Monday, 18 October 2010

Summary of Book II

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.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know about you guys, but when I read Confessions the thought comes to mind, "Why is Augustine telling God these things in such detail if God is all-knowing?" Admittedly, I was thinking this again as I re-read chapter 2. In fact, right at the moment that thought came to mind, Augustine clarified why he wrote Confessions in the first place: "I need not tell all this to you, my God, but in your presence I tell it to my own kind, to those other men, however few, who may perhaps pick up this book. And I tell it so that I and all who read my words may realize the depths from which we are to cry to you" (2.3)
    This is a fascinating statement for a number of reasons. First, Augustine gives us the purpose for the Confessions. Not only are they formulated as a prayer to God, a sort of "conversation with God," they are also a statement intended to be read by posterity (I love how he says "however few," ya right!). So we need to keep in mind that Augustine's intended audience goes beyond God, even to us. Secondly, Augustine says that he also writes for his own spiritual benefit, so that as he re-reads his words he will receive nourishment for his soul. Thirdly, by psychologically examining himself to such a degree, he reveals the depths that he, and us, cry to God from.
    This last point is useful for self-reflection. In what ways do our actions--past or present--reveal something about our character, our personality, indeed our souls? Augustine lusted and stole, and this for him was a manifestation or symptom of the greater problem of his own depravity and flight from God.
    I believe that for Augustine, the purpose of such self-reflection is realised in 2.7 where he confesses the mighty grace of God. He recalls all of these things with no fear in his soul because now he loves and praises the name of God. It was by grace and mercy, Augustine says, that God "melted away my sins like ice." Augustine avows that "you have forgiven me all, both the sins which I committed of my own accord and those why by your guidance I was spared from committing."
    All of this in-depth reflection, or "psycho-analysing," was for the express purpose of expressing the real depth and grace of God manifested in the gospel of Jesus Christ. If only all of us could have such an honest perspective on ourselves that would drive us to the mercy of God in Christ!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.