Today we’re looking at Confessions Book 3. In this book, Augustine recounts his later teenage years – recording his time in Carthage and discussing how he became a Manichee. If you’ve been reading (or even if you haven’t) and wondered what exactly a Manichee is, you can read more about them from the Encyclopedia Britannica’s article on Manichaeism.
Confessions Book 3: Chapters 1-3 – Augustine, Becoming a Man
Love Vs. Lust
“I came to Carthage, where a cauldron of illicit loves leapt and boiled at me…” Thus begins the third book of Confessions, where Augustine recounts his life from age 16 to 18.
If my life is any indication, life as a teenager hasn’t changed much in 1600 years. I don’t know that I could sum up those days better than Augustine does when he writes, “I was not yet in love, but I was in love with love.” Like Augustine, as a teenager, I loved the idea of being in love. Though I didn’t really understand what love was.
Augustine’s problem was that he had confused love with lust. This is a mistake most teenagers (and many adults) continue to make. And what’s the result of this approach? We end up miserable – though it’s a sort of blissful misery. When it’s good, it’s good. But when it’s bad, it’s really bad.
Augustine describes the results of this kind of lust-filled relationship by remembering, “I wore my chains with bliss but with torment too, for I was scourged with the red hot rods of jealousy, with suspicions and fears and tempers and quarrels.” Real love leads us to trust, self-sacrifice, and a focus on others. Lust, on the other hand, can’t help but focus us on ourselves.
Augustine goes on to discuss his love for stage-plays and the way they made him feel. He brings up some interesting thoughts on why people enjoy feeling things through entertainment that they don’t normally enjoy feeling. For example, no one wants to feel the sorrow of losing a loved one. But people will watch sad movies – and even cry – over and over again. Augustine cries out, “Surely this is the most wretched lunacy?”
As I read through this section I kept thinking, ‘How often do I reflect this deeply on how and why I consume entertainment?’
Why do we enjoy the kinds of entertainment that we enjoy?
What is this entertainment reinforcing in my mind?
How is it shaping me?
We often brush aside the notion that our choices of entertainment have any real bearing on our lives. “It’s just a TV show,” we might say. But is it really? Don’t the things we subject ourselves to day after day have an impact on us? Don’t they change us?
All of these are questions worth pondering. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Augustine continues the discussion of his teenage years by reflecting on his relationship with a group of young men known as the ‘Overturners.’ From his description, they sound like real jerks. Bullies even. They were the kind of people who “made a butt of some hapless newcomer, assailing him with really cruel mockery for no reason whatever.”
I was tempted to shake my head at such stupid, cruel antics. But before I could, I was reminded that I did the same kind of stuff. As a teenager I mocked people I didn’t like. I was cruel and did things out of spite. I was a jerk.
And though I believe I would have been a jerk anyway, I do think that my surroundings amplified my jerkiness. There were things that I said purely because I’d get a laugh out of my friends. My desire to feel loved and accepted by my friends pushed me to do the very things that I would now condemn.
And so I’m reminded that we ought to be careful about how we condemn others.
Because had it not been for the grace of God, I’d likely be right there.
In all of this, I can’t help but think of the value of good friends. Good friends will provoke us to love rather than hate. They will point us back to God. They will sharpen us.
Just as we pondered how our entertainment is shaping us, we might ask the same questions about our friends. Where are your friends and other relationships leading you?
Confessions Book 3: Chapters 4-5 – Reading
While in school, Augustine read Cicero’s Hortensius, a book that argued for the idea that happiness is found in philosophy. This book obviously had a huge impact on Augustine. He writes, “Suddenly all the vanity I had hoped in I saw as worthless, and with an incredible intensity of desire I longed after immortal wisdom.”
For all of the praise he heaped on Cicero, 18 year old Augustine didn’t have must left over for the scriptures. In fact, he says that “they seemed to me unworthy to be compared with the majesty of Cicero.”
As a forty-something year old, Augustine was able to see that he simply hadn’t understood the nature of the Bible. But on his first reading, it seemed “utterly humble.”
I believe that many people are turned off from scripture because they approach it wrongly. They expect it to be an ‘instruction manual for life.’ Instead, they find stories of deceit, murder, war, and conquest. They read (or skim) long genealogies and instructions for building a temple. Then they come across letters written to unusual people dealing with unusual situations.
If scripture is going to make sense, we need to read it for what it is: the story of God redeeming his creation. I think N.T. Wright’s book, Scripture and the Authority of God does a great job of explaining how we can do that.
Confessions Book 3: Chapters 6-10 – A Descent Into Manichaeism
Augustine describes the Manichees as “a sect of men talking high-sounding nonsense, carnal and wordy men.” Throughout these chapters, Augustine reflects on how Manichaeism affected him as well as some of the objections he, and others, had to God and scripture. Since Augustine didn’t have a solid foundation in the truth, he was swept further and further into error.
Much could be said about the ideas Augustine brings up in these chapters: how the justice of God works, why we should submit to the law of God, etc.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these issues.
My main takeaway throughout was the truth of the saying, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” With all of this in mind, how important is it, for us as the Church, to develop firm foundations for ourselves and to help our young people do the same?
Our churches need to be theological and educational – not just entertaining and therapeutic.
Confessions Book 3: Chapters 11-12 – A Praying Mother
As Augustine closes Confessions Book 3, he mentions his mother. Throughout his rebellious teenage years, he had a mother who was praying for him. “And you sent your hand from above, and raised my soul out of that depth of darkness, because my mother, your faithful one, wept to you for me more bitterly than mothers weep for the bodily deaths of their children.” What a powerful description of this mother’s love!
Her prayers were answered first with a dream and then with an encounter with her local bishop. In her dream, her son appeared next to her on a “wooden rule” and a voice said “be at peace…where you are, he is.” This gave her confidence that soon Augustine would join her in the faith and leave Manichaeism behind. And though she had confidence, she continued to pray.
But she didn’t just pray. She began visiting with her local bishop, a man who had also been a Manichee. She wanted him to go to Augustine and talk with him. But he refused because of Augustine’s pride. This didn’t deter her though. She continued after him until he finally said, “Go your way; as sure as you live, it is impossible that the son of these tears should perish.” Though he may have been saying it purely to get her off his back, his words turned out to be prophetic. Augustine would be saved. And he’d go on to change the world.
It just goes to show you the power of praying mother.
Are we burdened for lost friends and family members the way Augustine’s mother was? Do we weep for their souls “more bitterly than mothers weep for the bodily deaths of their children”?
Don’t Forget to Comment with Your Own Thoughts!
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 4…
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