Saturday, October 16

Augustine: Confessions Book 1. revisited

For my start at this "project" see this.

For today: Again I return to book 1, which I mistakenly called chapter 1 before. This time, instead of concentrating on the "Companion" reader and his comments, I am going to turn to the original source. Book 1 is divided into 20 short chapters. In this post I will try to relate a highlight from each chapter. The style of the narration is that of Augustine relating to God his recollection of his life. I hope my endeavour here will serve also to help me learn to perform a "close" reading of text and not be without value to others as well.

Chapter 1. As has been noted previously, this autobiographical sketch begins with a hymn of praise to the Lord and Creator. It not just praise but acknowledges a relationship between God and Man. We now recognize the Lord as the primary audience for this narration.

Chapter 2. Is written in much the same tone (that is to say filled with praise to the Lord) as the beginning of his autobiography. This time he notes that the Creator of all created one thing in particular, that is to say Augustine himself.

Chapter 3-5. The next five chapters start a long discussion about the relationship of God to the Universe and Augustine (and his soul) to God. I confess I do not comprehend the thrust of his argument. I hope to return to this later.

Chapter 6. Birth. He wonders about his life, and muses that he has forgotten much of his infancy, but that God has not. Where could an infant come from if not from God?

Chapter 7. He notes that Scripture informs him of his Original Sin. But he wonders what are the sins of the infant? He has personally observed infants acting with jealousy perhaps that is a sign of our sin. He concludes with not more to say concerning his origins. Given the contortions about this throughout the ages, I will also try to return to this in a future post and look at what he says more closely.

Chapter 8. We continue on to boyhood. He starts with a theory of language development. I recall that the commentator did not think highly of this. Apparently the commentator felt theories of language development have progressed since the 6th century.

Chapter 9. In school, he was sent to learn to read and write. He tells us he was beaten if he was "indolent" at his studies. He like many children, prayed to God for relief from the difficulties of study.

Chapter 10. He confesses being a sinner and that he learned the sin of pride of accomplishment from his childhood games. He asks the Lord to look on in mercy at his follies.

Chapter 11. In his youth, he had a bout of illness. In his infirmity, his Mother (a believer) had him baptized, and his father (who was not) did not object. She attempted to convince him that it was the Lord who delivered him back to health.

Chapter 12. He observes that as a child he did not relish study. But that it was forced upon him, and that was all for the best. He does not think the people who had him study were doing it for the right reasons, as they were not to glorify God, but to allow him to seek wealth successfully. He observes that whatever their motivation was, the outcome did achieve the ends God would want.

Chapter 13. He observes that he never liked studying Greek and that he did love the Aeneid. He muses about fiction. Does it matter if a story is true? He seems to come down against fiction. I hope he returns to this later.

Chapter 14. Returning to the question of Greek (Homer). He wonders if it he liked his first language because it was taught by those who loved him. Greek was taught by tutors who didn't.

Chapter 15. Starts with an entreaty to the Lord to allow him to use what he learned in childhood to His glory (that is words and letters).

Chapter 16. He then declaims Homer (and through him the Pagan deities enshrined therein). However in his studies he excelled and yet now his memory of this time troubles him.

Chapter 17. He recalls a poetry reading contest from his youth. Praise was the prize. Caning is for not doing well is what he feared. He never tells us how it turned out, but expresses regret both that the poetry was not scripture and that the exercise was one of vanity.

Chapter 18. The people put forth to him in his youth as models to emulate all drew him away from the Lord. But the Lord moves in his own time.

Chapter 19. He confesses committing various small petty sins all children do.

Chapter 20. Finally, this book ends (or is bookended) with another paean of praise to the Lord and Creator. This time praising God for all the gifts and talents showered upon himself.