Confessions

Outline (by book)

  1. His infancy, and boyhood up to age 14. Starting with his infancy, Saint Augustine reflects on his personal childhood in order to draw universal conclusions about the nature of infancy: the child is inherently violent if left to its own devices because of Original Sin. Later, he reflects on choosing pleasure and reading secular literature over studying Scripture, choices which he later comes to understand as ones for which he deserved the punishment of his teachers, although he did not recognize that during his childhood.
  2. Augustine continues to reflect on his adolescence during which he recounts two examples of his grave sins that he committed as a sixteen-year-old: the development of his God-less lust and the theft of a pear from his neighbor's orchard, despite never wanting for food. In this book, he explores the question of why he and his friends stole pears when he had many better pears of his own. He explains the feelings he experienced as he ate the pears and threw the rest away to the pigs. Augustine argues that he most likely would not have stolen anything had he not been in the company of others who could share in his sin.
  3. He begins the study of rhetoric at Carthage, where he develops a love of wisdom through his exposure to Cicero's Hortensius. He blames his pride for lacking faith in Scripture, so he finds a way to seek truth regarding good and evil through Manichaeism. At the end of this book, his mother, Monica, dreams about her son's re-conversion to Catholic doctrine.
  4. Between the ages of 19 and 28, Augustine forms a relationship with an unnamed woman who, though faithful, is not his lawfully wedded wife, with whom he has a son. At the same time that he has returned to Tagaste, his hometown, to teach, a friend fell sick, was baptized in the Catholic Church, recovered slightly, then died. The death of his friend depresses Augustine, who then reflects on the meaning of love of a friend in a mortal sense versus love of a friend in God; he concludes that his friend's death affected him severely because of his lack of love in God. Things he used to love become hateful to him because everything reminds him of what was lost. Augustine then suggests that he began to love his life of sorrow more than his fallen friend. He closes this book with his reflection that he had attempted to find truth through the Manicheans and astrology, yet devout Church members, who he claims are far less intellectual and prideful, have found truth through greater faith in God.
  5. While Saint Augustine is aged 29, he begins to lose faith in Manichean teachings, a process that starts when the Manichean bishop Faustus visits Carthage. Augustine is unimpressed with the substance of Manichaeism, but he has not yet found something to replace it. He feels a sense of resigned acceptance to these fables as he has not yet formed a spiritual core to prove their falsity. He moves to teach in Rome where the education system is more disciplined. He does not stay in Rome for long because his teaching is requested in Milan, where he encounters the bishop Ambrose (Saint Ambrose). He appreciates Ambrose's style and attitude, and Ambrose exposes him to a more spiritual, figurative perspective of God, which leads him into a position as catechumen of the Church.
  6. The sermons of Saint Ambrose draw Augustine closer to Catholicism, which he begins to favor over other philosophical options. In this section his personal troubles, including ambition, continue, at which point he compares a beggar, whose drunkenness is "temporal happiness," with his hitherto failure at discovering happiness.[5] Augustine highlights the contribution of his friends Alypius and Nebridius in his discovery of religious truth. Monica returns at the end of this book and arranges a marriage for Augustine, who separates from his previous wife, finds a new mistress, and deems himself to be a "slave of lust."[6]
  7. In his mission to discover the truth behind good and evil, Augustine is exposed to the Neoplatonist view of God. He finds fault with this thought, however, because he thinks that they understand the nature of God without accepting Christ as a mediator between humans and God. He reinforces his opinion of the Neoplatonists through the likeness of a mountain top: "It is one thing to see, from a wooded mountain top, the land of peace, and not to find the way to it[...]it is quite another thing to keep to the way which leads there, which is made safe by the care of the heavenly Commander, where they who have deserted the heavenly army may not commit their robberies, for they avoid it as a punishment."[7] From this point, he picks up the works of the apostle Paul which "seized [him] with wonder." [8]
  8. He further describes his inner turmoil on whether to convert to Christianity. Two of his friends, Simplicianus and Ponticianus, tell Augustine stories about the conversions of Marius Victorinus and Saint Anthony. While reflecting in a garden, Augustine hears a child's voice chanting "take up and read."[9] Augustine picks up a Bible and reads the passage it opens to, Romans 13:13–14: "Not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as for the flesh, take no thought for its lusts."[10] This action confirms his conversion to Catholicism. His friend Alypius follows his example.
  9. In preparation for his baptism, Augustine concludes his teaching of rhetoric. Saint Ambrose baptizes Augustine along with Adeodatus and Alypius. Upon his return to his mother in Africa, they share in a religious vision in Ostia. Soon after, Saint Monica dies in addition to his friends Nebridius and Vecundus. By the end of this book, Augustine remembers these deaths through the prayer of his newly adopted faith: "May they remember with holy feeling my parents in this transitory light, and my brethren under Thee, O Father, in our Catholic Mother [the Church], and my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which the pilgrimage of Thy people sighs from the start until the return. In this way, her last request of me will be more abundantly granted her in the prayers of many through these my confessions than through my own prayers." [11]
  10. Augustine shifts from personal memories to introspective evaluation of the memories themselves and of the self, as he continues to reflect on the values of confessions, the significance of prayer, and the means through which individuals can reach God. It is through both this last point and his reflection on the body and the soul that he arrives at a justification for the existence of Christ.
  11. Augustine analyzes the nature of creation and of time as well as its relation with God. He relies on Genesis throughout this book to support his thinking.
  12. Through his discussion of creation, Augustine relates the nature of the divine and the earthly as part of a thorough analysis of both the rhetoric of Genesis and the plurality of interpretations that one might use to analyze Genesis.
  13. He concludes the text by exploring an allegorical interpretation of Genesis, through which he discovers the Trinity and the significance of God's creation of man. Based on his interpretation, he espouses the significance of rest as well as the divinity of Creation: "For, then shalt Thou rest in us, in the same way that Thou workest in us now [...] So, we see these things which Thou hast made, because they exist, but they exist because Thou seest them. We see, externally, that they exist, but internally, that they are good; Thou hast seen them made, in the same place where Thou didst see them as yet to be made." [12]

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