Prayer Confessions (Book 1)

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Confessions: Book I, chapters 1 – 10 « Project Augustine

As David passionately pursued after God in truth so shall we! The confessions of your mouth can empower your day, strengthen your faith and capture the presence of God! Augustinus — CE , son of a pagan, Patricius of Tagaste in North Africa, and his Christian wife Monica, while studying in Africa to become a rhetorician, plunged into a turmoil of philosophical and psychological doubts in search of truth, joining for a time the Manichaean society.

He became a teacher of grammar at Tagaste, and lived much under the influence of his mother and his friend Alypius.

Confessions Summary and Analysis of Book I -- Early Life

About he went to Rome and soon after to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric, being now attracted by the philosophy of the Sceptics and of the Neo-Platonists. His studies of Paul's letters with Alypius and the preaching of Bishop Ambrose led in to his rejection of all sensual habits and to his famous conversion from mixed beliefs to Christianity. He returned to Tagaste and there founded a religious community. Among events that receive special mention are: the reading of "Hortensius," the death of his best friend in Thagaste, his encounter with a drunk on the streets of Milan, and the unexpected visit of Ponticianus.

Each of these had a profound and lasting influence on Augustine. Each played a special role in the conversion process. For example, after reading "Hortensius," Augustine acquired a life-long thirst for Wisdom, and all that was not Wisdom left him ever after dissatisfied.

St. Augustine's Confessions

As Augustine remarks, "This book changed my affections. It turned my prayers to you, Lord, and caused me to have different purposes and desires" The death of his best friend deserves special mention primarily because it was the first of several very special events: this was one of those events that led Augustine to change his city of residence.

Overcome with sorrow, Augustine roamed Thagaste, but those familiar places reminded him of his deceased friend. He writes, "Less often would my eyes seek him where they were not used to seeing him, and from Thagaste I came to Carthage" It was unruly students in Carthage, along with rumors of better-behaved students in Rome, that prompted Augustine to sail for Rome.

Of this he says, "But you And of course, while at Rome Augustine competed successfully for an official position in Milan. When I say that certain inner experiences also served as sources of Augustine's conversion, I am referring to certain states of mind or certain feelings that preyed upon him. These were by and large experiences that in turn created a deep-seated sense of dissatisfaction in Augustine, and thus served as irritants that he sought to remove. Among such inner experiences, Augustine speaks at length of the sense of emptiness or sorrow he felt at various times in his life.

Very often this feeling would prevail at times when he was experiencing professional triumphs, or after having given in to particularly selfish pursuits. Another inner experience, Augustine's dissatisfaction with falsehood, served to propel him toward the truth. As committed as he was to the study of Manicheism, and as many years as he devoted to its teachings, ultimately he could not assent to its doctrines because he could not convince himself of their veracity.

He recounts similar experiences with astrology and skepticism. Although he dabbled in each, he ultimately abandoned belief in both for the same reason. Finally, two other inner experiences that served instrumentally in the conversion process were his sense of being chained rather than liberated by lust, and the unhappy situation of being torn in two by conflicting wills.

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Each of these experiences, creating as it did conflicts that raged fiercely in Augustine's heart, provided unique contributions to the conversion process. Each helped Augustine in very specific ways, and he did not hesitate to acknowledge them for what they were: means of grace.

On the whole, these inner experiences serve to highlight what may be called not only a theme, but possibly the thesis of the Confessions , that God has made us for Himself, and our hearts will be forever restless until they rest in Him Augustine certainly intends his readers to see in his own life proof of that assertion.

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To discuss the people who were instrumental in Augustine's conversion, requires that we turn our attention to a pattern that appears throughout the biographical books of the Confessions. Time and again throughout the Confessions Augustine refers to obstacle upon obstacle that stood in his way and prevented him from accepting the teachings of Christianity. But time after time some individual would come along to help ease him over the obstacle. This happens so frequently throughout the biographical books that this portion of the Confessions can be read with this pattern in mind: consider individually the obstacles that stood in his way, and then identify the individual or individuals who helped Augustine surmount that obstacle.

What were the obstacles to conversion? We can conveniently group them into intellectual and moral obstacles.

St. Augustine

The intellectual obstacles can be grouped under two sub-headings: 1 Augustine's ignorance of truth, and 2 Augustine's attachment to falsehood. And among the moral failings to which Augustine gives emphasis are pride and lust. Augustine details three types of pride, a pride reflected by his worldly ambition, an intellectual pride, and a spiritual pride. Lust however, is simply lust. First, the intellectual obstacles. Augustine makes it very clear that he was laboring under a two-fold intellectual burden prior to his conversion, the first was the fact that he did not have a true idea concerning some very important Christian teachings, and secondly, that he was attached to various false beliefs as well.

The primary Christian teachings about which Augustine was in ignorance were two: the nature of God, and the nature of evil. The false beliefs to which Augustine was committed were Manicheism, astrology, and for a very brief time skepticism. I will consider first Augustine's commitment to the various falsehoods, and the individuals whom he credits with helping him detach himself from them.

Augustine, though at best only a "hearer" in the Manichean sect rather than one of the elect, had connections with the sect for more than a decade. There were several people whom he credits with helping him break with Manicheism. He relates that his companion, Nebridius, devised some very good counter arguments to certain Manichean teachings. But there is no doubt-and this falls under the category of "God works in mysterious ways"-there is no doubt that the one person most responsible for Augustine's break with Manicheism was that sect's most famous spokesperson, the bishop Faustus.

For years, Augustine had had doubts and questions concerning many of the Manichean teachings, and for years he had been told to wait for the arrival of Faustus, the Manichean's most renowned apologist. When Augustine finally met Faustus and had the opportunity to converse with him, he realized that Faustus' renown was based more upon a certain native eloquence than brilliance.

But at least, when Faustus did not know the answers to Augustine's questions, he was humble enough to admit it, and Augustine admired him for that. But as he says, after meeting Faustus, his desire to become a Manichean collapsed completely, and his attachment to that falsehood was broken. But all my efforts by which I had determined to advance in that sect collapsed utterly as I came to know the man So this Faustus, who had been a fatal snare to so many men, now began, neither willing it nor knowing it, to loosen the snare in which I was caught.

Augustine traced his break with astrology to the influence of two acquaintances. The first of these was a man by the name of Vindicianus. At the time that Augustine met him,. Vindicianus was an older man, a physician.

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Vindicianus told Augustine that, as a young man, he had intended to become an astrologer and earn his living at it. But the more he studied astrology, the more convinced he became of its falsehood. He decided to become a physician instead. He shared his experience with Augustine, and as a friendly piece of advice, warned Augustine away from astrology as a waste of Augustine's time. But at that time in his life, Augustine was not ready to give up on astrology. It must have been several years after his meeting with Vindicianus that another acquaintance, Firminus, related to Augustine another personal story about astrology that finally helped Augustine break free of that falsehood.

It seemed that Firminus' father believed very strongly in the truth of astrology, and kept very accurate records of the time of individuals' births. It just so happened that Firminus and the child of a slave owned by a friend of Firminus' father, were born at exactly the same moment, and thus had identical horoscopes and should have had identical lives.

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