After bit of a break we’re back once again. We will cover Book VIII: Chapters 1 – 6.
At the start of this book, Augustine has achieved an understanding of God and the humility to accept Christ, but still has reservations about being fully committed to the Church.
This is the beginning of his conversion experience.
Please write an essay on one of the following topics:
- In Chapter 1, he discusses one of the major reasons why he was hesitant in becoming a full member of the church in that “I was still held firm in the bonds of a woman’s love… this reason alone prevented me from reaching a decision upon my other problems.” What are your thoughts about religious celibacy? Is it biblical? Do some members of the clergy (like those in the Catholic Church) in some denominations missing out on the joys of a sexual relationship? Does sexual desire hinder one’s wholehearted desire to focus and devote oneself entirely to God? Does celibacy make one draw closer to God?
- In Chapter 2, he writes about how Simplicianus shared with him the conversion story or testimony of Victorinus, a highly respected rhetorician and translator of the Neoplatonic texts Augustine had just read. This made an impact on Augustine whereby such an intelligent and successful man had converted to Christianity. Some have stated that Christianity is a “testimonial” faith, in that the faith is spread and shared through testimonies of others to the faith rather than rational or philosophical arguments, scientific inquiry, or logical conclusions. Do you agree with this view of Christianity being a testimonial faith? Or is there another main way in becoming a Christian, like reading the Bible, hearing a moving sermon, or through a church service? What are some strengths and weaknesses of relying on other people’s testimonies in coming to the faith?
- In Chapter 2, Simplicianus reported that Victorinus said that “Is it then the walls of the church that make the Christian?” He felt compelled to go to church, be baptized, and publicly declare his conversion because “He was seized by the fear that Christ might deny him before the holy angels if he was too faint-hearted to acknowledge Christ before men.” Is church the only true and proper place to declare yourself a Christian in a public environment? Can one do it privately, as in one’s one bedroom? Is that better or make it more real? What difference does it make to be baptized or make a public declaration of your conversion, if any? Also, is church the only true and proper place to learn about the faith?
- In Chapter 3, he writes, “There is no pleasure in eating and drinking unless it is preceded by the discomfort of hunger and thirst. Drunkards eat salty things to make their throats dry and painful, so that they may enjoy the pleasure of quenching their thirst.” Likewise, “It is customary, too, for girls who are engaged to be married to delay the wedding for fear that a husband who has not suffered the trials of a long courtship may think his bride too cheaply won.” He says that, “It is always the case that the greater the joy, the greater is the pain which precedes it.” Do you agree with his statement here? Does a sense of delayed gratification bring about greater joy to those who get it later as opposed to immediate gratification? Is the sense of joy always greater after one suffers for a while to obtain what he was after in the first place?
- In Chapter 4, he writes that “The Devil has a firmer hold on men in high places because of their pride in their rank.” Do you believe that the Devil or Satan can prevent people from hearing or responding positively to the Gospel? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 5, he writes about the struggle he felt while coming to the faith: “So these two wills within me, one old, one new, one the servant of the flesh, the other the spirit, were in conflict and between them they tore my soul apart.” The mind’s inability to command its own will deeply puzzled him. If our conscious self makes a decision, why can’t we follow through on it? What does say about free will? In terms of religious conversion, who real is this conflict between the “old self” versus the “new self”? In conversions, are we new persons? Have our brains or neurochemistry been altered by conversion? Or does it have nothing to do with biology, but is something purely spiritual? If it is purely spiritual, first define what you mean by “spiritual.”
- In Chapter 5, he explains how he continued to put off his conversion: “But while I wanted to follow the first course and was convinced that it was right, I was still a slave to the pleasures of the second.” Though he felt God calling him, he delayed and delayed responding to the call. Why do some procrastinate or delay conversion? Is it out of fear? Laziness? Is Augustine describing a case of “irresistible grace” here, that one has no choice but to give in to Christ eventually?
- At the end of Chapter 5, he writes about the connection between sin and habit: “For the rule of sin is the force of habit, by which the mind is swept along and held fast even against its will, yet deservedly, because it fell into the habit of its own accord.” In your own words, describe what Augustine is saying here about the connection between sin and habit. Can a person discipline himself or his mind to master over his own sin and break this habit? Can a person will him or herself not to sin? Or can this only be done in a “supernatural” manner or by the grace of God alone? Do you believe this habit of sin is a neurobiological problem or purely a spiritual problem? If it’s a neurobiological problem, then can it be treated by medicine, pharmacology, or even psychiatry rather than by God?
- In Chapter 6, he writes about his encounter with a fellow countryman from Africa, Ponticianus, who introduced him to the life of St. Anthony. Who was St. Anthony? What was he most known for? Many people think that converting to Christianity means to live a more ascetic way of life, do you believe this to be so? Is a form of asceticism necessary to mature in Christ?
- The first monastic movements set out to an ideal of Christian commitment: a willingness to follow Jesus as his first followers did, leaving families, possessions, and jobs. This led Augustine to believe that it was impossible to both maintain a career and fully commit oneself to God. (Many evangelical pastors have made passionate sermons to their congregations for them to lead lives dedicated fully to God or to put God above everything else in life, but I think few would convince people to become monks or nuns.) Do you think a sort of ascetic or monastic life, away from the pressures of society, is the kind of life Christ had in mind for his followers? Why or why not? Do you believe Jesus or Paul were ascetics? Or is it just a personal lifestyle choice for some people? Is this the ultimate calling a Christian can have?
We will submit our answers this weekend.