Lift up your hearts. We lift them unto the Lord. Oh Lord, just as Augustine confessed unto you his life as a means of instructing his readers, so shalt I write this review in the self-same style of confession, for the one who confesseth and renounceth his sins finds mercy. However, as this be not a review of my life, but of Augustine’s book, Lord, I confess that I may on occasion make confessions that are confessions in style and be not from my heart. For we should hate the double-minded but love your law and let our yes be yes and no be no, but this I canst not do and maintain the confessional style Augustine used. And I confess also freely that one reason for choosing this style is that I plan on planting my tongue firmly in my cheek and making fun of this saint that you have put as a star in the firmament of the constellation of elders to train us up in the way to go that when we are old we will not depart from it. I further confess that I hope You and my readers both have a good laugh.
For though the fault of Augustine for the choice of all the copies I could locate to be in King James English it is not, the translation is nonetheless the mediator between Augustine and ourselves, and the only window through which we are able to experience him. But even if we see through a glass darkly (unless our Latin teacher didst not retire after our first year and thus we could perhaps read the original text) and know a cleaner glass existeth, we can at least enjoy some levity with our present situation. If you be able to find a cleaner glass I do highly recommend it, because reading philosophy and the ancient style of argument is hard enough without the need to constantly focus on understanding the grammar of sentences with words in different orders. On the other hand, although the Apostle Paul’s writings are hard to be understood in King James English, they are also hard to be understood in modern English. Likewise, schooled as Augustine was in rhetoric, being a professor of the same for many years before he left off the tiresome task of selling words for the delight of giving himself unto the Lord, drinking the milk of the Word of God and craving the solid food of the teaching about righteousness. So thus it would be not unreasonable to assume that Paul, also an educated Roman who would likely have studied rhetoric under one of Augustine’s precursors, would argue in a way similar to a professor of rhetoric in a later century.
I must confess that the incessant quoting of the Bible, which although You instructeth us to meditate on it day and night, it makest Augustine appear to me to be excessively religious and makest the reading of his words rather tiresome. Now there are two meanings for the word religious. One referest to an adherence to a set of beliefs and an active participation in a community worshiping a deity; this meaning I mean not. The second meaning referest to someone who speakest all the right words and by the same seemest to loveth the Lord with all his heart and with all his strength and with all his soul, but who dost not have the inward heart posture and so the words comest from the mind and comest not from the heart. Because what real person insertest unnecessary Bible verses which givest light and likewise givest understanding to the simple in his sentences where the adjectives goest, but which distractest from the argument, which wouldst be better conveyed by omitting the unnecessary quotes, for much dreaming and many words are meaningless? I confess that I struggle mightily, because anyone who comes up with the opening phrase “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You” must have a different relationship than everyone I know. For I know not anyone who dost not struggle with “does God love me? why is this so painful?” unless they be the sort that quotest Bible verses and seemest to see worship as a fun activity (unlike the rest of us who think “fun” meanest games or movies or reminiscing or walking in the woods, not signing to someone we struggle to even experience) and who makest me think that they are working hard to convince themselves with activities to manufacture emotions that they havest not truly bubbling up within them. I realize that ancient rhetoric may value quoting respected forebears to show that you understand, for Chinese classical literature apparently has a lot of that, and certainly the apostles are fond of quoting the Old Testament, and even the Calormenes in C. S. Lewis’ books consider peppering their sentences with quotations by the sages to be a mark of education. Despite this, I confess that Augustine sounds repellingly religious, although I admit that he is probably just being a good speaker.
I confess that I was frustrated and rolled my eyes and even spoke my frustration out loud, when after relating how he became a Christian and how his mother died happy that God fulfillest her prayers and His vision to her of her son’s salvation, his next chapter (which the ancient writers callest a book) startest off by saying “I have not time to tell the long story of how I became a bishop even against my will but driven their by God, but instead I crave the depths of Your word and so I will explore it and confess it to you.” To which I added out loud something to the effect “after struggling through ten chapters of King James English philosophy, confessions, and unnecessary Bible verses, now I must spend three or four more hours ploughing through thy intellectual adventures because thou canst not be bothered to finish the life history that thou starteth and which I already invested ten hours trying to stay awake through thy Bible verses and King James English (though the English be not thy fault)? What kind of ‘confession’ wilt thou maketh in a Bible study? And all this because thou canst be bothered to continue thy life history and needest burden me with your exploration of the Bible, which I signed up not for.”
I confess also that sometimes I felt that the confessions were excessively lamenting in some places and rather light or missing in others. I confess that the episode concerning the theft of some pears in his youth, which he did not eat but wasted, purely because of the delight in the theft, and which he confessest his evil for a good many pages, left me thinking he had an overly developed sense of injuring God. He hast an excellent point that depriving his neighbor of the pears was evil enough, but to do it just for the pleasure of the theft and to completely waste the pears was pure evil. And C. S. Lewis describes in Perelandra the evil character torturing animals for the pure pleasure of it, so Augustine describes truth. But then he devotes a mere couple of regretful short confessional sentences to years of pleasuring himself with women. So stealing pears was gross evil, but stealing the hearts of women and doing nothing with thy son (until he showest up in your city just in time to be give his life to Jesus with thee and they friends) merits only a few sentences in a book called Confessions?!
Oh Lord, I must not confess only my difficulties with, but also the excellences of Augustine. For he is the first ancient author to examine his thoughts and his emotions, and to openest up his motivations and his failings to the outside world. And not only didst he invent the autobiography, but he wast not concerned with the events of his life or even his actions, but the motivations behind his actions. Truly Thy law givest light and givest understanding to the simple and transformest us by the renewing of our minds, for who but a follower of Jesus, the lamb who taketh away the sins of the world, could demonstrate by example Thy command to confesseth your sins to each other and prayeth for each other that you maye be healeth and bringeth to light what is hidden in the darkness and exposeth the motives of the heart? For apart from the safety we have in You because in Christ we haveth redemption, the forgiveness of sins how canst we expose our inward darkness to others, let alone to the world? Despite sounding overly religious (whether he be or be not that way), Augustine offers his life as an example that Thou are the bringer of peace and from his example that we findeth our rest in Thee.
I do confess that he is a great philosopher, and while not as engaging as Socrates, who through the mediation of Plato was practically entertaining to read as well as instructive, Augustine is legitimately insightful. He observest that we are unable to find rest outside of God because everything else rests not (that is, they changest). He observest that in some ways our sin is that we departed from our hearts and are now astray, and that God calleth us to return back our own hearts. He camest to the conclusion that astrology was worthless when two friends had children in their houses: the wife of one friend gavest birth to his child, and at the same time in the other house, a slave woman gavest birth to a child; the exact same position of the star must needs foretell a noble future for one child and a base future for the other. He addressest the cause of evil, which is our own free will. He talkest at great length about Genesis 1, and arguest that when the heavens and earth were formless and void, that they were made of their final substances (“heaven” being the bodiless intelligences, since the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s but the earth is given to men) but in a form that was not nothing, but not formed either, being of the final substances and formable into what they eventually became. It seemeth to me that C. S. Lewis, who surely reading Augustine (and in the original Latin) incorporated this idea in the creation of Narnia, where anything planted in the earth grew up into a tree of that sort. And he notes that God calls everything “good” individually, but “very good” in aggregate as a whole.
I confess that although Confessions is a struggle to read (at least in antique English), it dost get interesting when Augustine’s life progresses to the point where he took notes. And I confess that his philosophy is often quite new, particularly to modern ears who think differently and have not been exposed to older ways of thought. Indeed, Augustine soundest quite modern in his thinking sometimes, as there is nothing new under the sun, so the things that people think about are the same. I confess that this saint is justifiably still in print and that anyone who hast read him not is missing out on timeless wisdom. I strongly recommend the reader spendest the time to find a modern translation. This is not a hundred year book, it is verily a thousand year book, and contains a wisdom of a sort uncommonly found.
- We willingly exist but are unwillingly unhappy. Therefore give thanks that you exist, since you will it, and then the unhappiness may be removed from you. (de Lib. Arb. iii sec. 10) [Footnote on Book IV, sec. 11]
- You can’t find rest outside of God because everything else is changing (“things which rest not”) and is withdrawn by time (de Catechiz. Rud. 14) [Footnote on Book IV, sec 15]
- “Because men seeking things without, become strange even to themselves, the written law also was given them; not because it was not already written on their hearts, but because thou wert strayed, as a vagabond, from thy own heart, so He, who is everywhere, laid hold on thee, and recalled thee to thine own inward self. What then does the written law cry aloud to such as have forsaken the law written in their hearts? ‘Return to your hearts, ye transgressors.’” (Aug. in Ps. 57, sec 1) [Footnote on Book IV, sec 19, where Augustine says that God is in our hearts but we have strayed from him.]
- You don’t call something impenetrable if you do not observe anything penetrating it [the lack of observation]; you call something impenetrable when you see something try and fail to penetrate. Similarly, you don’t say God is incorruptible because of a lack of observation of corrupting, but rather because, having been born of a woman [being in contact with a woman but not being defiled], God was not corrupted. [Footnote on Book V, sec 20. Might not have been authored by Augustine, I can’t parse the reference.]
- In pursuing honors Augustine one time was on his way to give a speech of lies praising an important person, and all of his listeners would know it was lies and applaud him. He passed a beggar who had gotten enough money to get drunk, and was happy, while Augustine, pursuing his desires at expense of his inner values was unhappy. In some ways the beggar was better off, even though Augustine knew he did not want to exchange places with the beggar. (Book VI, sec 9)
- Augustine and nine other friends wanted to live together in a common house, but abandoned the idea because they could not figure out how to make it work with their wives and desired-for wives.
- “Loving a happy life, I feared it in its own abode, and sought it by fleeing from it.” (Book VI, sec. 20) “Its own abode” is the Catholic Church and its teachings (because true happiness is found only in God), and Augustine was seeking happiness in enjoying the world, specifically a beautiful wife, riches, and honors, and fearing to commit to being baptized into Christ because it would be too painful to give up his hope of happiness in the others.
- “But for me the most part the habit of satisfying an insatiable appetite tormented, while it held me captive” (Book VI, sec 22) The appetite seems to be sexual, in the context of relating to his desire to be married. (And later he says that he had a concubine while he was waiting for his engaged wife to grow old enough to marry.)
- Augustine felt that were we to have pleasure forever without fear of it being taken away, we would be happy. But he now thinks that is an illusion.
- God must be incorruptible/unchanging because the incorruptible and unchanging is better than the corruptible and changing. (Book VII, sec. 1)
- Evil results from our free will. “Evil is of two sorts, one which a man does, and the other which a man suffers. What he does, is sin, what he suffers, is punishment.” (c. Adim, c. 26) [Footnote to Book VII, sec. 5]
- Augustine was finally convinced that astrology was useless when Firminus related to him that his father had studied the stars and had a friend who did likewise. Firminus’ mother gave birth to him at exactly the same time as the friend’s slave gave birth. But Firminus was the son of a wealthy man and increased in stature, while the slave remained a slave; the constellations were exactly the same for both. (Book VII, sec. 9)
- Augustine says the lentil is an Egyptian food (because it is common in Egypt) and says Esau lost his birthright because he was (figuratively) hungering after Egypt with his lentil stew. (Book VII, sec. 15) [Of course, it was Jacob who was making the lentil stew...]
- God is not divided (Aug. de Trin. iv. procem) [Footnote on Book VII, sec.16] Man, however, is no longer united within himself, but divided from his heart (see above).
- Evil is not a substance, because God made all substance and made all substance good. Evil is the absence of good. (Book VII, sec. 18) Footnote: the nature of things is good and diversity of goodness their difference.
- It is only coming to the Mediator (Christ) that we are able to perceive and understand God, because he is the Light that shines down onto us, so we cannot perceive the nature of the Light from below. (Book VII, sec. 24)
- “Of Thy eternal life [that God is eternal] I was now certain, though I saw it in a figure and as through a glass.” (Book VIII, sec. 1)
- We get joy through difficulty: you don’t enjoy your health so much as after you were gravely ill. Also notes that the betrothed is not immediately given, the husband must wait a while, lest he value her too cheaply. (Book VIII, sec. 7) [In context of rejoicing in one soul saved more than ninety-nine righteous, specifically the well-known and very influential rhetoric teacher Victorinus.]
- Augustine wanted to serve Christ, but was bound by the chains of his will. His will had create a lust, the lust served created a custom, and the custom not resisted became a necessity. (Book VIII, sec. 10)
- If you love yourself in your folly, you will make no progress towards wisdom, nor will you become that which you desire, until you hate yourself as you are. (de Vera Relig., c. 48) [Footnote to Book VIII, sec. 17]
- “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet” (Book VIII, sec. 17) [Previously he related a story about some people in the Emperor’s service who happened across a book about St. Anthony, who were so moved that they devoted their lives to God on the spot, and when they told their fiancees, they devoted their viginities, too. Apparently, culturally, fully serving God required chastity.]
- “She [Augustine’s soul] feared, as she would death, to be restrained from the flux of that custom, whereby she was wasting to death.” (Book VIII, sec. 18) Augustine becomes angry with himself that he is rationally convinced that giving himself to God is what he has been desiring, but he cannot bring himself to do it (sec. 19).
- The punishment of the disobedient is that they should not even obey themselves [that is, their mind commands them but they don’t do it, unlike what happens when the mind commands the hand to move.]. (c. advers. Leg. et Proph. I. i. c. 14) [Footnote to Book VIII, sec.21]
- Eventually the internal conflict became too much, he lay down under a fig tree and cried, whereupon he heard the voice of children next door chanting “take up and read”. Since he couldn’t remember children saying that, he took it as a command from the Lord, so he took up the Bible and looked for guidance from the first sentence he read, which commanded the Christian to mortify the flesh. And that resolved the issue, so he gave his life to God and gave up living for the flesh. (Book VIII, sec. 28)
- Augustine decided to give up selling words, and he developed a pain in the chest that made it difficult to speak, which was a good reason to give why he surrendered his position (when his primary reason was that he was tired of the vanity of selling fake words), because he did not want to appear prideful of his new faith in the eyes of others.
- He was baptized by St. Ambrose, along with his friend Alypius, and his fifteen year old (illegitimate) son Adeodatus.
- Augustine records several miracles:
- While he was awaiting baptism, he developed a pain in the tooth so severe that he could not speak, not even learn, but only meditate one what he knew (Soliloquies, i. sec 21). He desired to have his friends pray for him, which they did and the pain went away. (Book IX, sec. 12)
- A dream revealed the locations of the bodies of two saints from hundreds of years before to St. Ambrose, who exhibited their uncorrupted bodies. A man who had become blind and relied on people for his sustenance, requested that his handkerchief be placed on the eyes of the saints, and when he touched it to his eyes he was healed. (The Arians did not dispute that he could see, but claimed that he had not been blind, but the man referred to the people who had given him sustenance, and vowed to serve in the basilica where he had been healed the rest of his life, which he did) (Book IX, sec. 16, see also footnoted: 1. c. sec. 15 [might be of Ambrose’s sermons, or Augustine’s retelling/?], de Civ. Dei, 1. xxii, c. 8, sec 2; Serm. 286, sec. 4; 1. c. sec 14)
- Also, many unclean spirits came out of people. (Footnote: the Arians did not dispute this, either, but claimed that Ambrose got people to act like they had an unclean spirit; 1. c. sec. 15)
- Augustine credits his mother (her prayers) for his being saved. (Book IX, sec. 17, and footnote, de novo persev. sec 35)
- His mother (Monica) was raised in a Christian house by an older servant woman. This woman trained the children not to drink much water, because when they are older they will discover wine, but will still have the habit of drinking. (But Monica, out of curiosity at first, took a sip of wine before bringing the glasses to her parents, and then took larger and larger sips, only stopping because one of the women servants made fun of her.)
- His mother did not resist her husband when he was angry, either in word or deed. Instead, she waited until later, when he was calm, and made her defense. (Augustine says that she counseled other women who asked her about her excellent marriage to do this, and those that did it found much peace, and those that did not continued in what they had before.) She also faithfully served her husband, and preached to him, and even endured his sexual unfaithfulness. His parents had a good relationship, and his father (Patricius) became a believer late in life.
- His mother died on their way back to Africa, while they were resting in Ostia. Augustine berated himself because found himself weeping for his mother, because he should be glad for her and not sad because she was with God. That night (or some later night) he realized that he was weeping the loss of the companionship of his mother, and after he wept for a small portion of an hour, he was consoled, although he was not entirely sure that he had not sinned in that.
- “Now we see through a glass darkly” (Book X, sec. 7; quoting the Bible)
- If you ask the earth, sea, sky, stars, planets, plants, animals, and fish [Creation] what they are, they will say “I am not God”. So if you ask who God is, they will say “He made me”. When Creation is telling of the glory of God, what it says is, God is the kind of God that made us. (Book X, sec. 9)
- Why does Creation only speak to some about God? It speaks to all, but only those who compare what it says to the truth they discover from within (also saying “I am not God, but He made me”) will hear it. (Book X, sec.10)
- Some thoughts come up immediately when asked, others take a while to be fetched as from an inner receptacle, still others come forth like an army asking “is it perchance I?”. And others, having been learned by heart, will come up in the proper order immediately when asked. (Book X, sec. 12)
- We store many things in memory because we experience them through the senses (the image of rolling waves of the ocean, the taste of meat, the sound of a gull, the feel of roughness or bigness, the smell of the city) and recall them as sights, sounds, smells, feels, and tastes. But we also remember emotions, such as joy or sadness, but we do not necessarily feel sad when we remember sadness (in fact, sometimes we rejoice in our past sorrows because they benefited us). Still other things, abstract ideas, we store the idea itself. We can remember forgetting something, which is a little strange because we remember something that did not happen. And it is yet beyond all these that we seek God.
- “My body lives by my soul, and my soul by Thee” (Book X, sec. 29)
- How do we seek a happy life, when we do not know what a happy life is? Is it like remembering something we remember that we have forgotten? Or like something that we have forgotten that we have forgotten? Isn’t a happy life doing only what you will to do and not what you do not will to do? There are two kinds of happy lives: those who have it and know they have it, and those who hope for happiness. But how do we know to seek the happy life, when none of us have experienced it? It must be in us somehow, perhaps a memory from Adam in whom we are descended. (Book X, sec. 29)
- All men agree they want to be happy, although they disagree in what that looks like. (Book X, sec. 31) The only way to be happy is to rejoice fully and completely in Thee (Book X, sec. 32) But while all men love the truth (some want to deceive, but none want to be deceived), but not all want to rejoice in the Truth, because they are more strongly taken up with other things. “Or do all men desire this, but because the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, that they cannot do what they would, they fall upon that which they can, and are content therewith.” (Book X, sec. 33) “Men love truth when she enlightens, they hate her when she reproves.” (Book X, sec. 34)
- We long for prosperity without trial, but is not the life of man all trial without any interval? (Book X, sec. 39)
- God requires continency and sustenancy. Continence is restraining the lusts and pleasures (not placing your trust in the good things of the world). Sustenance is not giving in to the evil things of the world. (Serm. 38, init. Footnote to Book X, sec. 40) Continence is a gift [grace] of God, and it is part of wisdom to know that He gives it. (Book X, sec. 40) The Lord requires continence main in three things: lusts of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the ambition of the world. (Book X, sec. 41) Footnote: these are pleasures of the flesh, curiosity [including knowledge and experiences], and pride. (Aug. in Ps. 8. v. fin.) “God does not command impossibilities, but bids us do what we cannot and to ask what we cannot” (de Nat. et Grat. c. 43; Footnote to Book X, sec. 45)
- He describes the three types of sins in more detail, confession his attractions therein. He gave up concubinage easily, and does not care about smells. Music and eloquent speech appeals to him, and he struggles with singing hymns because he experienced it bringing him to God in his early faith but he tends to enjoy the pleasure of the singing. He struggles with the pleasures of eating. He also seems to struggle somewhat with curiosity of experience, wanting new experiences. He does desire the praise of men, although it has matured so that he does not desire the praise of ill-livers, and also cares less about the praise of good-livers except that if they do not praise him he fears they may be ungrateful.
- In Book XI he says that he doesn’t want to bother spending the time to relate how God brought him to be a bishop, because he wants to search out the mysteries of God through the Bible. He begins with God making everything and notes that God must be outside of time and that the question “what did God do before he made everything” does not make any sense. Then he discusses the nature of time, observing that the past and the future don’t exist, and that really one can’t say that any stretch of time exists, but only the instantaneous instant of the present. He tries to break down how we observe time, but it seems that he fails and ends the chapter quoting a Psalm and exalting the mysteries of God.
- In Gen 1, when Moses says “the heavens and the earth” he says “earth” means the earth and the earthly, corporeal heavens that we know, but since “heaven of heavens is the Lords, but the earth is given to the sons of men”, then “heavens” must be the incorporeal heavens of God in which exist only Intelligences (Book XII).
- “formless and void” means not quite nothing, but not really something, either. It is the substances out of which “earth” and “heaven” were made, but sort of a proto-, unformed version. Towards the end of Book XII he asserts that creation happened kind of all at once, in the same way that when we make a sound we form it, but we do not have an unformed sound which we turn into a formed sound (unlike a cabinet, where we have unformed wood that we turn into a cabinet).
- Since God is eternal, he must be unchanging, because changeableness and time go together (at the end of Book XII he argues that time comes from creation, not the other way around, because creation changes and that is how there is a past and future), but eternal is not of time.
- Since God is unchanging, his Will must be unchanging, too. (Otherwise God would change, if he changed his will)
- We can’t say the author (Moses, in this case) intended my meaning and not your meaning, as long as both meanings are true. We have no idea what Moses was thinking and intending, but we know that he wrote truth, so if something is true, how do we know that Moses did not intend it (since what he wrote was true). But, if Augustine were writing a book that would serve as Gods revealed law for ever and ever, he would want God to enable him to write something that expressed the truth God wanted expressed, but which would parallel the whole truth, so that if other aspects of the truth were discovered, his writing would express or be consonant with that truth as well. In particular, he would not want to convey only one aspect of the truth and by the writing rule out anything that was also true (even if he didn’t intend it). So he assumes that God gave this grace to Moses. Therefore, if something is true, it is valid find it in an author’s words even if that author was not consciously intending it. (Book XII)
- “Therefore is my soul like a land where no water is, because as it cannot of itself enlighten itself, so can it no of itself satisfy itself.” (Book XII, sec. 19)
- God made the heavens and the earth. The heavens are the spiritual beings and the earth is people. God divided the earth into the waters of the sea, that is, all the people who are disobedient to God, and the dry land which is the people who have received God. He made the stars—the saints who have gone before us, who teach us God’s ways—for the night (before we are baptized) and the Sun (Jesus?) for the day. The words of these saints (notably the ones who wrote the Bible) are spread over us as a skin to create the firmament (wherein those stars are placed). When we receive those words and are transformed by the renewing of the mind, then we bear fruit. And God made man in three parts, just like He is three parts: To Be, To Know, To Will [Book XII, sec. 11]. And just as woman was made for man and subordinate to the man, so the other two parts are subordinate to Understanding (maybe that’s the “To Be” part?). God says to each individual thing that he made that “it is good” but everything together is “very good”.