We will go over all of Book II of Confessions for our next meeting.
In this Book , Augustine describes the onset of adolescence (he was around sixteen at the time – c. 370-371 AD) and enters what he seems to consider the most lurid and sinful period of his life. He describes how he returned home after having spent a year in Madaura, a nearby city where he had gone to study rhetoric. His parents had now expended their meager resources for his schooling, which led the young Augustine to take a year off and give him the opportunity to get into some trouble. He “ran wild,” he writes, “in the jungle of erotic adventures…and became putrid in [God’s] sight.”
In addition to his first sexual escapades, Augustine is also quite concerned with an incident in which he and some friends stole pears from a neighborhood orchard. Augustine deeply regrets both of these sins, and offers a few brief insights as to how and why he committed them.
Please write down an essay on one of the following questions:
- In Chapter 2, he writes that “I cared for nothing but to love and be loved. But my love went beyond the affection of one mind for another, beyond the arc of the bright beam of friendship.” English writer G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Every time a man knocks on a brothel door, he is really searching for God.” Do you agree with Chesterton’s statement? What is the difference between love and lust? How are these two desires reconciled in God according to Augustine? Also, what does Augustine say is the ideal use of sex is for? How has his views affected the church today in regards to sex and marriage?
- In Chapter 4, he describes the famous scene of his theft of some pears from a neighboring orchard. He opens the chapter by saying that “It is certain, O Lord, that theft is punished by your law, the law that is written in men’s hearts and cannot be erased however sinful they are.” Do you believe we have an innate sense of morality (or a sense of right and wrong) within us (even apart from God’s revealed law) or is it taught to us by our parents and or society? Also, on a related note, do you think everyone has an innate sense or awareness of God within them – a kind of sensas divinitas (sense of the divine)?
- Also in Chapter 4, he writes, “For of what I stole I already had plenty, and much better at that, and I had no wish to enjoy the things I coveted by stealing, but only to enjoy the theft itself and sin.” Is the euphoric feeling/rush you get from sin greater than the act of sin itself? What highlights into the nature of sin and its intimate nature with mankind does he describe here? (i.e. “Let my heart now tell you what prompted me to do wrong for no purpose, and why it was only my own love of mischief that made me do it. The evil in me was foul, but I loved it. I loved my own perdition and my own faults, not the things for which I committed wrong, but the wrong itself.”) Also, what connection do you see with his account of the pear theft in the vineyard and the biblical account of the Garden of Eden?
- Discuss all the neoplatonic references he makes in Chapter 5. According to his blending of neoplatonic thought and Christianity, how can good things like beauty and friendship become occasions of sin? How does he view creation and its relationship with God?
- In Chapter 6, what does Augustine mean by “beauty”? What neoplatonic ideas does he share here in terms of the philosophy of beauty? What affect does beauty have on us – whether it be beautiful people, faces, art, cars, clothes, technology? Why are we so affected and fascinated by beauty? What is the difference between “real” beauty vs. “deceptive” beauty?
- In Chapter 7 he writes that “by your grace I was preserved from whatever sins I did not commit, for there was no knowing what I might have done…” and “by your guidance I was spared from committing [more sins].” Do you agree with him here that God’s grace will actually shield or protect you from committing more sins in your life? How does God’s grace affect you when you commit sin? How does grace change your perspective of sin?
- In Chapter 7 he writes, “What man who reflects upon his own weakness can dare to claim that his own efforts have made him chaste and free from sin, as though this entitled him to love you the less, on the ground that he had less need of the mercy by which you forgive the sins of the penitent?” It seems here that he is claiming that it is impossible out of a person’s free will to free him or herself from sin apart from God’s mercy. Do you agree with him? What part, if any, does free will play in a person’s salvation? Is a person really free? Is free will an illusion then? Does God override a person’s free will in salvation? Can love truly exist without free will? Why or why not? Is salvation from sin and all or nothing proposition – it’s 100% all God OR it’s 100% all our free will choice to choose God? Can it be both?
- In Chapter 9 he writes that he would have never had committed the theft of the pears on his own. He insists that if it weren’t for the peer pressure of his friends in committing the sin, he would have never done it. Is there a communal aspect of sin? What is Augustine describing here? How do you react towards friends or peers who tempt you to do something (wrong) which you would have never considered or done on your own? How about in the workplace? How do you react when co-workers break ethical rules at the expense of getting the work done, closing a deal, ‘cooking the books’, leveraging more money, etc.? Describe the social dynamics or collective dimension of sin.
We will discuss our essays in the upcoming days.