Posted on November 28th, 2011
Today’s reading from Augustine’s Confessions: Book I, i (1) through I, xiii (22) [[pp3-17]] (click here for schedule). Here are some of my observations:
The first paragraph of the Confessions contains one of its most famous quotes: “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Man was created to “rest” in his Creator, and a theme of Augustine’s life as it will unfold throughout the Confessions is how many ways he sought rest, satisfaction, pleasure outside of God, yet nothing availed.
In the first few chapters of Book I, Augustine dwells on the mystery of prayer and praise, and the relationship between man and God revealed thereby:
How shall I call upon my God, my God and Lord? Surely when I call on him, I am calling on him to come into me. But what place is there in me where my God can enter into me? ‘God made heaven and earth.’
Along with his person and being, Augustine meditates on the related mystery of God’s presence in the universe. God is everywhere, and fills all things, and yet nothing can contain Him. “Who then are you, my God?”
After concluding that he cannot understand God, he cries out, “Who will grant me that you come to my heart and intoxicate it, so that I forget my evils and embrace my one and only good, yourself?” Finally, not understanding God, Augustine finds this one Scriptural term for who God is in relationship to Augustine: “Say to my soul, I am your salvation” (Ps. 34.3).
Augustine describes his soul as “in ruins,” pleading for God to restore it. This life is a “living death,” yet Augustine sees God in the breasts which nursed him, and his infantile desire for milk, for God created the natural order; his nurses’ milk they received from God.
From infancy Augustine moves to his boyhood, observing that he was caned in school for disobedience, and how he often preferred ball-games to study. Infected with the pride of winning, he also told lies, and observed that the adults with their entertainments are no different. “Look with mercy on these follies, Lord, and deliver us who now call upon you.”
Interesting is his knowledge of being enrolled in the catechumenate from infancy: “I was already signed with the sign of the cross and seasoned with salt from the time I came from my mother’s womb.” After noting is mother’s great piety, Augustine mentions that his baptism was delayed: “My cleansing was deferred on the assumption that, if I lived, I would be sure to soil myself; and after that solemn washing the guilt would be greater and more dangerous if I then defiled myself with sins.” I find this way of thinking fascinating, and wish I understood more about what drove it. Augustine himself wonders about it, asking God why his baptism was delayed, and wondering whether it was for good or ill, although he seems to wish he had been baptized straightway from infancy. “So tiny a child, so great a sinner.”
As a school boy, Augustine loved Latin, but hated Greek. “The root of this aversion must simply have been sin and the vanity of life”! Augustine proceeds to critique the philosophy of education, which could certainly be applied today. This should hang from the buildings of all our schools: “Veils hang at the entrances to the schools of literature; but they do not signify the prestige of elite teaching so much as the covering up of error.”
Finally, note the hints several times of the theme of wandering. My recollection is that this will be significant later in the work.