Among the most memorable statements ever uttered is Saint Augustine’s prayer, “You made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in you.” And, outside of the Bible, perhaps the most famous conversion story in all of Christendom is of the man who penned that prayer.

The radiant event of Augustine’s conversion occurred in the late summer of A.D. 386. It was followed by a period of solitude and inner spiritual training that climaxed at his baptism on Easter Sunday, A.D. 387. As we close this sixteen-hundredth anniversary year of Augustine’s initiation into Christianity, the many insights we can gain from his conversion journey are exceedingly relevant to the contemporary scene.

An Arduous Pilgrimage

The story of Augustine’s conversion (told in his Confessions) is well known. After years of struggle with lust and skepticism about the faith, he sat one day musing in a Milan garden. There he heard a child say, “Tolle lege”—take and read. He then “snatched up” the Letter to the Romans and read until his “heart was filled with a light of confidence and all the shadows of [his] doubt were swept away.” It was a great moment, but to understand Augustine’s conversion rightly, we must first realize it did not happen in a vacuum. There was a very long, intricate, and often arduous path that led up to it. And we, today, in our preoccupation with the crisis of conversion, often forget the importance of the pilgrimage that precedes and follows conversion.

Crucial to Augustine’s seeking after God was the yearning aroused in him early on by Cicero and others, to love wisdom and seek after truth. A brilliant mind himself, Augustine, at ...

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