Monday, 25 October 2010

Summary of Book III

Carthage. Cicero and scripture. False seeking. Justice. Reading.

Love remains a major theme as Augustine gives an account of his time in Carthage. But so does confusion about the true nature of love. The account of his student days continues the story of how created things failed to satisfy a hunger within. Theatre provides an opportunity to analyse the nature of true compassion. Love of theatre led to a life that was not real life at all. Yet even though God punished, the punishment was not equivalent to the guilt. Mercy hovered over Augustine even as he wandered far from God.

Study involved textbooks on eloquence. Cicero captured Augustine, and encouraged a return to God. He discovered a longing for the immortality of wisdom. His values and priorities changed. Reading Cicero encouraged Augustine to seek wisdom wherever found. Yet the lack of Christ’s name in Cicero’s work dampened enthusiasm. This deficiency led Augustine to read the holy scriptures to find out what they were like. In his youthful pride what he discovered disappointed him. The scriptures seemed unworthy of comparison with Cicero.

This disappointment explains the attraction of the Manichees. They combined “slick talk” with reference to Christ. They spoke much of truth but actually knew nothing about it. Augustine continued in confusion. Desire for God was frustrated through seeking God in created things. Just as food in dreams does not nourish the body, so the wisdom of the Manichees did not satisfy. Augustine was seeking God, yet he was travelling further away from the truth he sought.

One consequence of this waywardness was ignorance about the nature of justice. The art of poetic composition becomes an illustration of how justice is prescribed at various times in different contexts. Augustine’s youthful and foolish reading of the scriptures made him highly critical of biblical heroes. They simply acted according to God’s timely commands. What God commands has to be done, even if it has never been previously done.

There are proper good actions that people do not approve. And there are many actions praised by humankind which on God’s testimony are to be censured. For Augustine, a just human society is one which submits to God. Happy are those people who know that God is the source of moral precepts. As a young man Augustine was not happy.

Monica’s vision pictured her son’s restoration. But for nine years he would remain in the deep mire and darkness of falsehood. Seeking advice from a bishop, Monica is told that her son remains unready to learn. Earlier we read Augustine confess how unprepared he was to read and understand holy scripture. Monica is told to pray. She is encouraged to think that by his reading her son will discover the error of his ways. Reading becomes a significant theme in Augustine’s salvation and success.


  1. I thought Book 3 was a wonderful description of how God understands each individual's journey of faith. when we sin we feel guilty as a consequence of this sin, and many people then feel guilty about praying or going to church. And this then pushes them further away from God. In order to overcome these sins we need to be honest with God and offer him our whole life including our failures. If we can remain with Him in our sin, He can help us to overcome it faster. Augustine beautifully illustrates how even though sin is always bad, depending on where we are on our journey we are unable to overcome certain sins at that point. God allows us the space to develop as human and spiritual beings. If we persevere in seeking Him there will come a point when we can overcome these sins. Though sin is not necessary, in a way God uses it as a tool to shape us.

  2. Does Augustine foster antipathy towards the arts or culture (i.e. theatre/Cicero)? Would he believe that a Christian should appreciate these things?

  3. Ian, good questions, which I'm not qualified to answer. My gut reaction would be that Augustine embraces all things in so far as they reflect God. But nothing can fully reflect God apart from God and his Word. So, for example, in On Christian Teaching, Augustine defends the use of classical secular works in teaching... but he also points out the limitations. And, as we read in Confessions, all created things can unduly distract us from the worship and recognition of God. People should appreciate and use all things properly not sinfully. That's a theme, here, right?

  4. Niamh, what do you think about Augustine's comments on justice and right and wrong? I wondered if they were problematic for most people today... the thought that God declares some things to be wrong which are so widely accepted, and seemingly good and proper. I dont want to give any examples, but the question of how we decide and recognise these things is important. Augustine presumably believed that God had spoken, that people could know what God had declared to be right and wrong.

    Another point is maybe something we'll cover later in reading Confessions... how can we overcome sin? If sin is so bad, but so prevalent, seemingly pervasive... what is the solution? How are we counted acceptable?

  5. Definitely agree with you there David. I thought the points Augustine made about the patriarchs and when he says " Nor did I know that true inner righteousness--which does not judge according to custom but by the measure of the most perfect law of God Almighty--by which the mores of various places and times were adapted to those places and times(though the law itself is the same always and everywhere, not one thing in one place and another in another)", was really important to note and relevant to our society today.
    Many people see Christian ideas of right and wrong as outdated and that God will not be angry about certain behaviours we would call sin, since He is loving and merciful. The point they're missing is He can forgive any sin if we repent, but it's still a sin.Yes our conscience tells us right from wrong but at the end of the day God has told us in the Ten Commandments what is right and wrong and we need to stick to that.

    In relation to overcoming sin because of our fallen nature and original sin, we cant overcome sin ourself, Jesus did that for us when He died on the cross. I guess the only solution is to seek forgiveness and try not to sin but be aware that at some point we will sin. The more we grow in our relationship with God, the more we pray, the stronger we will become in resisting temptation.


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