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 begin 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.
(Continued on the next page.)