Before mentioning the questions, please read Michael’s submission from last session here at the end.
We will begin Book VII: Chapters 1 – 10 of Confessions.
Although Augustine has been using Neoplatonic terms and ideas throughout the Confessions it’s here in Book VII that he reaches the point when he first reads Neoplatonic philosophy. This is a pivitol moment for the young Augustine, who finds in Neoplatonism a way of reconciling his long pursuit of philosophy with his new and serious faith in Christianity. The union of this philosophy and this theology will guide his work (including the Confessions) for the rest of his life.
Please answer one of the following questions:
- In Chapter 1, discuss the Neoplatonic ideas about God Augustine has. How did he view God to be like? Do you agree with him when he writes, “I saw that what remains constant is better than that which is changeable”? Do you agree with his assessment that if something is unchangeable it is closer to perfection? Does God change? Why or why not? Are there biblical examples where it supports your stance?
- In the latter half of Chapter 1, he thought of God “as a great being with dimensions extending everywhere, throughout infinite space… and reaching in all directions beyond it without limit.” Describe what it means for God to be infinite and omnipresent. Describe what the terms “infinite” and “omnipresent” mean in relation with God. If God is present everywhere and in everything, could he be present in viruses? Bacteria? Molds that might cause diseases? What practical implications does God’s infinite and omnipresent nature have upon the believer?
- In Chapter 2, summarize the Manichean view of God that Augustine describes here. Do you see some forms of Manichean belief still present in Christianity today? What eventually led Augustine to reject the Manichean view of God, especially in regards to God’s incorruptibility.
- In Chapter 3, he writes about the origin of evil. What does Augustine say about free will? How free are we really? Do you believe we have free will or is it an illusion, in that, are we governed by our genetics and or our biology (i.e. our neurochemistry?)
- In Chapter 3, how would you answer his question about the Devil: “If he [the Devil] was a good angel who became a devil because of his own wicked will, how did he come to possess the wicked will which made him a devil, when the Creator, who is entirely good, made him a good angel and nothing else?” Does Satan (as portrayed in the Bible and by the Church at large over the centuries) have free will? Did he choose to rebel against God or was he destined (i.e predestined) to be evil? If so, then how can he be at fault?
- In Chapter 4, describe Augustine’s view of God’s nature as being incorruptible. What does he mean by this? What kind of “substance” does he believe God to be like overall?
- In Chapter 5, Augustine ponders the origin of evil. What is the relation of the human will to evil? Is evil inflicted on the will, something outside itself that forces the best part of us to submit? Does everyone harbor a light and a dark side within us? Do you believe that evil is some sort of external substance? A force? A person? An illusion? A social construct? Does it exist at all? If God is all powerful, then, as Augustine asks, “he had not the power to convert the whole of this matter to good and change it so that no evil remained in it?… Why did he not instead, by this same omnipotence, destroy it utterly and entirely?” This is a popular argument against God’s existence (or goodness), namely, if God exists, then God is supremely good and powerful and a good being would eliminate all meaningless pain so far as it can without surrendering a greater good. There’s at least one meaningless pain that has been experienced that could have been prevented by a supremely powerful being without surrendering a greater good. Therefore, there is no God. Does the existence of evil negate God’s existence? Why doesn’t God eradicate evil entirely?
- In Chapter 6, he writes about his experiences with astrology. Describe how Augustine was led away from astrology. Why are people still so drawn to astrology or other similar forms of fortune-telling even in today’s “advanced” age? As much as believers warn against astrology, can you name some instances in the Bible where astrology or some form of fortune-telling was mentioned? Are some modern believers’ obsession with “knowing the will of God” or wanting to seek prophecy a form of Christian astrology or fortune-telling? Or is it different? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 9, he writes about reading books on Neoplatonism. What great shortcoming did he come across in regards to their writings? However, what great strengths did Neoplatonic philosophy have upon him and his view of God? What problems did he come across in Neoplatonic descriptions about Jesus?
- At the very end of Chapter 10, he writes, “And, far off, I heard your voice, as we hear voices that speak to our hearts, and at once I had no cause to doubt. I might more easily have doubted that I was alive than that Truth had being. For we catch sight of the Truth, as he is known through his creation.” What is he saying about God’s ontology in this chapter? Is God like any of his creation? Does God speak audibly today to people? Does God have a voice? Or do you think he is being metaphoric here? Why or why not?