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LET me speak of
another celebrated conquest of God’s grace in an after age, and you will see
how it pleases Him to make a Confessor, a Saint, Doctor of His Church, out of
sin and heresy both together. It was not enough that the Father of the Western
Schools, the author of a thousand works, the triumphant controversialist, the
especial champion of grace, should have been once a poor slave of the flesh,
but he was the victim of a perverted intellect also. He who, of all others, was
to extol the grace of God, was left more than others to experience the
helplessness of nature. The great St Augustine (I am not speaking of the holy
missionary of the same name, who came to England and converted our pagan
forefathers, and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, but of the great
African Bishop, two centuries before him)–Augustine, I say, not being in
earnest about his soul, not asking himself the question, how was sin to be
washed away, but rather being desirous, while youth and strength lasted, to
enjoy the flesh and the world, ambitious and sensual, judged of truth and
falsehood by his private judgment and his private fancy; despised the Catholic
Church because it spoke so much of faith and subjection, thought to make his
own reason the measure of all things, and accordingly joined a far-spread sect,
which affected to be philosophical and enlightened, to take large views of
things, and to correct the vulgar, that is, the Catholic notions of God and
Christ, of sin, and of the way to heaven. In this sect of his he remained for
some years; yet what he was taught there did not satisfy him. It pleased him
for a time, and then he found he had been eating for food what had no
nourishment in it; he became hungry and thirsty after something more
substantial, he knew not what; he despised himself for being a slave to the
flesh, and he found his religion did not help him to overcome it; thus he
understood that he had not gained the truth
, and he cried out, “Oh, who
will tell me where to seek it, and who will bring me into it?”

Why did he not join the Catholic Church at once? I have told you why; he saw that truth was nowhere else, but he was not sure it was there. He thought there was something mean, narrow, irrational, in her system of doctrine; he lacked the gift of faith. Then a great conflict began within him,–the conflict of nature with grace; of nature and her children, the flesh and false reason, against conscience and the pleadings of the Divine Spirit, leading him to better things. Though he was still in a state of perdition, yet God was visiting him, and giving him the first fruits of those influences which were in the event to bring him out of it. Time went on; and looking at him, as his Guardian Angel might look at him, you would have said that, in spite of much perverseness, and many a successful struggle against his Almighty Adversary, in spite of his still being, as before, in a state of wrath, nevertheless grace was making way in his soul,–he was advancing towards the Church. He did not know it himself, he could not recognize it himself; but an eager interest in him, and then a joy, was springing up in heaven among the Angels of God. At last he came within the range of a great Saint in a foreign country; and, though he pretended not to acknowledge him, his attention was arrested by him, and he could not help coming to sacred places to look at him again and again. He began to watch him and speculate about him, and wondered with himself whether he was happy. He found himself frequently in Church, listening to the holy preacher, and he once asked his advice how to find what he was seeking. And now a final conflict came on him with the flesh: it was hard, very hard, to part with the indulgences of years, it was hard to part and never to meet again. Oh, sin was so sweet, how could he bid it farewell? how could he tear himself away from its embrace, and betake himself to that lonely and dreary way which led heavenwards? But God’s grace was sweeter far, and it convinced him while it won him; it convinced his reason, and prevailed;–and he who without it would have lived and died a child of Satan, became, under its wonder-working power, an oracle of sanctity and truth. 

Blessed John Henry Newman

Discourses to Mixed Congregations, p. 53