Chapter XII.—The Excellent Answer of the Bishop When Referred to by His Mother as to the Conversion of Her Son.
21. And meanwhile Thou grantedst her another answer, which I recall; for much I pass over, hastening on to those things which the more strongly impel me to confess unto Thee, and much I do not remember. Thou didst grant her then another answer, by a priest of Thine, a certain bishop, reared in Thy Church and well versed in Thy books. He, when this woman had entreated that he would vouchsafe to have some talk with me, refute my errors, unteach me evil things, and teach me good (for this he was in the habit of doing when he found people fitted to receive it), refused, very prudently, as I afterwards came to see. For he answered that I was still unteachable, being inflated with the novelty of that heresy, and that I had already perplexed divers inexperienced persons with vexatious questions, 265 as she had informed him. “But leave him alone for a time,” saith he, “only pray God for him; he will of himself, by reading, discover what that error is, and how great its impiety.” He disclosed to her at the same time how he himself, when a little one, had, by his misguided mother, been given over to the Manichæans, and had not only read, but even written out almost all their books, and had come to see (without argument or proof from any one) how much that sect was to be shunned, and had shunned it. Which when he had said, and she would not be satisfied, but repeated more earnestly her entreaties, shedding copious tears, that he would see and discourse with me, he, a little vexed at her importunity, exclaimed, “Go thy way, and God bless thee, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should perish.” Which answer (as she often mentioned in her conversations with me) she accepted as though it were a voice from heaven.
We can easily understand that Augustins dialectic skill would render him a formidable opponent, while, with the zeal of a neophyte, he urged those difficulties of Scripture (De Agon. Christ. iv ) which the Manichæans knew so well how to employ. In an interesting passage (De Duab. Anim. con. Manich. ix.) he tells us that his victories over “inexperienced persons” stimulated him to fresh conquests, and thus kept him bound longer than he would otherwise have been in the chains of this heresy.