Confessions (Saint Augustine)

I like book shops. During my time in Avalon last week I stopped by The Paper Peddler to do a little browsing.  I picked up a copy of Saint Augustine’s Confessions. I had encountered excerpts from Confessions in other books and in conversations, but I had not read it yet for myself.

Augustine wrote the series of books contained in Confessions in 397 and 398. That’s about 1,615 years ago. Most of his words have aged well.

I enjoyed the conflict more than the resolution in Confessions. Early on, speaking of humans relating to God, Augustine states: “The thought of you [God] stirs him [man] so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” It is lack of peace that Augustine addresses in the first several books. He tells of his entanglement in temporal loves and pleasures, which is part of the authentic human experience. Looking back at that time when he was unaware of a more noble love, Augustine says: “Because of this my soul fell sick.”

In loss Augustine writes words that ring true: “I lived in misery, like every man whose soul is tethered by the love of things that cannot last and then is agonized to lose them.” When Augustine moves from conflict to resolution my perception of his words changes. Suddenly authentic and gritty words of struggle become theoretical and polished words of victory. I found myself wondering: So how did you just let things go? How did people mean less to you and God more? What did this look like? Do you view walking away from the woman you were engaged to as a form of betrayal? Do you have relapses? How is the will torn between the higher and lower interests convinced to focus solely on the higher? And many, many more questions.

Other notes:

  • A sentence in Augustine’s discussion of pain and pleasure made me think: “It is always the case that the greater the joy, the greater is the pain which precedes it.” I’m not sure I agree with this statement.
  • The discussion of distractions caught my attention. If being amused by a lizard catching flies is sinful I might be in trouble.
  • Some of Augustine’s points about intention and sin made me curious. It reminds me of what I recently read about Bonhoeffer’s writing in Ethics, which makes me even more determined to read that book soon.

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