St. Augustine on the Walls
Conversion in the garden
Augustine’s encounter with Ambrose precipitated an intense internal struggle in Augustine’s soul. On the one hand, he wanted to become a Christian. At the same time, he could not give up his pursuit of worldly success and sexuality. This struggle ends in one of the most powerful and intense moments in Confessions. Augustine is in a garden with some friends and he hears children singing a song that has the words “Tolle Lege” ("pick up and read"). He picks up a book of St. Paul’s letters, and puts his finger on a passage at random. That passage (Rom. 13: 13-15)seems to speak exactly to his dilemma and suddenly all his resistances melt away and he is finally converted (8.12.29). Finally he is able to give up us worldly pursuits and devote himself to God, and, at last, his restlessness seems to come to an end and he can finally "rest in" the Lord (9.3.5.).
Here we see Augustine seated under the tree with the book. The figure on the right is probably his friend Alypius. Some people think the figure on the left is a divine figure, signifying the inspiration led him to find this passage. Augustine's spiritual journey started with another "tolle lege" experience, where he "picked up and read" the Hortensius. Now he completes the journey by picking up another book, but this time it is St. Paul, rather than a pagan author.
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Images are taken from: The Web Gallery of Art. Quotations from St. Augustine's Confessions, translated by Maria Boulding, O.S.B., (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press) 1997. Author: John Immerwahr, Update: May 6, 2008.