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Home » Theology » “Confessions” by St. Augustine » Confessions: Book I, chapters 1 – 10

Confessions: Book I, chapters 1 – 10

July 23, 2015

 

Howard

 

In Chapters 1 – 3, Augustine begins each Book of the Confessions with a prayer in praise of God, but Book I has a particularly extensive invocation. The first question raised in this invocation concerns how one can seek God without yet knowing what He is. In other words, how can we look for something if we don’t know exactly what we’re looking for? Can a non-believer ‘seek’ after God even without the person not knowing who or what God is? Why or why not? If we seek God at all, is God obliged to reveal himself to us? State your reasons as to why or why not.

 

Yes, we can seek something if we don’t know exactly what we’re looking for.

 

We’ve all seen pulp entertainment where the protagonists are searching in a room for something the antagonist has hidden away that is damning. Frustrated, one pipes: “What are we looking for?,” with the gruff senior answering, “You’ll know when you see it.”  We all have a God sized hole that we try to fill with many things such as love, power, money, etc.  So many cultures have religion, and with that a desire to make sense and seek more than the physical world in front of us.  There are differences in the world religions and overlaps.

 

Is God obliged to reveal himself to us? Not sure. At times the seeking is frustrating without a clear bolt from heaven.  Perhaps we ask too much when demanding an explicit divine sign instead of accepting the smaller, quieter revelations of his love. If we get some of the details wrong, would God forgive us these small mistakes in belief and reward the earnest seeking of his face? I would like to think so, since, logically, this pluralism fits with our idea of a merciful, forgiving God.

 

 

 

Danielle

 

 

In Chapter 6, he writes: “For all I want to tell you, Lord, is that I do not know where I came from when I was born into this life which leads to death – or should I say, this death that leads to life?” As he would continue to do throughout his life, Augustine here follows the Neoplatonists in refusing to speculate on how the soul joins the body to become an infant. Following Plato, Augustine leaves open the possibility that life is really a kind of death and that true “life” is enjoyed by the soul when it is not in this world. Do you believe in this statement? Why or why not. 

 

No,I don’t think Augustine had an answer for life or death. In Chapter 6, he kept asking several questions about life and death, and he said to God “for I have no one else answered them. Neither my father nor my mother could tell me,nor could I find from the experience of other people or from my own memory.”

 

The answers of life, death and God are still unknown 1700 years after Augustine’s death. Not just Augustine, everyone with the same questions is all left with mystery.

 

Although I didn’t see any answers from Augustine about life and death, the last sentence of Chapter 6 sort of clears my thoughts about life, death,and God: “For it is better for them to find you and leave the question answered than to find the answer without finding you.”  This message is tremendously powerful and I feel a sense of mercy from God. He allows me to be doubtful and encourages me to seek him.
How is it possible that ‘living’ is a kind of dying? Does one truly begin to ‘live’ when one focuses on the soul and not on the world? How is this possible?
Reading, “My infancy is long since dead, yet I am still alive. But you, Lord, live for ever and nothing in you dies,” makes me believe that all lives lead to death, only our soul and God are eternal.  More than 1700 years ago, when Augustine wrote this confession, he used a lot of present tense, e.g. “I am still alive,” but he was actually long gone.  Augustine had passed more than 1700 years but his confession, his spirit and God still live in people’s hearts until today.

 

 

 

Doris

 

In Chapters 1 – 3, Augustine begins each Book of the Confessions with a prayer in praise of God, but Book I has a particularly extensive invocation.

 

How can one seek God without yet knowing what He is?

As Augustine puts it “man’s instinct is to praise God”.  God created us with an innate need to worship. So we worship a lot of gods – money, power, beauty, intellect, people. But it is not until we find and worship God that our hearts are satisfied – our “hearts do not find peace until they rest in you”.  God is also a jealous God, he created us such that no other can sustainably satisfy our hearts except for Him.

 

Can a non-believer ‘seek’ after God even without the person not knowing who or what God is? Why or why not?

Augustine asks what comes first, faith or prayer? Is a man first to pray to God or must he first know Him?  How can we pray if we don’t have faith in you? And how can we have faith without having first heard the Word?  He concludes that man gets to know God through prayer, in other words, man first takes the leap (our cry to God—our prayer), then comes the faith. Augustine speaks of “the faith you gave me”. Faith is a gift God gives to those who seek Him.

 

If we seek God at all, is God obliged to reveal himself to us? Why or why not?

God is not obliged to do anything. Rather he desires to do things. The God of the Bible wants us to know Him and be in relationship with Him. He therefore does not hide from us. God has already revealed Himself to us – through His creation, through His Word (Christ), through others – it is a question of seeing and hearing Him. Does God have to first soften or awaken our hearts so that we can see, hear and know Him?  Has He predestined some of us, and not others, to recognize Him?

 

Augustine writes “all who look for Him, shall find him”.  I agree with Augustine that God will reveal Himself to all those who sincerely seek Him. In Mathew 7:7 God promises “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”.

 

I am less agreeable to what Augustine says about “Nothing exists and could exist without you… you are in everything that exists. You were already in me.. or do I exist in you” This last statement is reminiscent of  “we are all part of the One” —pantheism – and tends to negate the transcendence of God. I prefer Paul’s description in Colossians 1:16-17 “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

 

 Doris’ Submission #2

 

Augustine writes: “How wicked are the sins of men! Men say this and you pity them, because you made man, but you did not make sin in him. Who can recall to me the sins I committed as a baby? For in your sight no man is free from sin, not even a child who has lived only one day on earth.” Here we begin to see the inklings of Augustine’s famous (or infamous?) doctrine of original sin:

 

If we consider the possibility that darkness (sin) only exists where God is absent, it is plausible that, even though God “did not make sin” in man when he created him, he did allow for the potential of sin in him, the possibility of shutting God out. One of the questions that Augustine struggled with in the Confessions is the problem of evil.

 

Satan was forced out of heaven and hurled into the world before man was created. He was banished from God’s presence because of his desire to be God instead of serving God (who created him along with all the other angels). So Evil was present in the world even before God created us. Just like the fallen angel Satan, man desires to serve himself rather than God. This is symbolized in the fall of Adam and Eve as the ‘original sin’. Although God created us with an innate instinct to praise Him (Chapter 1), He also endowed us with free will – the choice to freely love Him or to turn away from Him (sin) to serve ourselves.

 

Describe Augustine’s argument for babies (including himself of course) being sinful. (For instance, he writes, “I have myself seen jealousy in a baby and know what it means.”) Is he being too harsh here? Do you believe that infants are ‘born’ sinful? Why or why not? Does a baby or infant have the will or desire to sin? State your reasons. Overall, do you believe that Augustine is giving a case for a universal human condition? Are there exceptions to being born ‘sinful’?

 

When does a baby consciously exert his free will? Until then, he is on auto-pilot. He is simply a ball of neural pathways and reflexes interacting with the external world to survive. The neural pathways (and behaviors) that serve him well get reinforced, the others diminish perhaps disappear. He is innately self-centered (not ‘other’ or God-centered). Therefore, in this sense, yes, he is born ‘sinful’. At what point does this unconscious ‘innocent sinfulness’ become ‘intentional sinfulness’. When you start to choose ‘self’ over others and God intentionally? Good question! Was Jesus born sinful? My answer would be yes because he was 100% human. Did Jesus intentionally ever sin? My answer would be no because he was 100% God (the antithesis of evil).

 

 

 

Danny

 

Q: In Chapter 7, Augustine writes: “How wicked are the sins of men! Men say this and you pity them, because you made man, but you did not make sin in him. Who can recall to me the sins I committed as a baby? For in your sight no man is free from sin, not even a child who has lived only one day on earth.” Here we begin to see the inklings of Augustine’s famous (or infamous?) doctrine of original sin. Describe Augustine’s argument for babies (including himself of course) being sinful. (For instance, he writes, “I have myself seen jealousy in a baby and know what it means.”) Is he being too harsh here? Do you believe that infants are ‘born’ sinful? Why or why not? Does a baby or infant have the will or desire to sin? State your reasons. Overall, do you believe that Augustine is giving a case for a universal human condition? Are there exceptions to being born ‘sinful’?

 

In this chapter, Augustine declares to God the wickedness and sinfulness of mankind, yet he absolves God from any responsibility for mankind’s sinful situation even though He had created them: “[Y]ou made man, but you did not make sin in him.” Furthermore, here he seems to be making an overall general observation about the state of human nature and the human condition in relation to God by using himself and his infancy as his primary example.

 

He asks a series of rhetorical questions on what types of sins he had committed when he himself was a child. He asks if it was a sin to cry for breast milk from his mother. He even seems to indicate that when babies cry to get something or attention from adults, this indicates a certain type of sinfulness within them. In another example, he claims that he has seen jealousy in a baby when he observed one ‘grow pale with envy’ whenever he saw his foster-brother suckling upon his own mother. Augustine claims that adults will tolerate such behaviors because of young age, however, if such actions were to be done when babies grow older, they would be severely scolded by adults instead.

 

He attributes these instincts, bodily senses and desires within him to come from God for his own good and well-being, and he praises God for instilling these gifts within him. Though he confesses that he has no personal recollections at all of his own infancy, he knows enough from personal observation later on in life that he must have behaved the same way as other babies have done. Then he quotes Psalm 51:5, “Surely, I was born in sin and guilt was with me already when my mother conceived me,” and asks God if there ever was a time in his life or existence where he was ever innocent. He stops short of answering his own question since he has no recollection from that early period of his life.

 

Augustine seems to be making a claim that a baby’s cries for attention to have its own needs and desires satisfied above all else to be evidence of an innate sinfulness within humankind. He doesn’t seem to give any indication here that he believes that sinfulness happens or develops later on in life, but that already one is born with these qualities from birth. He seems to agree with Psalm 51:5 in that we are all born into this condition of sin and guilt ever since conception. One might see strong inclinations of his neoplatonic views seeping in where fleshly, carnal desires (even in an infant) is an indication of how far removed we are from the pure, spiritual realities of heavenly perfection and God Himself. So already, because of our material, carnal state that we are in or born into, it makes us sinful. Is this what Augustine is talking about here?

 

Also, he seems to be contradicting one of his very first assertions he makes in Chapter 1 where he stated that “[Man’s] instinct is to praise you.”   So which instinct do we have, to sin or to praise? Does one override the other? Can you be sinful, yet still harbor the desire to praise God? His statement in Chapter 1 may be a general rhetorical invocation to God and perhaps not really a general philosophical statement about the human condition, or he’s not being consistent.

 

So, are babies born ‘sinful’? Well, on an intuitive, instinctual level, I believe that most people would have a very difficult time pointing to a baby and calling him or her a ‘sinful’ person and using a baby’s cries for attention or hunger as indications of ‘sinfulness’ if you’re referring to the more popular notion of ‘sin’. If you believe the definition of ‘sin’ as a ‘wanton, willful desire to disobey and refuse God’, then I believe most people would not impute that onto a baby or infant. (These are all unscientific assumptions on my part of course.) How much does an infant know about God? Does a baby willfully desire and want to disobey and refuse God? Some may claim that a baby innately knows God (though I’ve also heard atheists make the claim that we’re all born atheists), but again that’s a belief a person holds, which is qualitatively different from saying that a person knows the inner mind and consciousness of an infant. I also believe that a lot of people would have some problems stating that God would send infants to hell because they didn’t have salvific knowledge of Jesus Christ. (However, I have heard pastors and preachers say without hesitation that Muslim infants will be sent straight to hell and eternal damnation because they didn’t know Christ and or were born at the wrong place at the wrong time – sometimes there’s a fine-line between having an iron-clad conviction to “God’s Word” and suffering from a form of psychopathy I believe.)

 

Also, can an infant ‘repent’ of its sins? I hardly doubt that anyone would say an infant has the ability, let alone desire, to repent.

 

So I don’t believe that babies are ‘born sinful’ right out of the womb or in conception if your definition of ‘sinfulness’ is a ‘willful desire to disobey God’. All a baby wants, for what I can tell, is to be fed, kept warm, be cleansed and be taken care of. I don’t really know if a baby innately ‘knows’ God or not – I really can’t say; I don’t believe there can be a definitive empirical ‘proof’ to show whether or not we come built-in with a knowledge or desire to love of God.

 

Is Augustine being too harsh here? (Is he even being too unfair here?) The examples that Augustine uses here to indicate a baby’s ‘sinfulness’ are, I believe, exaggerations or rhetorical devices to prove a point or dramatically illustrate his conviction, belief, or philosophy about the state of the human condition from the start and to show how far away every single human being is away from God. A person’s ‘creatureliness’, if you will, is enough indication of how far removed a person is from the perfection that is God.

 

Are there exceptions to being ‘born sinful’? Again, Augustine seems to be making a general, overall impression of the human condition that it cannot escape its sinful nature. I wonder what he would say about children born with a mental handicap or a genetic defect that severely impairs his or her cognitive abilities. Augustine writes about how we grow out of these infantile (sinful/carnal) desires, however, in many cases, severely mentally handicapped persons remain in an infantile state for the rest of their lives. Are they born sinful? Are they culpable (or even capable) of guilt or sin as they grow older? I don’t know how Augustine would answer those questions (at least not yet), but I would be more interested in knowing how God would answer those questions.

 

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