Confession of st.augustine

what is the critical appreciation of capter XI

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This criticism of the beginning of Genesis, which is also referred to in other parts of Confessions, was common amongst Manichees and other Christians in Augustine's day. This discussion of time in the rigorous philosophical sense may seem out of place in a theological text. In fact, Augustine apologizes somewhat at the beginning of this Book for the philosophical nature of this discussion. He does not want to appear to be philosophizing for vanity or curiosity's sake (he considers idle curiosity a sin; see Books II and III). On the surface this discussion may seem like secular philosophizing, but, especially in light of the preceding Book and Augustine's ongoing difficulties with the Biblical book of Genesis, the understanding of nature of time is necessary to defending the nature of the omnipotent, unchanging God of Catholicism.

Many of the points in this chapter seem either unknowable or pointless even to the modern metaphysical philosopher. In Augustine's day, however, these ideas were of the utmost importance to religion. It was a time of many different types of heresy (Manichaeism, Donatism, Arianism, Gnosticism, among others), most of which differed with each other specifically with regards to the nature of God and Jesus Christ. Definitions of things like creation and time were integral to the explanation of the nature of God, so these sometimes arcane arguments were of the highest dogmatic necessity.

The Catholic Church at this time was not only defending its dogma from heresies, but was also in the process of codifying it completely and writing it down. Things like baptism and some kinds of sin were thought of slightly differently in the Catholic Church of Augustine's day, partially because questions like these were not completely codified. This kind of theological inquiry, especially from someone of Augustine's education and theological genius, was necessary and very valuable to the early church.

The refutation of the existence of time is persuasive even today. The idea that God is the "beginning point" rather than the beginning in a temporal sense is particularly neat, though Augustine, as in so many things, owes a debt of gratitude to the Neoplatonists for this concept. Despite the muddled and convoluted form Augustine's arguments sometimes take, these arguments are useful not only to metaphysical philosophers, but to anyone who has ever pondered the first principles. Augustine is rigorous in that he takes nothing, not even the Bible, on pure faith. In true skeptical fashion, he is willing to question everything, and is determined to try to get to the base of any philosophical problem, no matter how remote or difficult.