For this Sunday we will cover Book IX Chapters 1 – 6 of Confessions.
In this book he ties up his autobiographical story by telling the aftermath of his conversion, in particular, the events leading up to his baptism.
He describes his stay in the fall and winter months of 386 at the country estate of his friend Vercundus at Cassiciacum near Milan. This provided Augustine and his friends a quiet place of withdrawal as they prepared for baptism that coming Easter. While there, Augustine wrote a series of dialogues based on the conversations he was having with his friends there. These writings (On the Happy Life, Against the Academics, On Order, Soliloquies) show that he was working out some of the solutions to his theological problems.
By the end of Chapter 6, he, along with his son Aeodatus and friend Alypius get baptized together.
Please write an essay based on one of the following questions:
- In Chapter 1, Augustine opens the book by asking himself, “Who am I? What kind of man am I? What evil have I not done? Or if there is evil that I have not done, what evil is there that I have not spoken? If there is any that I have not spoken, what evil is there that I have not willed to do?” Are human beings fundamentally wicked and evil as some Christian doctrines, most notably the Calvinist doctrine of “Total Depravity,” make it out to be? Or is there some good within human beings? What accounts for our wicked or evil tendencies? Are they a product of our genetics? Our evolutionary make-up? Our true spiritual nature? All of the above and more? Why or why not?
- In Chapter 2, Augustine feels convicted to resign from his professorship after his conversion. Describe why he thought this was the right decision for him. Do you believe that he personally feared about making his conversion into a public and political show? Should one’s religious or personal faith be a matter of public or private concern? Or should your coworkers, your boss, your employees, your friends and family all distinctly know that you’ve converted or are a believer? How public or noticeable should your faith be? How does that all tie into whether or not the Gospel compels a believer to engage (or withdraw) from society?
- In Chapter 3, he talks about the hospitality of his friend Vercundus, who was not yet a Christian at that time in his life. Augustine writes, “You will surely repay him for his goodness, O Lord, when the just are given their reward, since you have already awarded him the lot of the just. For after our departure, when we were at Rome, he fell ill and died, but not before he had been received into the Church on his sick-bed.” Do you believe that in the afterlife, a person’s good deeds will be rewarded regardless of whether or not he or she was a Christian? In other words, are “heavenly rewards” only reserved for Christians after death? Why or why not? What about non-believers? Are their good deeds wasted and forgotten?
- In Chapter 4, he writes about how moved he was when he read the book of Psalms in the Bible. He writes, “I quivered with fear, yet at the same time I was aglow with hope, rejoicing in your mercy, my Father. All these emotions were revealed in the light of my eyes and the tremor of my voice, when I read the message of your Holy Spirit.” What role or impact does emotion play in one’s faith? Does an emotional response to something religious or spiritual make it more authentic or real? Can emotions deceive you and others in regards to true repentance and conversion?
- Also in Chapter 4, he writes “He had already sent the Paraclete and I had not known it. He had already risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. He had already been risen to glory, and because of this he had sent the Paraclete.” Here, he mentions how he believes the Holy Spirit guided him while he was reading the Bible. Is the Holy Spirit the sole worker in a person’s conversion? What about the Son? What about the Father? What roles do they play if any? What are your thoughts on the doctrine of the “economic Trinity?” Is that just some obtuse doctrine or is it somehow necessary to know?
- In Chapter 4, he writes, “The good which I now sought was not outside myself… For those who try to find joy in things outside themselves easily vanish away into emptiness. They waste themselves on the temporal pleasures of the visible world.” How does the world and people look drastically different before and after conversion? Does one see the world and others as black and white? If so, what are some strengths and weaknesses with this dualist point of view?
- In Chapter 4, he writes, “Like a cur I had snarled blindly and bitterly against the Scriptures, which are sweet with honey of heaven and radiant with your light.” Throughout the Confessions he quotes the Bible many times. Did you have a different view of Scripture before and after conversion? What is the role of the Bible in a believer’s life? Should it be read as a spiritual devotional? A self-help book? A history book? A work of Ancient Near Eastern myth? What about those who lived before the Bible or did not have access to the Bible? How do they connect with God? How necessary or invaluable is the Bible to one’s faith or relationship with God?
- In Chapter 5, in preparation for his baptism, Bishop Ambrose advises Augustine to read the book of Isaiah, “presumably because the Bible and the calling of the gentiles are foretold more clearly in that book than in any other.” Knowing what you know of the Bible, the Old Testament in particular, do you believe that “the calling of the gentiles” was prophesized in the Bible? Is anything really prophesized (i.e. fortune-telling or predicting the future) in the Bible or were the writers looking back and placing these predictions retrospectively? Is it vital that the Bible predicts future events (like for instance Jesus’ birth) for it to be “true,” “divinely inspired,” or “God’s Word”?
- In Chapter 3 and Chapter 6, he writes fondly of his friend Nebridius and his son Adeodatus who have both passed away by the time he’s writing his Confessions. His loving testimonies of both of them witness to his assurance about eternal life with God after death. He suffered these deaths differently than the much earlier death of his boyhood friend as described earlier in the Confessions. How does one’s belief or faith affect one’s attitude about death? Does it provide a comfort rooted in reality or just presumed psychological comfort? Does faith help us process death (and life) better? Does the Christian faith provide a different perspective than other religions or faiths? If so, then how? How has your belief or faith changed your attitude about death, if any?
Please submit by this Saturday.