Tuesday, November 16

Augustine: Confessions Book 12

Two more books to go. Both about Genesis 1. Go here for past posts on the previous books.

Our guide for this book is Thomas F. Martin O.S.A.(?). Mr Martin is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Villlanova University. His particular concentration is the biblical and spiritual thought of Augustine. He has published a book on Augustine.

Mr Martin points draws out for us the journey that Augustine has taken us through. From the start of the book, Augustine has used scripture liberally throughout. In his story he has related to us that Augustine, drawn to a seeking for wisdom by Cicero turned to the Bible and discarded it for its poor use of language and rhetoric. It was further lessened in his regard by the teaching of the Manichees. Finally, with Ambrose, the vistas of the spiritual teaching in scripture are laid out before him. Scripture is no longer crude literature, but an "alluring mystery". Mr Martin then places Augustine's Confessions in a historical context. Augustine was dealing at the time of the writing with two heresies, the Manichees and the Donatists. Much of his discussion in this book is written to counter these. The Manichees believed (among other things) that the Old Testament was corrupt (again here we find there is modern echoes of this in today's liberal cant against scripture especially the Old Testament). The Donatists issues with the Roman Church dealt largely with Biblical matters. One problem was that it had been a period of expansion of the Church and the clergy did not always "know their bible", and as a result neither did their laity. Claims against Augustine himself were countered by his conversion and Baptism by Ambrose and the Confessions themselves, the success of which is "proof" that the Holy Spirit is present with Augustine.

This book Mr Martin tells us is about, "Heaven and Earth" and Charity.

Recall back in Book 1. Augustine had an unusual relationship with scripture. He was writing his biographical faith-journey. And he started with a discussion of God and Creation. Augustine is teaching us that Scripture is a lens though which we can view our life. The structure of the text he has engaged throughout these books has in the nature of a dialogue. The ancient reader of this text would have been somewhat dismayed on realizing that the partner for Augustine's dialog is God. God addresses Augustine via quoted scripture. Augustine responds with word and prayer.

Mr Martin also points out to us that this book contains frequent references to Moses because at the time Moses was believed to be the author of the Torah (or Pentateuch). His dialog with the text (and Moses) is to counter the Manichean attacks on the Old Testament mentioned above.

Turning to the text, I find, alas, I have nothing really to add. It is indeed a fascinating discussion of Genesis 1 verse 1. It is an instructive exercise in biblical exegesis. We should all try to view our life through the lens of scripture.