ST. AUGUSTINE: Confessions [Books II-III]

ST. AUGUSTINE: Confessions [Books II-III]

  • Augustine will write about his past transgressions not because he enjoys them, but so that he might love God.
  • Augustine desired to love and be loved, but he confused true love – that of mind for mind – with lust for the body.
  • Augustine’s father furnished Augustus with necessary money and resources to travel to Carthage and study there despite being a poor man. However, his father had no care for Augustine’s moral instruction, so long as Augustine became an excellent orator.
  • When Augustine’s father saw him in the public baths, he rejoiced that Augustus was maturing into an adult and anticipated with delight his future grandchildren. Thus men forget God in the tumult of the senses. However, his mother feared the sinful temptations awaiting Augustus.
  • God spoke through his mother, admonishing him not to fornicate or defile another man’s wife, but Augustus scorned God’s counsel, and would have been ashamed to follow such “womanish advices.” He competed with his friends to behave the most shamefully. He and his friends would boast of their sexual exploits, and when Augustus did not sin as the others had done, he lied, and said that he had done what he had not, so that he would not be contemptible in innocence.
  •  Augustus’ father disclosed Augustus’ sexual exploits to his mother, but she did not wish to restrain Augustus’ concupiscence with marriage, lest it prove a hindrance to his study and worldly success.
  • Augustus’ iniquity served as a mist which concealed the brightness of God’s truth.
  • Iniquity does not efface the law written on the hearts of all men to do unto others as you would have them do unto you; for even thieves will not abide other thieves.
  • With some lewd friends, Augustus stole some pears not for the taste or from lack of nourishment, but for the sake of the sin itself. Augustus rejoiced in his depravity. He loved to sin, and sought nothing from transgressing but the transgression itself. This behavior is similar to Iago in Othello.
  • The lesser goods of the physical world bestow delight, but do not engender the felicity of the high goods derived from communion with God.
  • Augustine laments that most people sin to attain one of the lower goods, but he sinned merely for the sake of sinning. Therefore, he regards himself as most wretched.
  • Augustine argues that sin is a man’s perverse desire to become God. Covetousness attempts to possess all things, and God possesses all things. Anger seeks revenge, and God revenges all injustice. Pride imitates exaltedness, and God exalts over all. Etc.
  • Augustine loves, honors, praises, extols, and confesses to God because God forgave his past transgressions.
  • Augustine maintains that if he was alone, he would not have stolen the pears. He loved the theft itself, and he delighted in the company of others partaking in the same perversion. The occasion of his crime was the presence of accomplices. Friends often deprave one another.

I had grown deaf by the clanking of the chain of my mortality.

Behold with what companions I walked the streets of Babylon, and wallowed in the mire thereof, as if in a bed of spices and precious ointments.

I loved to sin. I loved my own sins, not that for which I sinned, but the sin itself. What a foul soul, falling from Thy firmament to utter destruction.

O friendship too unfriendly! thou incomprehensible inveigler of the soul. When it is said, “Let’s go, let’s do it,” we are ashamed not to be shameless.

Augustine’s admission that he sinned for no other reason but to sin is worthy of consideration. Perhaps the most famous character in literature who desires to commit evil with no other purpose but the commission of that evil is Iago in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello. While Iago is indignant that Othello promoted Cassio to Lietuenant instead of him, and vague suspicion exists as to whether Othello slept with Iago’s wife, these are mere motivating factors for Iago’s malevolence. Iago has no purpose or goal which he hopes to achieve by committing villainy other than to behave maliciously. It is frightening to consider that a real person – Augustine – can be inclined to sin for the sake of sinning itself, and that men such as Iago are not mere fictions. However, Iago never repents or seeks redemption for his transgressions, but Augustine does, and eventually finds peace in God.

I also found Augustine’s notion that all things strive to return to God very interesting. Even when a man sins he is attempting to return to God, albeit in a perverted fashion. Here, God represents stability and peace as opposed to the mutability and turmoil of the physical world.

  • Augustine arrived in Carthage, determined to find love, and to enjoy the person he loved. Eventually he found love, but God justly besprinkled that sweetness with bitterness. Augustine was plagued with jealousy, suspicion, fears, anger, and quarrels for his love.
  • Augustine also indulges in tragedies. He deems it a madness of men to desire to be made sad by beholding doleful and tragic scenes.
  • Augustine loved to grieve, and sought grief. He regards this affection as a disease.
  • Augustine became the most superior student in the school of rhetoric. He rejoiced proudly, and swelled with arrogance. However, he did not participate in his friends’ favorite pastime of jeering at modest passersby on the street, he abhorred the practice. He writes that the evil spirits were ironically deriding and jeering at them as they denigrated and mocked the passersby.
  • Augustine vaingloriously desired to be pre-eminent in the school, and accordingly studied diligently and intensely. In his studies, Augustine discovered a book by Cicero called the “Hortensius.” The substance of the book was an exhortation to philosophy. Augustine immediately renounced all vain desires, and longed with an incredibly burning desire for the immortality of wisdom. At this moment, he sought to return to God, who represented the immortality of wisdom.
  • His passion was checked only because the Hortensius did not contain the name of Jesus Christ.
  • Thus, he turned toward the Holy Scriptures. However, he regarded the writing as crude and infantile. He was too proud to apprehend the subtle mysteries hidden beneath the unrefined language.
  • Augustine discovered the Manicheans, and began to study their teachings. Augustine hungered for the truth, but the Manicheans were traps of the devils. They taught him that it was better to love the sun than fantasies which deceive the eye. Although the sun is one of God’s magnificent creations, it is only a creation, not God himself. God is not corporeal, nor is he the soul, which is the life of the body. God is the life of souls, the life of lives.
  • At that time, he did not know that evil is nothing but the absence of good, that God was spirit and wholly everywhere, and that we contain the image of God within us.
  • Some men foolishly notice apparent contradictions in God’s commandments given in the Bible. They do not comprehend that distinct people in disparate ages of the world require different laws as different pieces of armor are suitable to different aspects of the body. Justice is not mutable, the times are. That which is right at one time in history can be wrong in another.
  • God’s authority must be obeyed in preference over man’s authority. When God’s commandments conflict with man’s, then men should follow God’s laws.
  • The Manicheans insidiously taught Augustine that more mercy would likely be shown to the fruits of the earth than to man, for when a hungry man ate a fruit, he seemed to commit murder, and the fruit to suffer a great injustice.
  • Augustine’s mother grieved over Augustine’s blasphemies and immorality. God comforted Augustine’s mother with a dream in which God told her not to worry because where she was, there also was Augustine. This dream assured her that Augustine would see the error of his ways, and attain salvation.
  • Augustine’s mother entreated a Bishop to speak with Augustine, to refute Augustine’s error, and teach him good things. The bishop refused, stating that Augustine was not ready to receive instruction. His mother persisted, and importuned the Bishop to help Augustine discern the turpitude of the Manichean teachings. The Bishop, a little annoyed at her importunity, told her not to worry, for it is not possible for the son of her tears and implorations to perish. She believed that God had spoken through the Bishop, assuring her that Augustine would be saved.

Every vain hope at once became worthless to me; and I longed with an incredibly burning desire for an immortality of wisdom, and began now to arise, that I might return to Thee.

God is the life of souls, the life of lives.

In Book 3 of his Confessions, Augustine justifies the contradictory commands of God found in the Bible. Augustine argues that as certain pieces of armor are suitable to particular parts of the human body, so too are certain laws applicable to particular people at a particular time. To extrapolate that justice is therefore immutable is a non sequitur. Times change, justice does not. Accordingly, that which is right at a certain moment in time for a specific group of people might be entirely wrong for a dissimilar group of people living numerous years afterwards.

Another important anecdote to remember from Book 3 is the occasion for Augustine’s desire for wisdom. During his studies in rhetoric, Augustine’s teachers assign him the Hortensius, written by Cicero, to study the style and persuasive techniques which Cicero uses to strengthen his argument. However, the style and techniques do not captivate Augustine as much as the content of the Hortensius. In the book, Cicero exhorts the reader to philosophy. This exhortation fills Augustine with a fervid longing for the immortality of wisdom, and Augustine commences his pursuit of it, renouncing all vain mundane pleasures for this goal. Unfortunately, the Hortensius is not extant. To read the argument that persuaded Augustine to religiously chase after wisdom would be insightful to say the least. However, Augustine’s zeal is contagious, and evokes that same intense longing for the immortality of wisdom in the reader of the Confessions.

Confessions (Oxford World’s Classics)

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