Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Of Time, Quantum Physics, and Saint Augustine

A Quantum of Solace.  Timeless Questions about the Universe.  NYTs 7/1

"...light can be a wave — no, a particle — well, actually, whatever you need it to be for your particular experiment."

Unlike most philosophies where things are always either/or, in much of Catholic philosophy, things can be both/and.  Who would thought that there would be a confluence between quantum physics and Catholic philosophy?

"...whether time is real or an illusion."

In the Confessions of St. Augustine, Book IX, Chaper X (chapter 9, section 10) is a philosophical analysis of time. Though Bertand Russell was an atheist and says that he has a different philosophy of time than Augustine, in his History of Philosophy, Russell nevertheless less says that Augustine's philosophy of time is deeply profound.  Among other conclusions, Augustine states that both the past and the future exist simultaneously, and yet only the now exists.  And that in God there is no time. 

"...Einstein once wrote, 'People like us, who believe in physics, know the distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.'"

"John Archibald Wheeler, the visionary Princeton physicist who was Bohr’s disciple, once pointed out that the future and the past are theory. They exist only in records and the thoughts of the present, a fulcrum, in which all stories end and begin."

I think Augustine was on to something.

"You may wonder who cares what time is and whether it is worth your tax dollars. It’s not a question that moves the markets, but as Bohr understood, it moves our hearts."

The Confessions - Augustine's Philosophy of Time:

Song - "Time," by the Winans

Song - "Time Has Come Today," by the Chambers brothers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxpcZrQQM-4 (best audio, no audio)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I4S61Do-Qs (video of live performance)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Muslem Universities Petition for Translation of Augustine

Saturday, September 03, 2011

French Actor Gerard Depardieu reads the Confession of St. Augustine

rather astonishing.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Graced bodies: Augustine, Cavell, and Malick

If you click on the title of this blog entry, it will bring you the article of the same name. It is an entry from the Commonweal blog, Verdicts, a blog about books and culture, written by Scott D. Moringiello on July 29, 2011.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Augustine's Neoplatonism, Purpose, Discernment, and Judgment

And while you are at it, consider Psalm 139.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Love Amidst the Brokenness - from Christianity Today

So I'm not the only one to see the parallel between 9/11 and 410!

Though the topic is more appropo for a blog on The City of God than The Confessions.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Book IX, Chapter 4

 This is a rich, dense Chapter peppered with imagery that contrasts of inner and outer eyes, lightness and darkness, bitter and sweet, anger and pity, truth and falsehood, the eternal and the temporal.

Augustine expresses his great relief and joy over becoming a Christian. Having been able to gain release from his position as a teacher of rhetoric, he delights in being able to take advantage of quiet time. The Chapter is framed by a meditation on Psalm 4, over which Augustine pours out his heart and quotes and at length. In contrast, he renounces the Manichaes at length, saying for example:
How strong and full of bitter grief was the indignation I felt against the Manichaes. Yet I pitied them too for their ignorance of those medicinal sacraments and for raging in madness against the antidote which might have made them sane.
Augustine is impressed by the line of scripture, “Be angry and sin not.” Augustine is angry at himself for having believed in Manichaenism. He contrasts his anger at himself with the Manichaes lack of anger at themselves and their anger that they direct outside themselves.

I noticed a similarity here with a passage from Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of Guilty Bystander (p338). From Augustine: “For there was both vanity and lying in those phantasms which I had accepted as the truth, and now in the grief I felt at the remembrance of it. I loaded myself with bitter and sincere approaches. I wish that those who still love vanity and seek after lying could have heard me. Then perhaps they would have been disturbed and would have vomited up their error. “ Thomas Merton quotes Fr. Evdokimov, a Russian Orthodox theologian: “One goes into the desert to vomit up the interior phantom, the doubter, the double.” The passages are talking of similar things, of giving up the false self, that is, the self that is not in God.

Augustine writes of darkness, of seeing the eternal light inside ourselves, of reading scripture with his outward eye and inwardly recognizing the truth.  Of the Manichaes, he says, "If only they could see the eternal light inside themselves." [my favorite line from this Book]

My favorite images from this section: “And now my good things were not external and were not sought with the eyes of the flesh in this sun that we see. For those who find their joys in things outside easily become vain and waste themselves on things seen and temporal and, with their minds starving, go licking at shadows.” [ allusions to Plato’s cave again]

Augustine contrasts the long period of torment preceding his conversion with the quickness of God’s mercy, making an analogy with a toothache that he had, which was miraculously relieved by prayer. Augustine interprets this as a sign of God’s affirmation of his faith. Augustine concludes by saying that his joy over his conversion is tempered because he still a only catechumen, having been “born again” but not yet Baptized.

While Augustine renounced the doctrines of the Manichaes that were contrary to the doctrines of Christianity; never the less, in the Confessions, his overall world view is Manichaen and Neoplatonic.  He should not be condemned for it. The lesson to be learned from this is that we are all a product of our backgrounds, our times, and of our environment. We need to take this into consideration when we judge others.

Book IX, Chapters 1-3

Augustine returns to Africa. While on the return trip, his mother Monica dies, and his state of joy over coming to Christ turns to grief over his mother.

1. Augustine offers obedience and praise to God. He marvels at the change in himself at how he has turned from his will to God’s, how God has entered him interiorly, and that his mind is free.

2. Augustine decides to quit his teaching position, which he has expressed extreme cynicism about anyway, calling it a “professorship of lies.” He keeps his decision quiet in order to avoid other people’s disapproval, criticism, and censure. He only tells his close friends. Augustine also had a breathing condition, and, partly, he plans on using that as an excuse for quitting. He wants more freedom.

3. Notice that there is a lot of “male bonding” going on in the Confessions. Augustine’s friends are very, very dear to him. This chapter is centered on Verecundus, who was one of Augustine’s close friends. Verecundus wanted very badly to join Augustine and his friends in becoming a Christian and becoming a member of their embryonic Christian community, but Verecundus was married. Verecundus did not want to become a Christian unless he could become celibate. For him, becoming a Christian was an all or nothing thing. The idea that one could not become a full or compete Christian without becoming celibate was common at the time. I must admire his zeal. Far fewer zealous Christians, today, desire to commit themselves to celibacy.

On his part, Augustine expresses a mysogynistic attitude towards Verecundus’ wife, but at least Augustine agrees that Verecundus should remain married. Note that for church fathers of the time, Augustine’s attitude toward marriage is a very moderate one.

Verecundus died an early death from disease. He did become a baptized Christian before his death. Just like, I wish we knew something about Augustine’s former mistress, at the very least, her name, I wish we knew something about Verecundus’ wife as well.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Augustine on Terrorism - from Christianity Today

Move your cursor over the title of this post, to get the link to the magazine article.

The following is my own experience of the event of 9/11/01:

My Experience WTC Sept 11 2001

Saturday, September 02, 2006

On Reading Augustine

Click on the link above.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More on Dualism

“Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility.”

- Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

Fr. Ratzinger spent 20 years studying Augustine and is as intimate with the thought of Augustine as anyone. Upon his election as Pope, some people worried that Cardinal Ratzinger was going to be an Augustinian pessimist. Although these observers were not referring specifically to dualism, the quote below, from the encyclical, is distinctly different from the extreme body/spirit dualism of Augustine.

In the encyclical, in an effort to first define what we mean by love, Pope Benedict looks at the various different meanings of the word as it is used in society. Then he asks the question, do each of these different usages mean something distinctly different from each other, or could it be that they share something in common, something that underlies? What is the relationship, if any, between these different meanings of the word love? The approach of the encyclical is to steer away from extreme Augustinian dualism towards a more integrated view of body and spirit.

“…man is a being made up of body and soul. Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness. The epicure Gassendi used to offer Descartes the humorous greeting: “O Soul!” And Descartes would reply: “O Flesh!” Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love —eros—able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.

Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great “yes” to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to rise “in ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.”
(taken from section 5 of the encyclical)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Question of Dualism

Not too long ago, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete was walking on the avenue by the United Nations building. There happened to be several protests going on at the U.N. that day. A woman reporter with a microphone came up to him on the sidewalk and said, “Sir, are you here to protest something?”

He looked her in the eye and deadpanned, "I’m protesting dualism.” She ran away.

Fr. Julian Carron says that dualism leads to nihilism. I think that what he is getting at is that dualism denies the religious sense. By religious sense, I mean the seeming innate ability for human being to sense the existence of a higher power. And, by dualism, I understand that Fr. Carron means the post-Cartesian, post-modern dualism.

Let’s first put this in perspective. Most of the thought of Western civilization is dualistic. Platonism and neo-Platonism are very dualistic. The Manicheans were notoriously dualistic, far more than the Greeks. As a matter of fact, in definitions of dualism in various encyclopedias and websites, the example often given is Manichaeanism.

Although Augustine vigorously rejected all of the Manichaean doctrines, he retained a latent-Manichaean and strongly dualistic perspective on reality.

I saw the History channel documentary titled Sex and the Bible. A surprise to me, I thought it was very good—informative and thought provoking, with seemingly no ideological agenda. The commentators were all women seminary or college professors. They were respectful of Augustine but gently and firmly critical of his dualism. One said that the extreme dualism between body and soul found in Augustine is not Biblically justified. I am unaware of any reason to disagree. It goes without saying that Christians should be as Biblically grounded as possible and that is something that Augustine himself would agree with whole-heartedly.

Another perspective on this is that some of the Greek Bishops and thinkers that were contemporary with the converted Augustine considered him to be not much more than a Manichaean in Christian clothing. To be fair, I think some of this attitude was simply based on suspicion from his Manichaean days, as much as anything else. Also, to be fair and balanced, it should be pointed out that throughout his service as a bishop, Augustine was continually fighting major heresies; yet, he never once got into a conflict over doctrine with his Greek contemporaries.

One Orthodox person today expressed it to me that they do not consider Augustine’s conversion to have been complete. Of course they accept Augustine’s confession, experience of being born again, profession of faith and Baptism as valid. Their complaint is that he did not fully purge himself of his extremely dualistic worldview. One might discount some of this attitude as resulting from cultural differences and associated overtones of suspicion and paranoia between the Latin and Greek Church. However, the Greek speaking Christian thinkers had previously had to deal with the issue of dualism coming from Greek philosophy. I have been told they rejected the dualism from Greek philosophy that was not consistent with Christianity. I take it on face value that the Greeks know non-Christian dualism when they see it. I have the great respect for Orthodox thought, and in this case I side with the Orthodox in their indictment of Augustine’s dualism.

I hope, and prefer to think, that the attitudes and beliefs expressed by Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete and Fr. Julian Carron represent the trend of orthodox, contemporary Roman Catholic thought. Thankfully, it does appear that Roman Catholic thought today is more grounded in the Bible than ever before.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Understanding the Confessions of Saint Augustine

Augustine is resented for many reasons, most prominent among them, his emphasis on chastity. Indeed, to read the Confessions is to experience a very bracing moral boot camp. However, I think that many Catholics who resent Augustine overlook the fact that the Confessions are primarily about Augustine’s relationship to God. This is so pervasive that it is easy to overlook, like not seeing the forest for the trees.

The Confessions are Augustine's testimony of his conversion and redemption. Many of us Catholics, especially us older ones who were raised in the faith from birth often do not think of our religion firstly in terms of a relationship with God. We tend to focus on morality primarily, sometimes even exclusively. With Augustine, as with all true religion, worship--the relationship to God--comes first. With Augustine, morality is derived from his worship and relationship with God, as ours should be also (emphasized by Fr. John Oldfield O.A.R.).

When many Catholics read the Confessions, they hear the moral strictures loud and clear, but either fail to appreciate, or are uncomfortable with, the personal witnessing. They are less able to relate Augustine’s story to their own lives and experiences.

We all know that Augustine is one of the intellectual giants of Western Civilization. Unfortunately however, that makes it easy to overlook the fact that it was always the prompting of Augustine’s heart which drove him. My impression of Catholic teaching, preaching, and liturgical life in the Unites States is that too little of it reaches the heart, although I think that has been changing too. Without the heart, it is much more difficult to have a relationship or any deep relationship at all. Worship and liturgy become a mere going through the motions. I think that it is this failure to touch the heart is one of the causes of so many shallow, fallen-away and lukewarm Catholics.

To illustrate some of these points, look at the Gospel passage where Jesus is questioned by a wealthy official, in Luke 18:18-27:

An official asked him this question, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother.'"

And he replied, "All of these I have observed from my youth."

When Jesus heard this he said to him, "There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." But when he heard this he became quite sad, for he was very rich.

Jesus looked at him (now sad) and said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."

Those who heard this said, "Then who can be saved?"

And he said, "What is impossible for human beings is possible for God."

Jesus had read the man’s heart and saw that he was attached to his wealth. The moral of the story is not that we should get rid of all that we own, but, rather, that we get rid of our attachments, that is, whatever which gets in the way of loving others (this insight is from Fr. John Oldfield O.A.R.). The official had not given his heart to God.

(Note Jesus' clever rhetorical method. Almost non-chalantly, he first walked the man through the Judaic moral strictures, seeming to be leading to an easy conclusion that the man will indeed have eternal life. The effect was to dramatically highight the reversal of attitude in the man's response to Jesus' final, climactic question.)

The preceding section of Luke 18, ending in verse 17, brings the issue into further relief:

“Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." Unlike the rich official who approached God and the law like an accountant keeping a set of books, God wants us to approach him with the heart of a child.

In the case of Augustine, he understood that his unwholesome attachment to sex was what prevented him from loving God and his fellow human beings fully. Especially note the end of the above gospel passage, “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.” In Luke, this is emphasized further by the very next section of chapter 18 where Jesus, after healing a blind man who had called out to him in desperation but in belief, said, "Have sight; your faith has saved you." In the Confessions, man’s complete dependence on God’s grace is one of the major themes.

In trying to cultivate my own relationship with God, I must search my heart and ask myself what is it that prevents me from loving God and my fellow human beings? I must confess my sinful condition, my unholy loves and attachments, and ask for God’s grace.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

So How Was It That Augustine Came To Be Born Again?

Augustine’s conversion to Christianity was profoundly emotional but strongly informed by his intellect. He was influenced by numerous experiences and encounters with exemplary Christians, philosophy and the Bible.

As an intelligent, educated young man, Augustine had first sought answers to life’s questions from among the (non-Christian) Manicheans, but they were never able to completely satisfy him. His commitment to their doctrines was always tentative. After much disappointment and disillusionment, he gave up on them.

The earliest, most persistent, and long-lasting influence on Augustine was the lifelong witness of his mother, Monica, including her prayers for his conversion.

Augustine’s thinking and method prior to his conversion was informed by Cicero, Platonism, the Skeptics, and Neo-Platonism. Augustine gradually came to an intellectual assent to Christianity but strongly resisted taking on a life of chastity.

At Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the great Bishop Ambrose, who was instrumental in his conversion. Simplicianus, instructed Augustine in the faith and directed him in the Christian use and understanding of philosophy. Augustine knew of and was influenced by the stories about Antony and the desert monks; the Roman teacher of rhetoric, Victorinus; the members of the Roman Court who resigned to become monks; the members of Ambrose’s church, and by others. Obviously, the Bible, especially the writing of St. Paul, and especially his letter to the Romans, was a significant and decisive factor.

During the time leading up to the moment of his conversion, Augustine endured intense storms of anxiety and conflict, and the moment of conversion was emotionally convulsive. With the Tolle Lege incident, Augustine was "broken" by God. His conversion first was intellectual, then spiritual.

Of course guiding all of the above was the hand of God.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Book VIII, Chapter 12 -- Tolle Lege

Here we have the climax of the Confessions, when Augustine gave his heart to Christ and was born again. I have no comments to make except to summarize.

Augustine is crying and in complete turmoil. He throws himself on the grounds and begs for God’s assistance. In a state of weeping, bitter contrition Augustine hears a child’s voice from a nearby house say, in a sing-song way, “Take it and Read it. Take it and read it.” Augustine, taking it as a sign, opens the nearest book, which was Paul’s letter to the Romans and reads, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence.” (Romans 13:13) Says Augustine, “it was as though my heart was filled with a light of confidence and all the shadows of my doubt were swept away.”

Of note, a conversion had been going on within Alypius as well. After Augustine read the text from Romans above, he showed it to Alypius, who also read it, but Alypius went further and read the words, “He that is weak in the faith receive.” Alypius applied these words to himself and chose to be born again as well.

Augustine states that God converted him in a way that he no longer sought a wife or any worldly hope. This is actually exactly what Augustine had been striving for.

The chapter ends with Monica’s expression of joy.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Book VIII, Chapter 11

…and so…after two chapters of relative intellectualization, Augustine returns to the description of his marathon of internal torment, with a poetically powerful chapter, again using in multiple places, the metaphor of Plato’s Cave.

“So I was sick and in torture. I reproached myself much more bitterly than ever, and I turned and twisted in my chain till I could break quite free.”

Augustine knows that he is close to liberation.

“Only a little of it still held me, but it did still hold me. And you Lord in the secret places of my soul, stood above me in the severity of your mercy, redoubling the lashes of fear and shame, so that I should not give way once more and so that the small weak piece of chain which still remained should not instead of snapping grow strong again and tie me down more firmly than before. ”

He describes his last teasing temptations.

“Toys and trifles, utter vanities had been my mistresses, and now they were holding me back, pulling me by the garment of my flesh and softly murmuring in my ear: ‘Are you getting rid of us?’ and ‘From this moment shall we never for all eternity be allowed to do this or to do that?’”

In two subsequent paragraphs, Augustine vividly describes himself as faintly turning towards continence, personifying Continence as a woman. To partially quote it would not do it justice.

Last, but not least, let us not overlook the importance of friends to Augustine, as he finishes the chapter. “And Alypius stayed close by me, waiting silently to see how this strange agitation of mine would end.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Book VIII, Chapter 10

Augustine continues his rejection and condemnation of the Manichaean idea that people are of two minds, one good and one evil. He again vigorously affirms that there is only one “I”.

Augustine makes reference to Original Sin as being the cause of inner conflict:

“So I fought with myself and was torn apart by myself. It was against my will that this tearing took place, but this was not an indication that I had another mind of a different nature; it was simply the punishment which I was suffering I my own mind. It was not I, therefore, who caused it, but the sin dwells in me, and being a son of Adam, I was suffering for his sin which was more freely committed.”

But doesn’t this statement sound awfully Manichaean? Overly dualistc? Augustine is basically saying he is not to blame, the sin is to blame, as if the sin is something apart from him? This doesn’t seem all that different to me than a Manichaean saying he didn’t sin, that it was the bad substance in him that is to blame.

I have become of the opinion that although Augustine vigorously rejected and renounced the Manichaean doctrines, he still retained Manichaean thought patterns and a latent Manichaean worldview. This is consistent with what Augustine’s peers in the Orthodox Church thought at the time and with what Orthodox thinkers opine today.

At some point in the future, I will have to address the dualism of Augustine. I recently watched the History channel show titled, “Sex and the Bible.” It was stated that the dualism of Augustine is not Biblical, and I believe that to be correct. In the Bible, the spirit/soul and body are not entirely separate spheres. Augustine took his dualism from both Neo-Platonism and Manichaeanism. According to one of my Orthodox correspondents, although the Orthodox Church has a massive Greek influence, even more than in the Latin Church, they rejected much of the dualism of Neo-Platonism inherited from the Greeks. And interestingly, I’ve noticed that in the theology coming from Communion and Liberation Movement (which I’ve been involved in for the past year), there is much condemnation of dualism. Among other things, they say that nihilism is the logical conclusion of dualism.

I really need to learn a lot more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Book VIII, Chapter 9

Augustine explores the psychological questions the he raised at the end of chapter 8. Of course, the unconscious mind was undiscovered at the time of Augustine, but here Augustine is knocking on the front door of knowledge of the mind, something he does time and again. I don’t know for a fact if Freud was familiar with the psychological thought of Augustine, but I suspect that he was. Although some of Augustine’s assumptions and conclusions were wrong, he was looking in the right places and asking the right questions.

I tried a Google search on, “Freud Augustine” and a 10 minute perusal of the results shows a number of thinkers that see many in-depth parallels between Freud and Augustine, with some of it fairly negative on the both of them, by the way.

My Google search also uncovered these two tidbits that relate to my first paragraph:

This URL says that Augustine prefigured Freud by coming "close to discovering" the subconscious mind: http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1994/94.05.07.html

The article at this URL says that the idea of the unconscious mind goes back to Augustine:
http://www.khouse.org/articles/1997/7/ As a tangent, this article takes a very balanced and a very orthodox Christian view of the subconscious, healing, and psychotherapy.

Book VIII, Chapter 8

With great rhetorical power, Augustine shows us, on the brink of conversion, how his soul still ferociously resisted Grace and his own intellect. He makes observations about the lack of control of the will over the soul. We see Augustine as a philosopher of mind, that is, a psychologist.

“And now inside my house indeed was the quarrel which I had started with my soul in that bedroom of my heart which we shared together. My looks were as disordered as my mind as I turned on Alypius as cried out to him: ’What is wrong with us? What is this which you have just heard? The unlearned rise up and take heaven by force, while we (look at us!) with all our learning are wallowing in flesh and blood. Is it because they have gone ahead that we are ashamed to follow at all?’ And do we feel no shame at not even following at all?’ … My forehead, cheeks, eyes, color of face, and inflection of voice expressed my mind better than the words I used.”
“My spirit was in a turmoil; I was boiling with indignation against myself for not entering into your will and covenant, my God, where all my bones cried out that I should enter and praised it to the skies.”
“Then in the middle of this storm of mental hesitation I made many movements with my body—the kind of movements which people sometimes want to make, but cannot make, either because they have not the limbs, or because their limbs are bound or weakened by illness or in some way prevented by action. But I, if I tore my hair, beat my forehead, locked my fingers together, clasped my knee, was performing these actions because I willed to do so. But I might have willed to do so and still not done so if the power of motion in my limbs had not followed the dictates of my will. So I was performing all sorts of actions where the will to do and the power to do are not the same thing, and I was not doing something the idea of which pleased me incomparably more and which soon after, when I should have the will, I should have the power to do so, since when I willed, I should will it thoroughly.”
Augustine concludes with a deep and mysterious psychological observation of his soul:

“It was easier for my body to obey the slightest intimation of the soul’s will that the limbs should be put immediately in motion than it was for the soul to give obedience to itself so as to carry out by the mere act of willing what was its own great will.”

Friday, November 11, 2005

Book VIII, Chapter 7

As a result of Ponticianus’ witness of the two Roman officials, Augustine had become overwhelmed: “I had no where to escape myself.” I’d like to point out that Augustine was not overwhelmed here by logic, reason, theology, philosophy, scripture, or any other intellectuality. He was overwhelmed by a story.

“But you Lord, while he was speaking, were turning me around so that I could see myself; you took me from behind my own back, which was where I had put myself during the time that I did not want to be observed by myself, and you set me in front of my own face so I could see how foul a site I was—crooked, filthy, spotted, and ulcerous. I saw and I was horrified, and I had nowhere to go to escape from myself. If I tried to look away from myself, Ponticianus still went on with his story, and again you were setting me in front of myself, forcing me to look into my own face, so that I might see my sin and hate it. I did know it, but I pretended that I did not, I had been pushing the whole idea away from me, and forgetting it.”

This chapter is very emotional and loaded with powerful imagery. If I were to try and quote all of the imagery, I would have to quote the entire chapter, which I am almost doing anyway. Augustine is so richly nuanced that, often, if one quotes him, one must quote more rather than less, to get the full context. Read the chapter 7 in its entirety, but it must be read together with chapter 6. This is also the chapter with the well know quote, “…make me chaste and continent but not yet.”

I note two other lines that I must count as favorites of mine:

“I was stripped naked and my conscience cried out against me: can you not hear me?”

“I was lost and overwhelmed in a terrible kind of shame.”

I must quote the last part of the final paragraph of the chapter, as I think it is a very acute description of not only Augustine’s conflict but our own:

“When the story was over and the business about which he had come had been settled he went away, and I retired unto myself. Nor did I leave anything unsaid against myself. With every scourge of condemnation I lashed my soul on to follow me now that I was trying to follow you. And my soul hung back; it refused to follow, and it could give no excuse for its refusal. All the arguments had been used already and had been shown to be false. There remained a mute shrinking; for it feared like death to be restrained from the flux of a habit by which it was melting away in death.”

[This “lashing of the soul” is exactly the kind of trouble I’m having motivating myself to finish this blog!]

Augustine, the intellectual giant whose thought towers over all of Christian philosophy and is second only to St. Paul in Christian influence, could not bring himself to the gospel by argument. It took massive amounts of shame and guilt to bring him to the brink.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

My Excuse For Not Posting In a While

This is my fourth reading of the Confessions, I think. Why am I reading it for a fourth time? Why have I read it at all? I was looking for answers. And I didn’t even know what the questions were. Call me confused, if you will. Certainly, being hung-up, confused, conflicted and resistant to Christian chastity was one of my issues.

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any entries in a while. It is true that I have had many other demands on my time, and I’ve even read a few other books in the interim. However, I think the most important reason for my lack of motivation has been that, in the Confessions, I have finally found what I was looking for. It was a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. However, I will wait before posting an explanation, until after I complete Book XIII. It is a very appropriate place for an explanation, as that chapter contains his climactic conversion.

Even though I have gotten what I wanted out of the Confessions, never the less, I shall plod on and complete this blog, for much wisdom still lies ahead!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Yes I dreamed I Saw St. Augustine

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Book VIII, Chapter 1 - beginning of Chapter 6

Augustine begins with praise and thanksgiving for mercies done to him. Torn by conflict, Augustine goes to talk with Simplicianus who had been a mentor to Ambrose. Simplicianus was glad that Augustine had not fallen sway to certain of the philosophers and was glad for his keen interest in the Platonist's writings, of which Simplicianus says God and his Word were every where implied. Augustine wanted to be a Christian but wanted some direction on how to go about doing that. Simplicianus tells him the story of a one time pagan professor of rhetoric, Victorinus, who became a Christian. Inspired by the story, Augustine became on fire to be like him.

Augustine is still with his mistress but completely conflicted over it: “But I was still closely bound by my need of woman. Not that the apostle forbade me to marry, although he might recommend something better, his great wish being that all men should be as he was.” Augustine lets slip what I suspect is the real reason he chose not to marry: "I was tired out and wasted away with knawing anxieties, because I was compelled to put up with all sorts of things which I did not want simply because they were inseparable from that state of living with a wife to which I was utterly and entirely bound."

The allusions to Plato’s cave continue. “I was held back not by fetters put on me by someone else, but by the iron bondage of my own will. The enemy held my will and made a chain out of it. From a perverse will came lust, and slavery to lust became a habit, and the habit, being constantly yielded to, became a necessity. These were like links, hanging each to each (which is why I called it a chain), and they held me fast in a hard slavery.”

He is torn by conflict: “So my two wills, one old, one new, one carnal, one spiritual were in conflict, and they wasted by soul by their discord.”

And more allusions to Plato’s cave: “I shall tell and confess to your name how it was that you freed me from the bondage of my desire for sex, in which I was so closely fettered, and from my slavery to the affairs of this world.”

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Augustine Alters the Platonic Understanding of Ultimate Reality

"The status of the transcendent Ideas, so central to the Platonic tradition and widely recognized by the pagan intelligentsia, was now significantly altered. Augustine agreed with Plato that the Ideas constituted the stable and unchangeable forms of all things and provided a solid epistemological basis for human knowledge. But he pointed out that Plato lacked an adequate doctrine of creation to explain the participation of particulars in the Ideas. (Plato's creator, the Demiurge of the Timaeus, was not an omnipotent supreme being, since the chaotic world of becoming upon which he imposed the Ideas already existed, as did the Ideas themselves; nor was he omnipotent vis-a-vis ananke, the errant cause.) Augustine therefore argued that Plato's conception could be fulfilled by the Judaeo-Christian revelation of the supreme Creator, who freely wills the creation into existence ex nihilo, yet who does so in accordance with the seminal ordering patterns established by the primordial Ideas residing in the Divine Mind. Augustine identified the Ideas as the collective expression of God’s Word, the Logos, and viewed all archtypes as contained within and expressive of the being of Christ.”

- The Passion of the Western Mind, by Richard Tarnas. p106

Anyone who is interested in Augustine’s role in the history of Philosophy should read the section in the above book titled, The Conversion of the Pagan Mind. I find the author to be exceptionally thorough, clear and concise.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Book VII, Chapters 14-21, understanding God plus mystical experiences

Augustine continues to describe his ever increasing understanding of the omnipresent, omnipotent, good God, especially the aspect of God’s being as it includes all of creation. Augustine describes mystical experiences that seem to coincide with and reinforce his new understanding.

Note that God is still a substance, although a supreme substance. Perhaps I’m scrutinizing the language too much, but it still sounds half-Manichean. A word like entity would seem more neutral than substance. I’m also a little surprised that given how Platonic Augustine is at this point that he doesn’t use a noun that is more abstract or intangible. Substance sounds so physical. But then again, we must admit how Manichean Augustine’s thinking was.

Augustine describes wickedness as a turning away from God, the supreme substance, towards lower things. Augustine tells us that he was swept away by the beauty of God, but that he fell back to lower things, having been pulled down by carnal weight. Yet he retains the memory of these mystical unions with God.

Although a Catechumen, Augustine is not yet a Christian. He could not appreciate and love God to the fullest yet until he had embraced Christ. There had been a school (informal school) of neo-Platonic intellectuals in Milan at the time with which Augustine had studied and been influenced by. He had read a number of books of Platonic (includes neo-Platonic) philosophy. At this point his image of Jesus was of one possessing the highest wisdom, sort of a neo-Platonic philosopher-hero. Augustine notes as a point of criticism, that the Platonists lacked some of the Christian virtues, especially charity and humility. I do not know if his comments about Christian virtue were written in hindsight or if he felt this way at this point in his life.

Finally, Augustine is seized by the writings of St. Paul who Augustine says expresses everything that he found true in Platonism.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Platonic Good

I quote the following to show the exact parallels between Augustine's concept of the Good and Platonic Good. The only difference is that with Augustine, the absolute good is the Christian God.

From The Passion of the Western Mind, by Richard Tarnas:

“Plato’s mentor, Socrates, had sought to know what was common to all virtuous acts, so that he could evaluate how one should govern one’s conduct in life. He reasoned that if one wishes to choose the actions that are good, one must know what “good” is, apart from any specific circumstances. To evaluate one thing as “better” than another assumes the evidence of an absolute good with which the two relative goods can be compared. Otherwise, the word “good” would be only a word whose meaning had to stable basis in reality, and human morality would lack a serious foundation.”

- p7.

"For Plato then, the great task facing the philosopher was to emerge from the cave of ephemeral shadows and bring his darkened mind back into the archtypical light, the true source of being. When speaking of this higher reality, Plato repeatedly linked light, truth, and goodness. In the Republic, he described the Idea of the Good as being to the intellible realm what the sun is to the invisible realm: in the same way that the sun allows objects of the visible world to grow and be visible, so does the Good grant to all objects of reason their existence and their intelligibility. The philosopher's attainment of virtue consists in his discovering that luminous knowledge which brings harmony between the human soul and the cosmic order of archtypes, an order governed and illuminated by the supreme Idea of the Good."

- p42.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Book VII comment - Augustine as Creationist

I am aware that some 25-30 years ago, a Dominican, an errant priest-theologian named Fox tried to lead a trend to try and force a split in Catholic thinking between creationist and redemptionist theology. Fox proclaimed the former and condemned the latter, especially condemning Augustine as a redemptorist. However, the truth is that orthodox theology is both creationist and redemptorist, and Augustine is equally creationist and redempionist. These past chapters and the following ones show Augustine as an uninhibited and exhuberant creationist.

Book VII, Chapter 13 - goodness and praise of all creation

This is a beautiful, one paragraph meditation and praise on the goodness of creation that needs to be read rather than summarized by me. He quotes what I assume is one of the Psalms. Perhaps some reader could tell me which one?

The final phrases were interesting: “…I realized that, while higher things are certainly better than lower things, all things together are better then the higher things by themselves.” This reminded me strongly of I Corinthians 12, verses, approximately 11-31. Paul was talking about the church not nature; yet, the closeness of the analogy is eerie.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Book VII, Chapter 12 -- the good

This was a difficult chapter to dissect.

Augustine’s conclusion is that everything God has created is good. Using the Platonic idea of good, he applies complex, intricate logic to the Manichaean ideas of corruption and incorruptibility, and good and evil, and forges them into a Christianity form.

It seems that previously Augustine had thought that good could only be had in the extreme—that something could only be classified as good if it were all good. Anything the least bit tainted by corruption or suffering is classified as evil. Moreover, the only good is the supreme good which is God alone, implying that we are all inherently evil and therefore doomed (oh - unless of course you are one of the Manichean Elect!).

Augustine’s revised, Christian understanding of evil and suffering is that it is an absence of the good. It seems to me that this is not too different from the Manichean idea that evil is a substance that contaminates the good. However, where the Manicheans tend to view God and evil as equals, Augustine’s new view of God is consistent with the Book of Genesis—all powerful and all knowing. Moreover, unlike the Manichean God who is a passive, Augustine positions God to be an active participant and controller of the universe.

Here is an excellent quote from Book VII, Chapter 8: “Inside me your good was working on me to make me restless until you should become clear and certain to my inward sight. Through the hidden hand of your healing art my swelling abated and from day to day the troubled and clouded sight of my mind grew better through the stinging ointment of a healthy sorrow.” Instead of the good but passive Manichean God becoming increasingly contaminated by an evil substance, we have the active Christian God transforming fallen human nature back into its original state of good.

One can link the ideas of Augustine on corruptibility, incorruptibility, and the good to many ideas in theology, especially of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption.

From my own experience, I think that in class rooms and sermons, when good is spoken of, it is used in the context of moral good. I feel that there is an inadequate emphasis on the concept and meaning of inherent good.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Book VII, Chapter 11

"It is good then for me to hold fast unto God; because if I do not remain in Him, I shall not be able to remain in myself. But He, remaining in Himself, renews all things. And thou art my Lord, since Thou standest not in need of my goodness"

- that about sums things up.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Book VII, Chapter 10, conclusion

"I am the food of grown men. Grow and you shall feed upon me. And you will not, as with the food of the body, change me into yourself, but you will be changed into me." And I learned that Thou, for iniquity, chastenest man and Thou madest my soul to consume away like a spider." And I said, "Is truth therefore nothing because it is not extended through any kind of space, whether finite or infinite?" And from far away you cried out to me, "I am that I am." And I heard, as one hears things in the heart, and there was no longer any reason at all for me to doubt. I would sooner doubt my own existence than the existence of that truth which is clearly seen being understood by those things which are made."

Book VII, Chapter 10

That Augustine was a mystic is another one of those things that is so blatantly obvious that it is easy to overlook, again, like not seeing the forest for the trees.

Augustine states that the Platonists knew some truths that Christians knew, but they had nothing to say of humility nor had knowledge of the Son of God. Augustine uses a very interesting and important contrast that makes an allusion to Plato’s Cave. He describes his anguished search for the cause of evil, realizes that God has started to teach him inwardly and says, “And so My Helper, you have set me free from those chains.” After stating what he has learned of humility and Jesus, he says, “I was admonished by all this to return to my own self, and, with you to guide me, I entered into the innermost part of myself, and I was able to do this because you were my helper.” He has contrasted his own soul to Plato’s Cave, not as a jungle of ignorance, darkness, and slavery, but to a place of wisdom, light, and freedom.

Augustine felt admonished to return to his innermost self, which he describes with images from the Plato’s Cave: “I entered and saw with my soul’s eye (such as it was) an unchangeable light shining above the eye of my soul and above my mind. It was not the ordinary light which is visible to all flesh, nor sometimes of the same sort, only bigger, as though it might be our ordinary light shining much, much more brightly and filling everything with its greatness.” (I am leaving several sentences out here.) And then, “And you beat back the weakness of my sight, blazing upon me with your rays…” (If you haven’t read the allegory/parable of the Cave in Plato’s Republic, by all means do so. It is a foundational for understanding Western Civilization. ) At the conclusion of the passage, Augustine comes to the most definitive belief is the existence and nature of God, that those who feed upon God will become like God, and those who are wicked will perish.

Book VII, Chapters 7-9

“It was pleasing in your site to reform my deformity.”

In a state emotional turmoil, Augustine continues his search for the cause of evil. “What agonies I suffered, what groans, my God came from my heart in its labor?” He goes on, “And you were listening, though I did not know it.” After describing his anguished soul-searching, he says, “Inside me, your good was working on me to make me restless until you should become clear and certain to my inward sight. Through the hidden hand of your healing art my swelling abated and from day to day the troubled and clouded sight of my mind grew better through the stinging ointment of a healthy sorrow.” What I observe in these and subsequent passages is that Augustine was searching for something; yet, God, inwardly was slowly teaching him the things that God wanted him to learn, the things that are important to God, the things that Augustine needed to save his soul.

Firstly, Augustine learns humility. He also expresses comes a deep understanding of the Incarnation, its profound humility, and that Jesus, as the Son of God, beholds our lowliness and trouble, and forgives all our sins.

I think this is an example of how, when we pray for something, the answer we look for is not always the one we get. And look at the results! I think that often, God uses our pain and anguish to teach us more important things. As one who likes to think that God always answers prayer, the lesson is to try hard to find the spiritual truth, or to see how God is shaping us, from whatever painful situation we have experienced. Often, these can be very hard lessons.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Book VII, Chapter 6

Augustine does not say this explicitly, but astrology was a very important part of Manichean belief, as well as part of the beliefs of many other people at the time. I learned it from T.V., on EWTN, from the show titled, Fathers of the Church. Augustine explains how it became proved to him that astrology was without merit. Some of Augustine’s friends were critical in convincing him—Nebridius, Vindicianus, and Firminus. Ultimately, he became convinced of astrology’s uselessness after observing the life of two babies that were born at exactly the same time and of the life of twins, and seeing how radically different their life histories were.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Book VII, Chapters 2-5

Augustine had a great desire to understand the cause of evil in the world. After he rejected the Manichean ideas about the nature of God and the existence of evil and having accepted the Christian concept of an incorruptible and unchanging God, Augustine is anew driven to find an explanation for the cause of evil. Augustine is aware of the Christian understanding (at the time) of the cause of evil--free will and God’s just punishment, but says he can’t grasp it clearly. After examining the problem of evil anew, from different angles, he fails to come to a conclusion: “These were the kind of thoughts which I turned over and over in my unhappy heart, a heart overburdened with those biting cares that came from my fear of death and my failure to discover the truth.” Augustine concludes,” Yet the faith of your Christ, our Lord and Savior, professed in the Catholic Church, remained steadfastly fixed in my heart, even though it was on many points still unformed and swerving from the right rule of doctrine. But, nevertheless, my mind did not abandon it, but rather drank more and more deeply of it every day.”

Note that Augustine cites faith in Jesus, as he did at the end of Book V, at the time he decided to become a Catechumen.

Note again that with Augustine the movement of his heart precedes his search for intellectual understanding. Moreover, he is propelled to integrate his heart and intellect--“Faith seeking understanding.”

On minor note, I had previously though that the concept of evil originating from free will originated with Augustine. Obviously, it pre-dated him. Augustine must have merely canonized the idea. It seems also to be an example of a belief originating from the grassroots—from the bottom up rather than the top-down, within the church.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Book VII, Chapter 2

Augstine presents an argument against the Manichaes that had been presented to him by his friend Nebridius. For Augustine, this was the decisive and final argument with which to reject them. As with most of Augustine's spiritual development, his emotional drive (antipathy of the Manichaes) precedes his intellectual resolution (intellectual rejection of Manichaen doctrine). Indeed, it is the emotional energy and desire--the restless heart-- that pushes him on to intellectual formation.

According to the Manichaes, at least some part of God can become contaminated by evil; yet, God is incorruptible, which makes the Manichaen assertation a contradiction. I follow Nebridius's argument, but it may require more knowledge than I have, to understand the internals of the argument in depth.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Book VII, Chapter I

Book VII is a long, complex exploration of the understanding of God.

Augustine’s emotional turmoil seems to have lessened somewhat, but of course, his intellectual search continues as aggressively as ever. By default, or not having anything better to replace it, he adheres to the Catholic understanding of God. Apart from believing that God does not have a human form, Augustine does not know how to think of God. He does believe that what cannot be corrupted is superior to what can be corrupted, and what doesn’t change is superior to what can be changed. Augustine still thinks of God as a physical substance that permeates the universe.

Note that although not yet a Christian, Augustine has begun a process of purgation. The chapter begins, “Now, my evil, abominable youth was a thing of the past." Some of this is simply attributable to maturity: "I was growing into manhood , and the older I was the more discernable was the emptiness of my mind. I was unable to form an idea of any kind of substance other than what my eyes are accustomed to see." " A little later he says, "My heart cried out passionately against all the phantoms I had believed in, and with this one blow I tried to beat away from the eye of my mind all those swarms of uncleanness which were buzzing around it." This is only an after thought, an he does not go into detail. By uncleanness, he may be refering to pagan concepts of God, but I am not sure.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Augustine for a New Age

- an 8/1/05 review in the New York Times of a new biography of Augustine, by Jame J. O'Donnell.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Twins, Communion, Civil and Sacramental Marriage and the Theology of the Body

Fr. John Oldfield, O.A.R., tells me that Pope John Paul II's theology of the body is quite different than St. Augustine's view of sexuality. The above link is to a blog entry by one of my favorite bloggers, "Clueless Christian." Scroll down to the 7/4/05 entry. It includes a modern Catholic view of love, sex, and marriage.

St. Augustine in the Greek Orthodox Tradition

While not directly connected to The Confessions, this is a slightly formal overview of the Greek Orthodox Church's view of Augustine and his teachings.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Purity: The Way of the Celibate, by Paula Huston

The link above points to a very interesting, contemporary exploration of chastity, drawing heavily on the thought and experience of St. Augustine. With examples from her own life, the author spends time sorting out romanic love, eros, power, control, self-image, acceptance, etc., from agape. She much ground and makes many interesting points.

What I don't like about statements like this is what they leave out. They never face the fact that raw sexual desire is necessary for the propagation of the human race. If it weren't for raw sexual desire, we wouldn't be here. If everyone were celibate, the human race would cease to exist. And after all, God created sex and sexual desire. The simplistic Augustinian resolution as has been traditionally taught in Catholic schools can't be the last or perfect word. There's got to be a better understanding. Or am I just rebelling against my Catholic upbringing? If we followed the moral teachings that we were taught in Catholic school, none of us would ever get married. We would never have had a lustful thought in our head. We would never have thought about the opposite sex. We would never have even kissed a girl or held a girl's hand. I know someone, about 15 years older than me, who once said that, at his Catholic high school, the Brothers said, that if you kiss a girl, you shouldn't let yourself experience any more pleasure than if you were kissing your sister. Who wants to kiss their sister! In my Catholic grammar school, we were taught that, even in a marriage, it was sinful to have sex merely for the sake of pleasure. For it to be licit, we were taught, the potential for pro-creation must also be present. I doubt there are many people in this world who have had sex purely for the sake of having children. Anyone who thinks they have is fooling themself.

Yet, St. Augustine was a strong advocate of marriage for most people. I'd say that in modern Christian thought there is a massive gap in the understanding of sexuality that needs to be filled by the next great thinker.

Comments, please!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Augustine: Now and Forever

The above link is a short, stimulating read on the contemporary value of the life and teachings of St. Augustine, from Godspy.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

My Lack of Persistence with this Blog!

I started this blog last Lent, vaguely assuming I would finish it by the end of Lent. At the rate I'm going, I may finish by the end of next Lent!

I've also been trying to read the Luigi Giussani's trilogy. Additionally, I used to go to work by train, and I did most of my reading on the train. A few weeks ago, my job location changed from Manhattan to Warren Township, N.J. I no longer have the train time to read.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Book VI

This is another rich but easily approachable book of the Confessions.

Augustine is still in Milan. He continues to slowly work through his spiritual crisis. He continues to wrestle with the metaphysics of God. He is full of turmoil, agitation, despair, misery. Ambrose’s sermons are having an effect on him. Augustine talks admiringly of Ambrose but is puzzled by his celibacy.

It is interesting to note that having been extremely disappointed by Manichaeism after formally pursuing it for nine years, Augustine is very reluctant to commit himself to Catholicism unless he is absolutely convinced that the truth it teaches is correct.

(In chapter 5, in the first paragraph, we see Augustine being very realistic, meeting the definition of realism as defined by Msgr Luigi Giussani in the book, The Religious Sense.)

Augustine continues to talk of his friends Alypius, Nebridius, Romanianus, and Epicurus. Throughout the entire Confessions, almost unnoticed, Augustine makes many comments about friendship. I imagine much of what he says about friendship show the Hellenistic and Christian concepts of philia, and possibly agape as well. I imagine it must be the nature of society at the time that he only makes these comments about male-male relationships and not male-female ones.

Augustine doesn’t fail to give us another metaphor of lust:

“Without knowing what was happening, he drank in madness, he was delighted with the guilty contest, drunk with the lust of blood.”

He was talking about his friend Alypius and his attraction to the gladiatorial shows. As an aside, in thinking about what is morally wrong with gladiatorial shows, I think that we ought to consider the morality of T.V. shows and movies that depict assaults, killings, and more, for the sole purpose of entertainment. Even though it only involves actors, the intent and effects on both the part of the movies makes and the viewers, is the same. They say that a child in America, by the time he is 12 years old, will have seen 12,000 killings on T.V. and in the movies. There was an incident in the media recently where one of the cable T.V. shows was criticized for showing a new clip of someone being killed. The cable channel was criticized, including by other media outlets. The criticisms were over the idea that children who saw it might be traumatized. I felt it was terribly hypocritical since T.V./movies show much more dramatic killings all the time.

Sometimes I wonder why Augustine didn’t simply become a philosopher only. He continues to show his passion for wisdom, which is the definition of philosophy. His goal is to know truth and to live the happy life.

Augustine talks about people’s efforts to get him to marry, which he resists. However, he ends the chapter with a positive discussion of marriage. Remember, this was written after Augustine chose a life of celibacy. I believe it was social forces and class differences that prevented him from marrying his mistress. I believe that someone in his position was supposed to marry someone with wealth or status or who could otherwise help one’s career. Yet, Augustine expresses such extreme conflict and loss over the almost forced departure of his mistress who he seems to have truly loved. Why couldn’t a man of Augustine’s intelligence and backbone go against the social convention? Why couldn’t Augustine have God and have taken his mistress as his wife?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

A Letter from Fr. Oldfield

The following is an extract of a letter I received from Fr. Jack (Fr. John Oldifeld, O.A.R.) in Madrid, sent in response to a letter from myself.

April had been an extraordinary month with the death of John Paul and the election of Benedict XVI. I was elated by the results and do feel that the Church will be on steady course with this man who is a foremost theologian and a friend of St. Augustine since his graduate studies of many years ago. Augustine had been the object of much criticism during the past few decades. Matthew Fox, the former Dominican, wrote several books about creation in which he lists St. Augustine as the “bad guy”, responsible for original sin, and a negative concept of man. The feminists have blamed him for centuries of discrimination and the neo-Pelagians have been revived by various historians and philosophers. And, of course, his closeness to Neo-Platonism has been held responsible for Hellenizing Christianity. In spite of all, Augustine not only survives but has been sparking a revival of what is called Orthodox Christianity among Anglican intellectuals and has been championed by U.S. Calvinists as a “must” for sound theology.

When Augustine looks at humanity, and his own included, he sees a flawed nature, not a bad nature, but a nature wounded by something which Sacred Scripture identifies as “sin”, a sin which is somehow historical and transmitted. There would be no “sin” in humanity if humanity did not have the high calling which God has given it. The flip side of a sinful humanity is a humanity called to “rest in God”. Throughout the Confessions, Augustine engages in dialogue with the God Whom he seeks to know and to love. Love is what moves the human being because Divine Love has made a creature whose ultimate destiny is Love Itself. The contrast between the Augustine “in love with love”, the teen aged rebel, and Augustine the intellectual probing the inner life of the Trinity is not so great. His very sins were a twisted attempt to discover love. And so it is with us; we are the “restless hearts” of Book I of the Confessions striving, often unconsciously, for that “Beauty ever ancient, ever new” which breaks through the crust of Augustine’s pride and reveals the beauty of the humble Jesus. Augustine’s God is the God of intimacy.

One of the problems of Augustine’s theology and spirituality is that it is God-centered. He is the anti-thesis of the dominant secular humanism, the “dictatorship of relativism” as identified by Benedict XVI. There were and are strains of thought following Vatican II which might be summed up in the rather universal acceptance of “I’m O.K., you’re O.K.” as the basic anthropology. A lot of pampered egos have justified modes of behavior which have become destructive of marriage, family, priesthood, religious life, and any commitment which might require self-sacrifice.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Book V

I found Book V, to be one of the most interesting Books of the Confessions so far.

Book V takes place when Augustine is twenty-nine years of age and just beginning a career as a professor of rhetoric. It covers the time period from when he started to have serious doubts about the Manicheans to when he started to study Roman Catholicism. During this time, he moved from Carthage, to Rome, and then to Milan.

Prior to this point, Augustine had started to have doubts about the Manicheans. He had read much of philosophy and admitted that philosophy seemed to be a much better explanation of the truths of existence. The pivotal event occurs when Augustine finally gets to meet the famed Manichean bishop, Faustus, who he then found to be a major disappointment. Augustine had had many serious questions about Manichaeism, of which he was not able to get satisfactory answers, or any answers at all, from the various Manichean elect and hearers that he knew. They always told to wait until he meets the famed Faustus, that Faustus would be able to answer all his questions (sounds like the play Waiting for Godot or a scene from The Iceman Cometh!). Augustine found Faustus’ personality, character, and oratorical skills to be exemplary, but that Faustus’ knowledge was entirely lacking. He could no more explain the Manichean doctrines than anyone else.

In Milan of course, Augustine meets the great Bishop, Ambrose. Augustine listens to his sermons to observe Ambrose’s oratorical skills. Augustine admits that, at least initially, he had no interest in the sermon’s content. (Note the comparison to Faustus of whom Augustine was only interested in his knowledge and had no interest whatsoever in his oratorical skills or rhetoric,)

One of the schools of philosophy which Augustine had read which had a significant influence on him was called the Academics. The Academics held that everything could be considered doubtful and that no absolute truths could be comprehended by man. At this point in his life, Augustine was full of doubt. I believe the influence of the Academics helped to further reinforce his doubt about the Manicheans and allowed him to take-up the study of Christianity, without having to commit himself as a true believer. I also suspect that Academic philosophy caused Augustine to have less anxiety about both.

In this book, we see Augustine the seeker, and I am tempted to say desperate seeker. We clearly see Augustine’s passion for the truth. He loves the truth more than himself, as Luigi Giussani puts it. He seeks the truth without prejudice or preconception (another Giussani phrase). I also note that in Chapter 3, we see Augustine’s explicit exercise of reason over blind faith.

In Chapter 9, when Augustine talks about the love his mother has for him, it did remind me of St. Therese of Lisieux who felt so loved by her family and father.

The first paragraph of Chapter 10 describes a Manichaen doctrine. My reaction upon reading it was that by comparison the Christian view has so much more responsibility and freedom.

While Augustine had stated that in Carthage, he had heard Manichean criticisms of Christian Scripture and felt that they were unanswerable. Yet now as a young bishop (when he wrote the Confessions), he recalls that there was one man, named Elpidius, who spoke and argued openly against the Manicheans and of whom the Manicheans avoided and did not respond to. Who was this man Elpidius? I did some Google searches, and it seems that Christian history remembers the names of a few Elpidius, but I do not think that any of them are this one. This may be his only mention in history.

In this Book we see the not yet Christian Augustine state his confusion, as he has elsewhere, over the metaphysics of the Christian God, if metaphysics is the proper term.

Again in this chapter, as in so many others, we see the saintliness and saintly passion of Monica.

I am grateful that the Microsoft Word Spell Checker includes the word Manichean!

An Introduction and Overview to the Confessions, Life, Thought, and Influence of Augustine

I recently found the very illuminative URL above, from a Fordam University site.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Book IV

Book IV is a confessional decription by Augustine of his lifestyle, including non-Christian activities and general sins, from age nineteen to twenty-eight. He is a budding member of the intelligentsia and has an active faith in Manichaeism. His life seems no different than that of privileged young people today: high and low entertainment, keen interest in the fashionable beliefs of the day, combined with an active libido. He reads every book on the subject of the liberal arts that he can get his hands on. He does show common sense and an ability to adapt and mature. He acts with backbone only when it suits his ego. But how bizarre Manichaeism seems to us today!

Beginning in Chapter 4, Augustine writes a meditation on friendship that extends into a discussion of the nature of the soul. His starting point is that upon finishing his education and returning to his home town of Tagaste to teach, Augustine resumes a friendship with someone from his childhood. The friend became critically ill, was baptized while unconscious, recovered and was a radically changed person for a few days before having a relapse and finally dying. This event triggered profound and painful mourning in Augustine that ultimately forced him to move from Tagaste back to Carthage. One cannot read this vivid and evocative passage without being moved by Augustine’s pain and loss. From these emotions Augustine meditation on friendship move into a meditation on the nature of the soul—our soul’s wounded-ness, its restlessness, separation from God, its relationship to our bodies and to the meaning of life and the Incarnation.

In Chapter 2, A. says something about marriage, but it is not clear to me. He states that he is monogamous with his mistress at this point. It sounds like he is saying that from this mere monogamy he has had an insight into the value of marriage. If this is his point, it is weak because he is not married. He has not experienced what he is purporting to write of.

The Book is littered with Neo-platonic language and concepts: Aristotle, Plato’s Cave, forms, souls as the permanent part of the self, the body as corrupt and temporal. “…yet not it let be stuck and glued to close to them in love through the senses of the body.” (Yes, this is NOT a Theology of the Body!) I’m sure someone more educated than myself will see even more instances of Neo-Platonism than I. Augustine talks about the beauty of bodies, but I don’t know what his point is. I assume his aesthetic is purely neo-platonic as well. I think that I dwell on Neo-Platonism, because, the first time I read Plato, I was positively shocked too see how much of Christian thought and language was based on the Greek concepts and language. It gives great pause to make one think how much of one’s religious education is truly rooted in the Word of God. However, I should mention that mixed in with all the Neo-Platonism and Manichaeism are many quotes from the Bible, especially the Psalms.

And last but not least, Augustine continues to freely make metaphors of lust and adultery with many other sins: “A soul that pants for such figments of the imagination is surely committing fornication against you,” and “…prostituting desires…”

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Book III, More Comments 2

Book III begins with a condemnation of lust that vibrates strongly through the passage.

Chapter/Section 1:

“I came to Carthage, and all around me in my ears were the sizzling and frying of unholy loves.”

In Chapter/Section 2:

“Why is it that it runs into that torrent of pitch which boils and swells with the high tides of foul lust, changing itself into them and of its own free will altering its own nature from a heavenly clearness into a precipitation of depravity?”

In Chapter/Section 8:

“Indeed even that bond which should exist between God and us is violated when the same nature, of which God is the author, is polluted by the perversity of lust”

…and lust as a metaphor:

“Such sins fall under these headings and they spring from the lust of power, the lust of the eye, the lust of feeling—sometimes from one of these, sometimes from two, sometimes from all three.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Book III - More Comments

I don’t think it would add any value for me to say that we see Augustine acting out the grandeur of his humanity by behaving as an anarchist rather than as an authentically religious person--to use the terminology of Luigi Giusssani.

In more common terms, Augustine is “sowing his wild oats.” Moreover, we see the beginning of Augustine finding himself. We see the very beginning of him developing his conscience. We see the beginning of him taking stock of his experiences and learning from them. The Divine was at work here, always urging Augustine on to something else, just as the Divine is acting the same within all of us.

Giussani talks about our drives and desires. Quite often, when we finally find the object, place, person or idea that we think will finally make us happy, afterwards we feel an, “Is that all there is?” kind of feeling. Giussani teaches us to not despair in this situation. He wants us to use these experiences to prompt us to something beyond. That something beyond, of course, is the ultimate reality, the meaning of life, which is God.

Incidentally, Augustine’s engagement with the theatre, literature and the philosophy of his day is something that both Luigi Giussani, John Paul the Great and Pope Benedict XVI would personally appreciate. I think they would all say that these were among the more important “experiences” that ultimately led Augustine to the ultimate reality.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Book III

“I came to Carthage, and all around me in my ears were the sizzling and frying of unholy loves.”

Augustine describes, meditates, and ruminates on, at length, his college experience. It is amazing to see that the experience is no different now than when it was in the late 300’s in the Roman Empire. He writes of going to the theatre. No lover of the theater would appreciate his puritanical commentary! After what, 20 years, Augustine is very dismal in conveying any appreciation of the theatre. He tells of being associated with a group of arrogant, malicious fellow students called the, Subverters. Even then he felt ashamed of them.

Augustine tells of his admiration of the style of Cicero. And then tells of his reading of Hortensius and how it turned him on to philosophy. At this time too, Augustine chose to explore the Holy Scriptures, but decided that they were unworthy to be compared to the grandeur of Cicero.

“And so I fell in with a sort of people who were arrogant in their madness, too fond of the flesh and too fond of talking, in their words were the snares of the devil and a kind of birdlime compounded out of the syllables of your name and that of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.”

“But you were inside me, deeper than the deepest recesses of my heart and you were above me, higher than the highest I could reach.”

At this time in his life, Augustine asked the question about the origin of evil with respect to God, just as so many people today ask the same.

He goes on at length about the law of God and man. Quintessentially Augustinian, he cites the crimes of the men of Sodom, and then again invokes the metaphor of lust: “Such sins fall under these headings, and they spring from the lust of power, the lust of the eye, the lust of feeling…”

Throughout this Book and elsewhere, there are many allusions to Plato’s cave. Most strongly, in Book III: “…you hear the groanings of the prisoners and you free us from those fetters which we have made for ourselves.”

Just as some college students today get involved in new age religions, cults, and various off-the-beaten track beliefs, Augustine writes of his involvement with Manichaenism.

Augustine describes the deep anguish of his mother, Monica, over his sins and heretical beliefs

“And you stretched out your hand from on high and drew my soul out of that deep darkness.”

I am leaving out all of Augustine’s philosophical and theological commentary surrounding these events. They are substantial, and I believe have had great influence on Christian thinkers since then.

I think that the "moral" of the story is that for a student who was raised with the right values, that no matter how misguided or confused they may appear while in school, that if they pursue the truth, they will find it. Or it them.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Book II, Chapters 4-10

“I became to myself a wasteland.”

Augustine describes the famous incident when he was sixteen, when he and his friends decided to have some fun by stealing the pears from a neighboring farmer’s pear tree. The incentive and enjoyment of the crime was simply that it was forbidden, as well as pride and narcissism.

Augustine again uses the fornication metaphor: “So the soul commits fornication when she turns away from you and tries to find outside you things which, unless she returns to you, cannot be found in their true and pure state.” He continues, “So all men who put themselves far from you and set themselves up against you, are in fact attempting awkwardly to be like you."

The late Fr. Luigi Giussani opined that there are two kinds of people that capture the grandeur of being a human being-- the anarchist and the authentically religious person. In the case of Augustine and his friends, they were behaving as anarchists. It is also similar to something in Dante that is quoted by Giussani: The giant Capaneus is chained by God to hell. He cries out to God, “I cannot free myself from these chains because you bind me here. You cannot, however, prevent me from blaspheming you, and so I blaspheme you. This is the true grandeur of man.” To me this is an anarchist's attitude as well. (And by the way, Giussani’s response to this is to say, “But isn’t it even greater to love the infinite?”) Augustine and friends were trying to act-out their human freedom, but as anarchists, which I think is common in adolescence. "Come on, let's do it," and we become ashamed at not being shameless."

Fun is an exercise in freedom. It is reveling in acting out freely. It is a usage of the freedom that we are entitled to as human beings. The difference between fun and a crime is that fun doesn’t shouldn’t hurt anyone.

The last line of Book II is, “I became to myself a wasteland.” The famous poem by T.S. Eliot jumps immediately to mind. I did a Google search and also found references to Carthage and other things from The Confessions.
To read "The Waste Land" go to:
The click on T.S. Eliot, then click on "The Waste Land"

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Book II, Chapters 1-3, My Comments

When it comes to behavior, everything has limits, and some things, in their extreme are forbidden. Everyone knows this, if not explicitly, then intuitively. One of the tasks of parents and school teachers is to teach their children what the limits are and to abide by them. Experiencing puberty, lust, and “the bubbling of manhood,” (and let’s not forget womanhood!) is a natural, normal thing. Disregarding a strictly religious judgment of Augustine, for purposes of discussion, but going by Augustine’s own description of his behavior, he certainly seems to have exceeded the boundaries of proper sexual ethics. He has little self-control and is acting out his sexuality on others in an un-responsible manner. Indeed he seems to be completely controlled by his hormones, which is practically a normal state for a young male. I think that one of the developmental tasks of adolescence is to learn control of one’s impulses, and Augustine had yet to learn.

Augustine’s father and mother had different and conflicting ideas of what the boundaries of behavior were for him. His mother Monica’s boundaries were the traditional Christian limits, and his father’s were those of society at large, which were virtually without limit. And Augustine, of course, completely disregarded his mother’s values and admonitions. I do not envy the saintly Monica.

Another way of looking at Augustine’s situation is by looking at priorities. Let me make a comparison: While making money in itself is not sinful, to make the acquisition of wealth a priority over the love of God or of one’s neighbor is sinful. Analogously, it is normal to experience lust, but for Augustine, it became his one and only priority. Moreover, when we hurt others or ourselves, lust becomes sinful. When it controls our life, it is sinful. We must know its place and use it properly. Love of God and of our neighbor must come first. Treating people as objects is sinful. Treating them with correct human dignity and respect are what Christianity demands.

Book II, Chapters 1-3

Augustine begins, “I want to call back to mind my past impurities and the carnal corruptions of my soul, not because I love them, but so that I may love you, my God. It is for the love of your love that I do it, going back over those most wicked ways of mine in the bitterness of my recollections so that the bitterness may be replaced by the sweetness of you, O unfailing sweetness, happy sweetness and secure!” And so, Augustine plunges deep into his confession of lust and fornication. In the narrative, he is now sixteen and, “on fire to take my fill of hell.”

Chapter 2 is a very powerful evocation of his state of mind. He uses outstanding imagery throughout—muddy carvings of the flesh, whirlpools of vice, brambles of lust, the clanking chain of his mortality, and plenty more. It is one of the most literarily powerful passages in the book. It calls to mind the fire and brimstone sermon in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce. Augustine again uses the word disorder to describe himself. He describes himself as being completely controlled by lust and having run amok with immorality:

“But I, poor wretch, boiled up and ran troubled along the course of my own stream, forsaking you. I broke through all the boundaries of your law but did not escape your chastisement.” Similar to his statement, “every inordinate affection should be its own punishment,” In Book I, Chapter 2, Augustine writes, “in you Lord, except in you, who shape sorrow to be an instructor, who give wounds in order to heal, who kill us lest we should die away from you.”

“The madness of lust…held complete sway over me and to this madness I surrendered myself completely.”

So far, I have chosen not to criticize Augustine, positively or negatively, for his stand on sex, but to let his statements speak for themselves. It is his confession, after all. Perhaps at the end of this exercise I will state my own opinion on the matter.

Understanding Augustine

The hyperlink above points to a review of the Peter Brown biography of St. Augustine, in First Things, in May of 2001. I wish to cite:

And Brown reminds modern interpreters, particularly on the matter of sexuality, that Augustine was the defender of marriage against the extreme asceticism of his contemporaries. “We must never read Augustine as if he were contemporary with ourselves.” He was the contemporary of Jerome and Gregory of Nyssa and Ambrose, and Christian tradition would have taken a quite different direction, I am sure, if Augustine did not stand between us and them. His is a voice of moderation. As Brown notes, “He wished for a greater recognition of the physical, sexual components of human nature, and was prepared to defend their legitimate expression (if in a disciplined manner) in marriage.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Influence of St. Augustine in One Man's Life

R.R. Reno, a professor of theology at Creighton University, explains his recent conversion from Episcopalianism to Roman Catholicism.
It includes an erudite and deep discussion of how The Confessions of St. Augustine affected his spiritual growth and thinking. There is also discussion of John Cardinal Newman's thought regarding the authenticity of the Catholic church.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Book I, Additional Comments

Even though I've gone on and read the first half of Book II, I find myself thinking about, ruminating over and re-reading sections of Book I. The Confessions are about the love of God. It is about God's love for Augustine and Augustine's love in return. It is the story of Augustine's relationship with God. His confession of of sin is a lamentation and a repentence for all of the times he failed to love. Remember, one of the catechetical answers to the question, "What is sin?" is that it is a failure to love. When Augustine talks about fornicating against God, it is a very bracing statement. When he uses the term fornication as a metaphor for other sins, it is even more powerful language. How many of us, in examination of conscience or repentence think of ourselves as fornication against God? How many of us, in examination of conscience, feel or think of ouselves as having betrayed God? In Book II, Augustine says of himself when he was 16, "...I was unable to distinguish between the clear calm of love and the swirling mists of lust." By extension, the same applies to all of our drives, impulses, neurotic behavior, anger, rage, greed and so forth.

As difficult as it can be to get one's mind completely around the Confessions intellectually, I find myself drawn into the text.

"When I pray to Him I call Him into myself." (Book I, Chapter 2)

When I prayed this Psalm this morning, it was so full of meaning:

I will praise you. O Lord, will all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonders.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

-Psalm 9.1-2

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Book I, Concluding Comments

Augustine's passionate love, awe, and respect for God is clear. His attitude and relationship to God are profoundly reverential. Augustine also expresses a "metaphysics" of God which is an integral part of his relationship to Him. However, I personally feel that in his expression of his love of God above all else, there are some overtones of arrogance and contempt towards humankind. For some readers that are of a certain dispostion, the attitude Augustine had toward himself as a child and of himself as a sinner, as well as his negative attitudes towards others (some teachers, for example), by extension, could lead to an attitude of condemnation.

From prior readings of the Confessions, although it seems that he explicitly rejected certain Manichaean beliefs, I believe that are were some Manichaean beliefs, attitudes and assumptions that he carried into his Christian writings.

I've been deliberately hard on Augustine for his attitudes towards women and of himself as a child. Augustine had been a Manichaean hearer/auditor for nine years prior to his conversion. Manichaeism considered all matter, but especially flesh, to be an abomination. All flesh was considered evil if it was begotten by copulation. Women were considered forces of evil, binding men to the flesh.

However, in a review of the second edition of Peter Brown’s biography of Augustine, in the magazine First Things, Robert Louis Wilken says:

"And Brown reminds modern interpreters, particularly on the matter of sexuality, that Augustine was the defender of marriage against the extreme asceticism of his contemporaries. “We must never read Augustine as if he were contemporary with ourselves.” He was the contemporary of Jerome and Gregory of Nyssa and Ambrose, and Christian tradition would have taken a quite different direction, I am sure, if Augustine did not stand between us and them. His is a voice of moderation. As Brown notes, “He wished for a greater recognition of the physical, sexual components of human nature, and was prepared to defend their legitimate expression (if in a disciplined manner) in marriage.”

Augustine's attitudes towards himself as a child are certainly not that of Jesus's towards children. But remember Augustine only speaks of himself here. I will concede that he has the right to be as hard on himself as he wants. In the revised edition of Peter Brown's biography, at the end of the original text, there are a number of letters appended, which were written by Augustine. These letters were only discovered since the first edition was written. In one of the letters, I was very touched by an incident where Augustine, by then an aged Bishop, tried to seek the freedom of a 12 year old girl that had been taken into slavery.

Augustine wrote The Confessions near the beginning of his very long career as a Christian. Bare in mind, that when he wrote it, he was very much a "young turk" in the leadership of the church, in the sphere of religion, and in the intellectual world of the Roman Empire. In the course of his career some of his ideas hardened and others softened within him. Augustine had been known by many in the communities of North Africa, Rome and Milan, from prior to his conversion. He was known as a teacher of rhetoric to the sons of the nobility, but he had also been well known as a Manichaean, and I'm sure for the "whoring" and bachanalia of his student days in Carthage. His purpose in writing The Confessions was to make a statement of renunciation to the world for his past.

Book I, Chap. 14-20

Augustine continues with the description of his boyhood, the sins of his boyhood,
and praising God. In the final chapter, we get a sense of the Augustinian emphasis on the love of God over love of one another. Of course, in Christianity, love of God must come first. What kind of religon would it be if love of humankind came first? It's just that with statements of the Augustinian love of God to the exclusion of all else, at times, it seems to be stated with hostility towards the else.

Augustine hated Greek literature, which he was forced to study. He concludes that free curiosity is a more powerful aid to the learning of languages than a forced discipline. He continues to talk of the Greek stories of the gods and of the lust and adultery contained within them. Though Augustine considers these stories and actions sinful, he acknowleges that he did learn some good from his studies in teh form of vocabulary, grammar, and I would assume, critical thinking skills. After a while, Augustine is considered a promising student, though he was still potentially liable for beatings if he did poorly. Augustine praises God for his intelligence, but confesses to devoting too much time to stupidities. Augustine considers himself as having been cast out into a foul abyss. He says that in God's eyes he was disgusting. He confesses to petty thievery, cheating, gluttony and pride.

He seems to sum up his childhood sinning as:

"For my sin was in this--that I looked for pleasures, exaltations, truths not in God Himself but in his creatures (myself and the rest), and so I fell straight into sorrows, confusions, and mistakes. I thank you my sweetness and my glory and my confidence, my God, I thank you for your gifts."

Throught the last section Augustine praises God, praises him for His gifts, and prays that they continue and be perfected in him. He finished Book I with, "...for my very being is your gift."

If only every Christian would know that the being of each is a gift from God. If only every Christian would consciously and actively know that every human being is a gift of God, from the moment of conception until death.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Book I, Chapter 13

Here Augustine mentions fornication for the first time. From prior readings, I know that he mentions fornication throughout and often uses fornication as a (powerfull) metaphor for other sins. Given the curent context and approximate age of Augustine, it comes up unexpectedly in the text at this point. But I guess it relates to the Aeneas/Dido example.

(addressing God...)
"You I did not love. Against you I committed fornication, and in my fornication I heard all around me the words: Well done! Well done! For the love of this world is fornication against thee and when one hears these words: "Well done! Well done!" they have the effect of making one ashamed not to be that sort of person."

He starts off meaning fornication, literally, but in his statement, "For the love of this world is fornication against thee," it seems like he might be approaching any love of this world as being comparable to fornication. I wonder.

This chapter contains a number of contrasts. Earthly life and death. Spiritual life and death. Earthly love and love of the Divine. Augustine hates learning Greek but is fond of Latin. Usefull studies and Empty studies. Dido dies for love and leaves the audience in tears; yet, Augustine with dry eyes was dying far away from God. "What indeed can be more pitiful than a wretch with no pity for himself, weeping at the death of Dido, which was caused by love for Aeneas, and not weeping at his own death, caused by lack of love for you, God, light of my heart, bread of the inner mouth of my soul, strength of my mind, and quickness of my thoughts." With "His own Death," I believe Augustines is referring to a spiritual death, meaning hell/damnation--having lost the opportunity for eternal life.

Note the imagery of, "...bread of the inner mouth of my soul." Spaced throughout the Confession Augustine uses many powerful images. These image contribute significantly to the power of the text.

I imagine that this chaper in Latin must be wonderfully literary.