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.
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
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
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.