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Home » Theology » “Confessions” by St. Augustine » Confessions: Book I, Chapters 11 – 20

Confessions: Book I, Chapters 11 – 20

August 6, 2015





In Chapter 18, in a retrospective look at himself, Augustine reads the story of his life in light of the parable of the prodigal son as told in Luke 15:11-32.  In this chapter, how does he view the relationship between the human condition and sin?  How is the soul related to all this?  What does he mean when he writes: “This is just as perverse as to imagine that our enemies can do us more harm than we do to ourselves by hating them, or that by persecuting another man we can damage him more fatally than we damage our own hearts in the process.”?  What qualities of God does he describe in this chapter?


Augustine views the human condition and sin based on being blinded by pleasure, soul can be blinded by such.  We forget the love and goodness of God and instead, become distracted by various vices such as conceited praise of men for intellectual pride, riches, and earthly pleasures.


Regarding more harm to self points out how we disvalue things in our lives; for instance, high value put on non-important and low on the essential, caring more about how one speaks to a person than that person’s actual well-being.  We also become self-righteously angry and do not realize that destructive rage has taken completely a hold and is all consuming. We become unknowing that hating your fellow man disrupts your harmony with God.  A man laughing as he relishes that he is about to execute revenge not only on the one who wronged him, but also on the perpetrator’s entire family, going on and on in detail how indignities suffered are to be repaid ten fold, is perplexed to learn that he is crying not of joy, but at the emptiness of such vengeance at the cost to his own soul. He tries to fill the hole in his heart for love with vengeance but at last seeing that it is a poor fit.


God provides blessings and unconditional love outside of earthy possessions.  He loves the returning prodigal son more who is now penniless than when he left with his inheritance. He is shown to be patient and merciful in regards to our sin.





In Chapter 11, he writes about his first introduction to the Christian faith as a child and the deferral of his baptism by his mother Monica.  Why did she defer his baptism?  What is the function of baptism in the first place?  Does this ceremony or ritual actually wash away a person’s (or a child’s) sins?  What role, if any, does it play on a person’s salvation?  Is it necessary for all Christians to be baptized to be regarded as being a true believer?  Why or why not?


It sounds like Augustine’s mother, Monica, deferred his baptism out of fear. She believed that Augustine would damn himself by sinning after his baptism. “My cleansing was deferred on the assumption that…I would be sure to soil myself, ” said Augustine (xi). Only if she feared him going to hell would she defer baptism for that reason. She treats the ritual like it washes away his sin.


Baptism, however, doesn’t wash away a person’s sins. It has no power to save in itself. A person needs to have faith that Jesus is God to be saved. It’s not necessary for all Christians to be baptized to be regarded as being true believers, but it is a good idea.


Baptism is an outward expression of an inward reality. It functions as a powerful reminder of a person’s identity and as a vehicle into greater accountability. It helps a person become more fully who he/she already is. When a person believes that Jesus is God, he/she becomes a child of God (John 1:12).





In Chapter 12, he writes about “man’s insatiable desire for the poverty he calls wealth and the infamy he knows as fame.” 


In Chapter 12, Augustine was grateful about his education but he mentioned that when he was little he was forced to study by people with “man’s insatiable desire for the poverty he calls wealth and the infamy he knows as fame”. As a little boy, Augustine didn’t like to be forced to learn even when study was good for his own credit or the study was good itself.  Nonetheless, by means of those external forces, God compelled Augustine to learn, ordained Augustine and eventually made Augustine reckon God.


Why does he call wealth ‘poverty’ and fame as being ‘infamy’? 


Augustine is trying to shift what we see as good (wealth & fame) in this world to bad (poverty &infamy). Augustine was being confrontational with all his hating on people and things. He’s trying to tell us to change our heart, and reconsider what’s really important. They used this kind of writing technique in Greek language- to persuade and convince the readers that they are on the wrong stance.  Education is surely a great thing and all, but most of the time, the reason people are so keen on getting educated is so they can make more money.


Why are most people so obsessively drawn to wealth and fame?


The majority of people want to excel in society and enjoy earning approval from others.  Instead of looking for the true source of beauty, happiness, and truth, which is God alone, we look for these things in the world around us, where the values of our education dominate, which eventually led us into confusion about lives etc.






Augustine’s criticism of his schooling and certain features of the adults who set the program tells us early on that his book consists of more than just confessions of sin and praise to God.  The Confessions contains criticisms of all human institutions that accomplish what we would call socialization.  In Chapter 16 he critiques the curriculum of the day because the literature which formed its basis taught different lessons than the schoolmasters and parents intended.  He was worried about the moral effect of literature in education; for instance, the god Jupiter (Zeus) administers justice upon those who do wrong, but at the same time he is notorious for committing adultery.  Are teachers or professors at fault at times by suppressing information from students or giving false interpretations of facts or events?  Do they have a responsibility to tell the truth instead, beyond his or her own self-interests?  What about pastors and or teachers at church?  Are they also guilty of twisting biblical or theological information to the congregation for their own benefit?  If so, provide an example.  How have church leaders used the Bible to validate their own actions or even sinful behavior?  (In this chapter Augustine uses the example of Terence who ‘brings on to the stage a dissolute youth who excuses his own fornication by pointing to the example of Jupiter… These are the words with which he incites himself to lechery, as though he had heavenly authority for it.”)



In Chapter 16, Augustine gives a rather harsh critique of his education he had received while growing up. He sees the hypocrisy within the literature he had to read and questions what type of morals these teachings have upon students. Augustine argues that children who learn from the poor examples of the pagan gods like Jupiter (aka Zeus) can easily use these stories about him to justify sinful behavior. Furthermore, Augustine decries the fact that children (or their parents) pay expensive fees to their tutors to be taught such morally debasing things. And Augustine sees that there is a great cost to be paid in the future for society by educating youth in this manner.


I believe that in any educational system, there will be some type of bias that will inevitably be conveyed to students no matter what. For instance, in American history, students may be taught about ‘manifest destiny’, that as Americans expanded westward to colonize the rest of America it was through a belief that Americans were given a divine right to do so (a belief that is very much alive and present today); however, this ‘divine right’ to expand came at a great cost where it meant, more or less, the great slaughter (some might justifiably say genocide) of the Native American population. This type of information might be downplayed or even ignored in most teaching environments. Instead, a glorified and highly nationalistic view will be propounded throughout the school system, and many will not know about what happened to the Native American population. However, many other nations do this type of thing as well – China doesn’t teach its kids about Tiananmen Square and the brutal crackdown the government did upon the students there who stood up for freedom; Japan will downplay or ignore the many atrocities and human rights violations it committed during WWII; Turkey continues to deny that it committed genocide upon 1 million Armenians during WWI. The list goes on and on.


I believe that teachers do bear the responsibility of telling these truths despite their uncomfortable nature. However, I think self-interest wins out in the end in that, if telling an inconvenient truth will cost him or her a job, then most teachers will just teach what the state or city requires them to teach.


The church herself is not immune to misinformation of course. Some pastors will take advantage of their congregation’s ignorance of the Bible or theology to serve their own needs. For instance, a pastor might use Malachi 3:10 (Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”) to get his congregation to tithe more or get more money into the church, and in return say that God promises to greatly bless them (‘open the windows of heaven’) materially for their donations. This is great manipulation on the part of the pastor misusing the verse (intentionally or unintentionally) to guilt a congregant to give, though the biblical verse is not about God blessing a person materially for a sacrifice, but rather, in its proper geohistorical and exegetical context, it’s about God promising to pour out rain and favorable weather conditions to grow their crops for an agricultural society (like the Israelites were at that time) in return for repentance and doing justice (especially for the poor).


Throughout history, Christians and churches have misused the Bible and their authority to support acts of sin and evil such as apartheid, racism, segregation, slavery, warfare, colonization and exploitation, and sexism, so on and so forth – there’s just too many to list. (For more examples, look at our essays in the ‘Church History’ section.) I think pastors and church leaders have a responsibility to convey these inconvenient truths as well and lead the churches into repentance for the wrongs it has committed and that still continues to commit till this day.


Though I am not 100% certain that Augustine would agree with my points and opinions listed here about modern teachers and pastors, I do think that he would agree that much, if not all, human institutions bear the stains of sin, no matter how noble their aims may be. I believe this was the main thesis he was pointing at. Greed, lust, power, self-interest, etc. – sin – finds its way in one shape or form in all our human/man-made institutions (whether they are governments, corporations, non-profits, charities, churches, etc). Just as much as individuals need grace to be forgiven of individual sins, so do human institutions. Augustine lays bear the pervasiveness and inescapability of sin throughout the world and its desperate need to reach out to God and rely upon his grace and forgiveness for all our shortcomings and brokenness.





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