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…”


Blogger Tyler said...

Can you email me I have a question about this section?

10:15 PM  

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