The classical Roman writer and politician, Cicero (106-43 BC), was a twofold influence on the young Augustine. In reading Cicero, Augustine first lost his interest in taking up the Christian faith, but years later was still influenced by Ciceronian thought patterns and writing style. But later, through a love of wisdom in him that was inspired by Cicero, Augustine was attracted back to the Christian faith and to baptism by an inner calling that finally he could no longer resist. The influence of Cicero then pervaded in both the thought and Latin writing style of Augustine until the day he died.
Augustine received his early education in Thagaste and then in nearby Madaura, studying especially rhetoric (the persuasive use of language) and Latin literature. He learned to read by studying the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC), and he learned to speak well by studying the Roman orator and politician, Cicero (106-43 BC). In Carthage at about the age of nineteen Augustine fell in love with the concept of wisdom through reading the works of Cicero.
Indeed, it was a turning point in which his heart was changed profoundly: "I was urged on by a passionate zeal to love and seek and obtain and embrace and hold fast wisdom itself, whatever it might be." (Confessions, III, 56-57) He abandoned the plan to become a lawyer in the civil service, as expected by his father and by Romanianus, a wealthy patron who had supported his studies. The Hortensius also counselled against the pursuit of sensual pleasure because it distracted a person from the discipline of thought. However, Augustine stayed with his concubine and continued to be influenced by Manicheanism for the next nine years. Even so, he began to question deeply the meaning of evil and the power of sin. Classical scholars identify the influence of Cicero - some would go further to say the emulation of Cicero - in some of the writing style of Augustine, and in his choice of writing topics. Through his writings Cicero, who lived four centuries before Augustine, was a mentor to Augustine. Since the writings of Cicero (who had died centuries earlier in the year 43 BC) made no mention of Christ whom Augustine had heard of as a boy, he decided to compare the wisdom of Cicero to the Christian Scriptures. In comparison with the writings of Cicero, however, Augustine in his adolescence found the Latin quality of the Scriptures very disappointing. In later describing that time of his life, Augustine said: "To me they seemed quite unworthy of comparison with the stately prose of Cicero."
During his time of growing up and early adulthood, Augustine had decisively departed from the Christian teachings concerning truth and morality that he had received as a youth. Yet this same very search for truth and wisdom led him to seek Christian baptism a dozen years later. Through all of the years of spiritual unease ("restlessness") up to the time of the conversion of Augustine to the Christian religion, Cicero would remain the one master from whom the young African learned the most. (Coninued on the next page.)
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