St. Augustine talks with his son, Adeodatus
(Latin title, De Magistro)
Imagine for a moment a brilliant-minded person teaching a younger brilliant-minded person how to learn. Now, imagine that a father with this superior intellect sits down with his highly intellectual teenage son and fires up his boy’s capacity to learn. Finally, imagine both father and son confessing their faith in Jesus, being baptized together, and teaming up to pen theological truths that assert the Lordship of Jesus, the inerrancy of Scripture, and the wisdom of God.
In a twenty-first century setting, we are prone to let our minds wander to coffee shops and coffee tables where man and boy – father and son – talk about subject matter of prime interest to the father (e.g., having a good work ethic), even if it’s of only secondary or tertiary interest to the son.
Yet, the son hungers for something more. He wants dad to explicate truth, expound upon life’s mysteries, and explain improbabilities. He wants to hear from his father the hard sayings of hard lessons, perhaps even impossible lessons.
But turn your mind to another century; in fact, another millennium. Mentally hover around 400 A.D., plus or minus a few years. Buddhism has spread rapidly in Asia. Native North Americans take up bows and arrows instead of spears as weapons of choice. Rome was on the verge of falling. Christianity spread far and wide, a Godly movement in many ways but exploitative in others.
Our present setting with Augustine and his 16 year old son, Adeodatus, takes place while these historical events unfold. Adeodatus was born out of wedlock when Augustine was just a teenager. Eventually, the mother gave up Adeodatus to Augustine, then sequestered herself in simple, holy, albeit remorseful living the rest of her life. Most of her story is lost in the annuls of history.
But father and son pressed on in the world, in life, the younger following in the older footsteps of knowledge and reasoning. In his early 30’s, Augustine landed in the Bible where, in reading Romans 13:13-14, he was moved from worldliness to faith in Jesus Christ. Fifteen year old Adeodatus also confessed faith in Jesus, and the father-son team marked the beginning of their spiritual journey by being baptized together.
We’re now in northern Africa near an area over which Augustine would eventually be named bishop. The Teacher is played out in a dialogue between Augustine and Adeodatus. In the end, the teenager acknowledges what their learning session accomplished. It is this confession that Godly men everywhere should hope to hear from the mouths of their own sons or mentees:
“…(A)s to whether what is said is true, He alone teaches who when He spoke externally reminded us that He dwells within us. I shall now, with His help, love Him the more ardently the more I progress in learning.”
A teenage boy desiring to love God more passionately? …And that, as a result of what the father teaches? …Assessing Truth from the thoughts, words, signs, and actions of the most influential man in his life? Would only that be the goal for every man in leading his own son or the one he mentors!
Augustine and Adeodatus strike a chord in the hearts of Godly men and obedient, Godly sons. And one thousand six hundred years later, their experience together provides powerful lessons for men and boys who live to love Jesus more ardently, more fervently, as they progress in learning the truths of God:
- In sorting out grammatical, if not philosophical, differences between “signs” and “words” (a rather complex discourse early in the reading), Augustine acknowledges Adeodatus as being keen yet deceived about the subject discussed. Augustine says, “In order to be undeceived, note with increased keenness what I shall say, if indeed I am able to say it as I wish.” Augustine went on to give an analogy about learning, teaching, and interaction. About this Adeodatus said, “I am all attentive, for that analogy has aroused my interest.”
- How can fathers teach their sons so that their genuine interest is aroused?
- Augustine drew on Scripture to help his son understand the topic of conversation. Read II Corinthians 1. Verses 18-20 mean that there is no ambiguity with Jesus. He is Truth (Yes), never untruth (No). Likewise, boys need to see a positive role model in the Godly men that surround them. Fathers: What will you do to make yourself strong for your son? What will you avoid or change?
- One of Augustine’s favorite designations for God is Truth.
- Fathers: How do you refer to God when talking to your sons? Is He “the man upstairs?” “The big guy?” Forbid either! He is God Almighty, and there is not enough space here to adequately name His holy names. So, what name(s) will you use when talking to your son about God? About Jesus? About the Holy Spirit?
- Augustine’s purpose in discussing “sign” and “word” with his son was to “prepare ourselves not only to bear, but also to love the warmth and light where the blessed life reigns.” Adeodatus’ reply to that was, “…I shall never think of belittling what you think worth saying or doing.”
- Sons: How are you responding to your father’s instruction? Are you clinging on every word or are you rolling your eyes behind his back? Commit now to never think of belittling those things your father teaches.
- In another body of literature, Augustine said, “To live happily, what else is that than to possess eternal knowledge?”
- Read John 14. Verses 6-7, Jesus calls Himself the way, the truth, and the life. There is eternal happiness – joy – walking the way with Jesus, talking the truth of Jesus, and living life in Jesus.
- Talk about the way of Jesus: He died on the cross for our sins, He was buried, and God raised His Son to life, all according to the Scriptures (I Corinthians 15:3-4).
- There is truth in everything about Jesus. What truths are revealed in John 14?
- Commit as a father and son (or mentor and mentee) to be accountable to each other in living for Jesus: spiritual disciplines, moral and ethical choices, personal habits.
- At one point, Adeodatus hesitated to answer a complex question, thinking “something might escape me and my mind not prove keen enough to penetrate it.” Augustine replied, “I am glad to see your hesitation; for it betokens a cautious attitude of mind, and that is the greatest safeguard of tranquility… The lesson is: Just as it is right to yield to arguments that have been thoroughly investigated and weighed, so it is hazardous to consider as known what is not known. Since things which we presume are going to stand firmly and endure, are frequently undermined, there is the danger of our falling into such a great dislike or distrust of reason that we might decide not to place confidence even in evident truth.”
- Rash judgment by a father against his son, or a son against his father, should always be avoided. In other words, hold your anger away from one another for that is the greatest safeguard for peace in father and son relationships. Place confidence in truth over error, right over wrong, and especially God over the idols in the world.
- What happens when a father second guesses his son? What happens when a son second guessed his father? What is to be done about either?
- Augustine noted, “Everything I understand I know; I do not know all I believe. But I am not for that reason unaware how useful it is to believe also many things which I do not know… Hence, although the majority of things cannot possibly be known by me, yet I know how very useful it is to believe them…”
- Sons: Your father or mentor doesn’t know everything, but neither do you! Consider his experiences in life and how, for the first time, he is trying to impart knowledge to a young man in need of a father’s instruction. Let your father guide you in life, feed you spiritual truths, and protect you from the evil one. You may think he is not doing the best way he should, but perhaps you are not learning the best way you can. Newsflash: You are both human! That is why we have the truths in God’s Word to help us.
- In a still, quiet place, read Proverbs 4 as a father and son team, or mentor and mentee team. Read it word for word out loud. From this chapter discuss the responsibilities a father has to his son, and a son has to his father.
Though small in content, The Teacher is large in its capacity to move fathers and mentors to more meaningful relationships with the boys in their lives. It does not take the place of the Bible in doing so, and never was it Augustine’s and Adeodatus’ intent. It is not a comprehensive lesson in fatherhood or sonship either, but it certainly launches both into the atmosphere of knowing how to be a better father… and a better son.
The volume I read for this study is Ancient Christian Writers: The Greatness of the Soul and The Teacher, translated by Joseph Colleran, Newman Press, 1978. References per the above outline numbers:
Page 158 (and end note #33)
Page 158 (and end note #35)
Page 186 (Adeodatus’ quote on loving God more ardently and he learns)