Friday, December 23, 2005

Book VIII, Chapter 11

…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.

“So I was sick and in torture. I reproached myself much more bitterly than ever, and I turned and twisted in my chain till I could break quite free.”

Augustine knows that he is close to liberation.

“Only a little of it still held me, but it did still hold me. And you Lord in the secret places of my soul, stood above me in the severity of your mercy, redoubling the lashes of fear and shame, so that I should not give way once more and so that the small weak piece of chain which still remained should not instead of snapping grow strong again and tie me down more firmly than before. ”

He describes his last teasing temptations.

“Toys and trifles, utter vanities had been my mistresses, and now they were holding me back, pulling me by the garment of my flesh and softly murmuring in my ear: ‘Are you getting rid of us?’ and ‘From this moment shall we never for all eternity be allowed to do this or to do that?’”

In two subsequent paragraphs, Augustine vividly describes himself as faintly turning towards continence, personifying Continence as a woman. To partially quote it would not do it justice.

Last, but not least, let us not overlook the importance of friends to Augustine, as he finishes the chapter. “And Alypius stayed close by me, waiting silently to see how this strange agitation of mine would end.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Book VIII, Chapter 10

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 makes reference to Original Sin as being the cause of inner conflict:

“So I fought with myself and was torn apart by myself. It was against my will that this tearing took place, but this was not an indication that I had another mind of a different nature; it was simply the punishment which I was suffering I my own mind. It was not I, therefore, who caused it, but the sin dwells in me, and being a son of Adam, I was suffering for his sin which was more freely committed.”

But doesn’t this statement sound awfully Manichaean? Overly dualistc? Augustine is basically saying he is not to blame, the sin is to blame, as if the sin is something apart from him? This doesn’t seem all that different to me than a Manichaean saying he didn’t sin, that it was the bad substance in him that is to blame.

I have become of the opinion that although Augustine vigorously rejected and renounced the Manichaean doctrines, he still retained Manichaean thought patterns and a latent Manichaean worldview. This is consistent with what Augustine’s peers in the Orthodox Church thought at the time and with what Orthodox thinkers opine today.

At some point in the future, I will have to address the dualism of Augustine. I recently watched the History channel show titled, “Sex and the Bible.” It was stated that the dualism of Augustine is not Biblical, and I believe that to be correct. In the Bible, the spirit/soul and body are not entirely separate spheres. Augustine took his dualism from both Neo-Platonism and Manichaeanism. According to one of my Orthodox correspondents, although the Orthodox Church has a massive Greek influence, even more than in the Latin Church, they rejected much of the dualism of Neo-Platonism inherited from the Greeks. And interestingly, I’ve noticed that in the theology coming from Communion and Liberation Movement (which I’ve been involved in for the past year), there is much condemnation of dualism. Among other things, they say that nihilism is the logical conclusion of dualism.

I really need to learn a lot more.