Friday, March 23, 2012

"Confessions" [Books I-IV]

St. Augustine's Confessions has been an interesting book so far. On the one hand, as a Christian, I find it very relevant to my life, but on the other hand St. Augustine seems to place little value on liberal education. Since, as you know, I'm embarking on a liberal education myself by reading the Great Books, I have to disagree with St. Augustine on that point. Below is a commentary on things that I found interesting in each chapter (or 'book').

Book I

No doubt God is indescribable. However, I thought St. Augustine did an admirable job in the opening book of the Confessions:
"Most highest, most good, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful, yet most just; most hidden yet most present; most beautiful, yet most strong; stable, yet incomprehensible; unchanging, yet all-changing; never new, never old; all-renewing and bringing age upon the proud and they know it not; ever working, ever at rest; still gathering, yet nothing lacking; supporting, filling, and overspreading; creating, nourishing, and maturing; seeking, yet having all things. Thou lovest, without passion; art jealous, without anxiety; repentest, yet grievest not; art angry, yet serene; changest Thy works, Thy purpose unchanged; recievest again what Thou findest, yet didst never lose; never in need, yet rejoicing in gains; never covetous, yet exacting usury."
He is such a marvelous mystery.

One thing that jumped out at me was:
"For if I go down into hell, Thou art there."
I was always under the impression that Hell was the one place God was not - hence the suffering. Maybe I'm wrong in thinking this. I'll have to look into it.

Augustine's school woes immediately add a layer of humanity to the saint. Augustine describes his lack of interest in most of the subjects he was taught and the punishment he suffered for his lack of interest. He said, which I completely agree with, that education is really only successful if a genuine want to be educated is there. Interestingly, Augustine said that subjects like math and grammar he disliked and poetry he liked, but as an adult the roles switched. Here lies my greatest disagreement with Augustine. He says that math and grammar are useful, but poetry, though enjoyable, isn't very profitable. I could go on and on about this (and might one day), but for this post I will simply say that, speaking from experience, the math and science I have been instructed in (other than basic things like addition, subtraction etc.) have had much less bearing on my life than has the fiction I have read. Augustine doesn't like how the gods are portrayed in the Iliad - as immoral - and that it will lead to false beliefs about the divine nature. If Augustine means that children shouldn't read about the adulterous Zeus in the Iliad, I - along with Plato - agree with him. If he means the Iliad shouldn't be read by anyone, then I'll have to disagree with him.

Book II

Here Augustine laments how people who should be examples, tell you to abandon virtue for success. I definitely know what he means. Unlike Augustine, however, peer pressure has never been much of a temptation to me. I'm not saying this to my credit by the way. The fact that most (not all) of the vices that plague my age group hold almost no temptation for me, opens me up to the blackest vice of all - self-righteousness.

Interestingly, Augustine writes:
"To whom tell I this? not to Thee my God; but before Thee to mine own kind. even to that small portion as may light upon these writings of mine."
Little did he know that his book would become one of the Great Books of the Western World.

Book III

Augustine said that as a young man he had a soft spot for tragedies, but he considered this a bad thing. He said that tragedies have a self-pitying appeal. It reminded me a little of the band Evanescence. I like them, but I limit my listening because, like Augustine's view of tragedies, they often encourage self pity. 

I also found it interesting that Augustine showed his disgust at the gladiator games. Few things irritate me more than hearing "Well, they just didn't know better back then". Gah! Anyway, here's proof that they did.

Book IV

The end of this chapter was a delight to read. Augustine talked about how all joys are pointers to God and that He is the only thing that can truly satisfy us. I have a restless soul and, even though this idea is nothing new to me, I still really enjoyed it.

One thing concerned me a little though. Augustine said that he was the one among his peers to get through Aristotle without a tutor. Having just read the first books of Ethics and Politics, this has me worried that something major went clear over my head when reading Aristotle without me knowing it. If/when I re-read Aristotle's books, I'll probably do so with a commentary.

No comments:

Post a Comment