Sunday, July 13, 2014

Confessions, by Saint Augustine of Hippo

Aside from the Bible, Confessions is now the oldest work I have ever read, written between AD 397 and AD 398. Of course, I did not read it in its original Latin, but you know what I mean. Actually, I read Josephus many years ago, but it does not count because that was before I read deliberately.

Since this is the first book from The Well-Educated Mind biography list, I usually answer questions provided by Susan Wise Bauer; however, I made the mistake of finishing the book before fully examining the questions, in order to keep them in mind while reading.

Meanwhile, I thoroughly marked up my copy with highlighter, underlines, and comments because Confessions is full of valuable assessments, contemplations, and biblical truths; I really want to share my favorite parts.  But I cannot do both because it would be too long.  So I will only share my favorite sections.

My initial opinion of Confessions is that I am delighted to have read this.  Several years ago, before my deliberate reading ever began, I checked Confessions out of the library and attempted to read it; but I gave up because I did not think I was qualified to read it.  That was my state of mind before TWEM: I was not qualified to read ancient books or classics. So, I am grateful to be past that.

About Confessions: Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote about his life before, during, and after his conversion to Christianity.  He was candid about his sinfulness; desperate for knowledge and understanding of Truth; and humble toward his mother, who prayed earnestly for his conversion, and toward God, who opened his eyes, was patient with him, and saved his life.

During my reading, I remember thinking that Augustine's life was no different from anyone else today who is aware of his own sinful nature and yearning for God's forgiveness and salvation.  Sin was the same then as it is today, and man is still lost and deceived; nothing has changed.  In other words, if I did not know when this work was written, I would have mistaken it for a contemporary life.

Augustine's purpose for writing Confessions was in hope that others would see the truth of his admission and be moved to recognize the wickedness in their own lives, turn away from their sin, and turn to God.  However, he argues with God,
The human race is inquisitive about other people's lives but negligent to correct their own. Why do they demand to hear from me what I am when they refuse to hear from you what they are?
The Consecration of St. Augustine
by Jaume Huguet
Throughout Confessions, Augustine described his journeys and discoveries, and I have relished in many of them.

For example, he wonders: if he was in sin in his mother's womb, then when was he ever without sin?  Good point! Nonetheless, he took complete responsibility for his depraved behavior as a youth and young adult, as he became aware of his sin.

This next was a difficult truth, though sincere, considering that God does not need us; we need Him:
You had no need of me.  I do not possess such goodness as to give you help, my Lord and my God. It is not as if I could so serve you as to prevent you becoming weary in your work, or that your power is diminished if it lacks my homage.
About man being easily deceived into believing lies:
See how the human soul lies weak and prostrate when it is not yet attached to the solid rock of truth.  The winds of gossip blow from the chest of people ventilating their opinions; so the soul is carried about and turned, twisted and twisted back again.
St. Augustine of Hippo 
by Philippe de Champaigne
About those who make their own gods to worship:
They become lost in their own ideas and claim to be wise, attributing to themselves things which belong to you.  In an utterly perverse blindness they want to attribute to you qualities which are their own, ascribing mendacity to you who are the truth, and changing the glory of the incorrupt God into the likeness of the image of corruptible man and birds and animals and serpents.  They change your truth into a lie and serve the creation rather than the Creator.
About self-praise, which grows into vain-glory, he says,
Within us lies another evil in the same category of temptation.  This makes people who are pleased with themselves grow in vanity, though they either fail to please other people or actually annoy others whom they take no pains to please.  But in pleasing themselves they greatly displease you, not only because they think well of actions which are not good, but also because they claim good qualities as their own when you have bestowed them, or because they do not recognize them to be your gifts and think they have earned them by their merits.
About Jesus, Augustine says,
But a mediator between God and the human race ought to have something in common with God and something in common with humanity.
He is 'the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus'.  He appeared among mortal sinners as the immortal righteous one, mortal like humanity, righteous like God. Because the wages of righteousness are life and peace, being united with God by his righteousness he made void the death of justified sinner,...It is a man that he is mediator. He is not midway as Word; for the Word is equal to God and 'God with God' (John 1:1), and at the same time there is but one God.
Simply put, Augustine says,
The happy life is joy based on the truth. This is joy grounded in you, O God, who are the truth, 'my illumination, the salvation of my face, my God'.
But my favorite argument Augustine has is over books.  Augustine loved poems and fables, but he later saw it as wasteful when he was not yet right with God.  He says,
What is more pitiable than a wretch without pity for himself who weeps over the death of Dido dying for love of Aeneas, but not weeping over himself dying for his lack of love for you, my God, light of my heart, bread of the inner mouth of my soul, the power which begets life in my mind and in the innermost recesses of my thinking.

15 comments:

  1. I read a few selections from Confessions for a class recently and I've been interested in reading the entire work. Someday!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was definitely worth the read, especially if you appreciate a philosophical examination of the world and God's creation.

      Delete
  2. I loved the first half of Augustine's Confessions in which Augustine talks about his childhood and family. However, I didn't enjoy the last few chapters because the tone of the book suddenly changes and he does some heavy theologizing. I just felt that Augustine was being impatient with God. He wants to understand the ways of God, and feels frustrated that he cannot understand free will and time (the time chapter was the most confusing). I hope to reread this book in the coming months. I want to appreciate the questions Augustine asks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My friend and I were just discussing yesterday how the "time chapter" was drawn out. In my copy I wrote several comments with questions marks. I really did not care about the time concerns as Augustine did.

      I imagine Augustine as one of these super intelligent guys, like the great thinkers of the world, who could not sleep at night because he wanted all of the answers to the world. Putting his faith in Christ was probably one of the best things he could have done, or his brain would have exploded.

      Delete
    2. Agreed. (And I'm cracking up over this comment.) So glad you read it. I need to start rereading it soon! Love your post.

      Delete
    3. I read The Confessions last year and I also struggled with the Time Chapters. I think the first half reads like a biography and those chapters read more like a dense philosophical treatise.

      Delete
    4. Yes, and it makes sense that he wrote about those things b/c, in essence, he was a philosopher, a great thinker.

      Delete
  3. Great post, Ruth! This was my second time reading Confessions and I got so much more out of it this time. I was actually able to follow some of Augustine's thought processes with regard to time, memory, etc. I think many ancient writers were fascinated by the concept of time so, while I couldn't really relate to Augustine's "obsession", I wasn't surprised by it. I really need to write up my posts soon. Summer seems to decrease blogging time instead of adding to it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know! I'm waiting to read your post about it. I'll be on vacation again in a week, but I'll still be reading blogs and catching up.

      Delete
  4. I love the pictures you've included. Great post :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm glad I found you! I am also reading through TWEM. I'm in a group of 5 ladies, and I started with them 5 years ago. Some in the group have been going for almost 10 years. I jumped in at Plato in the histories. We've finished the histories and the dramas and now we're starting poetry. I'm reading The Odyssey. I'll go back around and hopefully do the novels and autobiographies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Heidi,

      I thought I saw WEM on your blog, but I wasn't sure. So you joined in w/ the histories and you guys are finishing up with poetry. How exciting. Well, you'll want to go through the novels b/c they were wonderful. Of course, I've just started the biographies, so I don't know what to expect; but I'm looking forward to many titles on the list. It should be good, too.

      It is always exciting to meet other readers going through TWEM.

      Delete
    2. Oh, P.S. I'm a homeschool mom, too.

      Delete
  6. Really interesting post! Inspired me to dig into some old literary work as well. I recently bought The odyssey and I'm excited to finally read it, I never really had a chance to!

    ReplyDelete