Confessions

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St. Augustine

Confessions is the autobiography of Saint Augustine. He was one of the Church fathers, very important in the history of the early Church, born in North Africa to a pagan father and Christian mother. Confessions was written in Latin shortly between 397 and 398 AD, while he was in his forties, and is a remarkable piece of Christian literature for several reasons.

  • It is the first ever autobiography in Western literature, so Augustine created a whole new model of literature. It was originally produced as 13 books, each subdivided into chapters. The lengths of the books is rather uneven - Book Two has 10 chapters while the more philosophical Book Ten is contains 43 chapters! Chapters are quite short, a couple of pages, and with modern printing techniques the Confessions is actually published in one volume, with most translations between 200 and 400 pages. When it was written, the individual books had to be copied out by hand!
  • Augustine describes his conversion to Christianity at the age of 33, after experimenting with a wild youth, Manichaeism and Neoplatonism. His rejection of the Neoplatonic Greek philosophy as a complete explanation for the universe - he saw that their complicated and wordy arguments didn't necessarily make them true - and the logical inconsistencies of Manichaeism help explain why Christianity became the dominant belief in post-Classical Europe and (until the rise of Islam) North Africa and the Middle East. Modern readers may find it easier to empathise with his wild youth than his temporary commitment to these two largely forgotten traditions that were vying with Christianity at the time; for other people leaving atheism and trying to turn to the Lord, they can take heart from the personal fulfilment he received from his conversion.
  • He describes the first-hand influence of another great saint on him, Saint Ambrose, and how Ambrose's arguments persuaded him that Christianity is the true and logically correct religion.
  • Augustine proves that astrology is both illogical and evil; despite our greater scientific knowledge many liberals believe in astrology 1600 years later![1] His arguments in Book Seven, Chapter VI, include consideration of the twins Jacob and Esau - from their astrological details, a foreteller would have predicted the same future for both, yet their fates were very different. So Augustine concludes that when astrologers get the right answers, they do so by chance alone.
  • Augustine also includes philosophical arguments about the nature of time that are used to refute doubters who think that Genesis shows contradictions in Christianity. A common atheist argument at the time was "what did God before he created the world?", by examining the meaning of time and therefore the word "before", Augustine proves that the doubters have no logical argument, just like when they challenge Genesis today.
  • Augustine bravely admits to many sins from his past, including theft of pears as a child (even though he came from a rich family that always had food), and lust. By confessing the dark secrets of his past so publicly, Augustine helps us see how even the worst sinner can turn to Jesus and receive God's love.
  • Augustine is also very self-aware about the circumstances that led him to sin as a young man, especially the bad influence of other young people when he fell into a bad crowd. This is important advice for any Christian parent to remember today. He also notes how his family did not "save me from ruin by marriage" which allowed him to continue his destructive lustful behavior. Even though looking back it dawned on him that God was "always by me, mercifully angry and flavoring all my unlawful pleasures with bitter discontent, in order that I might seek pleasures free from discontent", Augustine continued his pursuit of worldly pleasure until his conversion.

Quotes

  • But, fool that I was, I foamed in my wickedness as the sea and, forsaking thee, followed the rushing of my own tide, and burst out of all thy bounds. But I did not escape thy scourges. For what mortal can do so? Thou wast always by me, mercifully angry and flavoring all my unlawful pleasures with bitter discontent, in order that I might seek pleasures free from discontent. But where could I find such pleasure save in thee, O Lord - save in thee, who dost teach us by sorrow, who woundest us to heal us, and dost kill us that we may not die apart from thee. - on how true pleasure is only found in God, Book Two, Chapter II
  • I fell away from thee, O my God, and in my youth I wandered too far from thee, my true support. And I became to myself a wasteland. - on sin, Book Two, Chapter X
  • To love and to be loved was sweet to me, and all the more when I gained the enjoyment of the body of the person I loved. Thus I polluted the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence and I dimmed its luster with the slime of lust. Yet, foul and unclean as I was, I still craved, in excessive vanity, to be thought elegant and urbane. And I did fall precipitately into the love I was longing for. My God, my mercy, with how much bitterness didst thou, out of thy infinite goodness, flavor that sweetness for me! For I was not only beloved but also I secretly reached the climax of enjoyment; and yet I was joyfully bound with troublesome tics, so that I could be scourged with the burning iron rods of jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and strife. - on lust's noxious effects and how God punished him for it, Book Three, Chapter I
  • If I could have believed, I might have been cured, and, with the sight of my soul cleared up, it might in some way have been directed toward thy truth, which always abides and fails in nothing. But, just as it happens that a man who has tried a bad physician fears to trust himself with a good one, so it was with the health of my soul, which could not be healed except by believing. - on the need for belief and how his prior belief in false religions made him wary of accepting Christianity, Book Six, Chapter IV
  • I then turned my thoughts to those that are born twins, who generally come out of the womb so near the one to the other that the short interval between them - whatever importance they may ascribe to it in the nature of things - cannot be noted by human observation or expressed in those tables which the astrologer uses to examine when he undertakes to pronounce the truth. But such pronouncements cannot be true. For looking into the same horoscopes, he must have foretold the same future for Esau and Jacob, whereas the same future did not turn out for them. He must therefore speak falsely. If he is to speak truly, then he must read contrary predictions into the same horoscopes. But this would mean that it was not by art, but by chance, that he would speak truly. - on astrologers, Book Seven, Chapter VI
  • O my God, let me remember with gratitude and confess to thee thy mercies toward me. Let my bones be bathed in thy love, and let them say: "Lord, who is like unto thee? Thou hast broken my bonds in sunder, I will offer unto thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving."[232] And how thou didst break them I will declare, and all who worship thee shall say, when they hear these things: "Blessed be the Lord in heaven and earth, great and wonderful is his name." - on his acceptance of Christ, Book Eight, Chapter I

External links

References

  1. http://blog.beliefnet.com/astrologicalmusings/2009/12/more-democrats-believe-in-astr.html
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