LITERATURE: Confessions – Book II

Augustine acknowledges his sins of youth, his excesses and preoccupation with lustful sex.  He also admits to the stealing of fruit, pears that he neither needed or wanted but along with a group of friends, stole for the pure reason of stealing.

But there is a different maner of presentation of good and evil, in that Augustine appears to allow levels of goodness to earthly pleasures that go from a low end up to the pure, highest level found in God.  Thus, he gives honor to God for granting man all pleasures, while exhorting man to seek the highest level for true happiness and good.

The life which we live in this world has its attractiveness because of a certain measure in its beauty and its harmony with all these inferior objects that are beautiful.  Human friendship is also a nest of love and gentleness because of the unity it brings about between many souls.  Yet sin is committed for the sake of all these things and others of this kind when, in consequence of an immoderate urge towards those things which are at the bottom end of the scale of good, we abandon the higher and supreme goods, that is you, Lord God, and your truth and law.  (II:10)

At the end of this Book, Augustine again brings in the danger of elevating the favor of friends over that of God’s  when he speaks of his deplorable stealing of the pears and the motivation for the act:

Why then did I derive pleasure from an act I would not have done on my own?  Is it that nobody can easily laugh when alone?  Certainly no one readily laughs when alone; yet sometimes laughter overcomes individuals when no one else is present if their senses or their mind perceived somthing utterly absurd.  But alone I would not have done it, could not conceivably have done it by myself.  (…) Friendship can be a dangerous enemy, a seduction of the mind lying beyond the reach of investigation.  (II:17)

In this way, Augustine acknowledges the pleasures of life as gifts from God, but warns that they should not be held in esteem above the giver.

How often do we appreciate the pleasure of chocolate, dark sweet cherries, a phone call from a friend, a poem, a kiss, without ever giving thought to the wonder behind them?

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2 Responses to LITERATURE: Confessions – Book II

  1. So I guess peer pressure for the young is about the same now as it was waaay back then.

  2. susan says:

    Yes, it’s rather amazing really that Augustine seems to be addressing the same problems that mankind faces now. Except, of course, what to watch on TV tonight.

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