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!


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1:53 PM  

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