Friday, November 5

Augustine: Confessions Book 6 (part 2)

Well, I had said I'd get back to Book 6 and add to that post. I had been intending to get back to it the next night, but it has been too long. I'm going to continue. In the interest of brevity, I'm going to reprint most of what I said there, so you don't have to go back and check it.

The Confessions so far (my previous posts). This may end up for you the gentle reader as an sort of Cliff notes to Augustine, but the exercise for me has been very fruitful. Again, this is partly an exercise for me in how to do "close reading" of texts. A useful skill in reading philosophical (and Biblical) texts. I am discovering, the impetus to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to write an essay about the text you read, for me, aids greatly in this.
  1. Book 1. part 1 2 and 3.
  2. Book 2
  3. Book 3.
  4. Book 4
  5. Book 5
Go to the first post to Book 1 to review what I mean by the Companion.

Our guide from the Companion to Book 6 is Eric Plumer. Mr Plumer is Assistant Professor of Theology at the University of Scranton. He studied at Oxford and Notre Dame and has a forthcoming book Augustine's Commentary on Galatians.

Mr Plumer (writing under the impression that we are choosing this book to read and perhaps no other) tells us that this Book for the modern reader might be the most accessible. In fact, the style of the book is very different. Instead of exegetical and philosophical analysis we find mostly narrative about "character and incident".

My quick synopsis done earlier this week of my first reading of the Book 6 ran like this:
First impressions. This book was easier to read. The text was far more direct. Lots of personal "life story" instead of philosophical digressions which need to be studied and parsed in order to figure them out. In it we get the inklings of Augustine, as a now secular (previously Manichean) seeker he is being drawn as into a vortex into Catholicism. He has questions for Ambrose but cannot ask them because Ambrose is such a busy prelate. We are introduced to his mother Monica and a friend Alypius. Alypius is complex man. He has a weakness for "games" (gladiatorial (as a spectator)). He spends some time musing over his unmarried state, his mistress for many years (who bore him a son) leaves him. She leaves because his mother has arranged a marriage for him (which is to take place in two years hence). He is torn by his mistress loss. He replaces her with a new mistress, but is not proud of it. His friend Alypius he tells us has been celibate. He feels celibacy is way too much to ask of a man. It will be fascinating to see the evolution of his thought as the next few chapters progress.
I find myself very much desiring to read further at this point. I had mentioned in an earlier book that Manichiesm is much like today's "religion of Scientism", i.e. the idea that science holds the answers. Augustine, like many of us in today's society, was drawn to this. He felt it lacking and was drawn into the web of Christianity. Following the reasons that impelled him along his path I think has a lot of relevance today. Also, Augustine in this book starts on the path to aesceticism with a good deal of resistance. I had read that the early church was impelled along the ascetic path to some (large?) measure in response to the licentiousness of the pagan world. There has been as yet no large movement in today's Christian society in similar directions. Perhaps as I (we) review Augustine's thoughts on the matter light will be shed on the current absence of movement will come clear.

Mr Plumer gleans for us the message in the early description of Monica. Augustine relates several demonstrations of Monica's faith, she is (for Mr Plumer) a demonstration of "faith seeking understanding."

As for Ambrose, Mr Plumer warns us that although early prelates were very busy with affairs of the church, perhaps Ambrose also didn't meet with Augustine as a way of letting him know that there were no inner secrets in the Catholic faith, that all teachings were available to all worshippers, in contrast with almost all other faiths of that age (with the obvious exception of the Hebraic tradition).He also points out for us that Ambrose seems in some sense "superhuman" to Augustine, especially with regards to his ability to remain celibate.

Alypius gets three vignettes. These demonstrate to us a man, who is a friend of Augustine's. Augustine knew him before in Carthage, indeed had introduced him to Manichiesm. After Augustine was disillusioned by Manichiesm, and left for Rome (followed by a posting to Milan), Alypius followed his friend. Alypius had a weakness of character in that he loved the gladiatorial games, which repulsed Augustine. On the other hand, Alypius had far less difficulty with celibacy than did Augustine, having apparently been turned off by sex by a bad experience as a youth. Mr Plumer tells us that the philosophical society of Augustine and Alypius will journey together into the Christian faith in further books (Book 9?).

Finally Mr Plumer tells us that this is the first of the three books that follow Augustine's conversion to Christianity (a garden scene, Book 8). We are now on the path.