Muslem Universities Petition for Translation of Augustine
And while you are at it, consider Psalm 139.
So I'm not the only one to see the parallel between 9/11 and 410!
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.
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.
Move your cursor over the title of this post, to get the link to the magazine article.
Click on the link above.
“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.”
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?”
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.
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.
…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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
This was a difficult chapter to dissect.
"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"
"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."
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.
“It was pleasing in your site to reform my deformity.”
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.
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.”
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.
Book VII is a long, complex exploration of the understanding of God.
- an 8/1/05 review in the New York Times of a new biography of Augustine, by Jame J. O'Donnell.
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.
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.
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.
The above link is a short, stimulating read on the contemporary value of the life and teachings of St. Augustine, from Godspy.
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!
This is another rich but easily approachable book of the Confessions.
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.
I found Book V, to be one of the most interesting Books of the Confessions so far.
I recently found the very illuminative URL above, from a Fordam University site.
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!
Book III begins with a condemnation of lust that vibrates strongly through the passage.
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.
“I came to Carthage, and all around me in my ears were the sizzling and frying of unholy loves.”
“I became to myself a wasteland.”
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 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.”
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:
R.R. Reno, a professor of theology at Creighton University, explains his recent conversion from Episcopalianism to Roman Catholicism.
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.
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.
Augustine continues with the description of his boyhood, the sins of his boyhood,
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.
In being forced to apply himself to his studies, Augustine admits that it was for his own good. Yet he says that his teachers did not act good. Augustine attributes the good that was done to him, to God alone. The reason he does not credit his teachers is because their intent was for him to use his education for worldly and un-Godly purposes. Augustine claims that God used the errors of others for his good as well as the punishments from his teachers from his own errors, for his own good.
It seems that all Christian society had an awesome dread of the penalty for sin. The general attitude was to become baptized later in life. Baptism washed away all sin committed previously, no matter how grave. Sins commited after Baptism were considered especially horrific precisely because the sinner was Baptized--had committed themselves to Christ. The attitude was to sin first then get Baptized later rather than to get Baptized, sin afterwards and not be eligible again for that once in a lifetime opportunity for the absolution of sin. I assume they hoped by old age, the lust for sex, violence, money, drunkeness, and so on, would have died down and that one has developed more self control, perhaps perspective, and perhaps a motivational sense of one's mortality as one ages.
Augustine describes the misery he experienced in childhood from the beatings that resulted from his not working hard enough in his studies. He says that he had no idea why he was expected to apply himself to his studies. Now whose fault is that!
Augustine describes his aquisition of language. As dismal as Augustine continues to be in his decription of childhood, considering that this was written in 400 A.D., his observations of human psychological development are acute and still accurate.
Here Augustine describes the self-centered drives and impulses of infancy as sinful. Of course, the notion seems preposterous today. A modern person should praise God for implanting these behaviors into infants, as the effect of these behaviors is to signal adults to tend to our needs and wants, without which babies would suffer and die. Of course, in the time of Augustine there was no such thing as developmental psychology.