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.


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