Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Book IX, Chapter 4

 This is a rich, dense Chapter peppered with imagery that contrasts of inner and outer eyes, lightness and darkness, bitter and sweet, anger and pity, truth and falsehood, the eternal and the temporal.

Augustine expresses his great relief and joy over becoming a Christian. Having been able to gain release from his position as a teacher of rhetoric, he delights in being able to take advantage of quiet time. The Chapter is framed by a meditation on Psalm 4, over which Augustine pours out his heart and quotes and at length. In contrast, he renounces the Manichaes at length, saying for example:
How strong and full of bitter grief was the indignation I felt against the Manichaes. Yet I pitied them too for their ignorance of those medicinal sacraments and for raging in madness against the antidote which might have made them sane.
Augustine is impressed by the line of scripture, “Be angry and sin not.” Augustine is angry at himself for having believed in Manichaenism. He contrasts his anger at himself with the Manichaes lack of anger at themselves and their anger that they direct outside themselves.

I noticed a similarity here with a passage from Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of Guilty Bystander (p338). From Augustine: “For there was both vanity and lying in those phantasms which I had accepted as the truth, and now in the grief I felt at the remembrance of it. I loaded myself with bitter and sincere approaches. I wish that those who still love vanity and seek after lying could have heard me. Then perhaps they would have been disturbed and would have vomited up their error. “ Thomas Merton quotes Fr. Evdokimov, a Russian Orthodox theologian: “One goes into the desert to vomit up the interior phantom, the doubter, the double.” The passages are talking of similar things, of giving up the false self, that is, the self that is not in God.

Augustine writes of darkness, of seeing the eternal light inside ourselves, of reading scripture with his outward eye and inwardly recognizing the truth.  Of the Manichaes, he says, "If only they could see the eternal light inside themselves." [my favorite line from this Book]

My favorite images from this section: “And now my good things were not external and were not sought with the eyes of the flesh in this sun that we see. For those who find their joys in things outside easily become vain and waste themselves on things seen and temporal and, with their minds starving, go licking at shadows.” [ allusions to Plato’s cave again]

Augustine contrasts the long period of torment preceding his conversion with the quickness of God’s mercy, making an analogy with a toothache that he had, which was miraculously relieved by prayer. Augustine interprets this as a sign of God’s affirmation of his faith. Augustine concludes by saying that his joy over his conversion is tempered because he still a only catechumen, having been “born again” but not yet Baptized.

While Augustine renounced the doctrines of the Manichaes that were contrary to the doctrines of Christianity; never the less, in the Confessions, his overall world view is Manichaen and Neoplatonic.  He should not be condemned for it. The lesson to be learned from this is that we are all a product of our backgrounds, our times, and of our environment. We need to take this into consideration when we judge others.

Book IX, Chapters 1-3

Augustine returns to Africa. While on the return trip, his mother Monica dies, and his state of joy over coming to Christ turns to grief over his mother.

1. Augustine offers obedience and praise to God. He marvels at the change in himself at how he has turned from his will to God’s, how God has entered him interiorly, and that his mind is free.

2. Augustine decides to quit his teaching position, which he has expressed extreme cynicism about anyway, calling it a “professorship of lies.” He keeps his decision quiet in order to avoid other people’s disapproval, criticism, and censure. He only tells his close friends. Augustine also had a breathing condition, and, partly, he plans on using that as an excuse for quitting. He wants more freedom.

3. Notice that there is a lot of “male bonding” going on in the Confessions. Augustine’s friends are very, very dear to him. This chapter is centered on Verecundus, who was one of Augustine’s close friends. Verecundus wanted very badly to join Augustine and his friends in becoming a Christian and becoming a member of their embryonic Christian community, but Verecundus was married. Verecundus did not want to become a Christian unless he could become celibate. For him, becoming a Christian was an all or nothing thing. The idea that one could not become a full or compete Christian without becoming celibate was common at the time. I must admire his zeal. Far fewer zealous Christians, today, desire to commit themselves to celibacy.

On his part, Augustine expresses a mysogynistic attitude towards Verecundus’ wife, but at least Augustine agrees that Verecundus should remain married. Note that for church fathers of the time, Augustine’s attitude toward marriage is a very moderate one.

Verecundus died an early death from disease. He did become a baptized Christian before his death. Just like, I wish we knew something about Augustine’s former mistress, at the very least, her name, I wish we knew something about Verecundus’ wife as well.