I’ve been nibbling on a book for the past year. My friend and I decided to read aloud “The Confessions of St. Augustine.” She lives in Michigan and I in Minnesota, and so a phone call book club seemed to be a way to connect. I came across a few nuggets I’d like to share.
St. Augustine was one naughty boy. His mother, Monica, was a woman of prayer and credited for his return to the faith because of those prayers.
Reading his confessions is like entering a time warp of words as they were written long ago. His story doesn’t flow with all sorts of juicy details as to what was said or done. Rather, his confessions are philosophical in nature and from the womb to the tomb, he owns it. He owns what part he had to play in his transgressions rather than laying blame by shaming others into believing they were responsible. Any true confession consists of ownership of one’s actions.
It’s a good read, but I needed help in understanding it so splurged on yet another book written by Peter Kreeft who helps unpack Augustine’s confessions.
Peter Kreeft writes, “Augustine, like ourselves, lived in a pagan culture, and there-fore in order to be Christian, he had to be counter cultural. Whether this is normal or even inevitable, or whether a Christian culture is possible and called for, is not the question here. Our pressing problem is practical: in our post-Christian culture, as in Augustine’s pre-Christian one, we must question ‘established custom’ and swim against the current, upstream, like salmon. Only live fish can swim upstream; dead ones can only ‘go with the flow’. The next time you hear someone argue against Christian morality by noting that ‘this is the 21st century, not the first’, remember you are listening to a dead fish.”
I’d never likened pre-Christian struggles as being similar to post-Christian struggles. Perhaps that is why I find the writings of the saints who have gone before us so compelling. They’ve not only lived many of the same struggles, but did not compromise their faith while doing so. I’m thankful for the documentation of many of their struggle as they encourage those of us who have come after. Knowingly or unknowingly, it not only helps me press in but to press on.
One final burst of points Peter Keeft makes about Augustine is fascinating.
“He thirsts for goodness and yearns to escape from sin and immorality, but that is not his most fundamental thirst. He thirsts for beauty and yearns to feast on it, but that is not his most fundamental thirst. His most fundamental thirst is the thirst for being, for reality. He longs to exchange emptiness for fullness, unreality for reality. He wants to escape error because it is the mind’s fake food, the mind’s unreality. He wants to escape sin because sin is the will’s fake food, the will’s unreality. He wants beauty for the same reason he wants truth and goodness: because it is the mark of being. For whoever has being also has truth and goodness and beauty because these are three properties of all being.”
These words of Augustine’s which I read no less than 10 times to grasp a portion of what they meant ... resonated within as I look out onto the world in which we live.
“It was no wonder that I fell away into vanity and went so far from thee, my God, seeing that men were held up as models for my imitation who were covered with shame if, I relating some acts of theirs in no way evil, they fell into some barbarism or grammatical solecism yet were praised, and delighted to be praised, when they told of their lusts, provided they did so in correct words correctly arranged…With that anxious care the sons of men observe the rules of letters and syllables ..., while they neglect the eternal rules of everlasting salvation.”
Sort of reminds me of Isaiah 5:20. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
I pray you ponder as have I. I pray you enjoy feasting upon the words of those who have gone before us. Their wisdom demonstrates what the Almighty can do, has done, and is doing. Amen.
Kathleen Kjolhaug lives on the family homestead outside of Clearbrook with her husband Pete. She enjoys writing about family life and brings humor into the sacred moments of everyday living.
Theology in the Trenches appears in several local newspapers throughout Minnesota. Kathleen can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org