The Converts

ePUB-file by Rex Warner

The Converts ePUB ebook download This is a thoughtful novel about the times and circumstances of St. Augustine's conversion to Christianity when he was 33 years old in 387. The story is narrated by a fictional friend, a young legal consul called Alypius. Like Augustine, Alypius has grown up in what is now northern Algeria, then studied in Carthage (in what is now Tunisia) before he, then Augustine, went to Rome to make their fortunes. Through the earnest and wide-eyed accounts of Alypius, writing of this period in his journal, the reader learns of the tumultuous state of religion in the Roman empire. There is no central Christian church, and there are different sects, each with a different take on the gospels. While the Roman pantheon has no official place in the Empire, it is still the custom to pay homage to various of the more homely deities. As well, there are mystery cults that preach a variety of revelatory beliefs. A chief rival of Christianity is Manichaeism, which maintains the world is divided between good and evil. In this context, Christianity is but one of many religions contending for the people's devotion. Alypius reports of incidents where Christians show little tolerance of other sects and religions and are violent.

The social and political worlds are also illuminated, with Rome and its empire portrayed as an empire besieged in the north by the Goths and by Roman factionalism in the East.This political foment, though, little alters people's expectations that the Empire will prevail and that life will continue in the same fashion wanton fashion.

Augustine is presented as a charismatic teacher and mentor to Alypius and their friends, and they are excited by his fervor to understand the nature of the world. At the novel's outset Augustine has been under the influence of Manichean thought, and until his conversion is considered to be among their ranks. As with other religions and belief systems, Augustine does not see how matter and spirit combine in Manichaeism, and thus he holds with it only tenuously. As for the idea of Christianity, he and his company find it inadequate, though not on the grounds that a virgin has born a god. Augustine's mother is a Christian, and she longs to see her son become one as well. She considers that his chief obstacle to belief is his long-standing relationship with a young woman with whom he's had a child Theodatus.

Augustine is seen only from without, so the actual content of his thoughts can only be reported upon by Alypius, who maintains that Augustine is most concerned with Christianity's call for a life led virtuously, ie, without recreational sex. One extreme of this point of view is presented in the character of Jerome, an ascetic (and chaste) Christian. Augustine is shown as continually wrestling with this particular aspect of Christianity, and Alypius recounts his own experiences with sex, how it was profane and vulgar, yet capable of a sweet and spiritual transport. Augustine comes under the influence of St. Ambrose when he locates to Milan, and begins to look more favorably upon Christian doctrine and the practice of good works.

There is a good deal of the inchoate ethos of the period that is present in Alypius' naive account of events as he experiences them. It is through this screen of perception that one attempts to understand the spiritual ferment that is in Augustine and his friends, and within the culture itself, though there is a good deal about how coarse and bestial it is, as well. There is a stiff and earnest formality to Alypius' writing, but this makes his account seem all the more reliable. Alypius' earnest delving into moral and spiritual matters, while it may seem protracted, is another indication of how unsettled thought about these matters is. There are not today's ready-made or age-old religious and moral tropes to absorb the concepts, and he and Augustine are formulating things at a ground level.

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