Tag Archives: augustine of hippo; saint augustine; saint monica; the saint’s mistress; confessions

Young Augustine

Young AugustineAugustine’s Confessions is sometimes referred to as the first autobiography.  But it’s not an autobiography in the 21st-century sense, a revelation of events and emotional reactions going all the way back to childhood.  The Confessions center on God more than on Saint Augustine himself.  It is an autobiography of what he considered his most important relationship, his relationship with the divine.

That relationship with God is ultimately what’s most important about Augustine, of course, but in creating him as a fictional character in The Saint’s Mistress, I had to be curious about what he was like as a teenager, when my main character, Leona, first met him.

The basic facts of his life were easy enough to find.  His parents, Monica and Patricius, married in 354, when Monica would have been only 21 and Patricius around 40.  Their first son, Aurelius Augustine, was born on November 13, 354.  Two siblings, Navigus and Perpetua, followed.  The marriage was not happy.  Monica was a devout Christian; Patricius was Pagan, hot-tempered and sexually unfaithful.

I thought that, above all, young Aurelius was probably an earnest, responsible young man who tried to be pleasing.  As the brilliant firstborn son of parents of modest means, he must have felt driven to prove himself.  As the child of parents who, by all accounts, were almost constantly at odds with each other, I imagined that he must have been a peacemaker who tried to play both sides in any conflict.

I portrayed him that way in my opening scene near the pear orchard.  In Book II of the Confessions, Augustine describes the minor crime that he and his friends committed in stealing pears from a neighbor’s orchard.  He admits that he participated to increase his standing among the gang of wild boys who were his friends at the time.  In my opening scene, right after the pear theft, two of his friends attempt to molest Leona and her sister.  Aurelius is uncomfortable with that but hesitates to speak up until another boy defends the girls.  He doesn’t want to hurt innocent girls, but he doesn’t want to look weak or timid to his bolder friends.  He wants the respect of his friends, but he wants the girls to like him, too.    He can’t have it both ways, and Leona forms an unfavorable first impression of her future lover.

As the love story of Aurelius and Leona unfolds, and they both mature, again and again Aurelius is forced to choose between what’s right and what’s popular, between pleasing others and following his own moral compass.  As he matures, he more often and more easily makes the right choice.  In imagining his growth from earnest, eager-to-please Aurelius to Saint Augustine, I came to love and respect him, both as a saint and as a flawed and complex human being.