Quoting Saint Augustine

Our classics reading group will have our last discussion about Saint Augustine’s Confessions tomorrow. I feel sorry to leave St. Augustine behind, for he has become an honest, passionate and true Christian friend. I think that Renaissance Guy would understand if I dared to write that I had literally fallen in love with Saint Augustine.

My ideas about Augustine before reading the Confessions this time were based on a cursory reading during my undergraduate years. The manner in which I read Augustine all those years ago indicates to me how really shallow I was during that time of my life, for how can anyone skim through his Confessions?

Witness this:

Lord, before whose eyes the abyss of man’s conscience lies naked, what thing within me could be hidden from you, even if I would not confess it to you? I would be hiding you from yself, not myself from you. But now, since my groans bear witness that I am a thing displeasing to myself, you shine forth, and you are pleasing to me, and you are loved and longed for, so that I may feel shame for myself, and renounce myself, and choose you, and please neither you nor myself except because of you.

Therefore, before you, O Lord, am I manifest, whatever I may be. With what profit I may confess to you, I have already said. [. . .] When I am evil, to confess toyou is naught else but to be displeased with myself; when I am upright of life, naugh else is it to confess to you but to attribute this in no wise to myself. For you bless the just man, O Lord, but first you justify him as one who has been ungodly. Hence my confession is made in silence before you, my God, and yet not in silence. As to sound, it is silent, but it cries aloud with love. Nor do I say any good thing to men except what you have first heard from me; nor do you hear any such thing from me but what you have first spoken to me (229-230).

And then, as if Augustine has been reading a proliferation of blogs:

What have I to do with men, that they should hear my confessions, as if they were to “heal all my diseases?” I race eager to know about another man’s life, but slothful to correct their own! Why do they seek to hear from me what I am, men who do not want to hear from you what they themselves are?

When they hear me speak about myself, how do they know if I speak the truth, since none among men knows “what goes on within a man but the spirit of man which is in him?” But if they should hear about themselves from you, they cannot say, “The Lord lies!” What else is it for them to hear from you about themselves except to know themselves? Who knows anything and yet says, “It is false,” unless he is a liar? But because “charity believes all things” among them whom it unites by binding them to itself, I too, O Lord, will confess to you in such manner that men may hear, although I cannot prove to them that I confess truly.

But those men whose ears charity opens to me believe me (230).

So beautiful, so well put. I especially like, “But those men whose ears charity opens believe me,” for I’m familiar with the feeling or idea that I know another person whom I’ve just met. My father used to say, “Birds of a feather flock together,” and “Water seeks its own level.” These sayings annoyed me when I was younger. I thought that he meant to comment on people’s narrow-mindedness, whereas the issue for me was my own narrow-mindedness at age 20-something. I was so narrow that I couldn’t recognize myself; I therefore also couldn’t recognize believability in another person.

The issue isn’t so much, in my way of thinking, whether another person is truthful about him- or herself; the issue is whether I can recognize authenticity because I’ve done the work to become, and be, authentic. Then I’ll see it sure enough in another person.

  

The Confessions of St. Augustine, John K. Ryan, Trans.

11 responses

  1. Eve: “…reading him out loud to people who aren’t adult yet, and (worse) over stringy beef…well, it may even be a sin.”
    A venial sin, until you throw in the log-sized carrots in the stew. Then, it gets up-graded to a Category 2 Mortal one ; – )

  2. Lee, these days I wince when I meet people who were raised in Catholicism and suffered for it, even if merely from stringy beef. ;o)

    I’ve been teaching children for many years and wouldn’t even think about reading Augustine out loud to anyone under, say, age 24 or so. There’s a time and place for Augustine, and reading him out loud to people who aren’t adult yet, and (worse) over stringy beef… well, it may even be a sin. ;o)

    Which reminds me… I recently re-read A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf. She writes about the awful menu served to the women at the women’s college as compared with the food served to the men in their domain. It’s both funny and sad, but only goes to show that educators ought to be mindful about what they’re serving up to the next generation.

  3. Tiv, yesterday in our book group, one lady commented that Augustine would make for good meditative or devotional reading, since he cuts up his Confessions into many small chapters. You might find him interesting to read that way.

    Since our group is currently in the Roman period right at the beginning of the Middle Ages, I’m finding the medieval mind fascinating. Augustine, I used to think, was read because he was a saint, or because he attained nearly church father status, or because he wrote the first autobiography. Yes, all that, but more, because he’s simply brilliant.

    Here is a medieval mind writing about the unconscious, and even the collective unconscious. I was surprised, even shocked.

    True, I love the passion with which he addresses his creator. But even more, I love his honesty. I love his honesty and his passion. He worked very hard to try to think through the nature of the person, how people think, how we remember, what makes us happy. To do this at his point in history is, it now seems to me, nothing short of astounding. We have much more at our disposal by way of information, history, and science, yet I’m not sure we’re able to think as he thought. For that, I suppose one needed the Greeks, and we don’t really teach them any more until a person is in college.

  4. “I was so narrow that I couldn’t recognize myself.” Yeah – but when you’re twenty, what are the options? A narrow sense of self you can cling to, or drifting on the sea of Identity, trying on different definitions of yourself for size. As for Saint Augustine, I’m approaching him sideways, I admit. The nuns use to read him to us in the refectory – his Confessions didn’t mix well with the stringy beef stew. NOT Saint Augustine’s fault, obviously but, for me, there’s some neural pathways that need retraining …

  5. I confess I am not familiar with St. Augustine. This post is my introduction. And reading through it once, I am fascinated. The idea that you cannot recognize authenticity in another until you find it in yourself. The blending of St. Augustine’s very consciousness with that of God. It’s complicated. I will have to come back and read it again less late at night, when I’m less shallow.

  6. RG, I remembered your comments on the word “literally,” and it seemed a good pun to use with reference to Augustine’s literature. ;o)

    It’s his honesty or transparency that most endear Augustine to me.

  7. Very nice post. Thanks for the mention; I do understand your love for St. Augustine.

    What a story he has! Oh, that I could be half the God-follower that he was.

  8. True. I’ve been watching the HBO series Rome and was surprised at all the sexual dilly-dallying they depicted. I did some research into Roman sexual mores and, lo and behold, found that there’s not a big difference between Roman sexual mores and American.

    Except they had temple prostitutes and we try not to mix sex and religion any more.

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