Monday, October 18

Augustine: Confessions Book 2

Never fear gentle reader, this process will at some day come to an end. This book is not City of God, that is to say, much much shorter. It has 13 books, which is a countable (in fact not large) number. And beginnings (like say Genesis vs the Bible) often require more attention because the stage is being set. If you are just joining us for this exercise, please start here then, here, finally this post, will bring you up to date and set the stage for this exersize.

For this Book, I will start with our Companion guide. Our guide for this book is one John C. Cavadini. Mr Cavadini hails from South Bend (U of Notre Dame) where he is an Assoc. Professor of Theology.

Mr Cavadino beings by telling us this book (the whole work not just this "book") is "one of those texts beauties emerge gradually to the person willing to read and reread over time". Book two he tells us is one of the "infamous" books, in that it is often quoted to demonstrate Augustine's alleged "propensities for overstatement". It is in this book where Augustine discusses his adolescent emergent libido and a teenage theft of some pears. The act of theft is discussed in very great detail and with much melodrama. However, Mr Cavadino suggests a more fruitfull way of examining the text. He indicates that in the over-arching structure of the book a pattern emerges. With the next three books, Augustine will examine the three sins from 1 John 2:14 (concupiscence of the flesh, concupiscence of the eyes, and ambitio saeculi or worldly ambition). The in book 6-8, after meeting Ambrose, these sins will be unwound (that is dealt with in reverse order).

Mr Cavadino continues by warning us that the direct examination of the story of the pears will fall short because at the heart of it, we will always be reminded (through the flowery rhetoric) that the crime remains quite petty. Mr Cavadino instead draws our attention to the last phrase of the book, (which he translates as), "I had made myself a land of emptiness". This is where he concludes his escapades in following the desires of the flesh lead him. By not explicitly mentioning the nature of this sexual sins, Augustine leaves us to ponder only the causes and the result. Fornication for Augustine is a fruitless (because it will not be fulfilled) attempt seek that what it cannot find except by returning to God.

As for the pear, Mr Cavadino tells us this a direct commentary on the Genesis narrative of the fall. However, I will confess, this takes some work to ferret out, for Augustine does not intimate this connection directly. But the actual nature of the crime (stealing fruit) makes this plausible. The main point of this book then is the following (from Mr Cavadino):

Every soul that commits fornication, turning away from its Creator and Lover to set itself up against him and apart from him, thereby tries to replace God, that is, "perversely imitates" God. But such a soul only achieves a "crippled liberty" ... At bottom evil is unglamorous and irrational...

One final point, Augustine makes observation that the crime of the pear, like Genesis 2, was not committed alone, he like Adam, had companions. The fellowship was in important component to the crime. Pride is not a sin you can commit without society.