We will finish the rest of Book III as we go over chapters 7 – 12.
The more questions I think of as I go through Confessions the more profoundly impressed I am of Augustine and his thinking.
Please answer one of these questions and write an essay on it.
- Augustine was a devoted follower of Manichaeism for almost a decade during this time. What are the major beliefs of Manichaeism? What attracted Augustine to this sect? Do you believe that Christianity is essentially dualist as the Manichees were – that the world can be split up between good and bad, or between God and the Devil? Are charismatic and fundamentalist sects in Christianity essentially dualists? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 7, Augustine writes, “I did not know that evil is nothing but the removal of good until finally no good remains.” Do you agree with his definition of evil? What is “evil” anyway? Is it something, or nothing? Is it a quality or a description of something? Is it an artificial concept that people have come up with or is it something (perhaps external) that exists on its own? Does it have its own existence? Remember to think in terms of Augustine’s refutation of Manichaean beliefs about the origin of evil here, especially with his use of neoplatonic philosophy with Christian theology.
- In Chapter 7, Augustine discusses his views on what God is or is like. He writes that “God is a spirit, a being without bulk and without limbs defined in length and breadth.” What do you think he means by the word “spirit”? What is “spirit” anyway? Do you share the same view about God as he does? Why or why not? Is God just pure Mind? Have most Christians adopted this view of God when they “envision” or form a vision of God? Do people have “spirits”? If so, are they any different from souls? (Remember Augustine’s neoplatonic thoughts when he thinks about the soul.)
- In Chapter 7, how does he distinguish between “true justice” and “regular” justice? What is the relationship between God’s law and justice? Can there be (true) justice without God? Is there such a thing as absolute justice? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 8, he shares a portion of his political philosophy and theology. He writes, “But if God commands a nation to do something contrary to its customs or constitutions, it must be done even if it has never been done in that country before. If it is a practice which has been discontinued, it must be resumed, and if it was not a law before, it must be enacted.” Do you agree with his statement here? Why or why not? Can you give an example of when an act of disobedience toward a government might be applicable?
- In Chapter 8, he writes, “How much more right, then, has God to give commands, since he is the Ruler of all creation… For all must yield to God just as, in the government of human society, the lesser authority must yield to the greater.” Is he advocating that a theocracy (a government ruled solely by God or strictly under ‘biblical’ rules, laws, and principles)? Is that the best form of government? Why or why not? Do you think it was God’s original intent for mankind to be under a theocracy? Explain.
- In the second half of Chapter 8 (p. 66), he writes, “How can sins of violence be against you, since nothing can injure you? Your punishments are for the sins which men commit against themselves, because although they sin against you, they do wrong to their own souls and their malice is self-betrayed.” Do you believe that God is affected or injured, perhaps emotionally, by sin? Or are we hereby anthropomorphizing God too much here – that is seeing or describing God too much as acting or being like a human being? Or is he too perfect to feel moved by our actions? Is God totally unchanging (called the ‘impassibility’ of God in theological terms) in this sense or can he change? Does that go against what the Bible says of God? Cite any biblical examples for or against the notion that God can change. Are God’s laws and punishments (as stated in the Bible) more for our sakes than it is for God’s as Augustine seems to be implying here?
- In Chapter 9, he writes, “Sometimes we also do things which have every appearance of being sins against nature or against our fellow men, but are not sins because they offend neither you, the Lord our God, nor the community in which we live.” Furthermore, “Many of the things we do may therefore seem wrong to men but are approved in the light of your knowledge, and many which men applaud are condemned in your eyes.” Can you give any other examples (not including, of course, the ones he gives in this chapter) of an act that seems like sin but isn’t. Can there be sins that are acceptable to God’s eyes?
- In Chapter 11, he shares how his mother, Monica, had fervently prayed for his salvation for a very long time. She had a dream about him that consoled her about his future. He writes, “Where could this dream have come from, unless it was that you listened to the prayer of her heart?” Does God still speak to us in dreams? What about other supernatural ways? Or have they all died out? Or are these just superstitions from a pre-scientific age? Does prayer really change people’s hearts toward God? Or does the act of prayer create a type of placebo effect upon the person who prays? State your reasons as to why or why not.
- In Chapter 12, he seems to imply that God had already set a plan for his salvation, executed partly through Monica. Do you believe that God has a plan for your life (i.e. that He has already set up where everyone would be born, the time, place, your parents, your career, your school, who you’d marry or not, when you would die, etc.)? If so, does that give you great comfort or trepidation, or even anger? Or is God’s “plan” subject to change out of our own free will? Is the universe free and open or is everything predetermined and free will is an illusion? If the universe is free and open and subject to change, what does that imply of God’s actions with us and the universe? (Think of in terms of the notion of love in a divine sense.) (Extra credit: If you believe that everything was predetermined by God, then was evil, death, and suffering all part of God’s plan as well? And if so, how can God still be called ‘good’ then?)
We will have our essays by next week.