Monday, July 7, 2008

St. Augustine

I just finished the first 9 books of Augustine's Confessions for a "Christian classics" reading group. It's the closest extra-biblical writing that I've been tempted to consider my daily devotion. Augustine's love for God sets a new standard for me. I'll give my favorite paragraph from the book, followed by some lessons:

"Let the proud deride me, O God, and all whom you have not yet laid low and humiliated for the salvation of their souls; but let me still confess my sins to you for your honor and glory. Allow me, I beseech you, to trace again in memory my past deviation and to offer you a sacrifice of joy. Without you I am my own guide to the brink of perdition. And even when all is well with me, what am I but a creature suckled on your milk and feeding on yourself, the food that never perishes? And what is any man, if he is only man? Let the strong and mighty laugh at men like me: let us, the weak and the poor, confess our sins to you."

Here are some highlights from our reading group/class, led by Alex Tuckness, a political philosophy professor at Iowa State (and one of the smartest and most devoted Christ followers I know):
- Augustine basically invented the autobiography with this book

- He is brilliantly introspective and clearly entranced by the glory of God. Augustine's view of life was that everything flows out of love for God. His relationship with God seems effortless. As Alex said, "when you're in love with something, you don't have to work hard to want to know it."

- He believed in the total depravity of man (he confesses his selfishness as an infant, screaming for his mother's milk), which made him love and cherish the gift of grace all the more. He was one blasphemous, immoral, depraved maama jamma before Christ (at one point he made fun of his friend for getting baptized on his death bed)

- His mother's example as one who prayed without ceasing and with great anguish and tears was inspiring, to say the least. Her husband (Augustine's dad) was not a Christian, and she honored him. It was so instructive to parents who have wayward children and/or unbelieving spouses- keep praying for and honoring them. She didn't try to comfort herself with ("When he was 4, he prayed the prayer..."). Books 8 and 9, about his conversion are so worth the read.

- Augustine (in his book, City of God) reminds us not to use the newspaper to inform our theology of end times. Every Christian in Rome was a post-millenialist, convinced that God was using Rome to bring mass conversion before his return. Then, Rome was overtaken in 410 and all of a sudden everyone blamed the Christians for its demise ("we were doing fine for 500 years as a pagan nation until everyone started converting to Cnty.") We do the same thing. Someday I'll get around to posting about why I think we're in the millenium, why I don't believe the anti-Christ (or rather why I believe in many...), why there is no future tribulation, and why you don't have to worry about getting a 666 stamp/computer chip on your wrist and forehead.

- His view of entertainment was so convicting I can hardly think about it too much.

- His critique of science could've been written today.

- Augustine had some wacked interpretations of Scripture. But it's humbling to me, to be careful about the things I choose to be dogmatic about.

- His apologetics were more historically situated than, say Anselm, whose thoughts don't need as much historical context to be understood.

- We are indebted to Augustine for his thoughts on Just War Theory and the Inquisition. Crazy enough, his ideas were used to advocate persecution. It sounds absurd, but his reasoning was something like, "If making the Donatists go back to church is working, why would we let them go to hell if we can do something about it? If we can save people by "compelling them" (he used the Banquet story of Jesus to justify this), why not do it?"

Summary: I hope to be more like Augustine in his love for God, while learning from his flaws.


tivo vovo said...

this sounds like some profound reading you have been doing lately my brother. the brief paragraph you shared from the series is quite compelling. thanks for sharing that information. i love dead mentors. they tend to be quite robust in their ability to teach both from a place of respectability and vulnerability. augustine was a man who loved God and yet he still was a sinner? unbelievable! :) there is perhaps hope for us all in that grace.

Metropuritan Mark said...

Todd, Augustine was a lot more accessible than I imagined. I really felt like it could've been written today. It filled me with a lot of hope in God's ability to save a wretch (like me). Amen for dead mentors. My friend once said, "When I was young I never trusted anyone over 30. Now that I'm over 30, I don't trust anyone under 300."

Ed Noble said...


I love that you are reading the Confessions. I've been thinking about a post on "books I wish I could make everyone read" - Confessions is in the top 3. It IS so much more accessible than say City of God - where the greatness of his mind is sometimes hard to hang with. Kind of like reading Plato.


Metropuritan Mark said...

ed, I'll leave City of God for the next life. Maybe then we can just have the conversation face to face and spare me the read (unless I get better reading comprehension in my fully redeemed state). You've been a model to me of the need to stay in touch with the older, smarter, more in love with Jesus guys who have gone b/f us.