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!