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Confessions: Book VI – Chapters 9 – 16

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“Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife”, Carlo Cignani (Italian, 1628 – 1719)

We will finish Book VI of Confessions, where Augustine deals with issues of the pursuit of truth, his struggles with lust, the afterlife, and final judgment.

Please pick one of the following questions.

  1. In Chapter 10, Augustine writes of his friend Alypius’ great “integrity that was a source of wonder to his colleagues.” He writes about how Alypius would always reject bribes from wealthy and powerful senators. Though he would be threatened with harm, that did not deter him from acting with integrity. Is it better to be morally good or to be an opportunist and look after your own self-interest? Why are qualities like honesty and selflessness hard to find in areas of public and civic service? Would Christian, or religious, politicians necessarily make better or more honest public servants in governments and business? Would they be better at handling greed or resisting temptation than someone who was not religious? Why or why not?
  2. In Chapter 11, Augustine writes that at age 19 he had first begun his search for ‘truth’. By the time he had reached the age of 30, he still had not found it.   Is the search for ‘truth’ a futile pursuit in today’s modern age? Why or why not? What field of discipline offers the best chance at finding the truth do you believe: science, art, philosophy, theology/religion, psychology, mysticism, hedonism, music, etc.? Or is it none of the above? Is there such a thing as ‘truth’ in the first place?
  3. In Chapter 11, Augustine muses about life after death. He writes that “Life is a misery and I do not know when death may come… Suppose death puts an end to all care. Suppose that it cuts it off together with the senses of the body.” He seems to have a hard time excepting the possibility that there is all that there is to life after death: “God would never have done so much, such wonderful things for us if the life of the soul came to an end with the death of the body.” Do you agree with him here, that life would be a waste (for both God and humankind) without the promise of an afterlife? Could you worship God wholeheartedly without a notion of an afterlife or heaven? Why or why not? Is your faith solely dependent upon a concept or promise of an afterlife?
  4. In Chapter 12 (and the end of Chapter 11), Augustine writes about one of the roadblocks to his conversion was that he was not yet ready to become a celibate and forsake the pleasures of sex. He marveled at Alypius’ self-control over his sexual desires. Are sexual pleasure and pursuit of God mutually exclusive? Must you rid yourself of all sexual or lustful thoughts in order to become holy and pursue after God? Or does biology always trump spirituality? Can a Christian be open about his or her sexual life, engage in casual sex for pleasure, with multiple partners, and be honestly spiritual and loving of God at the same time? Or must a Christian truly be disciplined to control his or her lustful urges? Does the Church’s suppression of sexual desires, or making human sexuality taboo, cause more harm than good?
  5. In Chapter 15, Augustine writes about the hard decision to part away from his mistress of so many years, as he had been promised to marry another person through the arrangement of his mother. Since he couldn’t wait two years until his bride-to-be came of age, he took a mistress to fill the time and satiate his sexual desires. Do you believe that sex is more sanctified by marriage? Why or why not? Why is the Church so obsessed with its congregants from not having premarital sex? Is it proscribed in the Old Testament? Why do you think love is more passionate and intriguing at times when it’s found in a forbidden or taboo state?
  6. In Chapter 16, Augustine writes about discussing the philosophy of Epicurus with his friends Alypius and Nebridius. Who was Epicurus and what was his philosophy about? What problems did Augustine have with Epicurus’ philosophy? Augustine writes that “Epicurus would have won all the honours, were it not that I believed that the soul lived on after death and received the reward or punishment which it deserved. Epicurus had refused to believe this.” Is fear of divine punishment and retribution after death a good deterrent to committing more sins? Is there any truth to that? But what about one based purely on love instead? Is offering forgiveness too easy? Is grace too easy that it seems ‘unjust’ at times? Is universalism (the believe that all persons will go to heaven or enjoy eternity with God in eternal bliss in the afterlife) a possibility? Can God’s love be so expansive and so inclusive that hell or everlasting damnation is not an option? Is it possible that Jesus’ atonement on the cross accomplished salvation for literally everyone who has lived or ever will live? Or was it always active even before Jesus’ sacrifice?

 

 

 

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