Saturday, October 30

Augustine: Confessions Book 5

On to book 5.

Again, if you are just joining in this exercise of reading the Confession then, please start here and here, Then this post, here, book 3 , and finally book 4 will bring you up to date and set the stage for this exercise.

Ok, I'll start with a very rough sketch of book 5. It starts of with a quick rendition of sola gratia, that it is by God's grace alone that we are saved. As he puts it, "the closed heart does not shut out your eye, and your hand is not kept away by the hardness of humanity, but you melt that when you wish...". The next few chapters quickly go over Augustine's anticipated meeting with the "great" Manichean bishop Faustus. Then he meets him and is disappointed. He had been getting disillusioned by mistaken predictions made by the Manicheans. Faustus was "billed" as a man educated in the "liberal" arts and skilled in rhetoric. But he disappointed Augustine. Apparently as well, the Manichean texts were very complex, and since Faustus seemed less educated then Augustine, he would not do. Augustine then leaves for Rome, suffers illness, and through a Manichean connection gets posted to a teaching position at Milan. He meets Bishop Ambrose. At this point he is mostly interested in Ambrose for his rhetoric, but he admits the message may have started to seep in.

Our Companion guide for this book is Frederick J. Crosson. Mr Crosson is Prof. of Humanities Emeritus at Notre Dame. He teaches undergraduate Liberal Arts and graduate Philosophy. He has published studies of Augustine's early works.

Mr Crosson tells us that Book 5 is the center of the Confesssion. It has a center (going to Rome), it marks the center of the turning place between Manichean and Catholic thought, and it is the midpoint of books 3-7, which mark the passage from the philosophers to the church. He also then expounds how this book can be regarded as the center of book 2-8 and 1-9. As the center of 2-8 there is a "symmetrical gathering of the themes of his progressive alienation from God around that center". Books 2-5 gather the three sins mentioned earlier. He will gain freedom from them unwinding through book 8. As for 1-9, in the earlier books he mentions nobody he knows by name. In book 5 he starts naming Faustus, Ambrose and others. Later he will mention his parents by name.

Now, Manicheism might have a parallel with today's "church" of "scientism". Manicheism, of which I now little beyond the fragments in the Confessions and the Companion was a quasi scientific theory that gave "light/good" vs "dark/evil" moral connection to astronomical phenomena, the "science". Today, secular humanists imagine that science backs their philosophy with about as much rigor. My only point, is that perhaps a decline in the "modern" education will perhaps bring some of our best and brightest disillusioned, like Augustine with Faustus, to listen or read Augustine himself.

Who knows, a pseudo-polymath can dream can't he? :)

At any rate. I owe you my gentle reader, and myself, a little practice in close reading. I pick chapter 1 and 14, the beginning and the end.

Chapter 1. It starts with a prayer, that the "sacrifice of these confessions" be accepted. As I mentioned earlier, it quickly goes into a brief exposition of sola gratia. Creation continually praises God and is never silent. We can praise and discover God by studying it's form and function. Or as Augustine says, "... animals and physical matter find a voice through those who contemplate them." This is as direct a way of saying the work of science is an act of praise to God.

Chapter 14. Speaking of Ambrose. Augustine declares he did not care what Ambrose spoke about, just how well he said it, as one professional rhetoritician watching another. However, he continues,
Nevertheless together with the words I was enjoying, the subject matter, in which I was unconcerned, came to make an entry into my mind.

Augustine had previously thought the Catholic teachings could not be defended against the Manichean arguments. However, the Catholic teachings became much more acceptable. However at this point, the Catholic teachings were not conqueror, but neither were they conquered. Things were still in flux. He could still not "defeat" the Manichean arguments (note he does not mention of what these arguments consist). However at this point, he determined to take up study of the Catholic faith.