ST. AUGUSTINE: Confessions [Books IV-V]

ST. AUGUSTINE: Confessions [Books IV-V]

  • Without God (wisdom), Augustine is a guide to his own destruction.
  • Augustine taught rhetoric from 19-28 years old. He was devoted to one woman, and from the experience he apprehended the difference between self-constraint of the marriage covenant, and constrained love arising from the bargain of lustful love when a child is born against the parents’ will.
  • Augustine refuses to accept the offer of a wizard to perform animal sacrifices in order to guarantee Augustine’s victory in a theatrical contest.
  • Augustine would frequently consult astrologers. Augustine denounces the art of astrology as an attempt to transfer the culpability of sin from the transgressor to the creator of the heavens.
  • Augustine meets a wise physician, who tells Augustine to renounce his care and diligence for astrology. The man tells Augustine that as a child he studied astrology with the intent to earn a living by it when he matured. However, he gave it up when he discovered that it was utterly false. He did not want to earn money by deceiving others. When asked by Augustine how so many true things could be foretold by it, the wise man replies that the force of chance, which is diffused throughout the entire order of things, brings this about occasionally. The man did not convince Augustine however.
  • True friendship can only exist if it is established on a love for God, but Augustine makes one “less-than-true” friend, who shares Augustine’s inclination for fables, rhetoric, and astrology. The friend was very dear to Augustine, and died scarcely less than a year after befriending Augustine.
  • His friend was afflicted by a fever. While unconscious, he received baptism. Augustine was unconcerned about his friend’s baptism because he believed that his friend would retain the notions and opinions that he shared with Augustine rather than alter from something performed upon his unconscious body. His friend recovered enough to converse, and Augustine jested with him about the baptism. However, his friend shrunk from Augustine as if he were his enemy, and requested Augustine to refrain from speaking blasphemies in his presence. Augustine was astonished, and suppressed his emotions until his friend became healthier so that he could reproach him as he wished. However, the friend was attacked again by the fever two days later, and died.
  • Augustine sunk into a severe depression. Only his tears were sweet to him. Exhortations to trust in God were futile because the friend, being a man, was truer than an inscrutable God.
  • Augustine wonders why weeping is sweet to the miserable. He conjectures that the gloomy individual hopes that God will hear his weeping and console him, or that weeping is sweet because we loathe the things which we enjoyed before, and now that they are gone, it pleases us.
  • Every soul bound by friendship to perishable things is wretched. However, he was more enamored with his life of grief than the consolations that are found in death. He loathed to live, but he feared to die. The more he loved his friend the more he loathed death. He felt that his soul and his friend’s soul were one soul in two bodies. Consequently, he did not wish to die lest his friend die wholly.
  • He could not find repose in anything or anywhere – not in groves, not in games or music, not in bed, not in books or poetry, etc. Finally, he decided to travel from Thagaste to Carthage, believing that he would miss and seek his friend less in a country where he was not wont to see him.
  • Time healed his wounds, but the physic Augustine found was merely the cause of other griefs. The cause of his initial grief was that he loved a perishable man. He simply replaced this cause with more friends; i.e. more causes of grief.
  • Friendship consists of talking and jesting with each other, doing kind offices by turns, reading excellent books together, playing the fool or being earnest together, dissenting without discontent as if it were seasoning to the more frequent consents, longing for the absent friend with impatience, and rejoicing at their arrival. These are the fuel to melt the souls of individuals together.
  • He who befriends and loves God never loses God, and therefore does not experience the sorrow of loss of a perishable friend.
  • Wherever the soul of man turns, it is riveted upon sorrows if it does not turn to God. Worldly beauty and desires cannot abide, and therefore the soul will never find repose in them. God is eternal, and therefore the soul will find an imperturbable repose in God.
  • Jesus departed from our eyes so that we could find him in our hearts. Jesus slew death out of the abundance of his life.
  • Augustine wrote a book on the beautiful, but lost it. He dedicates the book to Hierius, an orator of Rome, whom Augustine never met, but loved for the fame of his learning and eminent reputation as an orator. Augustine loved Hierius because other men loved and extolled his virtues.
  • Augustine loves and commends actors, but does not wish to be loved and commended as an actor. He would rather be hated. Why does Augustine love qualities in particular men that he would spurn and cast from himself if he possessed those qualities? Man is a great deep, whose feelings and beatings of his heart are inscrutable.
  • Augustine loved the orator because he was praised, not for his qualities as an orator. He dedicated the book to him so that his labors might be known to the orator. If the orator praised his work, Augustine would rejoice. If the orator criticized his work, then Augustine would be injured. Augustine admired the book when he had finished writing it, but no one concurred with his opinion.
  • Augustine did not know that evil is not a substance, nor that God is that chief and unchangeable good.
  • However, the soul must be enlightened to the truth through God.
  • Augustine was wont to foolishly ask his friends “why does the soul err which God created?” He did not understand that the changeable soul had gone astray voluntarily, not according to God’s influence.
  • The weight of Augustine’s pride was compelling Augustine to sink into the lowest pit.
  • Augustine read Aristotle’s ten Predicaments, which discourses about the substance and qualities of all things using ten categories or Predicaments. Augustine understood the entire text without aid from a tutor. However, this did not profit him because he attempted to apply the ten categories to his understanding about the nature of God. This activity deceived Augustine as to the true nature of God’s unchangeable unity, greatness, and beauty.
  • Augustine discerns no profit in his talent for understanding abstruse philosophical treatises because it occasioned his departure from the truth/God. Augustine extols some men’s ignorance, which compels the men to repose in God unquestionably.

The force of chance, diffused throughout the whole order of things, brought this about.

At this grief my heart was utterly darkened; and whatever I beheld was death.

I suppose, the more I loved him, the more did I hate, and fear (as a most cruel enemy) death, which had bereaved me of him: and I imagined it would speedily make an end of all men, since it had power over him.

These and the like expressions, proceeding out of the hearts of those that loved and were loved again, by the countenance, the tongue, the eyes, and a thousand pleasing gestures, were so much fuel to melt our souls together, and out of many make but one.

Through the weight of my own pride, I was sinking into the lowest pit.

I particularly enjoyed reading Augustine’s assertion that language is inadequate to describe God because language is transitory, and consequently cannot describe that which is eternal and immutable. Language is only capable of expressing notions about physical qualities. Because God is a spiritual essence, it is impossible to adequately understand God through language. One must apprehend the nature of God within oneself without appeal to a transitory convention. In other words, God is only experienced an interpreted through deeply rooted feelings. God is ineffable.

Although Augustine denounces friendships established upon anything other than a love for the spirit of God within another individual, he gives a stirring account of the passions that even an “earthly” friendship can evoke. Granted, Augustine eloquently argues that love of misery is absurd, and therefore love of transitory bodies should be eschewed, but I believe that it would be a dull and lifeless world if we tried to remove and constrain our desires for earthly pleasures. Tranquility and repose in God sounds wonderful, but without the vicissitudes arising from fleshy desires, then the world would become insipid. Humanity requires strife to maintain their sanity, or they will sink into the ennui characteristic of the idle aristocracy.

  • God is everywhere, though no one place encompasses all of God. Those who attempt to flee from God are engaging in a futile endeavor.
  • When Augustine was 29 years old, a Bishop of the Manichees, named Faustus, a great snare of the Devil, came to Carthage. Faustus was an eloquent speaker, and renowned for possessing much valuable knowledge. Augustus was eager to speak with Faustus about some Manichean myths which contradicted some of the ancient philosophical propositions, which Augustine believed to be convincing. Through philosophical investigation and mathematics, philosophers were capable of predicting the movement of the heavens, but could not find God. The philosophers were only capable of expounding truths about the physical world.
  • Men marvel that they are capable of predicting eclipses, the movement of the stars, etc., so that they become conceited, turning from God, and believing that they are divine. However, they do not search for the origin of the rational faculty that allowed men to derive these calculations.
  • Mani, the prophet of Manichaeism, wrote about the stars and planets, but his assertions contradicted those of secular philosophy, which were credited by experience.
  • Augustine argues that a man, who knows God, but not the method by which to perform calculations concerning the physical world, is in a much better state than the capable mathematician who neglects God. Furthermore, the man who possesses knowledge of both God and mathematics is not better off than the man who solely possesses knowledge of God, for knowledge of God is the possession of all the wealth of the world.
  • Mani’s fervent assertion that his discredited writings about the movement of the stars were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, undermines his religious arguments.
  • Whenever Augustine discussed these faults in Mani’s writings with other Manicheans, they always asserted that Faustus would be able to solve Augustine’s objections. Therefore, Augustine eagerly awaits Faustus’ arrival in Carthage. Augustine discovered that Faustus was very eloquent, but uttered the same doctrine preached by Mani. Because Faustus could more fluently and pleasingly pronounce the doctrine did not make it any truer. Wisdom and folly are like wholesome and unwholesome foods; and adorned and unadorned phrases are like courtly and country dishes. Either kind of food can be served in either kind of dish.
  • When Augustine was able to converse with Faustus, he discovered that Faustus was ignorant of the liberal sciences. Faustus acquired his eloquence from daily practice in speaking, but did not possess the knowledge that Augustine expected.
  • When Augustine confront Faustus with his concerns about the validity of some of Mani’s writings, Faustus candidly admits that he does not possess knowledge in such abstruse subjects, and therefore declines to speak on the subject. This endears Faustus to Augustine because, at the least, Faustus recognizes his ignorance, and does not presume to speak about matters with which he has no wisdom.
  • Augustine’s friends persuade him to travel to Rome to teach there. In Rome, adolescents are restrained by regular discipline, unlike adolescents in Carthage, who frequently burst in upon a class, and disrupt the order that the teacher had established for the benefit of his students. This behavior is tolerated in Carthage by custom. Thus, God allured Augustine to Rome, where he would find salvation.
  • His mother grieved at his impending departure, and followed Augustine to the sea, determined to thwart his plan to sail to Rome. However, Augustine lied to his mother. He feigned that he had a friend whom Augustine could not leave until he had a favorable wind to sail. During the night, Augustine surreptitiously departed. His mother wept to God, but God knew what she actually desired – the salvation of Augustine. Thus God disregarded her prayers that Augustine should remain in Carthage with her.
  • When he arrived in Rome, he became severely ill. If he had died, then he would have gone to hell. But God saved him, so that he would not die a double death, that of the body and of the soul. His mother ceaselessly prayed for Augustine, laboring more in the spirit than she labored during her pregnancy in the flesh.
  • If Augustine had died at that moment, his mother would never recover from the wound. She desired neither gold nor silver, nor any mutable or passing good, but only the salvation of her son’s soul.
  • He still socialized with the Manicheans, and believed the doctrine that some inscrutable substance within a human sins, not the human itself. Thus, Augustine rejoiced in his power to condemn something else as the cause of his sin rather than himself.
  • Augustine feared to believe that Jesus was born in the flesh lest he should believe that the flesh defiled Jesus.
  • Although adolescents did not disrupt teachers, some students contrived to leave a teacher for another, so as to avoid paying the original teacher. Augustine hated this practice, but not with a perfect hatred. He hated it because he suffered a wrong, not because the students did something unlawful.
  • Milan requests a rhetoric teacher from Rome. Augustine applies for the position, and attains it. In Milan, he meets Bishop Ambrose, who will lead Augustine to God. Augustine loved Ambrose because the bishop was kind to him, not because he was a teacher of Truth.
  • Augustine did not care for the matter about which Ambrose spoke. He attentively analyzed the style and performance of his speech. Although Augustine was primarily concerned with the rhetorical style, an eloquence of Ambrose, he soon discovered that when he opened his heart to utter how eloquent Ambrose spoke, he also thought of how truly he spoke.
  • Augustine began to investigate whether he could convict the Manicheans of falsehood. If he could conceive of a spiritual substance, then he would be able to refute their entire doctrine, but he could not. Nevertheless, he concluded that the tenets of philosophers were more probable than the tenets of Mani. Thus, he decided to abandon Manichaeism, and become a Catechumen in the Catholic Church until a certain Truth dawned upon him.

They are similar to fish in the sea that wander over the unknown paths of the abyss.

Wisdom and folly are as wholesome and unwholesome food; and adorned or unadorned phrases as courtly or country vessels; either kind of meats may be served up in either kind of dishes.

The most arresting insight that Augustine makes in Book five of his Confessions is that an eloquent speaker does not necessarily utter truths. Likewise, an ineloquent speaker can utter truths. The most profound ideas can be effectively expressed in unadorned phrases, and it is often seen that bombast can obscure the intention of the speaker so that the listener is incapable of comprehending the speech.

I am astonished that Augustine never thought to read the Bible metaphorically until he heard Bishop Ambrose explain some of the stories found in the Old Testament in such a manner. Augustine is a very scholarly man, and it seems highly improbable that he would never consider interpreting a text metaphorically. Perhaps Augustine was more persuaded by the rhetorical skill and techniques utilized by Ambrose than he wants to believe.

Confessions (Oxford World’s Classics)

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