Augustine is arguably the most famous theologian in church history. He certainly seems to be the most referenced. After recently reading about and discussing his life for a church history class, I was reminded by a fellow student of Augustine’s struggles and how they compare with the struggles of young adults.
Take for instance the religious pressure from his mother. Christian history is rightly quick to mention the answered prayers of Augustine’s mother for both her husband and son. Yet we also see that there were many years of Augustine’s journey that did not include Christianity. During all of it he seems to have been aware of his Mother’s desire for his conversion.
This leads to the next similarity: that of Augustine’s spiritual journey. Early on he became involved with a religion known as Manicheism. After rejecting Manicheism he became a Neoplatonist. As we all know, many young people today experiment with different religions and/or philosophies. The only difference is that Augustine was mostly unwilling to blend these religious views (even with historical commentary that much of his later Christian work maintained Neoplatonic elements) in the same way that we see young people blending religions and philosophies like some sort of “world-view a la carte”.
Part of his struggle was with the Bible and how it was written. With his formal training in rhetoric, he saw the Word as void of the eloquence and precision which he thought valuable to a sacred text. While the Bible has been, and in many ways should be, a stumbling block for many people in every generation, this is also a significant point of similarity with today’s youth. Especially in a post-enlightened society, modern critics put on the Bible standards of history and literature which were literally unheard of in the time of its writing. These criticisms ring loudly in the ears of young people, especially those with secular educations (note-I’m not condemning secular educations and/or institutions).
Lastly we might consider the obstinance which Augustine demonstrates in his conversion. Though he was being led for some time towards a full commitment to the Christian Gospel, he was unwilling to commit to soon. Augustine himself admits to having prayed, “Give me chastity and continence; but not too soon.”! For better or for worse, we must admit the reluctance of some young people to fully embrace the Gospel simply for wanting to “live” (or what they perceive to be living) before they settle down and become “religious” (or what they perceive to be religious!).
The redemption of course comes in his eventual acceptance of the Gospel and the way in which God used him. Thus we find encouragement that our prayers, like the prayers of Augustine’s mother, may yet be answered.