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‘Confessions’ – Book III: Chapters 1 – 6

 

The Mani Prayer wheel used for prayers in Tibetan Buddhism

The Mani Prayer wheel used for prayers in Tibetan Buddhism.  Augustine was a follower of Manichaeism in his early life.

 

In Book III, Augustine leaves for Carthage from his hometown of Thagaste and enters a place and a lifestyle in which “all around me hissed a cauldron of illicit loves.” This is a low point in Augustine’s relationship with God–turned almost entirely toward transient diversions, he seems to feel he could get no lower.

 

It was during this time, when he was around sixteen years old, that he hooked up with a girl and would settle down with her for the next dozen years or so. In that time, having a common-law wife or living together and even having a child together was not considered particularly immoral. The main problem would be that she had come from a lower social class that Augustine which meant that any children they had would take her lower status, not his. This would cause problems for his family who most definitely wanted him to marry a woman with a high social standing. Augustine never reveals her name, most likely to protect her from unwanted attention. As Augustine would later write, she went back to Africa and vowed never to take another man.

 

Answer one question for this week:

 

 

  1. In Chapter 1, Augustine talks about, “I had not yet fallen in love, but I was in love with the idea of it, and this feeling that something was missing made me despise myself for not being more anxious to satisfy my need.”       What does he mean about being ‘in love with the idea of [love]’? How does one idolize love when you take a look at the nature of love and human desire? Is love just a bunch of chemicals swirling in your brain, or is it something more? Why do we crave it so much? Is it just the ‘warm’ or ‘euphoric’ feelings we get from it that attracts us to it? Furthermore, he writes, “For although my real need was for you, my God, who are the food of the soul, I was not aware of this hunger. I felt no need for the food that does not perish, not because I had had my fill of it, but because the more I was starved of it the less palatable it seemed.       Because of this my soul felt sick.”       Though God is supposedly ‘everywhere’ ( i.e. ominpresent), it is very hard to detect him with our physical sense, but how can we can we still love him? Or are we just deluding ourselves into thinking that we can?
  2. In Chapter 2, he writes about his love and passion for the theater.       What does he say about the link between passion and compassion in the arts? How does art and media affect us, particularly our emotions?       He seems puzzled by the theater when he states, “But what sort of pity can we really feel for an imaginary scene on the stage? The audience is not called upon to offer help but only feel sorrow, and the more they are pained the more they applaud the author. Whether this human agony is based on fact or is simply imaginary, if it is acted so badly that the audience is not moved to sorrow, they leave the theater in a disgruntled and critical mood.” Why are we so drawn to performances (whether in plays, movies, concerts, youtube, etc.) even though we know that it’s fake? Do you agree with his assessment here that whatever compassion watching a play may evoke within you, it’s not true compassion that you’re feeling since it really doesn’t move you to help another person out; therefore, compassion becomes denatured when elicited by the fictions of theater?
  3. In Chapter 4, describe his encounter with Cicero’s book Hortensius and his views about philosophy he shares here. What was it about philosophy that so intrigues the soul even till this day? What is the relationship between philosophy and theology? He also quotes Paul[1] here in Colossians 2:8-9: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”       In what ways can philosophy be full of ‘empty deception’ or is Paul (and maybe perhaps Augustine) over-reacting here, or should we take heed of his warning when studying or reading philosophy?
  4. In Chapter 5, describe Augustine’s first encounter with the Bible[2]. As he looked back, what did he say was his problem for his first reading of the Bible? Was your first encounter with the Bible like his? What were your first impressions of the Bible?       What are some difficulties with reading the Bible? Do you approach the Bible as the literal ‘Word of God’ (i.e. a supernatural book or work)? Or as a ‘love letter’ from God? Or a work of fiction? Poetry? If you read the Bible as a devotional for your spiritual life, do you separate that from a more scholarly or critical type of reading from the Bible?       In other words, you can read it to nourish your spiritual soul, but if you’ve been exposed to the historical-critical method of reading and interpreting the Bible, how does it affect your reading and view of the Bible as a whole?
  5. In Chapter 6, he describes his first encounter with the pseudo-Christian sect known as the Manichees (followers of the self-declared prophet Mani). Their thoughts would have a profound effect on Augustine for the rest of his life. What was Augustine’s initial critique against them? What initially lead him to this group? Do you think that there’s a universal desire for the ‘truth’, or is it just reserved for philosophers and theologians to ponder upon? Why or why not? According to Augustine, how is God ‘Truth itself’?
  6. In the middle of Chapter 6 he declares that God is not material and “Neither are you [God] the soul, which is the life of bodies and, since it gives them life… But you are the life of souls, the life of lives. You live, O Life of my soul, because you are life itself, immutable.” What neo-platonic thoughts about God is Augustine sharing in this part of the chapter? Do you believe God is has a material substance (i.e. physical) or is he immaterial? How do you ‘envision’ God to be like when you think, pray to, or conceptualize Him?

 

 

 

We will have our essays read by the end of the week.

 


 

[1] There are some scholars who believe that this epistle wasn’t written by the Apostle Paul himself, but someone writing in Paul’s name rather.

[2] Early Christians did not have access to Bibles at home usually; this is something we owe to the invention of the printing press during the Protestant Reformation. In Augustine’s world, most people couldn’t read and printed copies of the Bible then were very expensive. It was usually available only during worship services and churches made it available for those who had the skills and the inclination to study it. Augustine, as a learned young man, had these skills and inclinations, so he was in the position to gain access to a copy of a Bible.

 

 

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