend, for he had looked up and inclined his head as if listening. I listened too.

“Take it and read,” it sang. “Take it and read.”

What did this mean? I had never heard a child sing these words before in any game.

My friend rose to his feet and quickly approached where I stood.

“Augustine,” I began to say, but he did not hear me. He picked up the book of Paul’s epistles he had cast aside when he left me, opened it, and read for several seconds. I watched him earnestly. And then I felt that wind that had sprung up, suddenly die down.

The voice of the child stopped singing.

My friend looked at me, his features quite calm, his face full of an emotion I had never noticed there before.

“Oh, Alypius,” he began. And then he told me everything. He told me of the emotions that had welled up within him. And he told me something that filled me with an inexpressible happiness.

For during this little episode in a garden in Milan, we had both passed from darkness to light, from wicked heathen practices to Christianity.

“What did you read?” I asked.

He showed me and I read it. And I found in those verses an admonishment that stirred my soul, but gave me great strength.

He gently put his hand upon my shoulder and said, “Alypius, we must go tell my mother. Her prayers have been answered.”

I nodded and as I looked into his face, a face devoid of all doubt and fear, I knew in my heart that this man Augustine was destined to do great things for God.

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