Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Analysis of “The Confessions of St. Augustine”

This essay will answer the following questions:

Who was the author?

When was the text written?

For whom was the text written?

Why type of text is this, what is its genre?

What was the purpose of the text?  What was it intended to do?

How does the text go about meeting its intended purpose? 

How does the text reflect its historical context?

What does the text tell us uniquely about the period in which it was written?



Analysis of “The Confessions of St. Augustine”
The selected text that I will be using to write this term paper is “The Confessions of St. Augustine.” The Confessions is make up of 13 books written by Saint Augustine of Hippo. The Confessions was written around 397-398 A.D. In this 13 books Augustine wrote about his life and he focused a lot on his spiritual life. Since this work was written when Augustine was around 40s, The Confessions was about his 30 years of life. The Confessions was the greatest work of Saint Augustine, this book is very famous and it is still widely read today. This book also has great impact on Christianity and theology.
Saint Augustine of Hippo was born in 354 A.D and he died in 430 A.D. He was born in North Africa, which was under the rule Roman Empire during that time. His mother was Saint Monica, she was a devout Christian. However, when Augustine was born his mother didn’t want him to be baptized, she wanted Augustine to be the one who make the decision by himself. This was unusual because most of the Christian parents that time would let their children be baptized since when they are baby. Before he become a Christian Augustine was a writer and teacher of rhetoric, Augustine taught in Thagaste, Carthage, Rome, and Milan. Augustine become Christian around 386 A.D. Then Augustine return to his home in North Africa. In 391 A.D. Augustine become the priest of Hippo, later in 395 A.D. Augustine become the Bishop of Hippo. While he was the priest and the bishop of Hippo, Augustine had written many great works that has big influence on the Western Christian culture and theology. During that time Augustine wrote the Confessions. Many years later Augustine wrote the “The City of God,” that works was another most famous works of Augustine. The City of God consists of 22 books, Augustine wrote “The City of God” as a response to the sack of Rome in 410 A.D. Augustine also wrote many other great theology books, but in this paper I will be focusing on “The Confessions.”
In the first book of “The Confessions” Augustine starts of by praising God. Augustine praise God of how great God is and how he created everything. Augustine talk about how powerful is God, and how small and weak and powerless he is. Then he said that he is a sinner and God is merciful and he keep repeating about how sinful and small and powerless he is. And Augustine talk about how he need God, and without God he is nothing. Then in chapter 7 of the first book Augustine the start mentioning about his infant. He mentioned that his infancy died long time. I think him probably trying to say that he is old. Then in that chapter he didn’t say anything else about his infant life, then the next chapter he talked more about his infant life. Then he talked about how we are sinner and even the baby sin too. He also told that he did not remember when he was a baby and he look at other baby to write this. Augustine did not give much detail about his birth, he did not tell us where or when. He did not mention his mother or father name. For me this reflected the culture during the time of Augustine. In today culture it is very important to know someone birthday and the day they died. If you look in a book you will usually see the birth year and death year under a person name when that book reference that person. Maybe the reason we do this is to distinguish between different person because their might be another person that has the same name. However, the culture in the time of Augustine must be different because he did not mentioned that date or place of his birth. This led me to another interpretation which is the intention of writing “The Confessions” is not to write his autobiography, and I still think that “The Confessions” is not really intended to be an autobiography because it mostly talk about his spiritual life and not really about his biography. And in some way the first 6 six chapter of book 1 support this, if Augustine view himself as weak and worthless, then he must not think too high of himself. Augustine probably don’t think that he is important or view himself as the founding father of Christian theology. Therefore, he is not focusing this book on himself and he is not writing an autobiography, but he is focusing this book on God. Augustine is showing us that God is great and God’s love is so great it is indescribable. Augustine showed how sinful and worthless he is, but how good God is, and how God love him and forgive him.
Then in chapter 8 of book 1, Augustine start talking about his boyhood. Augustine distinguish between infancy and boyhood by using the point that he could start speaking. It is very interesting to me that Augustine said he remembered how he learned to speak. Augustine must be super smart because by the time Augustine wrote this book he is in his 40s and he said that he still remember how he learned to speak. I’m only 20 and I don’t even remember anything before I was five. The first memory I had was when I am in kindergarten and those memories are very few and short and doesn’t make that much sense. Therefore, I am very stupid and Augustine is super smart because Augustine is saying he remember how he learned to speak and how he try to speak because he wanted to express his will. Augustine is relating every aspect of his life with his sinful nature, that’s the reason this book is call “The Confessions.”
Then for the rest of the book 1, Augustine pretty much talked about his education, and how he learn many things, and Augustine always talk about how bad he is and about his disobedience. One of the important thing I notice was that Augustine learned Greek in school, which is very common during that time period. However, after I take some time to think about it I now realized that great impact that Greek has on the Western civilization. Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, and the time of Alexander the Greek was at its highest. After Alexander the role of Greek political influence declined and in 146 BC the Roman conquered the Greek. However, the Greek cultural influence lasted very long, we can see that Roman culture was heavily influenced by the Greek and even though Greek rules ended long ago but people still studied Greek and many still speak Greek. Augustine was born about 600 years after Alexander the Great but Augustine still studied Greek. Greek must similar English during that time, although the British Empire is no longer ruling politically, but English are still spoken everywhere and taught all over the world. Therefore, Alexander the Great leave the long lasting influence by spreading the Greek language and culture.
In book 2 of the Confessions, Augustine starts talking about his sinful life during these age Augustine did a lot of sinful things. Like most of the teenager, Augustine experience many thing and he got addicted to many sinful thing. Augustine talks about how he is addicted to sex. Then Augustine also talk about stealing pears while he was with his friends. He go into details about what he had done, and he was right, sometimes it feel fun and exciting to do something that is wrong. If the pears was free or if nobody own that tree then he and his friend would not bother with the pears. Just like when there is a sign that said “Danger! DO NOT SWIM” then everyone would swim even if they don’t want to swim. There is something wrong with us, sometime it just feel cool and exciting to break the rule. In this book Augustine carefully analyze this problem and try to explain this sinful nature. At that time this was something different, the way Augustine try to analyze and explain his sinful nature was new, it is very modern to ask the question of why he do this and to try to explain. I am not saying that nobody ever think like that before. In Romans 7: 15 (NIV) Paul wrote: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In the Bible, Paul also try to explain this and he give the reason that it was his sinful nature that cause him to do this, Paul wrote in Romans 7:17-18 (NIV) “17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” In trying to explain this problem Augustine give the reason that it was his sinful nature and another reason he gave was that it is because he is with his friend so that is why he do it. And it is very reasonable and modern. In these day we call it “peer pressure.” And for the time of Augustine that was something very new that he discovered in his analysis. Even, Paul did not mention the effect of peer pressure. However, I don’t think it is the first time that human discovered peer pressure, I think that everyone know there was something about peer pressure already but no one has really analyze it deeply or wrote about it in detail.
Another thing I realize from reading book 2 was that Augustine was preparing to go to Carthage to continue his studies. His father was trying to raise money for him. So it is very similar to leaving for college in our time. At that time Augustine was about 16-17 years old, so it is very similar to us because we usually start college around 17-18 years old. This is kind of surprising because about 1500 years has passed and we still doing a lot of thing the same way. Furthermore, at that time Carthage was a very big and important city in North Africa. This is the reason why Augustine has to go study there.
In the third book, Augustine tell the story about his studies in Carthage, at first he was living his life as usual. Then one day Augustine read a book that was written by Cicero, the name of that book was "Hortensius." That is the point where we can see Augustine beginning to change. Reading "Hortensius" Augustine start seeking wisdom he started to think like philosopher, he wanted to know more and more. Also, while talking about the book "Hortensius" Augustine also told us that his father died when he was 17 years old but he didn’t go into detail about his father’s death. "Hortensius" inspired Augustine to start seeking the truth and to start asking question about life, therefore, Augustine was old enough that he reached the period of confusion and hopelessness. All of us at some point of growing up would come to face this questions of life. And it is usually around late teenage years, and Augustine was no different from us. Augustine start seeking the truth and he starts reading the Bible. However, Augustine read the Bible and think that it was not a good book and was hard to understand. And he think that the Bible is not as good as the other book such as the one written by Tully. This make me believe that the Bible that Augustine was reading was not the same as the one we have today, because during that time the Bible was not standardize yet and there are many difference versions and translations out there. Also, the Bible was not complete like the Bible we have today. Therefore, Augustine could have been reading some of the book that is not even in the Bible we have today, all he must be reading a bad translation. However, Augustine did not give us the detail about what he read or how much did he read. He also didn’t tell us what language was that Bible.
In the second halve of the third books, Augustine talk about his experience with the Manicheans. He explain about the Manicheans beliefs and he argued against the Manicheans beliefs. Then at the end of the book Augustine tell the story of the vision that his mother, Monica, saw. Augustine also told the story about his mother begging the bishop to try to talk with Augustine, but the bishop refused his mother but tell her that one day Augustine will become Christian. From reading this book, we can learn a lot about the Manicheans. We can learn about their beliefs and how it is difference from the Christian beliefs. The other thing that I realize was that during the time of Augustine there must be many different sects and many wrong teaching of Christianity. Also, we know that there must be quite a few Manicheans during the time of Augustine because Augustine read many Manicheans books and he also meet many Manichean believer. Another thing that we can notice is that Augustine live not too long after the Council of Nicaea in 325A.D. Therefore, in that time Christianity is not yet fully standardize; even the Bible is not fully completed. This leads to many beliefs and different interpretation about God and the Bible. Consequently, Augustine becoming a Manicheans is not that rare after all.
In the fourth book, Augustine tell us about the 9 years that he was teaching rhetoric. Augustine talk about his pursuit of worldly fame and fortune. He also tell us that he got a girl, but he didn’t married her. He didn’t tell us her name or talk much about this girl. Next, Augustine tell the story of a friend that he made while he was teaching in his hometown. However, after being a friend with that man for a year, Augustine’ friend died. Then Augustine talk about his sorrow and he explain how we all have to die one day, he also give the solution that if we have God then we would be able to face this problem because we should love God, who is eternal and God should be our friend. After his friend’s death, Augustine go back to Carthage. Then Augustine talk about one of the book he wrote while he was in Carthage, he talk about his mistake in writing that book and the wrong idea of God that he had during that time.
The first part of book five Augustine tell the story of his meeting with one of the Manichees; his name was “Faustus.” After talking to Faustus Augustine realized that many of the Manichees belief are wrong and Faustus cannot answer most of his questions. As a consequent, Augustine start to drift away from the Manichees faith. Then Augustine decided to go to Rome because he heard that the students at Rome are better than the students he is teaching at Carthage. His mother didn’t really wanted him to go to Rome, so Augustine lied to his mother and then he secretly leave at night while his mother was sleeping. Augustine also pointed out that God didn’t answered his mother’s prayer-she was asking God not to let Augustine leave. But God was answering her prayer for Augustine to become a Christian, because going to Rome was an important event that make Augustine become a Christian later. When Augustine arrived at Rome he got a bad fever, he said it is the punishment for the sins that he committed. Nevertheless, God is merciful and God heal Augustine while Augustine’s mother was also praying for him.  Then Augustine talk about how he still have some misunderstanding in theology although he was moving away from the Manichee’s beliefs. Augustine face a new problem with the student in Rome; the students in Rome was not paying Augustine, so when there was an opportunity to go teach at Milan, Augustine decided to go and teach in Milan. At Milan, Augustine meet Bishop Ambrose. After listening to Ambrose, Augustine’s questions and doubt start to go away one by one.  Augustine said at that time he become a “catechumen.”
In book six Augustine’s mother moved to Milan and live with him, she is still praying for him to become a Christian. Augustine said that the Bishop Ambrose is very busy and Augustine didn’t have time to talk with the Bishop, so a lot of Augustine’s doubt still remain. Then Augustine tell the story that he and his friends saw a drunken beggar who is happy while Augustine is sad even though things supposed to be in the opposite. Then Augustine try to explain this, he said that the beggar didn’t have the truth happiness but at least the beggar doesn’t have to be sad like Augustine. Then Augustine tell us about his friends: Alypius and Nebridius. Then Augustine got engaged to another girl, so he have to send his woman away, so she went back to North Africa leaving the son with Augustine.
The seventh book of the confession is mostly about Augustine’s theological view. He explain the view he had at that time and he also give answer to the question concerning the idea of God and evil. Then he talk about how the Bible is better than those Platonist books that he read.
In book eight, Augustine tell the story of how he converted to Christianity. First he tell us about an educated man name Victorinus, he was very similar to Augustine and he was able to become a Christian. Then Augustine talk about his struggle in becoming a Christian, it is hard for him to leave behind the sinful lifestyle and to give up all his sinful pleasure. Finally he prayed and he heard a voice telling him to read the Bible so he opened up the Bible and read the first paragraph that he sees, the verse that he read was from Romans 13:13-14. That verse is something like this “13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (NIV)” When he finished reading his doubt go away and he decided to leave his sinful lifestyle and become a Christian. Then he go tell his friend, Alypius. After that he go tell his mother about his conversion. And Augustine’s mother was happy then she praise God for what happened. At that time Augustine was 32 years old.
Augustine starts book nine by praising God and talk about his sins again. Then he talk about how he have problem with his lung, therefore, he have to stop teaching in Milan. Then Augustine go live with his friend called “Verecundus.” Then while Augustine was away in Rome his friend, Verecundus become sick and died, however, Verecundus become a Christian before he died. Then Augustine tell us about his other friend “Nebridius” who later become a Christian, and Nebridius help many other people become Christian too. Then Augustine discuss about Psalms that he read. After that he talk about his baptism along with his friend “Alypius” and his son “Adeodatus.” After that Augustine talk about the persecution by Justina, the mother of the Emperor Valentinian. Justina was an Arian so she persecuted Ambrose and try to make other become Arian too. Then he talk about how when they dig up the bodies of two martyr, some of the people who touched the bodies were healed. Then Augustine and his mother and another Christian man called “Evodius” decided to go back to North Africa. And on the way Augustine’s mother died at Tiberine Ostia. Then Augustine talk about his mother and the conversation with her about heaven. Then he go into detail about how his mother died, also at that point we learned that Augustine also has a brother. Because his brother was also there before his mother died. Then Augustine talk about his mother again and praise his mother.  At the end of the book Augustine pray for his mother, “Monica.”
Augustine stop talking about his life in book ten, and he start discussing his theological ideas. In this book Augustine discuss many philosophical questions in details. Augustine discuss about the nature of memory and how it work, also how memory is related to God. Augustine also discuss about the happiness of life. And he also discuss about temptations, Augustine also used his own example and experience to explain this. He ended the book with the need of Jesus Christ as the only way to God.
In the eleventh book Augustine discussed about the creation of the world. He also discussed about time, and how God is different from us because God is the one who created time, therefore he is not in the same dimension of time like us. At the end Augustine said that God know everything and God is smarter than us and we cannot even compare our knowledge with God’s knowledge.
In book twelve, Augustine go into details about how God created the world. He also discussed his old view of matters, and how it is wrong. Augustine go into details concerning matters, and how God created everything from nothing. Augustine also discussed the idea of heaven of heaven. Then Augustine discussed the other views and interpretation of Genesis. He also argued against the wrong views. He go into deep details about the writing of the book Genesis and how we should interpret it. He also discussed other opinions out there about how Genesis should be interpreted. It seemed like Augustine is very interested in the creation because he go into long and deep details about the creation he also give many interpretation and possibilities of what might really have happened. In the end Augustine can’t really conclude about what really happened and how things really worked. And this issue is still a big mysteries until today. There are many different views and interpretations out there. The Bible didn’t go into much detail about the creation, and people are still trying to figure out what really happened. However, just as Augustine said, we can’t know everything and there are many thing that is beyond human’s mind and understanding.
In the last book Augustine still discuss about Genesis and the creation. Augustine also discussed the idea of trinity. Augustine go into the very long details about the creation again, he discussed about animals and plants too. Augustine ended the book by saying that God is good and wise, he also remind us that the way to find out the answer is by asking God to give us the wisdom.
It seems like the idea of matters is very important to Augustine throughout the book Augustine had discussed a lot about matters and the nature of God. In the last 3 book of the Confessions, Augustine go into deep detail to explain how God created matters and everything. Above all, the reason that Augustine decided to leave the Manichees is because it could not answer a lot of Augustine questions about the nature of God and matters. This led me to the conclusion that Augustine is heavily influence by the Greek’s philosophy ideas. He is asking many questions in the same manner with Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek’s philosopher. Another interesting thing I see is that Augustine is very scientific, just like other Greek’s philosopher. Augustine was trying to explain how thing works and he was trying to reason his beliefs. We also see from his life story that he is interested in science. This reflect the culture during that period of time, at that time theology and science was the same thing. Philosopher are not much different from scientist and a lot of time philosopher are scientist too. People are trying to explain many supernatural phenomenon scientifically, and they were making a lot of sense. Unlike today, where educated people and scientist don’t believe in supernatural things, and everything has to be proven scientifically to be teach in science class at the school. And we have distinction between liberal art university and theological seminary, however during the time of Augustine there was no distinction. And at the time Augustine the word “science” meant a lot differently than what we think today.
When reading the Confessions, it seemed like Augustine is literally writing out his confessing prayer to God. Augustine used the second person pronouns words: “You” or “Thee” when referring to God (it depended on which translation you read), and use the word “I” when referring to himself. Therefore, it is possible that Augustine was writing this book for God. However, he couldn’t be writing this book for God only, because he also talk about a lot of his theological idea, and it would not make much sense to try to explain to God about your theological ideas, although Augustine confess many time of his wrong theological idea. This led me to conclude that Augustine is writing this book for many people, he is writing for God, but he is also writing to his fellow Christians or other non-believer who is going through spiritual life crisis like he was in his youth and maybe if they get to read his book then they might see the truth. When thinking about the intended purpose, I believe there are many purpose for this book. First, I think Augustine is trying to explain his theological idea and he is also trying to argue against other false ideas. Next, Augustine is probably trying to encourage other who is struggling like he was in overcoming their sinful life. And also to make other see the good thing that God has done in his life. There are also other minor purposes in writing this book too.
The Confessions become the most famous and the most widely read book in all of Augustine works. His theological idea about God, evil, creations, matters, and memory influence many western Christian ideas and we can find other later works that is strongly influence by Augustine and his works. I think that Augustine is a great writer and he is very good in Latin, even though when I read it in English translation is seem kind of repetitive. However, the rhetoric and the word usage must be really good in the original Latin version. After all, Augustine is a rhetorical teacher so his work must be very good, this also had a lot of impact on this book becoming one of the most famous book from that period. Also, the way he analyze his life and fully express his theological idea was considered pretty new for his period. So far as the discovery had been made many people consider the Confessions as one of first autobiography written. Although it is very different from the autobiography we have today, but it is still closer to being an autobiography book than any other book from that period and the period before that.
            Reading the confessions, I can hardly believe that this was written almost 1500 years ago. It seem like Augustine is not much different from us, the way he think is still very the same with us even how he live his life is very similar. He go to school for about ten years then he work about ten years then he retire. Not much has changes we still live the same way: we go to school, work, retire, and then died. This reflect that even though time has passed for many years we are all still the same. We all still make the same mistake life Augustine but I hope we all can turn around and found the truth just as Augustine did. Even though, many thing is the same but a lot of thing is different between our time and the time of Augustine. First, the education system where not standardize at that time like it is today. Also, the culture is different; not everyone has choice in choosing who they will married. The girl that Augustine was engaged to where very young and I strongly doubt that she has much opinion in the marriage. Also, we see that the government influenced the religion a lot and it is very different from how the government deal with religion today. We can see this when Bishop Ambrose was being persecuted although he is a Christian but the Emperor’s mother is Arian Christian. So even a small difference in beliefs can lead to persecution. From reading the Confessions, there are many other things that we can learn about life in the time of Augustine. Above all, we learn that no matter when, whether it is today or 1500 years ago, no matter how far the science has gotten, all of us still need God. We are no different from Augustine; without God, we are weak and hopeless. Without God, everything I do would be meaningless. Every paper I wrote would be worthless. For Jesus told me it is vain to gain the whole world and lose my soul (Matthew 16:26). As well as Augustine also said only in God alone is our hope and our joy.

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