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Confessions Summary


Here you will find a Confessions summary (Augustine's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Confessions Summary Overview

In the mid-fourth century, within the span of the Roman Empire, a man named Augustine is born in a region known today as eastern Algeria. His life story reveals a fascinating journey through a world tainted by sin, where he, like many young men of his time, is taught to prioritize material gain and earthly pleasures over the pursuit of God. Augustine's schooling and early life in Thagaste and Carthage sees him dabble in various sexual escapades and engage with false philosophical doctrines, particularly Manicheism. However, his immersion in this world of materialism gives him a deeper understanding of its associated chaos, confusion, and sorrow. Despite his wild youth, Augustine cultivates a love for philosophical understanding, acquainting himself with doctrines of Manicheism, skepticism, and Neoplatonism. The latter, in particular, profoundly influences him, leading to a unique integration of Catholic theology with Neoplatonic concepts. His quest for truth takes him from Thagaste to Carthage, Rome, and finally Milan, where his interest in Catholicism, his mother's faith, begins to grow. Simultaneously, he continues his profession as a rhetoric teacher, a career he later despises for its empty promises, and indulges in sensual pleasures. However, his time in Milan proves to be transformative when he realizes the true essence of Catholicism. Struggling to fully devote himself to a chaste life, Augustine eventually experiences a profound conversion in a Milanese garden, leading him to become a devoted Catholic. The latter part of Augustine's life shifts dramatically from personal narrative to an exploration of religious and philosophical issues. In particular, he delves into the themes of memory, time and eternity, and the interpretation of the Book of Genesis. Despite this stark shift, a common thread of redemption ties his life and philosophical musings together. He views his personal journey back to God as a metaphor for the entire creation's return to its creator. This return, along with Augustine's desire to inspire others to seek the same, is encapsulated in his confessions. For him, "confession" signifies both an admission of guilt and an act of praise to God.

book 1

Book 1 of "Confessions" by Augustine primarily delves into his childhood years, which he can't recall, and his schoolboy life in Thagaste, Eastern Algeria. This exploration causes him to ruminate on human origin, will, desire, language, and memory. Augustine commences every Book of "Confessions" with a prayer extolling God, although Book 1 has an especially lengthy invocation. It poses the question of how one can seek God without truly understanding his nature. The simple, albeit imperfect, answer is faith – if we pursue God, he will reveal himself to us. Augustine swiftly engages in a discussion about God's attributes. He grapples with the phrasing "come into me" when addressing God, as it seems counterintuitive. Augustine struggles with the notion that God seems beyond everything yet is within all. Therefore, asking him to "come into" Augustine seems illogical. Augustine discards the idea of God as a confined, mobile, or divisible being. He concludes with the Neoplatonic statement on God's location: "In filling all things, you fill them all with the whole of yourself." Shifting focus to his childhood, Augustine begins with his birth and earliest infancy. He refrains from pondering how the soul merges with the body to form an infant. Infancy is depicted as a bleak period, where all wants are internal, and infants have minimal ways of expressing their needs. Augustine then ponders his spiritual status as a child, born to a Catholic mother and a pagan father. His baptism was postponed until he was older, a common practice intended to cleanse the soul after experiencing the perils of youth. Augustine criticizes the school system of his time for concentrating on meaningless aspects, punishing students for trivial games while preparing them for equally misguided adult activities. Augustine was also critical of fiction, viewing it as a wasteful diversion. In closing, Augustine acknowledges that his youthful sins were shocking. He admits to having some redeeming qualities, attributing them to God. The sins were due to Augustine's misdirection of his talents away from God and towards the material world. This misdirection alludes to a fundamental Neoplatonist idea that God's creation has strayed from his eternal unity and towards the ever-changing created world.

book 2

As Augustine reaches adolescence in Book 2, he starts to explore his sexuality and considers this time to be the most sinful phase of his life. He refers to his actions as running wild in the realm of sensual pleasures, which made him detestable in God's eyes. Augustine also recounts an incident where he stole pears from an orchard with his friends. He regrets both these actions deeply and attempts to understand the reasons behind them. Although Augustine acknowledges his sinful behavior, he believes his intentions were driven by the desire to love and be loved. He argues that God only bestows good traits but it's his error that he misdirected them. His love lacked the intellectual exchange, leading to its perversion towards physical pleasures. Augustine upholds the belief that sexual relations should be solely for procreation within a rational and loving partnership. Having completed his early education, Augustine was getting ready to further his studies in Carthage. His father Patrick managed to gather the resources for this and Augustine appreciates his efforts. However, he points out that his father lacked moral concern for him, viewing education only as a gateway to worldly success. "But in my mother's heart," Augustine notes, "you had already begun your temple." His Catholic mother Monica warned him against fornication. Augustine now believes that these were God’s words but back then, he considered them as insignificant feminine advice. Monica eventually resigned, fearing that a proper marriage might hinder his promising career. Augustine revisits the act of stealing pears. What troubled him was the absence of a genuine motive behind this act - he did it purely for the thrill of wrongdoing. He argues that his actions were a warped form of his God-given virtues. Augustine believes every sinful desire is a distorted version of God's attributes. This thought aligns with Neoplatonic philosophy where all material creation has strayed from God's perfection, leading to a state of chaos and impermanence. Augustine suggests that even sin is essentially an attempt to return to God. Book 2 concludes with Augustine reflecting on how peer influence contributed to the theft of the pears. He learns that friendship can be a deceptive adversary and like love, it needs to be rationalized to be truly beneficial.

book 3

Moving from Thagaste to Carthage, Augustine finds himself surrounded by "all around me hissed a cauldron of illicit loves." His sins grow, encompassing not only youthful mischief, but also attending public spectacles and reading tragedies. He feels distant from God, engrossed in fleeting pleasures. However, during this low point, he starts to value the pursuit of truth over worldly success. Exploring different philosophies, he encounters the Manichee faith, a heretical offshoot of Christianity, which proves to be a significant error in his life. Book 3 mainly focuses on his initial criticism of the Manichee faith. In Carthage, Augustine reflects on his "foul and immoral" state, likening it to "bondage." His sexual escapades persist unabated, which he blames on a misguided love for God. He also indulges in the "sin" of reading fiction and attending "theatrical shows," particularly tragedies which he now views as absurd and wrong. During this time, he reads Cicero's Hortensius, which argues for the value of philosophy and the pursuit of truth leading to happiness. This book has such a profound impact on him that he desires the "immortality of wisdom." However, he criticizes it for lacking references to Christ. In search of truth, Augustine is drawn to the Manichee faith, a pseudo-Christian sect. The latter part of Book 3 is dedicated to a detailed examination of the Manichee beliefs and their contrast with the Catholic faith. Augustine criticizes the Manichee doctrines for their reliance on an intricate mythology and their skewed perception of God. He refutes their criticisms of Catholic belief, offering a Neoplatonic defense of Catholic theology. According to him, God is the supreme form of existence and evil is nothing more than the absence of good. He argues that evil is not a separate entity opposing God. Rather, it is a label for the extent to which something has strayed from unity with God. Augustine also addresses the Manichee challenge regarding the corporeal nature of God, arguing that God is not a physical entity but a spiritual substance. He then criticizes the Manichees for their rejection of the book of Genesis and parts of the Old Testament, stating that God's law reveals itself to humans according to historical context. Book 3 ends with a recounting of a vision experienced by Monica, Augustine's mother. In her vision, she is reassured that Augustine will eventually follow her onto the "rule" of Christian faith. Despite Augustine's missteps, including his Manichee delusion, God's plan for his salvation is in place, partly facilitated by Monica.

book 4

On his return to Thagaste from Carthage, Augustine took up a career in teaching rhetoric. Amid his professional ambitions, he found himself in a spiritual tug-of-war. Drawn towards God and truth, he was still trapped in a web of sins. He struggled with the fleeting nature of the material world and pondered over the divine's relation to it. Augustine's time in Thagaste was characterized by a pursuit of worldly desires and an adherence to Manicheism, a false religion. He was embroiled in a life of hypocrisy, seeking material benefits while pretending to strive for spiritual purity, which he now sees as self-destruction. During this period, Augustine deeply regretted his role as a rhetoric teacher and his ongoing relationship with a concubine, who later became the mother of his son, Adeodatus. Despite his regret, he realized he was gradually moving towards truth, partly due to his friend Nebridius. He dismissed astrology as a sham, marking the beginning of his detachment from the surreal Manichee mythology. Augustine's journey toward truth was halted by the death of a dear friend, which plunged him into grief. He noted that his sorrow stemmed from his attachment to transient worldly entities rather than God, causing him great internal conflict. Augustine delves deeper into the concept of the transient nature of worldly things versus the eternal nature of God. He believed that human misery came from undue attachment to ephemeral things, causing a soul without God to be in a perpetual state of sorrow. Shaken by his friend's death, Augustine returned to Carthage. Although he was in a gloomy state, he carried with him lessons learned from his grief, mainly the fleeting nature of material things. He understood that God, unlike material things, is a place of "undisturbed quietness." Augustine also reflects upon the limitations of human language. He argued that speech, bound by time and incapable of portraying God accurately, is an ineffective tool for seeking divine truth. The only exception is prayer or confessions, which are forms of direct communication with God. During this period, Augustine wrote a book, The Beautiful and the Fitting, which he now deems as flawed. He regretted dedicating the book to Hierius, a popular Roman orator, and dismissed his previous beliefs about evil being a substance and mind being the supreme good. He realized that these erroneous beliefs stemmed from the Manichee worldview, which he now discarded. Finally, he talks about his readings of Aristotle's Categories. At the time, he failed to comprehend that God embodies his own beauty and magnitude. Influenced by Manichee beliefs, he wrongly visualized God as a luminous body and himself as part of it.

book 5

Book V traces Augustine's journey from Carthage, where he's bothered by his wild students, to Rome, where they are dishonest, and finally to Milan, where he stays until his conversion. During this time, he starts questioning the Manichee beliefs and by the end, sees himself as a Christian under instruction, or a catechumen. He meets key figures like Ambrose, the bishop who would later baptize him, and Faustus, a respected Manichee. He begins by asserting that everything forms part of God's creation, echoing the Neoplatonic ideas from Book 3. He insists that even the most sinful individuals unconsciously praise God. As he writes, "You [God] see them and pierce their shadowy existence," and "even with them everything is beautiful, though they are vile." While still in Carthage at 29, Augustine meets Faustus, a Manichee sage. Prior to detailing their meeting, he discusses the differences between scientific astronomy and the Manichee's interpretation of the cosmos. He criticizes the Manichee's interpretation but acknowledges he was initially fascinated by astronomy. Faustus impresses Augustine with his humility. However, Faustus' flashy rhetoric doesn't win him over. Their interaction leaves Augustine more doubtful about the Manichee myths. Displeased with his unruly students in Carthage, Augustine leaves for Rome, much to the dismay of his mother, Monica. Shortly after arriving in Rome, he falls seriously ill, referring to it as a divine punishment. He credits his recovery to God and his mother's prayers. Living in Rome, Augustine admires "the Academics," a school of skeptics from Plato's Academy. Their logical challenges influence Augustine's perception of Manichee mythology. Despite his doubts, Augustine is still haunted by the Manichee's physical representations of God and evil. He struggles with their disbelief in Christ's human form. Growing frustrated with his dishonest students in Rome, Augustine takes a teaching position in Milan. Little did he know, this would lead to his break from the Manichees. There, he meets Bishop Ambrose who greatly influences his conversion. In Milan, Augustine warms to Christian philosophy, largely because he encounters figurative interpretations of the Old Testament. This helps him reconcile issues he had with Genesis and perceive the actions of the Old Testament prophets differently. At this point, Augustine nearly converts, becoming a catechumen waiting for a sign from God to be baptized. However, he's still held back by envisioning God as a physical entity, lacking the understanding of a spiritual substance.

book 6

In Book VI, Augustine describes his initial period in Milan and how he started embracing Christianity, influenced by his mother Monica and Bishop Ambrose. Monica's devout life and Ambrose's busy schedule and impactful sermons made Augustine believe that he might be destined for Catholicism. He was particularly intrigued by Ambrose's interpretation of the Bible, especially the phrase "the letter kills, the spirit gives life." Augustine began understanding the nuanced meanings of Biblical passages like God creating man "in his own image" and was drawn to the church's approach of not offering concrete "proof" of its doctrines. He found this modesty appealing, and it somewhat reduced his skepticism, making him believe that faith rather than reason is the foundation of true wisdom. Meanwhile, Augustine shares some daily-life incidents from Milan. He shares a story about a beggar he and his friends—Nebridius and Alypius—encountered en route to an important speech he was supposed to deliver. Augustine was anxious about the speech, but the beggar seemed content in his drunken state. This unsettled Augustine and led to a group discussion on the consequences of human follies. Although Augustine felt that his friends were spiritually similar to him, he mentions Alypius's "fatal passion for the circus" and public shows and how he and Nebridius supported Augustine's spiritual pursuits. As Augustine started gravitating towards Catholicism, he became anxious about sexual abstinence, even though the church permitted sex within marriage. Augustine felt that marriage could help him progress in his career because of the dowry he would receive. He frequently discussed this with Alypius, who remained celibate after an unpleasant sexual encounter. Alypius was against Augustine's wish to marry, as they had all been considering a solitary life away from society. However, Augustine decided to marry a twelve-year-old girl, although the wedding was to take place a few years later. Consequently, Augustine had to part ways with his mistress, the mother of his son Adeodatus. Book VI closes with Augustine teetering on the edge of conversion and marriage, but still burdened by doubts.

book 7

In Book VII of "Confessions", Augustine delves into his initial encounters with Neoplatonic philosophy, which greatly influences his understanding of the Catholic faith. He finds in Neoplatonism a bridge between his philosophical pursuits and newfound religious convictions, shaping his future works. He revisits his early views about the essence of God and the nature of evil, which were later transformed by Neoplatonism. Despite abandoning Manichee dualism, Augustine grapples with visualizing God as an "incorruptible and inviolable and unchangeable" entity. His conception of God as a physical presence, like "a secret breath of life" or sunlight, restricts him from grasping the idea of a spiritual substance. Even though he now deems Manichee dualism as detestable, he struggles with the concept of evil. He ponders over the paradox of human free will resulting in evil and questions why choosing evil is even an option when God is supreme. He realizes that his inability to resolve these issues stems from his incorrect visualization of God and the world. After dismissing astrology's credibility in a discussion with Firminus, a renowned astrologer, Augustine turns towards his Neoplatonic experience. He is fascinated by the close parallels between a Neoplatonic text and Genesis, and its strong opposition to Manichee dualism. However, he notes the absence of any mention of Christ, which might have been a deliberate move to avoid criticism from strict Catholics. Augustine also points out two shortcomings in Neoplatonism: the lack of praise for God and its polytheist tendencies. Despite these drawbacks, he is profoundly moved by his new learning, leading him to a transcendental vision of God. This vision is unlike any physical light, allowing him to finally "see" God with his mind. He comprehends the essence of existence and the relationship between God and creation. This revelation also enables Augustine to understand evil as non-existent for God. He perceives that elements of the world in conflict might appear evil, and human "wickedness" is a deviation of the will from God towards lesser things. Yet, this profound vision fades quickly, hindered by his sins and a lack of faith in Christ as the intermediary between God and man. Augustine attributes his reluctance to embrace Christ to his lack of humility. He views Christ merely as a wise man chosen by God, unlike his earlier belief in Christ's complete divinity. Despite being convinced of Neoplatonic principles, he feels incapable of truly experiencing God. His reading of the apostle Paul's works eventually provides him with the missing elements of grace and humility, reiterating the truths found in Neoplatonism while praising God's grace.

book 8

Augustine had gained some comprehension of God and evil, and the humility to accept Christ. He still grappled with the decision to fully join the church. Book VIII narrates his conversion experience in Milan which starts with a painful state of spiritual paralysis and concludes with an ecstatic choice in a Milan garden to wholly adopt celibacy and the Catholic faith. In his journey towards God, Augustine had eliminated all uncertainty "that there is an indestructible substance from which comes all substance," and understood that God was a spiritual substance with no spatial extension. Augustine's desire was not to be surer of God but to be more stable in God. He was deeply moved by the story of Victorinus, a respected rhetorician and translator of Neoplatonic texts told by his Christian friend Simplicianus. Victorinus had embraced Christianity later in his life, which greatly impressed Augustine. However, Augustine didn't convert immediately. He was battling a second will within himself: "my two wills...one carnal, one spiritual, were in conflict with one another." He remained habitually attracted to the allure of material things and pleasures yet felt this habit was "no more I." Augustine likened his state to a sleepy individual attempting to wake up. His friends Nebridius and Alypius were also on their spiritual journeys. In this motivating atmosphere, Ponticianus, another friend, told Augustine about monastic life outside the city. This pushed Augustine to confront himself: "you thrust me before my own eyes.... The day had now come when I stood naked to myself." His inner turmoil reached its peak during a conversation with Alypius. He was angry and distressed, and in the garden he was frustrated over his failure of will. His struggle was not about making a decision and then acting on it: "at this point the power to act is identical with the will." Augustine contemplated his situation where his body obeyed his mind, yet his mind couldn't obey itself. He considered the existence of two wills, quickly dismissed the notion, blaming his fault on two separate wills would be Manichean. "It was I," Augustine confessed. "I...was dissociated from myself." Even as Augustine was telling himself, "let it be now, let it be now," his old habits continued to tempt him. Eventually, he says that "Lady Continence" came and embraced him, and overcome with emotion, he went to a bench to weep. While sitting, he heard a child's voice repeating, "pick up and read, pick up and read." He interpreted this as a divine command to open his Bible. The passage he read was an instruction against "indecencies," urging him to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts." Upon reading this, Augustine was finally and fully converted. He hurried to share this joyous news with Alypius (who in the garden also decided to convert) and with Monica, who was overjoyed. Augustine had reached his goal.

book 9

Book 9 is the last autobiographical section of the Confessions, where Augustine narrates events immediately post his conversion. He discusses leaving his secular job, getting baptized with Alypius and Adeodatus, a profound vision he shares with Monica at Ostia prior to her demise, and a tribute to her. Following the complete realization of his free will and connection with God, Augustine decided to resign from his teaching position. He waited for the vacation period to do so, to avoid causing a commotion. At the same time, his friends Nebridius and Verecundus decided to convert to Catholicism. In the absence of professional work, Augustine focused on reading and writing. He produced dialogues discussing the Neoplatonist interpretation of Christianity. Despite viewing these works as prideful, he didn't take back anything from them. He also had a deep emotional experience reading the Psalms. There's also a brief mention of the Manicheans, whom Augustine now feels nothing but pity and revulsion for. He ponders about what can be done for the people who are as misguided as they were. Subsequently, Augustine, his son Adeodatus, and friend Alypius got baptized by Ambrose. Augustine started engaging more with Ambrose's congregation and took part in a sit-in against Arian Justina's anti-Catholic policies. Augustine then shifts his focus to his mother, Monica. He talks about her pious, humble, and wise ways. He credits her for keeping peace in the family and believes God used her to guide him towards the church. He reveals that Monica managed to convince his father Patrick to get baptized before his death. He then shares a vision he and Monica experienced in Ostia after his conversion and prior to her death. They conversed about the saint's rewards in the afterlife while overlooking a garden in Ostia. Further, Augustine tries to articulate the shared vision with Monica. He suggests that if everything stands still, God would communicate directly rather than through mediation. He describes eternal life as having the nature of that moment of understanding. After the vision, Monica expressed her contentment with life and fell ill soon after. Augustine remembers her not caring about where she was to be buried, saying "nothing is distant from God." Augustine refrained from mourning her death since she was going to be with God. However, he admits that he was in pain. He concludes that crying in front of God is acceptable because God is infinitely compassionate. The book concludes with a prayer for Monica's soul.

book 10

Book 10 in Augustine's Confessions marks the shift from personal memoir to philosophical and theological discourse. This section is significantly longer than the previous ones and introduces a conceptual framework where the journey of the soul towards God mirrors the return of all creation to the divine. Consequently, the final four books, including Book 10, delve into the world's existence in God instead of Augustine's spiritual journey. Augustine explores this idea by analyzing memory, which presents complex, mystical quandaries. Though his approach may seem peculiar, it's rooted in Latin and Platonic notions of memory and the pre-birth existence of the soul. However, Augustine's focus leans more towards unconscious knowledge, and he begins his inquiry by evaluating his love for God. Augustine asserts that his love for God is not tied to physical senses but to their spiritual equivalents. He believes that all beings are connected to God and emphasizes the human ability to understand God. However, Augustine recognizes that his spiritual faculties only provide indirect knowledge of God and he delves deeper to gain a direct understanding of the divine. Augustine's analysis of memory starts with an examination of sensory perceptions. He likens memory to a storehouse where images of experiences are collected, moved, and stored again. He marvels at the vastness of the memory and admits that he cannot fully comprehend it. He also recognizes that memory stores skills and ideas, the latter of which he believes are already present in our memory, waiting to be recognized. Emotional memory puzzles Augustine as he asks how we can remember emotions without re-experiencing them. He also contemplates the paradox of remembering forgetfulness. He concludes that memory is an immensely complex and powerful faculty and proposes that exploring it can aid in the quest to understand God. Augustine then ponders whether God exists elsewhere within him, since memory is also found in beasts. He suggests that even if the knowledge of God is lost to memory, it can be reassembled from deep within. He considers that humans might have a latent memory of happiness, as most people universally seek joy. He proposes that true joy is found in God, and the inability to seek it in God is a failure of the human will. Augustine asserts that people universally seek joy in truth and that the desire for truth is universal. He then evaluates his pursuit of God, recognizing that he cannot find God in his senses, emotions, or mind. Augustine finally identifies that he sought God by recognizing that God transcends the mind. In the remaining part of Book 10, Augustine confesses his ongoing struggles with sensual desires and worldly attachments. He discusses the challenges of dealing with erotic images, the enjoyment of food, and the power of sound, including music in the church. He also contemplates the issue of visual pleasure and the aesthetics of mundane objects. Augustine admits that he is often pleased by praise and confesses his lack of insight into this issue. He concludes that his soul can only find safety in God, expressing faith in God's mercy. The book ends with a critique of Neoplatonist visions of God, which Augustine deems false as they exclude Christ.

book 11

Augustine transitions from exploring memory to analyzing time, in which all recollections and confessions occur. Contemplating on Genesis and the creation of the world, he wrestles with discerning the relationship between God's eternity and the finiteness of His creation. Augustine admits the complexity of these questions and frequently requests God's assistance in maintaining his focus. Acknowledging that any confession he gives is bound by time, Augustine emphasizes the shared foundation of philosophy, religion, and his personal narrative in his writing, all of which are meant to glorify God. He then seeks to understand the origins of time and God's connection to this "beginning." According to Augustine, God didn't literally "make" the universe. Instead, he argues that creation was not an event "within" the universe since nothing, including space, could have existed before this creative act. He grapples with the method of God's creation as described in Genesis, arguing that God's "word" should not be understood as a conventional speech but an eternal utterance. Augustine suggests that if God's Word, which is eternal, brought forth creation, then why is creation bound by time and constant change? While he doesn't provide a specific answer, he implies that while things do change, they do so according to God's unchanging design. Augustine assigns a deeper meaning to the term "beginning." In his view, the "beginning" is God himself (manifesting as Christ). Augustine interprets the "beginning" in Genesis to avoid the temporal implications of this term. By viewing Christ as "wisdom," Augustine defines the path to seeking God's wisdom. This spiritual interpretation of Genesis serves as a response to Porphyry's critique that creation would require a change in God's unchanging will. Augustine counters this by asserting that God's act of creation was both instantaneous and eternal. Augustine then investigates the nature of time itself. He observes that everyone believes they understand time until they must explain it. He proposes that time is defined by things arriving, existing, and passing away, leading to the conclusion that time seems to lean towards non-existence. Despite his conclusion that time doesn't truly exist, Augustine acknowledges that it manifests in some form since it can be discussed and measured. He then faces the paradox of measuring something that lacks actual duration or extension. Augustine rejects various theories of measuring time, including the concept that time is dependent on the celestial movements. He asserts that these bodies operate within time, not define it. While he has dismissed several ideas about time, Augustine struggles with defining the familiar concept of "time." He suggests that time could be a "distention" or stretching of the soul, pulled away from the eternal present into the temporal world. Augustine concludes his exploration with a comparison of his temporal existence and God's eternal presence. As he grapples with the complex nature of time, he finds himself "scattered in times whose order I do not understand," while God dwells in a timeless eternity.

book 12

Augustine explores the concept of creation in Book 12, focusing on the diversity of interpretations of Genesis. He believes scripture can have multiple valid interpretations but stresses the boundaries of potential interpretations. Augustine debates phrases like 'heaven and earth' and revisits his own interpretation of Genesis. He grapples with creation's order, suggesting that the initial 'heaven' was not physical but the 'heaven of heaven' or God's dwelling, nearest to him. According to Augustine, the visible heavens and earth are not the primary creations. Instead, God crafted them from 'formless matter', a concept he considers to align with the 'earth invisible and unorganized'. Further, Augustine describes this formless matter as almost non-existent and the farthest removed from God. He attributes his misinterpretation of this to Manichee theology, which led him to visualize it as horrible forms in flux rather than entirely formless. He reiterates that formless matter is close to non-existence, thus referring to it as 'nothing'. He also introduces the 'heaven of heaven' preceding the visible 'heaven and earth' in creation's order. In the heaven of heaven, God's dwelling, Augustine sees a realm of intellect directly participating in God's eternity. Augstine's theory suggests that both formless matter and the heaven of heaven exist 'outside time.' Formless matter is timeless due to its formless nature, and the heaven of heaven has an unchangeable form that makes it timeless. In the second half of the book, Augustine responds to Catholic critics who argue for a literal reading of Genesis. He defends his interpretation, insisting that no one can truly comprehend Moses' thoughts when writing Genesis. Augustine reaffirms his arguments about God’s immutability and timelessness, asserting that God's will and nature are synonymous and unchanging over time. He clarifies a scripture phrase, 'wisdom was created before everything,' suggesting 'wisdom' refers to the heaven of heaven, which contemplates God and is part of his creation. He further explores alternative interpretations of 'heaven and earth', concluding that no single interpretation is the absolute truth. However, he does list ten guiding principles for interpreting Genesis. Augustine presents seven possible interpretations of Genesis, criticizes one that suggests God created from pre-existing matter, and divides disagreements over Genesis into two: 'truth of the matter in question' and 'writer's intention.' He dismisses arguments about Moses’ intention, emphasizing the deeper truths of Genesis. He criticizes those who claim to know Moses' intentions, arguing that the truth in Genesis is available to everyone. Augustine suggests that scripture's varied interpretations are because it seeks to reach a broad audience and lead them towards faith in God. He further elaborates on creation's order, rejecting the idea of temporal priority. Instead, he proposes priority in eternity, where God is above time, and priority in origin, where formless matter precedes the visible heaven and earth in a dynamic relationship. Concluding, Augustine dismisses the need to consider Moses' authorial intention, suggesting that Moses might have had all valid interpretations in mind while writing.

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