After Augustine’s conversion, he resigned his post as teacher of rhetoric in Milan, and then left for several months to Avila and the area of Lake Como, at the foot of the Alps. It’s a beautiful place. Here Augustine will write his first books as a Christian. He had been writing books since 380. All of those early books, his preconversion books, are lost to us, but in 386, he will begin a whole new writing career.
First, a quick word on his writing. Augustine would dictate to a notetaker who used a system of note-taking called Tironian notes. This was named for Tullius Tiro, the scribe for Cicero. These Tironian, or shorthand, notes would then be written out into longhand. They would be edited, and then become a book. There were no commercial publishers in those days, but there were networks of scribes and of scholars and friends. You would make a few copies of a book and distribute it to these associates, to these friends, and they would make more copies. Then from those copies would come even more copies. It was a matter of supply and demand. There was a great demand for books from Augustine, and there was a steady supply.
But what were these first books that Augustine wrote as a Christian? What were they all about? He called them dialogues. They were recorded conversations he had with himself there at beautiful Lake Como. He personified this dialogue with Reason, that is, Augustine and Reason would have these dialogues. Augustine was drawing on this genre of the dialogue from the great Greek philosopher, Plato. These dialogues covered such topics as truth, the immortality of the soul, and happiness.
In them, we see the themes that will come to dominate Augustine’s teaching. He was, after all, a teacher. He taught, first of all, the nobility, the value for the pursuit of truth. Let’s not be satisfied with lies and falsehood and mere shadows, but let’s relentlessly pursue the truth. Second, he helped us understand the relationship between faith and reason. Too often, reason is jettisoned. We think that it is a combatant of faith. Not so, argued Augustine. God created us with a mind. He created this world as a rational world, and God wants us to use our reason to know Him. Augustine had a wonderful way of talking about the relationship of faith and reason.
Finally, Augustine taught that everything begins and ends in God. This world, our very lives, all of our efforts, human history, truth, wisdom, and happiness are all found in God. He is the beginning. He arches over every moment and aspect. And God is the end. He is the Alpha and the Omega. In one of these early dialogues, Augustine writes, “O God, the Truth, in, by and through whom all truths are true; the Wisdom, in, by and through whom all are wise who are wise; the True and Perfect Life, in, by and through whom live all who live truly and perfectly; the Beatitude [that is, the Happiness], in, by and through whom all the blessed are blessed; the Good and the Beautiful, in, by and through whom all good and beautiful things have these qualities.”
God is the beginning. God is the end, and God is all in all. That is what Augustine taught us.