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Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma, Volume 1

Conversion and Apostasy, 373-388 C.E.

By Jason David BeDuhn

Publication Year: 2012

Augustine of Hippo is history's best-known Christian convert. The very concept of conversio owes its dissemination to Augustine's Confessions, and yet, as Jason BeDuhn notes, conversion in Augustine is not the sudden, dramatic, and complete transformation of self we likely remember it to be. Rather, in the Confessions Augustine depicts conversion as a lifelong process, a series of self-discoveries and self-departures. The tale of Augustine is one of conversion, apostasy, and conversion again.

In this first volume of Augustine's Manichaean Dilemma, BeDuhn reconstructs Augustine's decade-long adherence to Manichaeism, apostasy from it, and subsequent conversion to Nicene Christianity. Based on his own testimony and contemporaneous sources from and about Manichaeism, the book situates many features of Augustine's young adulthood within his commitment to the sect, while pointing out ways he failed to understand or put into practice key parts of the Manichaean system. It explores Augustine's dissatisfaction with the practice-oriented faith promoted by the Manichaean leader Faustus and the circumstances of heightened intolerance, anti-Manichaean legislation, and pressures for social conformity surrounding his apostasy.

Seeking a historically circumscribed account of Augustine's subsequent conversion to Nicene Christianity, BeDuhn challenges entrenched conceptions of conversion derived in part from Augustine's later idealized account of his own spiritual development. He closely examines Augustine's evolving self-presentation in the year before and following his baptism and argues that the new identity to which he committed himself bore few of the hallmarks of the orthodoxy with which he is historically identified. Both a historical study of the specific case of Augustine and a theoretical reconsideration of the conditions under which conversion occurs, this book explores the role religion has in providing the materials and tools through which self-formation and reformation occurs.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-20

When people in the Christian tradition, or even in the secular culture informed by the Christian heritage, bring up the subject of conversion, they think first of Augustine of Hippo. The concept of conversio owes its dissemination to his masterwork, the Confessions. ...

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1. Becoming Manichaean

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pp. 21-41

The very term “conversion” carries with it certain implicit assumptions about a sharp and clear differentiation between identities and commitments from which and to which a person passes. The concept depends upon a boundary of exclusiveness that generally did not apply to the religious...

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2. Inhabitation

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pp. 42-69

In being attracted to Manichaeism, Augustine had been drawn to a system—a planned, promoted, coordinated set of practices and rationales for those practices. In contrast to the haphazard, largely unplanned, and evolving forces that shape human character and identity in...

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3. Indoctrination

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pp. 70-105

Given what we know of Augustine and his interests, Manichaeism was able to bring “religion”—that is, personal identification with a cultic community—into his life for the first time because of its engagement in the sort of philosophical and metaphysical discourse represented by his other studies. ...

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4. Faustus

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pp. 106-134

In the face of Augustine’s difficulty in committing wholeheartedly to the Manichaean faith, and his inability to make progress toward fully identifying his self as a Manichaean one, others repeatedly commended Faustus to him as an authority. Implicitly, such a completely informed...

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5. Exile

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pp. 135-164

In the very period that he would later characterize as one of discontent and disaffection, Augustine had become a veritable Manichaean insider. After nearly a decade of proselytizing, entering into public disputation, and forming discussion groups in support of the Manichaean cause...

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6. The Apostate

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pp. 165-192

Two encounters proved decisive for Augustine in Milan: the Nicene Christian community of Ambrose and the “books of the Platonists.” Although Augustine had had a passing acquaintance since childhood with African Christianity, the form that the new Nicene “Catholic” communion was taking in Milan...

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7. Conversion

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pp. 193-217

Conversion tends to be thought of and discussed as a sudden, dramatic, and complete transformation of the self, instantly creating a new person changed at the core.1 The paradigm owes not a little to Augustine’s dramatic account of his own sudden decision to change his life one late...

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8. Rationalizing Faith

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pp. 218-243

Augustine now occupied the same place with respect to Christianity that he once did to Manichaeism. He had been swept up in the attractiveness of a faith, and a community practicing that faith, largely by his own attribution and embellishment of expectations. He expected “great and hidden goods”...

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9. A New Man?

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pp. 244-285

By the standard tropes of conversion, and by Augustine’s own later occasional, if inconsistent, portrayal of his story, we expect to see a new man embodied in his writings of 386–388, transformed by a breakthrough of new commitments and identifications. Yet even Augustine in his Confessions...

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pp. 286-302

When Augustine put the finishing touches to his Confessions, he made his conversion the climax of his narrative, as if that one act of reidentification contained implicitly within it all he would become as a Christian and as a man. He proceeds to end his tale at the harbor of Ostia...


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pp. 303-360


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pp. 361-388


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pp. 389-400


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pp. 401-402

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207422
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242102

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion