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He converts—almost.

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Based largely on the evidence of a passage from book 8 of the Confessions , Lane Fox has the eighteen-year-old take three morals from the Hortensius to heart: that the pursuit of wisdom is far better than love of worldly gain, that worldliness is to be despised, that sexual satisfaction is a worldly good. As a hearer among Manichean adepts, a Martha among Marys, Augustine can labor at chastity and still enjoy sex on the side. The Platonists will, many years later, confirm for him his growing sense that spiritual release is of a different order of goodness than sex. It is really only of a single conversion, a perfected shift from one totalizing attachment to another, and the Augustine who confesses to it might as well be as Manichean as Platonist, as Platonist as Christian.

It is true that Augustine never converts to Christianity, but not for the reason that Lane Fox suggests—not because the agent of conversion some psychological goad is so indifferent to the way we speak our reverences.

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I say this not to inject a note of supercilious piety into my review yes, I too can distinguish Christ from Christendom! Lane Fox continues a venerable tradition of confusing humility with acquiescence to superior power. Augustine shares in the confusion; he just refuses to sanctify it. I commend Lane Fox to his best line: we Marthas get to the Mary within when we realize that there was never any place to go but there. This is not oneness without otherness; it is the beginning of speech—of confession. Please email comments to letters commonwealmagazine. Choosing the Better Part.


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By James Wetzel. Share Share Twitter Print. Published in the June 17, issue:. View Contents. Related Books. Religious Life. The early Church had little interest in the " historical Jesus " and this prevented an immediate development of the concept of literal imitation.

Instead the earliest concepts of imitation focused on the works of the Holy Spirit, self-sacrifice and martyrdom. By the 4th century, the ideal of the imitation of Christ was well accepted and for Saint Augustine , it was the ultimate goal of conversion, and the fundamental purpose of Christian life. Book 7 of the Confessions of St. Augustine includes a well known passage on "at least imitate the lowly God" that confirms the strong Christian tradition of the imitation of Christ around the year By the end of the 9th century, the physical imitation of Christ had grown in popularity among Christians and the Council of Tribur considered triple immersion in Baptism as an imitation of the three days of Jesus in the tomb, and the rising from the water as an imitation of the Resurrection of Jesus.

In the 12th century, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux considered humility and love as key examples of the imitation of Christ. Early in the 13th century, groups of mendicant friars entered the scene, aiming to imitate Christ by living a life of poverty as well as preaching, as Jesus had done, and following him to martyrdom, if necessary.

Later in the 13th century, Saint Thomas Aquinas who advocated the Perfection of Christ considered imitation of Christ essential for a religious life. The theme of imitation of Christ continued to exist in all phases of Byzantine theology , although some Eastern theologians such as Nicholas Cabasilas preferred to use the term "Life in Christ", as in his 14th-century book of the same title.

The Reformation saw a multi-directional shift in focus on the concept of imitation. In the 16th century, Martin Luther initially made the connection between Baptism and imitation even stronger. But the 16th century also witnessed a continuing interest in the imitation of Christ.

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