Chapter 15.—A businessman named Firmus converted by a digression in a homily.
I also know—not just myself alone, but also the other brothers and fellow servants that were living with us at that time in the Church of Hippo with the same holy man [i.e., Augustine]—once when we were all seated at table he said, “Did you notice my sermon today in the church, and that its beginning and end proceeded contrary to my custom, since I didn’t explain to the end the matter that I had proposed at first, but left it hanging?”
To which we responded, “Yes, we know, and remember that at the time we were surprised at it.”
But he said, “I believe that perhaps through my forgetfulness and error the Lord, in whose hand both we and our sermons are, wanted someone who was in error to be taught and cured. For when I was treating the obscure points of what I had proposed, I veered off in the course of the sermon into another direction, and so finished my disputation with the question not concluded or explained, disputing more against the error of the Manichaeans, of which I had resolved to say nothing, than about the things which I had proposed to assert.”
And after that, if I am not mistaken, on the next day or two days later there came a certain businessman named Firmus, and as the holy Augustine was sitting in the monastery with us, threw himself on his knees at his feet, shedding tears, and asking that the bishop with the saints pray to the Lord for his sins, confessing that he had followed the sect of the
Manichaeans, and had lived as a member a great many years, and on its account had in vain appropriated much money to the Manichees themselves, or to those whom they call “elect”: and that he, by the mercy of God, had been in the church and had just then by his arguments been corrected and become Catholic.
And the venerable Augustine himself, and we who were present at that time, asking him eagerly what part most of all in the argument had satisfied him, he told us, and we all together between us recalled the parts of the sermon, marveling and stunned at the profound plan of God for the salvation of souls, and glorified his holy name, and blessed him; who works the salvation of souls when he has willed, and whence he has willed, and how he has willed, both through those who know and those who do not [et per scientes et per nescientes].
And from that day he, adhereing to the way of life of the servants of God, quit the business of banking, and contributing to the members of the Church, in another region also was approached and urged and attained to the office of priest by the will of God, keeping and guarding the sanctity of the way: and as it happens is still to this day living and involved in human affairs across the sea.
Possidius of Calama, Life of Augustine, 15
CAPUT XV.—Digressione concionantis conversus negotiator, nomine Firmus.
Scio item non solus ipse, verum etiam alii fratres et conservi, qui nobiscum tunc intra Hipponensem Ecclesiam cum eodem sancto viro vivebant, nobis pariter ad mensam constitutis eum dixisse: Advertistis hodie in ecclesia meum sermonem, ejusque initium et finem contra meam consuetudinem processisse, [Col.0046] quoniam non eam rem terminatam explicuerim quam pro posueram, sed pendentem reliquerim? Cui respondimus. Ita nos in tempore miratos fuisse scimus et recognoscimus. At ille: Credo, ait, quod forte aliquem errantem in populo Dominus per nostram oblivionem et errorem doceri et curari voluerit, in cujus manu sunt et nos et sermones nostri. Nam cum propositae quaestionis latebras pertractarem, in aliud sermonis excursu perrexi, atque ita non conclusa
vel explicata quaestione, disputationem terminavi, magis adversum Manichaeorum errorem, unde nihil dicere decreveram, disputans, quam de iis quae asserere proposueram. Et post haec, nisi fallor, ecce alia die vel post biduum venit quidam Firmus nomine, negotiator, et intra monasterium sedente sancto Augustino, nobis coram, ad pedes ejus genibus provolutus sese jactavit, lacrymas fundens, et rogans ut pro suis delictis sacerdos cum sanctis Dominum precaretur, confitens quod Manichaeorum sectam secutus fuisset, et in ea quam plurimis annis vixisset, et propterea pecuniam multam ipsis Manichaeis, vel eis quos dicunt electos, incassum erogasset: ac se in ecclesia, Dei misericordia, fuisse ejus tractatibus nuper correctum atque catholicum factum. Quod et ipse venerabilis Augustinus, et nos qui tunc aderamus, ab eodem diligenter inquirentes, ex qua re potissimum in illo tractatu sibi fuerit satisfactum, et referente eo, nobisque omnibus sermonis seriem recognoscentibus, profundum consilium Dei pro salute animarum admirantes et stupentes, glorificavimus sanctum ejus nomen, et benediximus; qui cum voluerit, et unde voluerit, et quomodo voluerit, et per scientes et per nescientes salutem operatur animarum. Et ex eo ille homo proposito servorum Dei adhaerens, negotiatoris dimisit actionem, et proficiens in Ecclesiae membris, in alia regione ad presbyterii quoque Dei voluntate petitus et coactus accessit officium, tenens atque custodiens propositi sanctitatem: et forte adhuc usque in rebus humanis vivit trans mare constitutus.
Possidius, Vita Augustini, 15
Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.