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St. Augustine's Confessions (Excerpts online):

Vocabulary: biography, temptation motif, patristic

Introduction: Where did Saint Augustine work as a bishop (i.e., what city and what continent?)

Lecture or Handouts: Why might we say that Saint Augustine "bridges the gap between the Roman Empire and the medieval world"? What was happening to the city where Saint Augustine lived at the moment he was on his death-bed? How is this historical event a marker for distinguishing between the late Roman or Patristic Period and the subsequent "Dark Ages"? What are some of Saint Augustine's contributions to theological thought?

Identify the following characters, objects, places:

Saint Augustine, Monica, Alypius, the pear tree, the Garden of Milan

Reading Questions:

  • Book II, Chapter 1 What contrast does Augustine make between how he appeared in his own eyes and how he appeared in God's eyes?
  • Book II, Chapter 2 How old was Augustine when "the madness of lust" held full sway over him?
  • Book II, Chapter 3 For whom does Saint Augustine write The Confessions? Who is his stated audience?
  • When Augustine first shows signs of puberty, how does his father react? How does his mother, Monica, react to the same news?
  • Why did Augustine "make himself out worse than he really was"? What did he hope to gain by boasting of imaginary vices to his friends?
  • When Augustine claims he "walked the streets of Babylon," what does he mean? Is he really in Babylon or Mesopotamia?
  • Book II, Chapter 4 What evidence does Saint Augustine provide to prove that theft is against the law written in men's hearts? (i.e., how is theft unlike other crimes in which criminals take amusement by sharing their deeds?)
  • When Saint Augustine is moved to the sin of theft, what does he decide to steal? Once he has stolen these items, what do he and the other boys do with this stolen property? What does this reveal about their motivations for the theft--i.e., what is the motivation for this theft?
  • Augustine contrasts his sin with the sin of Cataline. Who is this fellow Cataline? What did he do that was so horrible? (Look him up in an encyclopedia or online resources dealing with the old Roman Republic.) Why Saint Augustine think his sin was worse than Cataline's evil deed?
  • Book II, Chapter 6 Why does Saint Augustine say that it is by a sinner's own deeds that he is himself harmed? What examples does he use to illustrate this point?
  • Book II, Chapter 7: When Saint Augustine looks back on his youth, to whom does he give credit for any sins he did NOT do?
  • Book II, Chapter 8: When Saint Augustine contemplates his sin, and asks whether he did this out of peer pressure, what paradoxical conclusion does he reach? How does this seem to contrast with his points in Chapter 9?
  • Book II, Chapter 9: When Saint Augustine discusses laughter, why is this point pertinent to figuring out if he was motivated by peer pressure or not?
  • Book II, Chapter 10: What do you think Saint Augustine mean when he says, "I became to myself a wasteland?"

Textbook Passages for Identification:

A: In that sixteenth year of my flesh, when the madness of lust held full sway in me--that madness which grants indulgence to human shamelessness, even though it is forbidden by thy laws--and I gave myself entirely to it. Meanwhile my family took no care to save me from ruin by marriage, for their sole care was that I should learn how to make a powerful speech and become a persuasive orator.

B: To whom am I narrating all this? Not to thee, O my God, but to my own kind in thy presence--to that small part of the human race who may chance to come upon these writings.

C: She deplored and, as I remember, warned me privately with great solicitude, "not to commit fornication; but above all things never to defile another man's wife." These appeared to me but wommanish counsels, which I would have blushed to obey. Yet they were from Thee, and I knew it not. I thought that thou wast silent, and that it was only she who spoke.

D. There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night--having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was --a group of young scoundrels--and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden.

E: I fell away from thee, O my God, and in my youth I wandered too far from thee, my true support. And I became to myself a wasteland.

Online Passages for Identification:

F. "If those . . . [pagan writers] have said things which are indeed true and are well accommodated to our faith, they should not be feared; rather, what they have said should be taken from them as from unjust possessors and converted to our use. Just as the Egyptians had not only idols and grave burdens which the people of Israel detested and avoided, so also they had vases and ornaments of gold and silver and clothing which the Israelites took with them secretly when they fled, as if to put them to a better use. . . . In the same way, all the teachings of the pagans contain not only simulated and superstitious imaginings . . . but also liberal disciplines more suited to the uses of truth, and some of the most useful precepts concerning morals. Even some truths concerning the worship of one God are discovered among them."

G. He had gone on to Rome before me to study law -- which was the worldly way that his parents were forever urging him to pursue -- and there he was carried away again with an incredible passion for the gladiatorial shows. For, although he had been utterly opposed to such spectacles and detested them, one day he met by chance a company of his acquaintances and fellow students returning from dinner; and, with a friendly violence, they drew him, resisting and objecting vehemently, into the amphitheater, on a day of those cruel and murderous shows. He protested to them: "Though you drag my body to that place and set me down there, you cannot force me to give my mind or lend my eyes to these shows. Thus I will be absent while present, and so overcome both you and them."

H. For, as soon as he saw the blood, he drank in with it a savage temper, and he did not turn away, but fixed his eyes on the bloody pastime, unwittingly drinking in the madness -- delighted with the wicked contest and drunk with blood lust. He was now no longer the same man who came in, but was one of the mob he came into, a true companion of those who had brought him thither.

I. But, wretched youth that I was -- supremely wretched even in the very outset of my youth -- I had entreated chastity of thee and had prayed, "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." For I was afraid lest thou shouldst hear me too soon, and too soon cure me of my disease of lust which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished.

J. "And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities." For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: "How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?"

K. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which -- coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, "Tolle! Lege! Tolle! Lege!" Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon.



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