Thursday, November 11

Augustine: Confessions Book 9

On to Book 9 of the Confessions. Again, to recap (and see what and why I'm doing here) see this post (it also contains links to all the previous essays/posts on the earlier books).

Our guide for this book is Kim Paffenroth. Mr Paffenroth is one of the two editors of the Companion volume. He is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Iona College.

Mr Paffenroth tells us that while many would consider Book 8 the climactic Book of the Confessions, wherein Augustine has dealt with the issues of doctrine, pride, and lust and Book 9 to be an anti-climax. Mr Paffenroth regards Book 9 as the emotional heart of the Confessions. Mr Paffenroth tells us that he regards a text with two main criteria in mind, its rhetorical structure (the flow of its arguments) and its psychology. For Mr Paffenroth, Confessions is a wonderful book, Augustine never lays out his rhetorical path before hand often moving off in "surprising directions". As the for the psychological arena, Book 9 in particular provides the emotional/psychological conclusion of this work. In this book we are told, Augustine resolves his issues with, "father, mother, friends, love, guilt, mortality, and grief." He quotes another commentator (Margaret Miles) Confessions is primarily therapy in the Platonic sense of a methodological conversion from a 'misidentification of reality'.

Augustine as he struggled to become Christian had to overcome the large block of the unlikely and unappealing nature of scripture compared with the beauty and (partial) truths contained in philosophy. Philosophy satisfied his mental hungers, but left his heart empty. Christianity (Scripture) appealed to his heart but failed to satisfy his "rational hunger". Mr Paffenroth tells us this book supplies Augustine's resolution of that struggle. He tells us as well, that the transition between the autobiographical theme which has dominated the first 9 books, and is replaced by a theological discussion of time and Scripture will be motivated in this book. Book 9 gives us the final movement in Augustine's relationship with Scripture. He has gone from dismissing it for its uninspired text to crying tears of joy on hearing Psalms read and hymns sung. The humble nature of the scriptural text provides a welcome contrast to the pride inducing works of Philosophy.

This is one of the longer books in the Confessions and a lot happens. It seemed to me the event of Augustine's baptism was downplayed. Augustine spends a lot more time recounting his withdrawal from his secular affairs. He feels he has to withdraw from his teaching position as a Christian and does this carefully. The church in Milan, just one year earlier had begun the practice of chanting and singing hymns, which he found a moving experience. Finally, his mother Monica dies. Unlike the death of his friend in Carthage, which tore him apart, the loss of his mother does cause grief and tears, but far less. He recounts her life in some detail in this Book as an homage to her life.

What then, in this Book can we take away. Augustine apparently feels that many (including his) secular profession was inappropriate for him as a Christian, the "salesman of words in the markets of rhetoric... to frenzied lies and lawcourt squabbles... to buy for their mouths weapons for their madness" were not for the Christian. He asked Ambrose what book to read, and he was told to read Isaiah, which he found difficult (imagine that! As an aside, I find it comforting that Augustine who could read Aristotle and comprehend it completely the first time without explanation, bounced off of Isaiah the first time or two. I too am having difficulty with that text). Finally, comparing his grief for his mother with that of his friend from an earlier book, Christianity tempered his grief with his assurance of knowledge of his mother's fate.