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Home » Theology » “Confessions” by St. Augustine » Confessions – Book IV: Chapters 1 – 8

Confessions – Book IV: Chapters 1 – 8

Bram

 

Q: In Chapter 2, he writes about how he took a mistress for himself during this time. Is there any biblical mandate against co-habitation or living with a person outside the bounds of marriage? Can it ever be justified in Christian culture or is it an antiquated and prudish belief that has no belonging in the 21st century? If you do believe that co-habitation is acceptable, then what place does biblical authority have in today’s church and in her future?

 

Alright, I’ll take this one. If only for the reason that I am technically living with my girlfriend out of practical and financial necessity.

 

To be sure, besides my girlfriend and I there is also a Japanese couple that live together. They are not Christians and are not married, but sleep in the same room.

 

My girlfriend sleeps in her own room and I sleep on the couch in the shared living room.

This situation is not ideal, but acceptable.

 

Let me first say something about “the 21st century” argument. I frequently hear this argument being used, but I really like Chesterton’s answer to it. If it is okay (or not okay) in the 21st century, but the opposite was the case in the 20th, or 19th, or 10th century, then it is as if time itself defines morality. That is like saying that it is okay on Wednesdays, but not on Thursdays. Or that it is okay in the morning, but not okay in the afternoon.

 

We can perhaps make these claims about societal issues, like what kinds of clothing, or what kinds of expressions are okay. As in, today it is okay to go to your job in jeans and a T-shirt, while the same job 50 years ago would have demanded a 3-piece suit. Or the N-word may have been insulting, but accepted as a general descriptive term 100 years ago, but not today.

 

Yet when we get to moral standards, those should be above time (and culture), or else they are not a moral standard. And all moral standards, though not always the details of those, are virtually universal. As my dear friend C.S. Lewis argued to my satisfaction in The Abolition of Man.

 

And the question with whom you can and cannot live together (and have sexual relations with), is, as a category, clearly a moral standard.

 

But the devil is in the details.

 

As for the Bible, there is indeed no clear 1-verse solution for the question of un- or pre-marital cohabitation (or copulation) per se, but though I do take Sola Scriptura to heart, it does not mean that there are no strong indicators, that the Holy Spirit apparently felt no need for to make explicit as well. One reason may very well be that basically in all cultures, with very few exceptions, our very recent and localized post-modern culture being the only major exception, is co-habitation and copulation before marriage (or without marriage) unacceptable.

 

It is not an exclusive “Christian” value, but it is also a Jewish value, a Muslim value, an Indian value, a tribal African value, an Aztec value, a Chinese value, etc. Therefore the Bible, being written for all cultures, for the most part assumes that this is already established in that culture and therefore needs not be readdressed.

 

But still I think it is sufficiently implicit in passages like Ephesians 5, where marriage is compared to a union between Christ and the church. Or Genesis 2 where one man and one woman were joined in marriage by God, since that is also the place to which Jesus refers back when asked about marriage and divorce.

 

On top of that you have the universal and unbroken Christian interpretation of these and other passages to mean that co-habitation and sexual relations are best enjoyed and therefore exclusively meant to be practiced only within the covenantal relationship of marriage.

 

 

Danielle

 

Same question as above.

 

There is no biblical mandate directly against co-habitation but there are quite a few Bible verses against physical, spiritual and emotional immorality outside of marriage.  Physical immorality: We are told in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 that the wife’s body belongs to her husband and the husband’s body belongs to the wife. The husband and wife must provide each other’s physical needs. Spiritual immorality: Ephesians 5:22-33 gives us clear instruction that the marriage between a man and a woman is an earthly model of the relationship between Christ and the Church (believers). Through this passage Paul makes comparisons of how husbands should treat their wives like Christ treats the Church (believers). He also makes comparisons of how wives should treat their husbands like the Church treats Christ. Emotional immorality: We are told in Ephesians 5:25-33 that husbands are to love their wives like Christ loved the Church. We see examples in Scripture where husbands comforted their wives (Genesis 24:67; 2 Samuel 12:24).

 

Is it prudish in the 21st century? Honestly, co-habitation is not only unacceptable to Christians, it’s also not recommended by majority of non-Christian relationship counselors today.  They say it is statistically proven that couples have a higher tendency to get divorced if they live together before getting married.  I’m not judging couples who live together before marriage and I understand that people want to try it before committing to it when it comes to marriage. I’ve seen couples who lived together and got married, couples who lived together and not ended up married, couples who never lived together before marriage still got divorced.  Marriage is not easy. It takes several elements to make marriage work and last.  Co-habitation may or may not be a factor to impact a marriage.  It can be different on every couple and the way they handle the relationship.

 

I personally disagree with co-habitation before marriage. If I have children in the future, I would tell my daughter/son the same thing.  I think marriage is sacred. If the person can’t make a public commitment telling the world that he loves me and wants to marry me, there’s no need to move in together- might just enjoy dating and keep options open and not live together.

 

 

Patricia

 

Q: In Chapters 4 – 7, he writes about how his first “real” encounter with death profoundly affected him. Why does death affect us so? Is there anything “mysterious” about death? How do most people, do you think, deal with their own sense of impending mortality? Do you believe most people fear death? Or can we welcome it? Do you see death as being something “unnatural” in relation with God’s creation? Or do you strictly see it as a rightful or just punishment for the sinfulness of mankind (i.e. “For the wages of sin is death.” – Romans 6:23)? Can death be a “gift” from God at times?   Does faith or a belief in a future Resurrection of the Dead (in the Second Coming of Christ) give any real existential or tangible consolation to a person or are they deluding themselves?  Does God mourn the death of people, animals, plants, or his creation in general? Is He affected or even changed by the reality of death?  Did Jesus’ death have any impact on God’s inner life? Or does he remain unaffected and impassionate?

 

Death cannot be ignored, because one day you’re here and another you’re not, and that makes it mysterious. But cultural attitudes differ based on historical age, geography and religion–I’d argue that there have been about as many attitudes towards death as there are distinct cultures on earth. While the secular West regards it as an ending, non-Western beliefs in spirit worlds, reincarnation, pantheism, etc. make death more of a stage of human existence. Some ancient cultures such as the Aztecs and the Egyptians regarded their leaders as everlasting. Aztec rulers continued to hold land titles even after death. Pharaohs were sent off in the afterlife with possessions, expected to return to their mummified bodies. In Hawaii’s island of Kawai, there is a beach that acts to be the gate to the spirit world for the deceased. I was told to never lift a rock from there.

 

Peace and wartime have their own effects on reactions to death. Most of human history is covered in bloodshed, and for most of it civilians have been fair game in wartime. It is only relatively recently that the West recognized the difference between civilian casualty versus armed military and condemned the former. Regardless of culture, the expectation is clear across most societies that conscription to an army can result in death, and this is an accepted fact even in those cultures that have an aversion to death.

 

Contemporary Christians often say that “Jesus came to die” and yet most of them would perceive death as something evil.  Secular culture has translated the Christian attitude of life as a gift to death as unnatural and to be avoided. Medical research is constantly looking for ways to push death further and further away, and we are obsessed with bucket lists to accomplish before we die. And yet, for all of its revulsion towards death, the US holds on to the death penalty, unlike the rest of the Western world.

 

We live in interesting times. While for most of human history death was a personal matter that was visible in close quarters, mass media makes death visible. Movies and video games render it gratuitous. Conflicts, even those far removed from us, are now easily watchable online or on tv. The advent of television and broadcast warzone images removed the veneer of opaque patriotism from war–there’s a reason Vietnam was so unpopular. And yet humans’ need for relevance continues to make dying for a higher cause universally appealing. Depending on how one looks at it, this need has either been exploited throughout history by deft governments and rulers, or else has propelled human history forward through the sacrifices of martyrs and heroes.  Kamikaze pilots in WWII were born out of a culture that held suicide as a noble action when taken at the correct time. Suicide bombers are motivated by a glorious afterlife. Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire to start social change. How does God perceive these actions? I’m stumped to say.

 

Among Jesus’ most memorable miracles is bringing people back from the dead, including Himself. But while the New Testament treats life in much higher regard than death, Jesus makes it clear to His followers that they cannot fear death, as it means reunification with God. On the other hand, the OT is ripe with violence and bloodshed and the idea of an afterlife only shows up in the NT. While I think that death as a price for sin refers to spiritual death, as in separation from God, rather than physical death, it is worth noting that some of God’s favorite people never died–Enoch and Elijah. In a physical world, death is necessary for the process of renewal and simple mathematics. But God takes different views to it: on the one hand, He mourns curtain deaths (certainly Jesus’), on the other, the Israelites are often ordered to kill rivals. Death a complex fact that we will remain either fascinated with or terrified of, but it’s always inevitable.

 

 

Danny

 

Q: In Chapter 8, he writes, “For the grief I felt for the loss of my friend had struck so easily into my inmost heart simply because I had poured out my soul upon him… loving a man who was mortal as though he were never to die.” Is this what happens when you idolize a friend or friendship in general?   Many Christians might tend to agree with Augustine that we must place our hearts upon eternal and spiritual things rather than transient things and even people who will all ultimately perish one day. However, just what does “friendship” with God look like? Can Jesus or God truly be your (best) “friend”?       Why or why not? What does it mean to call God your friend? (Cite Bible verses about whether or not it is possible to have a friendship with God.) But how is it possible to relate intimately with a being who is ontologically so different and so transcendent from us? (His “invisibility” as well as his intangibility to our natural senses isn’t much help as well.)  Is a “friendship” with God or a “personal relationship with God/Jesus” merely just sentimental talk within the church?

 

 

In the part of Book IV, Augustine continues to ponder the effect the death of his best friend had upon him. After spending so much time and memories with him, it is no wonder that he spends several chapters about his almost inconsolable grief over the loss of a very close friend. Here, he delves into Neoplatonic thought as he muses about the transience of the material world which will inevitably cause one pain and sorrow, especially after experiencing and realizing the permanence of death, and how we therefore, instead, place our hearts to long after more permanent or eternal things or relationships.

 

This brings us inevitably to the common and modern popular evangelical notion that the essence of Christianity is not religion but a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” This has become the essence or goal of standard Christian salvation. But for the longest time I have wondered what that actually meant. For a while, when I first got ‘saved’ over a decade ago, the church I had attended stressed this aspect of a ‘personal relationship with God’ and for a while I truly, truly believed in this, and even believed that God ‘spoke’ to me or felt times when I felt his ‘presence’ over me. Sometimes it was in a church revival setting and at times it was close and personal. It was this intimacy and friendship that drew me in. The closest way to reach God (besides prayer and singing praise songs) was spending time reading the Bible or Word of God- otherwise known as ‘quiet time’ (QT) – where it was just you and God, an intimate one-on-one time spent just between you and Him. There were times where I’d spend hours at a coffee shop reading the Bible and felt that the words of the Bible (well, at least those that were encouraging or uplifting) were ‘God’s love letter to me.’ To truly encounter God was to let Him ‘speak’ through the Bible through the Holy Spirit to me.

 

In the Bible, there are several examples of persons having a friendship with God. Moses was said to have been a friend of God in the most personal way: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (Exodus 33:11). Also, Abraham was called God’s friend twice: “Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendents of Abraham your friend?” (2 Chron 20:7) and “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendents of Abraham my friend.” (Isaiah 41:8) And in the NT, Jesus calls his disciples his friends: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends…” (John 15:15) So the Bible does state that friendship is possible with God, and that God even desires friendship with particular people at the very least.

 

In these friendships, Moses and Abraham would argue or plead their cases with God, and sometimes God would relent and change his mind from time to time. And even at times, God was depicted as having fellowship with them: “Moses… and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel… they beheld God, and ate and drank.” (Exodus 24: 9-11) You can also make the claim that every major figure in the OT had a friendship with God – David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, perhaps Job, etc. So you can interpret this as God having a remarkable level of intimacy with humans where he condescends himself and withholds or restrains his transcendence to be with people.

 

Yet the difficulty remains in trying to relate to an invisible God. It doesn’t surprise me that other major Christian denominations and traditions like Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and other Eastern churches employ certain iconographies of the divine to aid in their worship of God. I believe that they all, at a certain level, display the human desire to reach out to the divine or to “break the barrier,” if you will, to touch heaven. Many mystics over the centuries and millennia have sought various techniques and disciplines to draw into a closer intimacy with God (sometimes even using somewhat erotic imagery to describe their encounters with God like the Catholic mystic Teresa of Avila did).

 

One popular Christian author described our relationship with God to be like a person trying to communicate with an ant. A person is so much more complex and cognitively superior than an ant, so it’s quite difficult for humans to perceive or understand, let alone, relate with, Him.

 

I don’t believe it’s merely sentimental spiritual talk when churches talk about having a “personal relationship with God.” I believe it represents a deep (dare I say universal) desire to connect or commune with someone or something higher and themselves (no matter how vague and maybe hokey that may sound). However, a part of me rolls its eyes whenever I hear that comment (the skeptical, even cynical, overtly rational side of me); but then again, there is also another side of me that knows, or at least desires, that something is there. Perhaps we are all in some way spiritually autistic. God tries to talk to us intimately everyday, yet we miss Him or ignore Him, even if He is right in front of us. Perhaps like the mystics I need to focus and be mindful and disciplined of His presence some more. But for now, the notion of God’s intimacy or even his immanence seems mercurial and obscure most of the time – just as I think I have grasped Him, He seems to slip from my fingers as if I am trying to hold loose clumps of sand.

 

 

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