Some folks might say I’m rushing here, at the end of Augustine’s Confessions. If they said that, they’d be right. I am rushing. Part of the reason for my rush is the fact that it’s the last day of the month and I committed (to myself as well as you) that we’d go through these books at a pace of one per month. My efforts haven’t been perfect – I confess. But I’ve done better than what some might have expected.
In addition, I honestly didn’t have a ton of thoughts on these last few books. Augustine gets so entangled in philosophic arguments that I found my eyes glazing over at times. I appreciate the thought he put into these things. And I’ve given a lot of thought to them in the past. But at the moment, I just can’t follow him down a lot of his rabbit trails.
This is probably best evidenced by the fact that I only wrote down one quote from each chapter – and no additional notes.
It isn’t that these books aren’t worth reading. They just aren’t what I need to hear at this precise moment.
Augustine’s Confessions Book 11: Reflections on Time
Augustine spends an inordinate amount of time discussing time itself. He reflects on the ideas of past, present, and future. And as he argues, he comes to the conclusion that neither the past nor the future really exist. They’re nothing more than constructs of our mind. Instead, all that we really have is the present.
And this is true. And important. Far too many people attempt to live in either the past or the future. They long for yesterday and stretch toward tomorrow. But both yesterday and tomorrow are impossible destinations. All we have is the moment.
Upon you I call, O God, my mercy, who made me and did not forget me when I forgot you.
And if the present is all we have, how important is it for us to steward it well? Too often we’re fooled into thinking that we have X amount of time left. And so we put off the most important things in life, expecting to get to them in the future. But as James wrote, “you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
Personally, I feel like Augustine spends a little too much time digging into minutiae. But that’s something of a reflection of his time – and philosophy in general.
But if we can take Augustine’s digging and reflect on its practical application, he has an important message for us: use your time wisely. You don’t know how much you really have.
Augustine’s Confessions Book 12: Reflections on Creation
In Confessions Book 12, Augustine discusses creation – heaven and earth. And once again, he gets into a lot of details that may make your head spin. He asks a lot of questions and makes a lot of assertions that most of us will find obtuse.
With that said, while addressing the question of what Moses really meant when he wrote, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” Augustine makes a valuable statement. He prays, “rain down gentleness into my heart, that I may patiently put up with such people, who say this to me not because they are godlike and have seen what they assert in the heart of your servant, but because they are proud and without having grasped Moses’ idea they are infatuated with their own, not because it is true but because it is theirs.”
Augustine dealt with people who read a passage of scripture, came to a conclusion, and then declared it as the definitive interpretation. And anyone who questioned their interpretation would quickly be deemed a heretic – or worse. It’s unfortunate that this still happens today. But it does. Way too often.
Instead of allowing these differing interpretations to divide, Augustine encourages us to recognize the truth in any interpretation that adheres to God’s word. He notes that perhaps God intended certain passages to have more than one meaning. This is an idea that seems to come up again and again in the early church fathers. However, it’s something that has become less popular in recent years.
The polarization of Christianity (to say nothing of more general political and cultural polarization) has made everyone feel like they need to stake out a narrow patch of ideological ground and defend it to the death. Augustine points to a different way.
I think our current debates on origins and the interpretation of Genesis 1-2 could use some of the seasoning Augustine provides in this chapter.
Augustine’s Confessions Book 13: Reflections on Genesis 1
Augustine concludes his Confessions with a unique allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1. He sees the firmament as representing scripture, the heavenly bodies as representing wisdom, etc. His interpretation will make many modern Christians shudder – especially those who adhere strongly to the historical-grammatical method of Bible interpretation. This book is a great reminder that the early church fathers were much more open to allegorical and other interpretations of scripture.
With that said, I’m not a huge fan of this method of interpretation because I think it opens scripture up to being understood in any way we want. When we began ‘spiritualizing’ and ‘allegorizing’ scripture, we tend to elevate our ideas above God’s word.
I don’t have much more to say about this last book. It is what it is.
Oh, one more thing. I think it’s only fitting that Augustine ends the Confessions with the answer to an idea he brings up at the very beginning of it. He opens his Confessions, by saying, “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.” As Augustine wraps up his discussion on Genesis 1, he notes that God rested on the Sabbath day. But God’s rest is not his alone. Instead, it is God’s desire to bring us all to rest in him.
He writes, “…when our works are finished (works exceedingly good inasmuch as they are your gift to us) we too may rest in you, in the Sabbath of eternal life.”
What a day that will be!
What a rest we’ll enjoy!
My final review of Augustine’s Confessions can be found at my friend, Faith Taylor’s blog. While you’re there, check out some of the other memoirs that she has reviewed and discussed.
If you had a favorite quote or thought as you read, comment below and let us know what it was.
I can’t wait to hear what all of you are thinking about Confessions Book 11, 12, and 13!
Well, we finished Augustine’s Confessions! I’m sure some of you are still trying to wrap it up. Don’t rush. Allow God to speak to you through it and then, let us know what you think.
And remember, we’re starting a new book tomorrow: ‘The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion‘ by Rodney Stark. You can get the Paperback for $11.29 or the Kindle version for $11.99.
I’ll have a post introducing it tomorrow! Don’t miss it!
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