The turning point for Augustine in his conversion to the Christian religion happened in a garden of a house in Milan in the summer in the northern hemisphere in the year 386. Augustine then had many months to spend before his baptism at Easter 387. To prepare for it, he went to the house of a friend in the countryside at Cassiciacum near Milan as a place of retreat. He also wrote to the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, to apply for baptism at Easter the following year. Augustine then received this preparation from Ambrose.
The catechumenate (RCIA) program known to many Catholics internationally today owes much to the practices of the early Church, particularly to Ambrose of Milan. Augustine received baptism through the catechumenate program of Ambrose, and many Augnet readers today will see that the program today is generally identical with it. At the beginning of Lent in the year 387, Augustine, Alypius, and Adeodatus (the son of Augustine who was then aged fifteen years) had their names inscribed on the list of catechumens seeking baptism at Easter that year.
In Latin they were called competentes, or "seekers." This required them to attend the religious instruction that the bishop Ambrose diligently gave daily to such persons. These instructions were know as the Scrutinies, and thereby Ambrose came to know personally those seeking baptism. (Paulinus, a contemporary who became the biographer of Ambrose, commented, "Ambrose used to do so much for the competentes as scarcely five bishops could do after his death.")
At each Scrutiny, Ambrose taught and also carefully tested the disposition of each candidate. (At the time, the Christian religion was legally the required religion within the Empire, and Ambrose sought to delay any person who as yet was approaching baptism largely for non-spiritual reasons.) Ceremonies followed the instructions: signing the candidates with the cross, exorcisms, the touching of the ears, and the giving of a copy of the Gospels.
Close to Easter itself there was the liturgical presentation of the Creed. The practice in those times was that the copy was also ceremonially returned, symbolising that the candidates had all learned the profession of faith by heart and would preserve it from falling into the hands of non-believers. The discipline of the secret was still strong. This was evidence that the memory of persecutions as recently as a few generations previously was still fresh; there had been times when a person possessing a copy of the Creed could have been martyred for having it. Candidates also learned the Lord's Prayer. In one of the final scrutinies, those preparing for baptism were allowed into a special Eucharist to see their sponsors receive Communion, which they themselves would receive at the Mass of the Easter Vigil immediately after their baptism.
This was probably the first Mass that the competentes had witnessed right through; previously they would have only been permitted to be present for the Liturgy of the Word. (This for the obvious reasons was inappropriately sometimes called the Mass of the Catechumens, even up to the time just before the Second Vatican Council forty years ago.) During Lent the competentes would have been fasting. In the Easter Vigil ceremony, the ompetentes entered the church in procession with the clergy and Bishop Ambrose. They moved amidst a sea of candle flames, and were swept along by the congregational singing of the psalms.
Augustine described the unforgettable scene. He alluded to his own great appreciation of music and liturgy: "And so we were baptised .... What tears I shed in your hymns and canticles! How deeply was I moved by the voices of your sweet singing Church. Those voices flowed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart, which overflowed with my passionate devotion. Tears ran from my eyes and happy I was in those tears." [Confessions 9, 193-194]
Augustine had discovered that a human being can only find a true peace by accepting the peace offered by the Creator. In what is probably his most famous quotation, Augustine declared to God in prayer in his Confessions: "You made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you." [Confessions 1, 1] As already stated, Augustine's son, Adeodatus, was baptised in the same ceremony as Augustine.
For the Augnet photo gallery containing images of Milan (including ones of where Augustine’s baptism probably took place), click here.