Wicked ways. Streets of Babylon. Stealing pears. Friendship a dangerous enemy.
Perhaps the key idea is described in the opening line of paragraph 2. As a young man Augustine wanted to love and be loved. This desire was the motivation for all of his wicked ways as he walked the streets of Babylon. All his sinful acts were ways of seeking to fulfil a need for companionship. In order to avoid being despised and rejected Augustine would pretend to acts of depravity.
Love was confused with lust. There was conflict between acceptable human solutions to the problem of lust, and God’s design for holy marriage. To be chaste and virginal was beyond Augustine. Yet he had no desire to fulfil what he perceived to be the obligations of holy matrimony. Augustine’s monogamous relationship with his concubine would last for several years. The son from that relationship no doubt inspired the infancy narrative in Book I. Far from being a sex crazed maniac before his conversion, as a young adult Augustine would settle into a socially acceptable domestic relationship.
But God’s anger was upon him without his awareness of it. It was as if God was silent. The words of Monica to restrain his disorder were God’s words. In Augustine’s waywardness God was always present, “mercifully punishing” with the intention of turning his desires to purer objects. For all that Monica was concerned for Augustine, this concern was not a pure concern. Augustine’s parents were more concerned for his worldly success than his devotion to God’s ways. Although Monica had fled from the heart of Babylon, she still lingered in the outskirts of the city.
Augustine’s confession and recalling of his wicked ways suddenly shifts from lust to theft. The sole reason for his crime was the wickedness of his heart. There was a love of falling into ruin and sin. What good thing was being perverted in the sin of stealing pears? If all sin is some perversion of good, what was the motive in this seemingly pointless misdemeanor? Augustine had access to better pears. If all the perverted ways of humanity imitate the Lord in some manner, in what way was stealing the pears a reflection of God’s high and true goodness?
Augustine was conscious at the time that he would not have committed the crime alone. The crime was committed for a laugh. Bad company corrupts good character. But in Augustine’s experience it was wickedness not goodness below the surface. At the end of his analysis of the crime, Augustine admits that he is unable to understand the foul affair. Yet he now knows the forgiveness and joy of God. He is no longer fearful of that wrath which once hovered over him.