Confessions: A Person Who Was Kind To Me
That man of God took me up as a father takes a newborn baby in his arms, and in the best tradition of bishops, he prized me as a foreign sojourner. I fell in love with him, as it were, not at first as a teacher of the truth—as I had no hope for that whatsoever in your church—but simply as a person who was kind to me.—Saint Augustine, Confessions 5.23
Augustine was a man on the run, searching for purpose, meaning, and happiness. He thought he would find it in Rome but did not. In Carthage, students barged into classes they were not enrolled in, and those who were enrolled left class without the teacher's permission. Rome, he thought would give him more clout and a classroom of respectful students and rigid instructions. However, he discovered that Roman students were cheaters who would walk out just before the end of classes to avoid paying the teacher (5.22.2).
Still on the run, an opportunity opened up in Milan to teach Rhetoric. While Augustine took the opportunity to pursue his own goals, this move would eventually lead him to leave the Manichees because of the influence of Bishop Ambrose who would influence him to convert to Catholicism.
From v.23-25 Augustine talks about Ambrose’s incredible intellect, reasonableness, and poise. However, what is interesting to note is that it was not these characteristics that made Augustine convert or become curious. In fact, it was not even a strong argument. But rather, it was Ambrose’s fatherly care for him (5.23.2).
Augustine fell in love with Ambrose not because he was a teacher of truth but simply because “he was a person who was kind to me” (5.23.3). Ambrose was not as “cheering or charming” (5.23.3) as Faustus, but he hung on to the words of Ambrose simply because he loved him. Augustine did not care about what Ambrose had to say, but he cared about Ambrose. And he thus drew near “little by little and unconsciously.” While he did not feel ready to convert, his friendship with Ambrose was enough to make him a catechumen.
It was not a better argument that opened the door into Augustine’s heart, but a mentor's love. I heard it once said, “no one ever converted because they lost an argument.” While I do not know how true that statement is, there is credence to what it is trying to communicate: arguing/debating is not the best or the only method to convince.
Augustine would have considered himself an intellectual that was only convinced by reason. Only to find himself convinced by love. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). I would add to Jesus' words, “by loving one another, the world will see me.”
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
—1 John 4:16
Living Word, give us a heart to love others as you have loved us that we may make manifest your grace in the world.
Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.