Some thoughts from the Confessions of Saint Augustine of Hippo

The Augustine Puzzle:

1. Monica. Augustine was a “Momma’s boy.” Augustine ran around with concubines, toyed with every manner of philosophy. Respect for mothering, motherhood.

2. Natality. Birth and rebirth as a philosophical concept. It is counterpoised to mortality. Existential philosophers are drawn to the idea of mortality. Psychologists say we may think about death as often as every 5 minutes. To be obsessed with death leads to inertia. Obsession with death leads to the idea of carpe diem, increased sin, anything that gets the mind off dying. Natality always gives you a chance to put things together. If you think about mortality too much, you will become dispersed, chasing after false gods to forget.

3. Cupiditas/Caritas. Two types of desire. Cupiditas–the bad kind of craving, craving after the wrong things (something triggers this, maybe the idea of morality). This is the City of Men and leads to dispersion. Satan’s favorite strategy is divide and conquer. Caritas–Christian love. This is the City of God. We need to learn to love God so that we may then learn to love our neighbor. We must learn to love God’s love–learn to love what God loves.

4. Memory- Recollection from dispersion. Our fear of death and chasing after false Gods leaves us spread out. Memory is what pulls us back together. Is a larger spiritual concept, not just memory. Being grounded in Christ through memory. “But I remembered the deeds of the Lord . . .”. He who does not gather with me scatters. Confession helps you gather yourself; even reading Augustine helps us collect ourselves–who is our Monica? What is our pear? Because it’s not about the pear–it’s excitement about disobedience. It is a false happiness.

5. The Pear (Jouissance Today). Augustine’s concubines really were his pear. Augustine talks about how it felt good to steal a pear, even though he already had some just as god or better. But people like to be dispersed, even when it is very wrong.

6. Evil as Privation (Neo-Platonism vs. Manicheism). Sin was so palpable, so real. On earth, evil should be thought of as the absence of good. This may come out of his interest in manicheism. Mani believed things were split 50/50-God and Satan shared the universe; when he realized this was heretical, he went more in the other direction. He was also drawing from Platonus; the more you drift from the sun, the colder and darker it gets.

Disordered love. We can have a desire in our lives and it has a proper object. Every love has a proper object (like sexual love is for matrimony). What happens is we take one desire and use it for an object not its own. After one is saved, love gets ordered again. It takes time and discipleship.

7. Tolle Lege. Pick up and read. He is going between Carthage and Hippo and he has these crucial moments. He had been reading about St. Anthony, who fought devils before they reached the city. Children were playing a game–pick up and read. He heard God speaking through Romans 13:13 (“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy”).

8. A Question to Myself (Otherness). Important moment for people as they move towards salvation, or even after it on a different level. The dark grottos of your psyche. I didn’t know that was there, that way of thinking, that disordered love. I am not so worried about others as I am my own disjointedness first. Exposing things about self, learning about self.

9. The Self (Interiority). Articulating the first idea interiority. Augustine was a rhetorician. He realized he had his own internally persuasive discourse. He had his own voices, his own rhetoric. He had to get his life right, to go to God. Only love can handle a multiplicity of conciousnesses. This is true in how we handle other people, but also in how we handle ourselves. Love yourself in the right way, the way that can only come from God’s light in your life.

10. The Inner Teacher (The Epistemology of Illumination). One of augustine’s crowning achievements is to say education is about facts and knowledge as much as it is about what is inward. As Christians, our focus should be on the light of God. The real source of knowledge is the Holy spirit. We are trying got keep up with the epistemological Jones’, yet Truth lies inside of us. Every step outward needs to be matched with a step inward. All truth is God’s truth. We lack emotional intelligence. So many people live with the fundamental that we need God. But after that we tend to stop searching ourselves. Augustine writes a dialogue called “The Teacher” where he explicates this notion. The power to learn at all comes form Christ. So the question is, is this for everyone? Do non-Christians, then, have the inner teacher? It could be natural law, the things written on everyone’s heart–an imprint from natality. Truths have been planted deep inside.