“The Confessions of Saint Augustine’ is an autobiography that is divided into 13 books based on his journey into Catholicism. The first nine books are based on his life from birth up until he converted into Catholicism in 368 AD. The last four books are no longer about his life, but rather the interpretation of the Book of Genesis, religious and philosophical issues of memory, time and eternity. St. Augustine was a philosopher before his conversion into the Catholic faith. As a philosopher, he criticized Christianity because he thought it was too simplistic and unintelligent. Although at first he struggled with the existence of God, St. Augustine has become a role model for society today. Augustine focuses on redemption and the creation of God in that all things in the world begin with God. The purpose of this essay is to explore “The Confessions of Saint Augustine”. First, this essay will discuss the life St. Augustine lived prior to his conversion. Next, it will examine why St. Augustine is a great role model for all humanity. Lastly, this paper will shed light on St. Augustine’s understanding of the nature and substance of God.
St. Augustine was born and raised in Thagaste, in Eastern Algeria. Augustine came from a lower class, but with family sacrifices he was able to study and have opportunities that his parents did not have. His father did not practice religion but his mother Monica was a faithful Catholic. She was very influential in his life encouraging him to embrace the Catholic faith and have a good education. At the age of 12, Augustine moved to the town of Madauros where he learned more about Paganism. At the age of 16, when he returned to his home, he learned rhetoric and at this point of his life he encountered the great sin of lust, “Upon his returning home, Augustine was of age to marry, but his parents had nothing arranged, so he began to seek out and indulge in sexual activity outside of marriage” (Gafford, 16). He blames his parents for having committed these sins because they have not arranged a marriage for him. This was his first time encountering this greatest sin within the Bible:
And then he added, ‘It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you’. (Mark. 7:20-23)
Augustine admits that he started to sin since he was child, “But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in him but in myself and his other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion and error” (Hipponensis, 20). It is evident that Augustine was looking for pleasure for himself and with others. As a teenager and student, Augustine had desires for sexual adventures and materials items rather than having a relationship with God. His behaviour, especially when he was in the company of his friends, was geared towards committing a sin and behaving in a rebellious manner as opposed to embracing spirituality. An example of this is when Augustine and his friends went to the neighbours home to steal pears from the orchard. The only reason they wanted to steal the pears was because they were more fascinated with committing a crime such as theft:
Yet I lusted to thieve and did it, not compelled by hunger or poverty but because I had my fill of well-doing and was a glutton for evildoing. I stole things of which I already had enough, and of much better quality. And I did not care to enjoy what I stole but took pleasure in the theft and in sin itself. (Hipponensis, 42)
Augustine was not stealing the pears because he was hungry or wanted to provide food to those less fortunate but rather it was a mischievous act to enjoy the pleasures of sin. He committed the act of theft not for necessity but for the act of his own pleasurable desires. Throughout his life he thought about God, which resulted in him becoming a devoted Christian. Augustine looked at events in his life and tried to understand why human beings commit acts of evil and sin. His struggles and sins led him to finding his real truth and bringing him closer to God.
Before his conversion, Augustine felt that if God was the creator of all things and He is good, there should be no evil. Although he struggled with the meaning of the word God, once he found the truth of the word God, it set him free. This devotion to God makes him a great role model for all humanity. Once he embraced his faith in God, he realized that people should contemplate their actions before doing something, “He emphasizes God’s providential plan, and he notes the importance of contemplation, reflection on God, and meeting the needs of the poor” (VanderVeen, Porter 1). Reflecting on God such as showing devotion by going to church, praying and asking for forgiveness is essential in finding one’s truth. St. Augustine also provided assistance to individuals who lived in poverty and in desperate need of help. Helping those who are less fortunate is an excellent example of the great role model he is to society today. There is a connection to St. Augustine and society today because some individuals are only concerned about the material objects around them as opposed to finding their own spiritual truth or path. For St. Augustine, finding his truth in God led him to salvation and a place where he could feel at peace with himself to rejoice and praise God. St Augustine did his best to provide support and assistance to those who needed it. Christianity advocates for an individual to be humble and that one should avoid wealth and power if it is associated with sin. Humility can be viewed as a weakness however; not all weaknesses are negative, “Let the strong and mighty laugh at men like me: let us, the weak and the poor, confess our sins to you (Hipponensis, 72). St. Augustine does not refer to weakness as a negative aspect but rather a positive one. In essence, this weakness is portrayed as a strength that encourages an individual to abstain from sin that encourages power and wealth and to be humble with oneself and those around them. The Beatitudes states, “blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew, 5:5). St. Augustine’s conversion to Christianity was genuine and he realized that God is present in everyone. Finding truth within oneself as did Augustine will benefit and enrich one’s spirituality in the Church. Being compassionate, devoted and dedicated to God, exhibits the qualities to make him an excellent role model to all humanity.
St. Augustine was a philosopher before turning to the Catholic faith. He imagined God “to have the shape of the human flesh” rather than a spiritual entity. It was when he learned the Neoplatonic philosophy that the notion of God was that of a spiritual being. Once St. Augustine had the realization that God is a spiritual being rather that of human form, he became a faithful Catholic and embraced his faith:
My God, you mercy on me even before I had confessed to you; but I now confess that all this was because I tried to find you, not through the understanding of the mind, by which you meant us to be superior to the beasts, but through the sense of the flesh. (Hipponensis, 56)
St. Augustine was only able to think of how things and objects were of a physical form until his conversion. In his early life, as a philosopher, he was only interested in proving theories, meaning that when he searched for answers, he wanted certainty. He later came to realize that the wisdom of God is not a physical one and that the search for God is in oneself as opposed to a human form in the world. St. Augustine struggled with the existence of God. Once he realized that God was not material, but instead He is everywhere and is present everywhere through all things and that God is in the universe. St.Augustine also struggled with the existence of evil and sin and often questioned if everything in God is good than why did evil and sin exist? Through his conversion, he came to understand that God and His wisdom is not in one place at one time but rather He is everywhere, “And while we spoke of the eternal Wisdom, longing for it and straining for it with all the strength of our hearts, for one fleeting instant we reached out and touched it” (Hipponensis, 215). Humanity can affect one’s understanding of everything, however; understanding one’s spirituality can bring forth great wisdom in the understanding of God rather than the general idea of wisdom itself. St. Augustine’s spiritual enlightenment truly helped him understand the nature and substance of God.
In conclusion, “The Confessions of St. Augustine” not only tells the story of Augustine’s sins and desires but focuses on his conversion to becoming a faithful follower of God. St. Augustine uses the word “confession” not only to confess his sins, but to also find his way to praise God. Although doubtful with the notion of God at first, he came to realize that God is within him and was able to find inner peace. St. Augustine’s devotion to God and helping those in need portray him as an excellent role model to all humanity today. If society would take the time to allow spirituality to enter their lives and hearts, less evil and sinful temptations could possibly exist. His philosophical search for the truth in the true meaning of God was pivotal in his conversion. His realization that God is not of human form further proves his understanding of the nature and substance of God. Always searching for justifiable answers may not necessarily be a solution to challenges that one may face today, however, searching for one’s truth and feeling connected to God may guide an individual in finding their own salvation.
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- Gafford II, Joe A. “Tenor of Our Times”. The Life and Conversion of Augustine of Hippo, vol.4, no. 4, Harding University, 2015. https://scholarworks.harding.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi? article=1050&context=tenor. Accessed 19 Feb 2019.
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