The problem St. Augustine confronts in the Confessions is fundamentally one of rhetoric: God should be singularly desirable, yet rhetoric seems necessary to motivate our pursuit of him. Religion participates in the relative marketplace of rhetoric, where ideals need to be authorized because they lack a self-sufficient rationale. In his early encounters with Cicero and the Platonists, Augustine struggles to renounce all such partial ideals in order to pursue philosophical truth unequivocally. Yet the refusal of rhetoric is, paradoxically, another willed ideal authorized by its own rhetoric. Augustine ultimately escapes rhetoric in the conversion scene by demonstrating his inescapable subjection to it; in doing so, he surrenders his will in such a way as to permit God's grace to operate through him. His conversion ultimately results from this inverted humiliation, which forces Augustine to abdicate his ascetic efforts and pretensions.

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