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Confessions: Book V – Chapters 1 – 7

Uyghur Manichaean clergymen

Uyghur Manichaean clergymen, wall painting from the Khocho ruins, 10th/11th century AD. Located in the Museum für Indische Kunst, Berlin-Dahlem.

 

Book V follows the young Augustine (he was around 29 years old at this time) from Carthage (where he finds his students too rowdy for his liking) to Rome (where he finds them too corrupt) and on to Milan, where he will remain until his conversion.

He spends most of the first half of this book recounting his encounter with Faustus, a Manichee luminary.

Please write on one of the following topics:

 

 

  1. In Chapter 1, in his introductory praise of God, he writes, “Man turns his lips to you in prayer and his spirit praises you. Animals too and lifeless things as well praise you through the lips of all who give them thought.” Do animals believe in God? Do they praise God? Do they have the same capacity to worship the divine or is it reserved for humans only? Why or why not?
  2. In Chapter 2, he writes about how the wicked have abandoned God. Do you believe in the doctrine of total depravity? Why or why not? However, Augustine states that all is not lost.   He writes, “You alone are always present, even to those who set themselves apart from you. Let them then turn back and look for you.” Though they are far away from Him, He is not. Do you believe that non-believers or atheists have a sense of God or the divine (sensas divinitas) within them that they are suppressing? Is this denial of God a case of ignorance or by choice? What does Augustine write about God’s grace here?
  3. In Chapter 3, he writes about his first encounter with the Manichean guru Faustus. Describe Augustine’s first impressions about Faustus. Have you come across a scientific theory or bit of scientific knowledge that changed your concept of God? What was it about that scientific discovery that made you reconsider your previous religious beliefs? How did science correct your theology or false religious belief? Was there resistance from your church or your pastor because of it? Can science distance one from God, or allow one to draw closer to Him? In our modern age today, do you believe that science has become too prideful in itself and has pushed religious belief away from legitimacy? Or is this all a sense of scientists and its supporters being too prideful in their abilities – Augustine even writes, “Their conceit soars like a bird; their curiosity probes the deepest secrets of nature like a fish that swims in the sea; and their lust grows fat like a beast at pasture”? What are the dangers Augustine describes when you forget God in scientific discovery?
  4. In Chapter 5 he writes, “Whenever I hear a brother Christian talk in such a way as to show that he is ignorant of these scientific matters and confuses one thing with another, I listen with patience to his theories and think it no harm to him that he does not know the true facts about material things… The danger lies in thinking that such knowledge is part and parcel of what he must believe to save his soul and in presuming to make obstinate declarations about things of which he knows nothing.” How can the Christian witness be better enhanced by scientific knowledge? What are the greatest obstacles for Christians as they encounter scientific knowledge? What are the greatest obstacles Christians face when they engage the Church with scientific knowledge? Give an example (or testimony) of a Christian who thought he/she knew a lot (or gave off the illusion of knowledge) but you knew didn’t know a lot. Did you feel the same way that Augustine did when he encountered Faustus?
  5. In chapters 6 – 7, he expresses his disillusionment with meeting Faustus and increasingly with Manichaean philosophy. If a pastor or religious leader is without (advanced) learning (let alone a degree in theology or related topic), does that concern you? Why or why not? Should it concern other church-members, but in your experience, is it a big deal for them? One can make the argument that Jesus and the disciples didn’t have degrees or “fancy” knowledge of other things, so how would you respond? What does it say about Christians and the Church at large when they say that the Bible is the most important book in his or her life, yet know so very little about it? Is it every Christians’ responsibility (esp. church leaders, small group leaders, etc) to know as much about the Bible (“advanced knowledge” like biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, ancient history, philosophy, some biblical theology, church history, etc.) as he or she can, or is just a sincere desire or spiritual “calling” enough? Is persuasive speech or great preaching enough? Or is higher learning a privilege reserved for richer or first-world societies?

 

We will have our responses next week.

 

 

 

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