Thursday, October 15, 2015

Confessions For Today

St Augustine
354 - 430 AD
I was reviewing my notes from Confessions by St. Augustine for another project I’m working on and was once again struck by the personal writing style found in this ancient book. Reading Confessions is like stepping back in time to learn from a master who wants to teach us today, especially when stumbling upon a paragraph like this one from Book 2, Paragraph 2.3.5 (in this edition). “To whom am I narrating this? Not to you, my God, but to my own kind in your presence – to that small part of the human race who may chance to come upon these writings. And to what end? That I and all who read them may understand what depths there are from which we are to cry to you.” Think about it; reading Confessions from A.D. 397 in the year 2015 is like someone reading this post in the year 3633!!!

First a couple of analogies; you may have heard the term “own the language”. When we are discussing the reality of intentionally killing unborn babies, use the language of “choice” to give the illusion of freedom. When discussing abnormal sexual behavior in the context of marriage use the language of “marriage equality” to give the illusion of justice. When discussing torture, use the language of “enhanced interrogation” to give the illusion of legitimate government business. We’ll hear more of this kind of talk as the elections gear-up into 2016. One-upmanship, one-liners and buzzwords can dominate the language.
St. Augustine speaks of language in Book 5, Paragraph 5.5.10. “…because a thing is eloquently expressed it should not be taken to be as necessarily true; nor because it is uttered with stammering lips should it be supposed false.” He goes on to give an analogy using food, where the food is the meaning behind the words and the dishes are the way the words are “served”. Spoiled food can be served on the finest china and wholesome food can be served on tattered paper plates; both kinds can be served on either. Today, “owning the language” mostly relates to serving rancid food on elegant dinner ware.


Another analogy involved drunkenness. We would not comprehend sleep unless we know what it means to be awake. We would not understand darkness unless we have experienced light. In a similar way, we cannot grasp drunkenness unless we are sober. St. Augustine tells us of teachers who are drunk. “I do deplore the wine of error which was poured out to us by teachers already drunk. And, unless we also drank we were beaten, without liberty of appeal to a sober judge” (book 1, par. 1.16.26). Think of today’s dictatorship of relativism. If you have your truth and I have mine, there is no sense in debating about it; might will make right in the end. Obey or be punished. The baker who refuses to bake a cake for a gay wedding will be “beaten, without liberty of appeal to a sober judge”; however, a pro-gun control photographer who refuses to take pictures at a “Sharpshooter of the Year” banquet organized by the local chapter of the NRA just might be shown some mercy.

In Book 1, Paragraph 1.5.6 I read something that sounded very familiar, but I could not quite place it. It said “I believe, therefore I speak.” After mulling it over a bit, it hit me as sounding very much like the famous philosophy of “I think, therefore I am.” What St. Augustine said sounds similar, but might as well come from the other side of the universe. “I believe, therefore I speak” acknowledges that the ability to proclaim Truth ultimately comes from something outside of ourselves. “I think, therefore I am” makes the reality of our own being dependent upon our own thinking. This is the rancid food and drunkenness we find ourselves dealing with today.
Read Confessions.

1 comment:

  1. I have read Augustine's book The Confessions.

    It's a very strange and unique book by a very unusual guy. Augustine was tormented by guilt and self loathing when he wrote this book I think. In my opinion this book may have been an over reaction by Augustine as he looked back on his past perhaps with too critical of a view.

    In any case The Confessions is considered a classic of Catholic literature.
    I heard a Catholic priest say there are 4 books that every Catholic should own:

    the bible
    the Catholic Catechism
    the Vatican 2 documents
    Augustine's Confessions

    I have read Augie's Confessions and the bible. I'm familiar with the Catechism and watch a TV show about it on the EWTN channel called Grab Your Catechism sometimes. I have not read any of the Vatican 2 documents.

    Augustine produced a tremendous amount of writing in his life. He wrote an amazing 5 million words. That would be like writing a 300 page book every year for 40 years.

    I have Augustine's book here where he tries to explain the Trinity. Reading that book, if I ever do, promises to be a mind bending experience I'm sure.

    We can call Augustine the Christian Plato. Augustine shows us what Plato would have been like if he had known about Christianity.

    The Trinity (I/5)
    (Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century)
    [Paperback – March 1, 2012]
    by Saint Augustine (Author), Edmund Hill OP (transl.) (Author),
    John E. Rotelle OSA (Editor)