When our friend Augustine headed to Rome, he was looking for fame and fulfillment and even happiness. He did not find it in Rome. He spent only a few short months there, and then he went north to Milan. We have been talking about the places in Augustine’s life, places like his birth town, Thagaste, Carthage, Rome, and Milan. Let’s now talk about the people in Augustine’s life. We’ll mention just five for now.
First is Monica, his mother, a devout Christian. She never stopped praying for her son. She was relentless, indefatigable in her pursuit. She kept a close watch on that son of hers, and wherever he went, she was not far behind. She followed him to Rome, and she even followed him to Milan.
Next is Olympias. Olympias would be a lifelong friend of Augustine. They were in Carthage together, and they sailed to Rome together. They were in Rome briefly for those few months, and they were also in Milan together.
Third was another friend, but we don’t know the name of this friend. It was as if Augustine couldn’t bring himself to name him in the pages of the Confessions. About this time, Augustine was around thirty years old. We assume this friend was about the same age, entering into the prime of his life, as it were. He contracted some type of illness, and he died. And this terribly affected Augustine. As I mentioned, he could not even bring himself to tell us his friend’s name. This close friend’s death was a ringing alarm clock wake-up call for Augustine. It really sent him searching.
Fourth is Bishop Ambrose. Ambrose was a formidable theologian and an eloquent preacher. Remember that at this point Augustine is a teacher of rhetoric. He has his own academy in Milan. He has a reputation as a teacher of rhetoric, and he has a number of pupils. He’s very successful. And as a teacher of rhetoric, he looked for examples and samples of good speakers and good speeches. He found one in Bishop Ambrose. Augustine was first drawn to Ambrose for his rhetoric, but as he listened to Ambrose, he also listened to the content of what Ambrose had to say. All of this was driving Augustine to read the Scriptures again, to consider God again.
That brings us to our fifth character, the one that Augustine called the Hound of Heaven. This, of course, is the main character in this story: God. All along Augustine’s travels, it was actually God who was relentlessly pursuing Augustine, and God was bringing Augustine to himself.
This happens in one more key place: a garden in Milan. In this garden, Augustine was feeling the weight of his sin. In fact, he writes in the Confessions, “For I felt that I was still the captive of my sins, and in my misery I kept crying ‘How long shall I go on saying “tomorrow, tomorrow”? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?’”
Well, at that very moment, all of a sudden, Augustine heard children’s voices chanting, as if it were part of a game, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” Tolle lege, tolle lege, in Latin. And what did he have in his hands but Paul’s epistle to the Romans. So he opened it up, and he read it. And the light of the gospel flooded his soul. Augustine declared, “Oh Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”
One long circuitous journey had come to an end. Augustine had found that fulfillment he was searching for. He found that happiness, and he found it in God. And now a whole new journey commenced.