After completing his formal education with three or four years of study in Carthage, Augustine in the year 374 returned to the much smaller location of Thagaste, his home town, to develop his teaching career.
No doubt his status locally was raised by his education in Carthage, but both his professional life and his personal life met problems in Thagaste. As he later described these two years in his Confessions, the providence of God was there to prompt him. No sooner had the young Augustine established himself in his teaching career [Confessions 4, 4, 7], accompanied by his concubine (4, 2, 2), with his friends and his adherence to the Manichaean religion (4, 1, 1) than, "Lord, you took the man from this life when he had scarcely completed a year in my friendship, sweet to me above every sweetness of that life of mine." (4, 4, 7)
Here was the first of a number of close deaths that in a span of a few years were going to affect Augustine profoundly and provoke him to confront unanswered metaphysical questions that allowed him no peace. Augustine expected that Manichaean doctrines would give him answers to all questions, but this did not happen. Instead, he had to admit that he became "a great mystery" to himself. Everywhere he looked in his native town, he was reminded of his dead friend.
Every happy memory of their past times together turned into a "cruel torture." (4, 4, 9) Over twenty years later when writing his Confessions, Augustine confronted this "great mystery." (4, 6, 11) As deeply as he had been grieving for his friend, Augustine discovered even more deeply that the friend was more dear as an instrument for creating the pleasures of friendship than he was dear to Augustine as an individual person. Augustine could now admit that he had mourned the loss of the friendship with his friend more than he mourned the loss of the friend himself.
His main point was that he should have lifted his burden to God. He should not have sought solace in human friends for the pain he had lately found as part of all human friendship. But whether a mature Augustine could ever break the cycle and fully learn to love his Christian friends in God (4.12.18) is an open question. In Thagaste Augustine began to teach grammar, living in the house of Romanianus, a prominent citizen who helped since the death of his father and whom Augustine had converted to Manicheanism. (In the year 390 at the time of his own ordination to Catholic priesthood, Augustine wrote for Romanianus his work, De vera religione ("About the true religion") in his desire to draw Romanianus back from Manicheanism to Christianity.)
Monica deeply grieved the heresy of Augustine, who was the subject of so many of her continual prayers. For a time after he returned from his studies in Carthage, she refused him, his de facto partner and their son a place in her home. Only a vivid dream altered her decision. In this dream, she saw a radiant being approach her as she was bewailing the spiritual ruin of Augustine, her son. This angel told her to be consoled, because where she was her son also would be. Augustine suggested to Monica that this might be predicting a loss of faith by his mother. But she instantly rejoined that the words were not "Where he is, there thou shall be." This was nine years before his conversion. The Manicheanism of Augustine upset Monica, and she would never accept it. She was confident that he would become a baptised Christian, and prayed unceasingly for that to occur. She was actually to witness it happen in Milan only months before her death in Ostia in the year 387.
From the absence of any opposite comment in the Confessions, it is presumed that Monica came to tolerate the de facto arrangement of Augustine with his female partner, and at a practical level accepted the couple. Even so, she did not hesitate to break the relationship apart eleven years later in Milan when it stood in the way of an arranged marriage she helped to set up for Augustine. In Book Four of the Confessions that covers this period of his life, Augustine reported achieving some progress toward truth. In part through the influence of his close friend Nebridius, Augustine concluded that astrology was "utterly bogus." This was to be an important first step in his discarding the bizarre mythology of the Manichees. By rejecting this dubious form of prediction and the elaborate sacrificial rituals that often accompanied it, Augustine began to attribute the occasional success of astrology almost entirely to chance. Augustine saw chance as "a power everywhere diffused in the nature of things."
His presence in Thagaste after the death of his un-named friend was made difficult because it became painful for him to see the familiar venues of their past friendship. He decided in the year 376 to transfer his teaching role to Carthage, the only other place he knew. As so in the year 376 Augustine, his un-named concubine and Adeodatus, their son, returned to Carthage, where Augustine was for the next eight years was a teacher. He left behind Thagaste, his home town, but was to return there about thirteen years later in 389, when he established a Christian lay community there.
For the Augnet photo gallery on Algeria (including Thagaste), click here.