Augustine and Reading (Part 1)
3/11/2011 | Author: RCW
I mentioned previously that several early Christians had a more positive opinion than Tertullian did concerning the value of reading both inside and outside of scripture.

For one of the most amazing and influential Christians, St. Augustine, reading was a key that God used to bring about his conversion.  In Augustine's famous Confessions (a classic work in literature, philosophy, theology, spirituality, and Christianity), Augustine cites several ways that reading influenced his spirituality and even his conversion to Christianity.
    Augustine explains that even though reading Cicero had originally helped to push him away from God, he had been living apart from God and living entirely for himself until reading Cicero pushed him to return to God...
      In the ordinary course of study, I fell upon a certain book of Cicero, whose speech almost all admire, not so his heart. This book of his contains an exhortation to philosophy, and is called Hortensius*. But this book altered my affections, and turned my prayers to Thyself, O Lord; and made me have other purposes and desires. Suddenly every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardour in my heart. I began to rise up and return to you.  [Confessions, III. IV].**
      He continues: 
        My God, how I burned, how I burned with longing to leave earthly things and fly back to you. I did not know what you were doing with me. For "with you is wisdom" (Job 12:13, 16)...This book [Cicero's Hortensius] kindled my love for it [wisdom].  There are some people who use philosophy to lead people astray...That text is a clear demonstration of the salutary admonition given by your Spirit through your good and devoted servant (Paul): "See that no one deceives you by philosophy and vain seduction following human tradition; following the elements of this world and not following Christ, in him dwells all the fullness of divinity in bodily form" (Col. 2:8-9).  At that time, as you know...I did not yet know these words of the apostle.  Nevertheless, the one thing that delighted me in Cicero's exhortation was the advice "not to study one particular sect, but to love and seek and pursue and hold fast and strongly embrace wisdom itself, wherever found". [ibid.]
          And yet, Augustine explains that that Cicero's book couldn't entirely grip him because it failed to mention Christ, whom he almost innately knew to be the real source of truth.  He "therefore decided to give attention to the holy scriptures and to find out what they were like" [ibid, III.V].
          Augustine's story gets better and involves more about reading...But I will have to continue his story in the next entry.   


        *One of my biggest disappointments in life is that we don't really have an existing copy of Cicero's Hortensius, which was basically an "Exhortation to Philosophy." All we have are small fragments that give us a general idea of its outline. 

        **My translation is mostly that of Henry Chadwick and only minimally from Edward Pusey's.
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