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Home » Theology » Augustine's "Confessions" » Questions for ‘Confessions’ – Book I, Chapters 11 – 20

Questions for ‘Confessions’ – Book I, Chapters 11 – 20


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“The rich people of Rome had a great education. They were often schooled and were taught by their own private tutor, at home they would go to schools. The schools were boys only. All the learning was based from fear, The boys would be beaten for any offence. They did this because they figured if children fear getting the wrong answer they will get it correct. If a student were to get lots of answers wrong they would be held down and beaten with a leather strap. If you were poor chances are you would be able to read and write , but you would not be able to have your own tutor or be able to go to school. ” (source: Augustine wrote about how he was beaten at school for bad performance. He writes, “I was still a boy when I first began to pray to you, my Help and Refuge. I used to prattle away to you, and though I was small, my devotion was great when I begged you not to let me be beaten at school. Sometimes, for my own good, you did not grant my prayer, and then my elders and even my parents, who certainly wished me no harm, would laugh at the beating I got – and in those days beatings were my one great bugbear.” (Confessions, Book I, Chapter 9)



 In these chapters, Augustine describes his early education and what his childhood was like.


Here are some interesting facts about the time in which Augustine lived in that will provide some background information to clarify some historical details.


In his book Augustine for Armchair Theologians, Stephen A. Cooper writes:


The details Augustine supplies about his education are of great interest to scholars of late antiquity, the period of the Roman Empire beginning from the late third century A.D.  While Roman education in the age of Caesar and Cicero included both Latin and Greek, by Augustine’s time it was a rare Latin speaker who had command of the tongue in which so much philosophy, history, and science was written.  Yet a knowledge of Greek continued to be part of the ideal of Roman education and culture.  At Augustine’s school, Greek was diligently taught, although not diligently studied even by bright students like him.   – p. 34


Some may wonder why Greek was even spoken so readily throughout the Roman Empire in the first place, and also, why was the New Testament written in Greek (koine[1] Greek specifically) as well and not in Latin?


Garry Wills in his book What Jesus Meant writes:


When Alexander the Great conquered his huge patchwork quilt of different peoples speaking different languages, the only way the defeated could communicate with Macedonian officers, and with other parts of the empire, was in fumbling attempts at the rulers’ Greek.  When the Romans succeeded the Greek imperial forces, they had to use the language in place, not their own Latin.  As Cicero said of the Roman empire, ‘Greek is read in practically every nation, while Latin is hedged within its own narrow confines’ (Defense of Archias 23).   – p. xi


However, in North Africa where Augustine was from, Latin was more prevalent there.


Please write an essay on one of the following topics:


  1. In Chapter 11, he writes about his first introduction to the Christian faith as a child and the deferral of his baptism by his mother Monica.  Why did she defer his baptism?  What is the function of baptism in the first place?  Does this ceremony or ritual actually wash away a person’s (or a child’s) sins?  What role, if any, does it play on a person’s salvation?  Is it necessary for all Christians to be baptized to be regarded as being a true believer?  Why or why not?
  2. In Chapter 12, he writes about “man’s insatiable desire for the poverty he calls wealth and the infamy he knows as fame.”  What do you believe he means by this?  Why does he call wealth ‘poverty’ and fame as being ‘infamy’?  Why are most people so obsessively drawn to wealth and fame?
  3. In Chapters 13 – 14, he concerns himself with the classical texts he was unhappily forced to read and, more broadly, the high-flown rhetorical language he was supposed to learn from them. Why does he disapprove of fiction, which he sees as a misleading waste of time?  Looking back, why does he think this was a time where he broke faithfulness with God when he was too deeply involved in reading classical texts (for example, reading about Dido in Chapter 13)?  How do literature and the media affect us today in light of Augustine’s views?  Are his points valid?  Why or why not?
  4. Augustine’s criticism of his schooling and certain features of the adults who set the program tells us early on that his book consists of more than just confessions of sin and praise to God.  The Confessions contains criticisms of all human institutions that accomplish what we would call socialization.  In Chapter 16 he critiques the curriculum of the day because the literature which formed its basis taught different lessons than the schoolmasters and parents intended.  He was worried about the moral effect of literature in education; for instance, the god Jupiter (Zeus) administers justice upon those who do wrong, but at the same time he is notorious for committing adultery.  Are teachers or professors at fault at times by suppressing information from students or giving false interpretations of facts or events?  Do they have a responsibility to tell the truth instead, beyond his or her own self-interests?  What about pastors and or teachers at church?  Are they also guilty of twisting biblical or theological information to the congregation for their own benefit?  If so, provide an example.  How have church leaders used the Bible to validate their own actions or even sinful behavior?  (In this chapter Augustine uses the example of Terence who ‘brings on to the stage a dissolute youth who excuses his own fornication by pointing to the example of Jupiter… These are the words with which he incites himself to lechery, as though he had heavenly authority for it.”)
  5. In Chapter 16, he gives a critique of the use of rhetoric in schools, which is ironic in that he himself was once a professor of rhetoric.  He writes, “This is the school where men are made masters of words.  This is where they learn the art of persuasion, so necessary in business and debate.”   Here again, Augustine is giving a critique of institutions that teach a reliance upon persuasive speech, not so much upon giving or telling the truth, in order to conduct business. He shows a critical and discerning spirit, and is unwilling to accept human convention and the easy “that’s just the way it’s always been done” type of rationale.  How is persuasive speech used today in areas of business, law, politics, and even the church to manipulate and coerce others?  In society at large, do you believe that self-interest, greed, money, and power are more influential than the principles of sound ethics, justice, and for the good of the public (or public-interest)?  Why or why not?  How are things different in God’s kingdom as opposed to the kingdoms of the world?
  6. In Chapter 18, in a retrospective look at himself, Augustine reads the story of his life in light of the parable of the prodigal son as told in Luke 15:11-32.  In this chapter, how does he view the relationship between the human condition and sin?  How is the soul related to all this?  What does he mean when he writes: “This is just as perverse as to imagine that our enemies can do us more harm than we do to ourselves by hating them, or that by persecuting another man we can damage him more fatally than we damage our own hearts in the process.”?  What qualities of God does he describe in this chapter?
  7. In Chapter 19 Augustine confesses to God, “By these means I won praise from the people whose favor I sought, for I thought that the right way to love was to do as they wished.  I was blind to the whirlpool of debasement in which I had been plunged away from the sight of your eyes.”  In terms of the human condition and its social interactions, how does public perception affect our personalities and behaviors?  Why does public perception affect us in such ways, and why often does it cause us to do and say things that might not reflect our true character?  Or does it reflect and reveal our true selves instead?  Can our identities be free from others’ perceptions of ourselves?
  8. In Chapter 19 he writes about how he used to steal from his parents out of greed and how he cheated others when he was young.  In return, he would later find out that those whom he cheated had also cheated him as well.  The sins of childhood would be repeated again later on in life.  He writes, “For commanders and kings may take the place of tutors and schoolmasters, nuts and balls and pet birds may give way to money and estates and servants, but these same passions remain with us while one state of life follows upon another…”  What does Augustine say about the nature of sin in mankind?  Is there a systematic nature or cyclic pattern in sin that pervades throughout our being?  If so, what is this nature or pattern like?
  9. In Chapter 20 he writes about the gifts God has bestowed upon him.  What neoplatonic terms does he use in describing God in this chapter?  How does he conclude that God is good?  Again, focus on how it relates with neoplatonism.


Our essays will be posted up later in the week.



[1] Means ‘common denominator.’






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