Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma. I: Conversion and Apostasy, 373-388 C.E

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Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma. I: Conversion and Apostasy, 373-388 C.E. By Jason David BeDuhn. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2010. Pp. viii, 402. $69.95. ISBN 978-0-812-24210-2.)

St. Augustine's conversion to Manichaeism in 373 and his remaining in that religion as a Hearer for at least a decade have puzzled many students of the life of the bishop of Hippo, who came to be recognized as one of the great, if not the greatest, of the Western Fathers of the Church. BeDuhn approaches the subject as an historian and not as a philosopher or theologian, and his book uses various contemporary studies of the nature of conversion and apostasy to clarify how the young Augustine was attracted to a group of bright young Manichees in Africa and why he remained with them for so long a time until he finally became disillusioned about being able to make progress in that form of Christianity. His study has, for the first time, made Augustine's conversion to the Manichaean religion and his remaining in it so long intelligible for me. He argues that Manichaeism offered a religion to the young Augustine that promised to satisfy his deepest spiritual and intellectual aspirations-aspirations that remained much the same for Augustine the apostate from Manichaeism and new convert to Catholic Christianity.

Augustine's conversion is often understood as an event that took place in the Milanese garden and that represented a complete transformation of his life to that of a full-fledged Catholic with a solid understanding of the faith illumined by the neoplatonism of Ambrose and others of the Milanese church. One of BeDuhn's central arguments is that not only did Augustine undergo many conversions but also that his conversion in Milan, although a genuine conversion to Catholicism or Nicene Christianity, fell far short of a full intellectual grasp of the character of his newly found faith for at least a decadethat is, until the time at which he wrote the Confessions, which put a quite different spin on the events in Cassiciacum and Milan. …