Confessions Book 1 – Chapters 1-5: Augustine & Scripture
Augustine begins Confessions Book 1 in praise. “Great art Thou, O Lord,” he begins, “and greatly to be praised.” If you’re familiar with the Psalms, you may recognize that these words are not original with Augustine. He tore them straight from the pages of the Psalter. As you read, you’ll discover that scripture saturates everything Augustine says.
For Thou has made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.
My copy of the Confessions italicizes all of the references to the Bible. As a result, you can see how intertwined God’s word is with Augustine’s in this book. This is one of the first things that jumped out at me as I read Book I. Augustine lived and breathed scripture.
I’ve found this to be fairly common in older writers. They weaved verses from scripture into their writing without even thinking. John Wesley’s sermons are the same way.
Thou owest nothing yet dost pay as if in debt to Thy creature…
As I read this kind of writing, I can’t help but note a difference between them and us. We have access to all of the information in the world. But we seldom allow any of it to really take root in our minds. Instead, we google what we need to know when we need to know it. And in so doing, we never really allow it to shape us.
Augustine had drowned himself in scripture. And that drowning shaped his mind. Scripture flowed out of his mouth as naturally as our favorite movie quotes come out of ours.
So this naturally led me to ask myself a question: How is scripture shaping my mind? Have the words of the Bible become a part of my natural vocabulary? When I’m tempted to worry or get angry or seek revenge, has scripture so tempered my thinking that Jesus’ words immediately spring to mind? Or are they far off – barely remembered?
Confessions Book 1 – Chapters 6-8: Augustine’s Infancy
I’ve never considered what I was like as a baby. I’m sure most people don’t since we have no memories from the time. And yet Augustine calls us to reflect on the fullness of our humanity – including our beginning.
As he remembers his first years, he notes that at first he only knew how to suck, lie quiet when content, and cry when upset. As time went on he learned how to smile. Then he began to speak by imitating the adults around him.
Every disorder of the soul is its own punishment.
After discussing his physical progress, he turns to his spiritual state. This is where I take issue with Augustine just a bit. First of all, though I agree that babies act selfishly, I don’t believe they are guilty of sin because scripture seems to imply that God judges us based on the revelation he’s given. And since they are babies, God has revealed very little to them.
Augustine argues that since babies act in ways that we would condemn in an adult, they’re sinful. In other words, because a baby throws a fit when he doesn’t get what he wants, he’s acting sinfully. I’m not so sure this is the case though. Don’t get me wrong, all humans are selfish from a very young age. But babies can’t speak. They can’t express their need in any way except by throwing a fit. It’s the only way they know to communicate.
Nothing could be more pitiful than a pitiable creature who does not see to pity himself, and weeps for the death that Dido suffered through love of Aeneas, and not for the eath he sufers himself through not loving you, O God.
With all of this in mind, I can’t get on board with Augustine’s idea that, even in the womb, children aren’t innocent. So I don’t track with Augustine completely on much of what he brings up here.
Nevertheless, all of this talk does serve as an important reminder that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all lost without God. We’re all in need of a savior.
Thank God we have one in Christ.
Confessions Book 1 – Chapters 9-20: Augustine the Schoolboy
Augustine spends about half of Book I recounting his schooldays. He makes a number of observations that I think are worth considering.
First, he makes a good point in chapter 9 about children and adults essentially being the same. He writes, “But the one thing I reveled in was play; and for this I was punished by men who after all were doing exactly the same things themselves.” How true is Augustine’s sentiment here! How often do adults reprimand their children for doing the exact same things they do.
This is a great reminder for all who spend time with children – especially parents – to live the kind of lives they hope to see in others. If we spend all of our time in vain things, should we be surprised when our children imitate us?
Free curiosity is of more value in learning than harsh discipline.
If dad spends all Sunday afternoon on the couch watching football, can he really get upset when junior wants to spend all day playing video games? I don’t think so.
As Augustine reflects further on his school days, he remembers that he wanted to learn the least useful things and didn’t care about learning the most useful things. Have you ever been there before? I would think it’s just me but the tabloid magazines and television shows like TMZ make me think it probably affects a larger percentage of the population.
I Could Say So Much More…
Honestly, there’s so much more about this book that I could say. You probably noticed that I peppered the post with some of my favorite quotes. Once you’ve read, I’d encourage you to comment with any of your favorite passages or quotes. Did Augustine say anything that rubbed you the wrong way? Did he provide any insights you hadn’t thought about before?
I can’t wait to hear what all of you are thinking about the Confessions!
Oh, and by the way, there’s currently a digital, modern language edition of Augustine’s Confessions available from Amazon for only $0.99! Get it while you can!
Continue reading our summary of Book 2…
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