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The Confessions of Augustine

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1 The Confessions of Augustine
By George Dunn and Brian McDonald

2 Augustine’s Significance
Most influential Christian writer aside from the New Testament authors A North African who lived through the declining years of Roman Empire Last great thinker of “antiquity” and first of Medieval thinkers His Confessions a new genre Takes the form of an autobiography Unprecedented in its depth of insight into human psychology, the dynamics of desire and the “enslaved will” So much so that he has been dubbed “the first modern man.”

3 Augustine’s Life as Framework for The Confessions
Born of pagan father and Christian Mother He left and then returned to his mother’s faith Confessions written soon after conversion (age 32) Could also be called “Testimonies” because he not only confesses sin but testifies to grace of God Significant that it is written in the form of an extended prayer. Why? Augustine’s interest in two things: God and the soul Prayer focuses the attention on both God can only be known through prayer and only through addressing God in prayer can we truly see ourselves Truly to know God is inseparable from loving him.

4 Human Life as Based on Love
Basic truth no. 1: all human beings are lovers To be human is to love some object and to be centered on it Human love comprises many objects Sex, friendship, food, reputation, entertainment None give lasting satisfaction because they don’t last The human will is subject to the love: “Affections moving the will” Only Eternal God can satisfy the deepest of our longings So for Augustine, true life is prayer in which we direct the whole stream of our love to God. Confessions is the erratic journey of Augustine “love life” away from and back to God

5 Infancy as a Clue to Human Life and Human Sin
Begins with infant suckling as emblematic of the “gift” nature of love (if no sin) The desire is a gift The milk is a gift The desire to share with infant is a gift “Original” life is the gifts of God, flowing through each to each like the flow of milk Disrupting intrusion of sin “Demand” replaces grateful receiving “Demand” replaces God with self Rest of Confessions: “Demands’s” self-centered quest for satisfying love

6 Another “Representative” Story: the Theft of Pears
Like “milk” this is another “parable.” Would also have reminded its Christian audience of another “fruit theft” story, the Garden of Eden Structured around question: “What did I love in you O theft” Motive was not hunger, but the thrill of stealing itself This puzzles Augustine for all acts, even sinful ones, are done “through the desire of gaining or the fear of losing some Lower goods” (1010) Conclusion is that sin is a desire to “grab” what God has: Pride aims at his loftiness Cruelty aims at the “fearfulness” of God Lust aims at the “caressing” effects of God’s charity. So even our sin testifies to God because it is a ‘perverse imitation” of God: a pretense that we can produce what only God can. So what Divine quality was Augustine trying to “imitate” in stealing pears? The divine POWER: a pretense that, like God himself, he was under no law (1012)

7 Boiling in a “Cauldron of Illicit Lusts”
Carthage, the next stage, is a “cauldron” not just of sexual lusts, but of ambition and hunger for reputation His further journeys lead him into the sect of “Manicheeism” and then to Rome and Milan where Ambrose becomes his teacher. Intellectual surrender to Christianity is not accompanied by inner “surrender” and the mystery of the will which won’t submit to what the intellect accepts his the forucs of Book 8:

8 The Conversion Augustine’s prayer: “Make me chaste, but not yet…”
Augustine’s conflict: His lusts “plucking at my garment of flesh….shall we not be with you forever?” (1019) Compare to quitting smoking or any other deeply rooted habit Augustine’s deliverance His will must be converted from the outside for it lacks the power to change the “affections” which move it in the old directions Two “outside experiences” come upon him and effect this deliverance A vision of “chastity” or “continence” as a “serene and joyous maiden” accompanied by young men and women A voice heard in a garden crying “Take up and Read”: and he picks up a copy of Paul’s letters and takes as a divine sign the words his eyes alight on: “Not in chambering [promiscuity] and impurities, not in contention and envy, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh. . “ (1020) He takes this as a direct message from God and is empowered to surrender his life to God

9 A Comparison of Augustine and Socrates
Continuity and contrast with Greek sensibilities, especially as represented by Socrates Curiosity and desire to “know” is shared by both. In both certainly en emphasis on “the examined life” Differences In Augustine knowledge is essentially a revelation from God and not an achievement of human reason Goal of life is “righteousness” not virtue, and this too is a gift of grace Redemption and not the “golden mean” (Aristotle) is the goal of life and again is a Divine gift rather than human accomplishment. The will cannot regulate itself so must be remolded by overpowering action of God 2) Keep remembering phrase “affections moving the will” and Augistine’s view of sin as “disordered” love. This will also be helpful as you “look forward” to Dante when we come to him

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