This show’s title summons up many associations except, perhaps, the one that forms the foundation of the play.
The story of the reprobate turned religious told with sincerity and relatable passion
The show is divided into six sections that chronologically follow the more unsaintly parts of Augustine’s life leading up to his conversion: Youth; Student Life; Fatherhood; Reaching Maturity; Turning Point and Take Up and Read. That life journey also takes him from his home to Carthage, Rome and Milan; each location marking a stage in his progress from sinner to saint, although this tale leaves him mid-life when he is about to embark on the life for which he is famous. His earlier years, however, are vital to his later understanding and without his heretical period his thirteen books known collectively as Confessions would never have been possible.
As a student he joins the Subverters, a group that challenged Christianity but was searching for answers to questions of existence. He reads philosophy, relishes Cicero and adopts Manichaeism, a set of early gnostic interpretations of the world as a place of suffering and evil. He meets his love and becomes a father aged nineteen, after which he seeks stability. Haunted by hs own mortality he abandons the teaching of Mani, only to return to them after an illness in Rome, before his mother’s prayers for his conversion to Christianity are finally answered. Before that happens, however, he delivers a panegyric in praise of Caesar, but upon reflection he deems it to be shallow. He meets a beggar. The mother of his child leaves him. He returns to his lustful ways, yet utters the line for which he is most famous, “Lord, give me chastity and continence, but not yet!” He learns from a Roman official about the life and example of St. Anthony of the Desert and is led to the writings of St. Paul, wherein all is revealed to him and his conversion occurs.
Callaghan infuses the tale with his signature blend of Glasgow humour and poignancy in a storytelling style worthy of a night out with the lads in the pub. But this is the man who tackles faith-based themes head-on and has won Vatican commissions. He understands that the way Augustine grappled with issues in his life is a timeless and universal quest that captures the malaise of many young people today. It’s the story of the reprobate turned religious told with sincerity and relatable passion.