Course: The Confessions of Saint Augustine. A classic of Religious Literature Fu Jen University, Taiwan

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The Structure of the Divine Names in Conf. 1.1.4

Group I

1. summe, optime, Highest, Best,

2. potentissime, omnipotentissime (a), Most Powerful, Most Omnipotent,

3. misericordissme et iustissime (b), Most Merciful and Most Just,

4. secretissime et praesentissime, Most Hidden and Most Present,

5. pulcherrime et fortissime, Most Beautiful and Most Strong,

Group II

1. stabilis et incomprehensibilis, Unmoving and incomprehensible,

2. inmutabilis, mutans omnia, Unchanging, changing all things,

3. numquam novus, numquam vetus, Never new, never old,

4. innovans omnia et in vetustatem Renewing all things and drawing the proud

perducens superbos et nesciunt (c). back to decrepitude and they know it not.

5. semper agens, semper quietus, Always in act, always at rest,

6. conligens (d) et non egens. Gathering together and not in need [of anything].

Group III

1. portans et implens (e) et protegens, Supporting and filling and protecting,

2. creans et nutriens et perficiens. Creating and nourishing and completing.
Group IV

1. quaerens, cum nihil desit tibi, Seeking, though nothing is lacking to You,

2. amas nec aestuas, You love and You are not agitated,

3. zelas (f) et securus es, You are jealous and You are undisturbed,

4. paenitet te (g) et non dolet, You repent and do not grieve,

5. irasceris (h) et tranquillus es, You are angry and are at peace,

6. opera mutas (i) nec mutas consilium (j), You change your works but not your plan,

7. recipis quod invenis et You take back what You find and have

numquam amisisti, never lost,

8. numquam inops et gaudes lucris, Never in need and rejoicing in what You gain,

9. numquam avarus et usuras exigis, Never greedy and [still] demanding interest,

10. supererogatur tibi ut debeas (k), Over payment is made to You so You may be a

et quis habet quicquam non tuum? (l) debtor, yet who has anything that is not yours?

11. reddis debita, nulli debens, You pay debts though in debt to no one,

12. donas debita (m), nihil perdens. You cancel debts without losing anything.
(a) Jb. 8:5, etc.; (b) Ps. 114:5; (c) Jb. 9:5;l (d) Ps. 146:2; (e) Jer. 23:24); (f) Ps. 78:5; (g) Gen. 6:6; (h) Ps. 105:10; (i) Ps. 101:26; (j) Ps. 32:11; (k) Lk. 10:35; (l) 1 Cor. 4:7; (m) Mt. 18:32.

In these books Augustine continues his confessions concerning his life between about age 16 in Thagaste (370 AD) and his time in Carthage, Rome, and Milan to about age 30 (384 AD). These books contain accounts of stages of descent into sin, as well as initial attempts to move back to God. Many themes are introduced and there are various structuring principles at work. Two that are especially significant are:

a) The general pattern of descensus/ascensus, that is the descent into sin and the ascent, or reversion process, made possible by Christ (see especially 4.12); and

b) The threefold root of all sin, based on a passage in 1 John 2:16—omne quod est in mundo, concupiscentia carnis et concupiscentia oculorum et ambitio saeculi (Old Latin Version: “Everything in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, or worldly ambition”). Augustine stresses the importance of this in Conf. 10.35 and many scholars have seen it as influential on the structure of books 2-8, specifically in the following chiastic structure:

--concupiscentia carnis (found in Bks. 2-4, esp. 2) – not overcome until Bk. 8

--concupiscentia oculorum (= curiositas, i.e., pursuit of useless or harmful

knowledge, stressed in Bk. 3) – overcome in Bk. 7

--ambitio saeculi (Bk. 4, esp. 4.7) – overcome in Bk. 6

In this lecture I will once again provide for each book: (1) an outline of the structure of the book; (2) some key passages for careful reading; and (3) some questions for consideration in class discussion.

I. Book 2
(1) Structure of Book

2.1: Initial act of confessio

2.2-3: Adolescence and sexual awakening

2:4-10: Theft of the Pears

(2.4: description of the incident

(2.5: meditation on evil human desires

(2.6-10: Augustine’s real motives reveal the nature of sin
(2) Special Reading will be needed of the whole of Bk. 2:4-10
(3) Questions for Discussion:

--Why did Augustine choose this relatively insignificant incident for such a

detailed examination?

--Lust seems to be the major aspect of his confession of sin, so why choose an

example of theft?

--Is it possible to explain evil?

--What motivation “explains” his evil act?

--What is the relation between this incident and biblical teaching on sin?

--Augustine closes Bk. 2 with the famous phrase that he has become a regio

egestatis, that is, “land of wanting, or wastefulness.” How would you explain this?
II. Book 3
(1) Structure of the Book

3.1-3: Student life at Carthage

(3.1: being “in love with love”

(3.2: the theatre and the difference between sorrow and pity

(3.3.: the delusions of law and rhetoric

3.4-10: First Stirrings of the Pursuit of Truth

(3.4: Reading Cicero’s Hortensius (ca. 373)

(3.5: A first look at the Bible

(3.6: Joining the Manichees

(3.7: Troubling philosophical questions

(3.8: The three fundamental forms of sin (1 Jn. 2:16 introduced)

(3.9: Human and divine judgment

(3.10: Manichaean errors

3.11-12: Monica’s concern for Augustine and her dream

(2) Careful Reading of 3.1, 3.4, and 3.6-7.
(3) Questions for Discussion

--What does Augustine mean by “being in love with love”? Why is this wrong?

--Augustine testifies to the effect that reading Cicero’s Hortensius had on him at

age 19. What did it do for him? In what way was it lacking?

--Why did Augustine join the Manichees after being “converted” to philosophy?

--What are the philosophical issues that worry Augustine, especially in 3.6-7?

--Why is the issue of whether or not Justice changes important for him?

III. Book 4.
(1) Structure of the Book. Augustine’s life in Carthage and Thageste (c. 373-82 AD)

4.1: Another act of confessio as introduction

4.2-3: Augustine at Carthage

(4.2: Augustine’s mistress

(4.3: Augustine and astrology

4.4-9: Augustine back in Thagaste. The death of a close friend.

(4.4: the death of Augustine’s friend

(4.5-7: a meditation on grief

(4.8-9: meditations on time and friendship

4.10-12: Further speculation on difficult problems

(4.10-11: time and speaking

(4.12: the order of love and movement up and down

4.13-16: Augustine back in Carthage

(4.13-15: writing his first work (now lost) and his errors

(4.16: reading Aristotle
(2) Please give careful reading to 4.1-2, 4.4-6, and 4.12
(3) Questions for Discussion:

--How do you read Augustine’s attitude towards his mistress? Did he “love” her?

--Why is Augustine so troubled over his grief for his dead friend? What is wrong

with this grief?

--What is Augustine’s theology of grief?

--What is the role of Christ in this Book?

--Book 4.4.9 contains one of the more famous texts from the Confessionsfactus

eram ipse mihi magna quaestio (“I have become a great question to myself”).

What leads Augustine to posing this question here and what does it


--How does Augustine understand love of God and love of neighbor in 4.12?

IV. Book 5. Augustine goes to Italy. Note that books 1-4 take place in Africa, while books 5-9 take place in Italy.
(1) Structure of the Book

5.1-2: Initial act of confessio

5.3-7: Augustine’s encounter with Faustus the Manichaean at Carthage

(5.3: Anticipating Faustus

(5.4-5: errors of the Manichaeans

(5.6-7: Faustus as a disappointment

5.8-12: Augustine goes to Rome (383 AD)

(5.8: another confession

(5.9: Augustine’s illness at Rome—sins and original sin

(5.10-12: Augustine’s problems at Rome; disillusionment with the Manichees

5.13-14: Augustine goes to Milan and meets Ambrose
(2) Passages for Close Reading: 5.1-2, 5.6, 5.9, 5.10, and 5.14
(3) Questions for Discussion:

--Book 5 is the middle book of the “historical” sections (Bks. 1-9). Is there any

thing in this book that suggests it functions as a structural center?

--Once again, Augustine opens this chapter with an act of confession? Is there

anything new added here?

--What did Augustine’s disappointment over meeting with Faustus have to teach

him about the nature of truth?

--Augustine is now clearer about the errors of the Manichees (e.g., 5.10). How

would you summarize these errors?

--What did Augustine find liberating about Ambrose’s mode of interpreting the


--How does Augustine describe his state now that he is definitely attracted to

Christianity? What has he gained? What does he still lack?

In these two books Augustine describes his situation in Milan, living with his mother, mistress and child, as well as a group of friends, in the period ca. 384-86. This was a time of major development for him as he struggled to pursue philosophia (i.e., love of wisdom), to find out more about Christianity, and to overcome his own sins and failings. It is an “in-between” state, but one in which the intellectual pursuit of truth, first enkindled by reading Cicero’s Hortensius (Bk. 3.4), is progressing, even if other aspects of his life are stuck.
I. Book 6. As Eric Plumer points out (A Reader’s Companion to Augustine’s Confessions, 89-90), this book is perhaps the richest in terms of a presentation of character and incident (Monica, Ambrose, Alypius, Augustine’s mistress, the happy beggar).
(1) Structure of the Book.

6.1-6: Augustine and Monica at Milan

(6.1-2: Monica’s vision and her piety

(6.3: Encounters with Ambrose

(6.4-5: Faith and reason issues

(6.6: the account of the happy beggar

6.7-10: Augustine and Alypius

6.11: Augustine’s state of mind at age 30 (384 AD)

6.12-13: Marriage plans

6. 14: Philosophical plans: an ideal community

6.15: Augustine’s mistress sent away

6.16: Inner turmoil in Augustine’s soul

(2) Passages for Close Reading: 6.1, 6.4-5, 6.11, 6.15-16
(3) Questions for Discussion

--What is the role of faith in this book?

--Why do stories about Alypius take up so much space in this book? What are

Alypius’s virtues? What are his vices?

--Why does Augustine eventually agree with Alypius that marriage is

incompatible with the pursuit of wisdom?

--Why was Augustine’s mistress sent away? Does this seem fair? Why did he take

another mistress?

--What is the source of Augustine’s inner turmoil?

Book 7. This book marks an important stage in Augustine’s conversion to truth about God and the overcoming of curiositas (vain and useless imagining). It also includes accounts of Augustine’s ascent to momentary “visions” of God. Nevertheless, intellectual conversion is not enough.
(1) Structure of the Book

7.1-7: A survey of Augustine’s intellectual problems

(7.1-2: God as immutable and incorporeal; Manichaeans are wrong

(7.3: Whence comes evil I? The problem of free will

(7.4: God’s nature

(7.5: Whence comes evil II?

(7.6-7: the break with astrology, but continuing turmoil within

7.8-17: The effect of reading “the books of the Platonists”

(7.8: God takes pity on Augustine

(7.9: Reading the books of the Platonists

(7.10: Introversion and Ascent I

(7.11-16: God and the nature of evil as perversion of the will

(7.17: Introversion and Ascent II

7.18-21: the Need for Christ

(7.18: Christ as Mediator

(7.19: Christological errors corrected

(7.20: Reflections on Platonic ascent

(7.21: turning to Paul

(2) Passages for Close Reading: 7.1 and 4 (on the nature of God), 7.9-10 (the Platonic books and Augustine’s first ascent), 7.12 and 16 (What is evil?), 7.18-21 (role of Christ and deficiencies of Platonism)
(3) Questions for Discussion:

--Augustine has now reached truth about God. How did he overcome his

materialistic conception of God? What are the decisive truths about

God that he has attained?

--What did the Platonists teach him about God? What was lacking in the books of

the Platonists? Why does he cite the Bible instead of the Platonists’ books

here (7.9-10)?

--What did Augustine experience in Bk 7.10? Why was the experience short and


--There has been a debate over the ascent texts of 7.10 and 7.17, with many

scholars (e.g., P. Courcelle) taking them as accounts of actual mystical

experiences of ca. 386), while some other scholars (e.g., R. O’Connell, P.

Cary) insist that they are meditations on particular forms of philosophical

insight. What do you think?

--What does Augustine finally realize about the nature of evil?

--How does Augustine describe his “breakthrough” about the correct view of

Christ toward the end of this book?

--What does Augustine gain from reading Paul’s Epistles?

In these two books Augustine brings the story of his conversion to its conclusion, dealing with events that took place in Milan and Rome during the years 386 to 388. These books tie together many of the themes that have guided his earlier presentation of his life, but also add important new material on grace, the true nature of love, and the goal of human life in attaining contact with God.
Book 8. The culmination of Augustine’s process of conversion, but (in the truest sense) life is always a process of conversio for Augustine. This book is structured around two conversations leading up to the famous garden scene. The influence of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is evident throughout (8.1 cites Rom. 1:21-22; 8.4 cites Rom. 4:17; 8.5 cites Rom. 7:16-17 and 22-25; 8.10 cites Rom. 7:17, 20; and 8.12 cites Rom. 13:13 and 14:1).
(1) Structure of the Book.

8.1: Introduction. Augustine’s life still in confusion

8.2-5: Augustine’s conversation with Simplicianus

(8.2: the story of the conversion of Victorinus

(8.3-4: intellectual issues discussed

(8.5: two wills contend in Augustine

8.6-7: Augustine’s conversation with Ponticianus

(8.6: Ponticianus tells the story of Antony and of the monks of Trier

(8.7: God is turning Augustine around

8.8-12: Augustine in the garden

(8.8: Augustine and Alypius in the garden

(8.9: the divided will

(8.10: Manichaean errors about the divided will

(8.11: Augustine in crisis

(8.12: Tolle, lege! (“Take and read!”); Augustine reads Rom. 13:13; the roles of

Alypius and Monica in this scene

(2) Passages for Close Reading: The whole of the book is importance, but be sure to study 8.5 and 8.8-12.

N.B. Scholars beginning with A. Von Harnack, and continuing with P. Courcelle and L. Ferrari, have cast doubts on the “historicity” of the conversion scene for a variety of reasons, such as the fact that Augustine does not make much use of Rom. 13:13 in his other writings. For a discussion of the issues and defense of the broadly historical character of the narrative, see O’Donnell, Augustine’s Confessions III:59-69.

(3) Questions for Discussion:

--What is the function of the two conversations that preceed the garden account?

--What is the souce of the two wills?

--Why are the Manichaeans wrong about the divided will?

--Is there any significance to the location of the conversion?

--What is the significance of the child’s voice and why does Augustine obey it?

--In picking up Paul and opening him at random isn’t Augustine giving his life

over to chance (see the comment of Vindicianus in Conf. 4.3)?

--What does he find in Paul that he did not find before?

--Why are Alypius and Monica also featured in the conversion account?

ADDENDUM. Augustine’s Doctrine of Grace.

“Grace” (Gk.: charis; Lat.: gratia) means “gift.” In one sense everything we have is a grace or gift from God, but in Christian teaching grace is generally used in the more restricted sense of the special gift that God gives to fallen humans to rescue them from sin and allow them to share in God’s own way of life. God’s saving grace is given freely, but it is also received by a human person who has been given free will as a constituent part of nature. Therefore, a series of issues emerged in Christian teaching about the essence of grace and its relation to human freedom. These issues, which are rooted in the Bible, especially in the writings of Paul, include:

a) What was the effect of Adam’s fall on human nature?

b) What kind of freedom remains after the Fall?

c) What is grace and what are the channels by which it is communicated?

d) Granted that grace is necessary for salvation, what contribution do we make?

Augustine pondered these questions throughout his life and his teaching changed and developed over the years. As the “doctor of grace” (doctor gratiae) his teaching remained very influential on Western (not Eastern) theologies of grace for many centuries, but in different ways, especially because of the evolution in his views (e.g., the early Augustine advanced views that the later Augustine rejected). In the last twenty years of his life, especially because of his encounter with the views of Pelagius and his followers, Augustine wrote a number of treatises on grace.

Although the Confessions do not discuss grace in an explicit way (the term occurs most often in book 10), Augustine’s thoughts on grace and freedom are essential for understanding the work, nowhere more than in Book 8. In order to situate this context here is a brief outline of how Augustine’s teaching on grace developed down to the time of the Confessions:

(1) Augustine’s earliest writings (ca. 387-94) did not say much about grace. In works like the De libero arbitrio (On Free Choice) written between 388 and 394 Augustine emphasized the power of free choice to combat the Manichaeans who held that the evil god had enchained humans. For example, in book 2 he says, “For man, insofar as he is man, is good because he can live aright if he chooses to do so.” Pelagius and his followers later cited these passages against Augustine when he attacked them for saying the same thing. In his Retractions Augustine tried to defend himself, saying: “In these and similar statements of mine, because there was no mention of the grace of God, which was not the subject under discussion at the time, the Pelagians think or may think that we held their opinion. But they are mistaken in thinking this.”

(2) In the years immediately preceding the writing of the Confessions Augustine began thinking more about grace, largely because of his reading and commenting on Paul’s epistles (he wrote two commentaries on Romans and one on Galatians during this time). He now clearly recognized that due to the effects of Adam’s sin (original sin), grace was necessary for fallen humans in order to perform good actions. (Pelagius denied this.) But Augustine still held positions he was later to reject, specifically what came to be called “Semipelagianism,” that is, the teaching that even after the fall humans retain sufficient freedom to turn to God on their own and beg for the grace to overcome sin. As he put it in his Exposition of Some Propositions from the Epistle to the Romans: “Therefore, let the man lying low, when he realizes that he cannot rise by himself, implore the aid of the Liberator, for then comes grace…”

(3) In 397 Augustine wrote to his old friend Simplicianus, now bishop of Milan after the death of Ambrose. In this treatise, On Various Questions to Simplicianus, he rejected the “Semi-Pelagian” view that he had recently put forth. Now even turning to God to ask for grace is impossible without the aid of prevenient grace. For example, he says: “God calls in his mercy, and not as rewarding the merits of faith [i.e., our turning to God]. The merits of faith follow his calling rather than precede it.”

Augustine’s theology of grace was to evolve much more, especially after 411, but the theology of grace he had worked out by 397 is doubtless a part of the motivation he had for the writing of the Confessions.

Book 9. Birth and death are major themes. Augustine has died to his old sinful life and will be reborn through baptism. Monica, have birthed Augustine, both in life and in the life of grace, will die. Other deaths and rebirths in baptism are noted. Augustine and Monica enjoy a brief foretaste of heaven, before Augustine goes back to Africa to begin a new life.
(1) Structure of the Book

9.1: Thanksgiving to God for restoring his freedom.

9.2: Wrapping up things in Milan; Augustine gives up teaching

9.3-5: Augustine and his friends at Cassiciacum

(9.3: Verecundus and Nebridius

(9.4: Augustine’s early writings; love for the Psalms

(9.5: decision to be baptized

9.6-7: Augustine and his son Adeodatus baptized

9.8-13: Monica’s life and death reviewed

(9.8-9: Setting out for Africa; confessing thanks for Monica’s life

(9.10: Augustine and Monica experience a foretaste of heaven

(9.11: Monica’s death two weeks later

(9.12: Augustine’s grief; confessio and an appeal to the reader

(9.13: Augustine prays for his mother

(2) Passages for Close Reading: 9.1, 9.8-10, 9.12-13
(3) Questions for Discussion:

--Why did Augustine and his friends retreat to Cassiciacum?

--Does it seem strange that Augustine does not make more of his baptism?

--Why does Augustine include the story about Monica’s drunkenness (9.8)? What

is his attitude towards his son Adeodatus (9.6) and his father, Patricius (9.9)?

--What happened at Ostia? Is the location important? Is the timing significant?

Why are Augustine and Monica together? What did they experience? Is this

the “vision of Ostia” as it is often called?

--How would you describe the role of knowing and of loving in the ascent to God

portrayed in 9.10?

--Book 9 contains five deaths, culminating in that of Monica (Books 1-8 only

record 2 deaths). Is this significant? What might it suggest?

--Why is Augustine sad about being sad over his mother’s death?

COURSE.2: The Second Part of Augustine, Confessions
Fu Jen University

B. McGinn

April 2009

LECTURE 6. CONFESSIONS Bk. 10: What is Memory? What is Happiness?
Book 10 is the longest book in the Confessions and its relation to the other books, as well as its own internal structure, has produced a good deal of discussion. The theory that the book was a later insertion has now been rejected and it is clear that the book is more than a summation of books 1-9. It seems best to see book 10 as the connecting book, which looks back to books 1-9 to provide new insight on the meaning of the act of confessio (this is why it begins with the most extensive explanation of confessing in 10.1-5) at the same time that it looks forward to books 11-13 in which the story of Augustine’s life will be seen against the wider background of the biblical account of the creation and history. In books 1-9 Augustine was reflecting on his past through present memory, while in book 10 he is reflecting on his present in present memory. Thus, one way of understanding the relation of the books is the movement from memories (bks. 1-9) to memory and happiness (bk. 10) to the problem of creation and time (bk. 11), to end in a consideration of the relation of time and eternity (bks. 12-13).

The structure of the book also illustrates the basic pattern of ascent/descent found throughout the Confessions, and, as James O’Donnell, argues (Augustine’s Confessions III:151-53) has a close relationship to the mystical ascent in book 9.10. In his words: “This is no longer an account of something that happened somewhere else long ago; the text itself become the ascent. The text no longer narrates mystical experience, it becomes itself a mystical experience…” I agree with Pamela Bright, however (A Reader’s Companion to Augustine’s Confessions, 158-65), that the best way to view the use of the ascent/descent paradigm in this book is to see it in the form of a three-panelled triptych, as illustrated here.

(1) Structure of the Book.

10.1-5: Introduction: The nature of confessio

10.6-19: Panel I--Ascent of the God-seeking self by descending into memoria

(10.6-7: What do I love in loving God? Ascent from material universe and from

the reasoning soul (see book 9.10)

(10.8-9: ascent (descent) into memoria

(10.10-19: exploration of memoria

--10.10-11: memoria and ideas

--10.12: the principles of thinking

--10.13: How memoria is found

--10.14: memoria and feelings

--10.15: memoria and images

--10.16: How can we remember forgetfulness?

--10.17: memoria and the self. Ascent to God must go beyond the soul

(book 9.10)

--10.18-19: lost and found in memoria

10.20-27: Panel II--What is true happiness?

(10.20-25: Joy and happiness are found only in God and God is in memoria

(10.26-27: God is present within and above us as Truth and Beauty.

10.28- 41: Panel III: Descent of the sick self still subject to the triple temptation (1 Jn.

2:16) of concupiscentia carnis, concupiscentia oculorum, ambitio


(10.28-29: Augustine is still a “burden to himself”

(10.30-34: 1st Temptation—concupiscentia carnis and temptations of the senses

(touch, taste, hearing, smell, sight)

(10.35: 2nd Temptation—concupiscentia oculorum (curiosity) and temptations of

the mind

(10.36-39: 3rd Temptation—ambitio saeculi and temptations of pride, praise, and


(10.40-41: a summary of ascent and descent dynamism

(10.42-43: Conclusion: the role of Christ as the True Mediator (the one who descends so

that we may ascend)
(2) Passages for Close Reading: 10.1-5 (confessing); 10.8, 16-19 (nature of memoria);

10.20-27 (happiness and God); 10.40-43 (summary)

(3) Questions for Discussion:

--How would you summarize Augustine’s teaching on what it means to

“confess”? In what sense is “confessing” a necessary or useful

Practice today?

--Much of what Augustine continues to confess in book 10, especially in 10.30-

39, seems to consist of an attraction to innocent pleasures and morally

indifferent issues. Why is Augustine so worried about these minor things?

--Augustine’s notion of memoria is obviously different in a number of ways from

what we mean when we talk about memory. What are some of these


--How does Augustine conceive of happiness? Where is happiness to be found?

What is the relation of happiness to memoria?

--In what sense is it true to say that Augustine finds God in book 10, but that God

is still far off? (see 10.27)

--What is Christ’s function as mediator? Does the Christology of this book add to

how Christ was understood in the earlier books?

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