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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine

My most recent movie watched was Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine (alternatively: Augustine: The Decline of the Roman Empire).

I've disliked Augustine since I was first introduced to him in a college philosophy class ... my teacher saw him as a morally impaired social climber and I agreed ... so I wasn't sure I would like the film, but the acting and the historical bent made it worth a watch for me. Here's a bit about it from Wikipedia ....

Augustine: The Decline of the Roman Empire (Italian: Sant'Agostino) is a 2010 two-part television miniseries chronicling the life of St. Augustine, the early Christian theologian, writer and Bishop of Hippo Regius at the time of the Vandal invasion (AD 430). This series was directed by Christian Duguay and was shot on location in Tunisia. In the United States, the film is distributed under the title Restless Heart: The Confessions of Saint Augustine.

The movie begins in Hippo Regius in 430 CE with Augustine near the end of his life and the city about to be attacked by the Vandals under King Genseric ... this reminds me of another film, Attila with Gerard Butler, in which the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains takes place in 451 involving Romans, Visigoths, Huns, Sarmatians, and Ostrogoths ;) (see my post about the movie).

- ruins of Hippo, the Basilica of St. Augustine

But back to Augustine - most of the film is a flashback of his life from boyhood to his conversion to the siege of Hippo Regius. The material is mainly drawn from Augustine's Confessions ...

I read the Confessions in college and the movie did seem to touch on all the high points from the book, including Augustine stealing pears as a kid. The movie also depicts his time as an orator/lawyer/rhetoretician in Carthage, a profession that was, then as now, about persuasion and the malleability of the truth. He goes on to Milan to become the court orator for the Roman emperor Valentinian II ...

As a child, Valentinian II was under the influence of his Arian mother, the Empress Justina, and the imperial court at Milan, an influence contested by the Catholic bishop of Milan, Ambrose. Justina used her influence over her young son to oppose the Nicean party which was championed by Ambrose. In 385 Ambrose, backed by Milan's populace, refused an imperial request to hand over the Portian basilica for the use of Arian troops.

The film has the emperor's mother hiring Augustine as an orator to sway the public against the Bishop of Milan, (saint) Ambrose, which he does, but eventually Augustine is won over by Ambrose. This part of the movie set in Milan was interesting because of Ambrose introducing Augustine to Neoplatonism, and because of the mention of Arianism. Besides the emperor and his mother being Arian Christians, Genseric, the king of the Vandals who besieged Hippo while Augustine was bishop, also followed the Arian form of Christianity.

Arianism is the nontrinitarian, heterodoxical teaching, first attributed to Arius (c. AD 250–336), a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt, concerning the relationship of God the Father to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. All mainstream branches of Christianity consider the teaching to be heretical. Arius asserted that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father. The Ecumenical First Council of Nicaea of 325 deemed it to be a heresy. At the regional First Synod of Tyre in 335, Arius was exonerated. After his death, he was again anathemised and pronounced a heretic again at the Ecumenical First Council of Constantinople of 381. The Roman Emperors Constantius II (337–361) and Valens (364–378) were Arians or Semi-Arians.

- from the ceiling of the Arian Baptistry, which was built by the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great

The one thing I found cheesy about the movie was that it rationalized away the worst thing of which Augustine was guilty - abandoning his woman friend of 14 years, the mother of his child, in order to marry the 11 year old daughter of a wealthy and influential man who could help him in his pre-church career. The film constantly opines that Augustine wanted to marry the mother of his child but just couldn't because she was a slave (there's no basis for this belief) and the film also has her decide on her own to make the sacrifice of leaving him and her only child so that he could marry the heiress (he implies this in the Confessions but it's not spelled out).

Is the movie worth seeing? You might really like it if you can believe that a self-serving jerk can be transformed by a conversion experience into someone who would write ...

Love endures in adversity, is moderate in prosperity; brave under harsh sufferings, cheerful in good works; utterly reliable in temptation, utterly open-handed in hospitality; as happy as can be among true brothers and sisters, as patient as you can get among the false one's. The soul of the scriptures, the force of prophecy, the saving power of the sacraments, the fruit of faith, the wealth of the poor, the life of the dying. Love is all.

Here's a trailer ...


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