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Readalongs > Confessions Readalong (Charbel, Giorgia, Monica, Greg, and anyone else interested)

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Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments We will be reading one of the most influential religious works by one of the central figures of Western Christianity. There is no particular reading program that you must follow, so read at your own pace. Spoilers shouldn't be a major issue as this is an introspective and contemplative book, but in case you suspect one mark it before you post. Let's be respectful regarding each other's opinions and views, but don't feel censored. We start February 15, feel free to jump in at any time. Feel free to discuss and participate, and above all enjoy!


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments I'll be starting this weekend. Is anyone having problems finding a copy of the book? It's public domain so it should be easy to find one, if not let me know.


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Great!


message 4: by Monica (last edited Feb 13, 2015 08:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Monica Davis Just skimmed the Intro and will pick it up this weekend as well. Is anyone reading this in Latin? The Introductory Notes to my English version state [about the writing] that:

He loved to use "rhymes" in his prose....The presence of so much rhyming in the Latin diction presents an insoluble problem to the translator. It is impossible to reproduce in another language without resulting in absurdity.

I don't think I can read Latin anymore, but would love to know what I'm missing.


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments Monica wrote: "Just skimmed the Intro and will pick it up this weekend as well. Is anyone reading this in Latin? The Introductory Notes to my English version state [about the writing] that:

He loved to use "rhym..."


I wish! But I'm afraid, aside from scientific terms, my Latin is nonexistent.


message 6: by Monica (last edited Feb 18, 2015 06:04PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Monica Davis How's everyone doing? Are you going book by book, or taking the entire work as a "whole"?

I read Book One and after highlighting so many passages I came to the realization that because of this work's depth and richness one pass would not do it justice. I've taken the "immersion reading" approach to treat each book individually as follows:

1. Read each book in English
2. Listen to the audio in English (by book)
3. Listen to an audio of at least a portion of each book in Latin (to gain the flavor of pious reverence)

Overall, (based on Book One) I am quite impressed with this work.


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Leslie | 15985 comments Something has been nagging me about this book and I figured it out today -- I own this book but have never read it! So maybe once I finish up one of my current books, I will join you.


Monica Davis Yay, Leslie! Please do join in.


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I must have misplaced my copy of this book or lent it, I just can't find it anywhere :(
I've purchased an ebook edition from the library but I was considering getting a nicer paper version, one with the latin text too (and with more thorough commentary).


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments Leslie wrote: "Something has been nagging me about this book and I figured it out today -- I own this book but have never read it! So maybe once I finish up one of my current books, I will join you."

Welcome Aboard Leslie!

I was hoping to start last week, but something came up and then I got caught up in uni work, so I'll definitely start tonight!


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chapter 6.
Augustine writes "before this time was I somewhere else, was I someone? Nobody can answer that."

my hand book reminds me of Plato ' s theory of the hyperuranium, a place out of space and time were souls dwell before they incarnate in a body.
I was wondering though, what was the Church's position on the subject at the time. I will try and find out, but I thought that maybe some of you knew it already.


Monica Davis Giorgia wrote: "chapter 6.
Augustine writes "before this time was I somewhere else, was I someone? Nobody can answer that."...I was wondering though, what was the Church's position on the subject at the time..."


Great question, Giorgia. I don't know what the Church's position was at the time of Augustine, but in modern times we were taught that: "...every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection".


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments Giorgia wrote: "chapter 6.
Augustine writes "before this time was I somewhere else, was I someone? Nobody can answer that."

my hand book reminds me of Plato ' s theory of the hyperuranium, a place out of space an..."


I see, you mean Plato's ideal plane. I think you might be right. At that time they were very influenced with Greek philosophy, so he was definitely aware of Plato's ideas. Whether it was a clear reference to him, I cannot tell. But I'm not sure about the church's position, particularly since during Augustine's time the church wasn't the colossus that it would later become.


message 14: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 21, 2015 09:52AM) (new)

Monica wrote: "Giorgia wrote: "chapter 6.
Augustine writes "before this time was I somewhere else, was I someone? Nobody can answer that."...I was wondering though, what was the Church's position on the subject a..."


Yes, I was taught the same :)

Charbel wrote: " I'm not sure about the church's position, particularly since during Augustine's time the church wasn't the colossus that it would later become. "

Absolutely. That makes the church of those times so much more fascinating to me.

Anyway, I did a little bit of research and the problem of the soul was something Augustine thought a lot about.
See for example the letter n 166 (in the link in the English translation) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102...
It's pretty interesting to read, but you can just jump to chapter 3.

To summarize it, there were 4 theories : << (1) that all other souls are derived from the one which was given to the first man; (2) that for each individual a new soul is made; (3) that souls already in existence somewhere are sent by divine act into the bodies; or (4) glide into them of their own accord. >>

You can read what Jerome (the recipient of Augustine's letter) believed at 4.8, << that God even now makes each soul for each individual at the time of birth. >> but Augustine is not fully convinced.


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I have to say, I really like Augustine as a person or at least what comes out of his personality form his writings.


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments I've read a fair bit of the book so far, and I am really fascinated by Augustine. The descriptions about his education and the questioning of whether it's right to beat students really took me by surprise. I always pictured him as a supporter of such austerity, but it was refreshing to read that such things did come up even back then.


Monica Davis I'm intrigued with the document as an important doctrine in the context of Philosophy and Social Science; one which has survived for centuries and has significant merit in our own lives.

The Introduction states: "Augustine was clever, and therefore distrusted. Many recalled how combative he had once been against the Catholic Church before his conversion." Further along it says: "Accordingly, the Confessions took some impetus from a wish to answer critics both inside and outside the Catholic community." And later: "The work was written during the last three years of the fourth century AD by a man in his forties, recently made a bishop, needing to come to terms with a past in which numerous enemies and critics showed an unhealthy interest."

Given that, how then to put his beliefs in writing without providing his enemies a weapon to use against him? Augustine cleverly aligned his own thoughts with frequent quotations of Psalms; a way to hedge against too much ridicule, and give this work relevance for as long as the Bible is read. He loosely followed the formal structure of "prayer": beginning by praising his Lord, moving to a questioning phase to establish boundaries of etiquette/guidance, offering his concerns/message, and then closing by giving thanks.

But the "meat" of the sandwich is brilliant. As you pointed out, Charbel, between the scriptural lines, he shares the same issues which continue to plague mankind. Human nature...children feeling the pangs of growing up, bemoaning educational constraints and discipline. The more things change, the more they stay the same (some such saying).


Monica Davis Giorgia wrote: "See for example the letter n 166 (in the link in the English translation) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102......"

Thanks for the link, Giorgia. Very interesting to read.


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Leslie | 15985 comments Sorry guys. I started reading the introduction and am just not in the mood for it at the moment. When I finally do read it, I'll report back here.


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments I also noticed the prayer format Monica.

Leslie, there's really no rush. I myself am taking my time with it.


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I have to say, I actually liked greek mythology better than roman literature ( back when I studied them in high school). I still think the Iliad is better than the Aeneid, much more enjoyable and profound.
I disagree with Augustine when he is so hard on himself for liking this subject at school better than math. Who wouldn't? I understand though that the greek pantheon was in contrast with christianity and this is perhaps the reason why Augustine condemns it.


Monica Davis Through Book 5. I'm tempted to go back and count up the number of times Augustine references his own ability to easily understand so much while others struggle...humility is not his strong suit.


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments Monica wrote: "Through Book 5. I'm tempted to go back and count up the number of times Augustine references his own ability to easily understand so much while others struggle...humility is not his strong suit."

Lol!


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Hahaha! indeed


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments I still haven't decided if I like Augustine or not. At times he seems quite humble, somewhat ashamed of the life he led before discovering Christianity, but he still comes across as a bit arrogant when discussing other people.
Other than that I must say that he's very eloquent, though the 'prayer-like' writing can get a bit tedious.


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Charbel wrote: "I still haven't decided if I like Augustine or not. At times he seems quite humble, somewhat ashamed of the life he led before discovering Christianity, but he still comes across as a bit arrogant ..."

I liked him better in his "Letters". I found him inquisitive, he was asking questions, not knowing the answers, trying to understand, even modern, in the way he was considering some doctrines. Here he is too apologizing but in an almost arrogant way, always defending himself (from readers, not from God). I'm still at chapter 7, so I'm hoping for a change in tone when I get to his full conversion and to more Ambrogio.

I'm dragging "Confessions", reading occasionally. I don't know if you feel the same, but I need to be very focused and calm when I read this. I find it... disrespectful to read it while my attention isn't 100% on it. I usually read to rest my mind from text books or to soothe me to sleep and I just can't do it with this book.


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments Giorgia wrote: "Charbel wrote: "I still haven't decided if I like Augustine or not. At times he seems quite humble, somewhat ashamed of the life he led before discovering Christianity, but he still comes across as..."

Absolutely! It's by no means a feel-better read. I need to be in an inquisitive mood to read it, which is hard enough after a long day of studying. Therefore, I mostly read it during the weekends.
I think the only way I could finish it is if I read it in small doses. It actually makes me miss Ulysses.


Monica Davis Interesting observations on his character/likability...I had similar thoughts as I read along. He is an enigma, so to be fair I read sections by three different translators, and in some small part this could be an issue...choice of words, which I found harsher in some translations vs others. That still does not excuse the overall perception of his character.

I think the Church got the "last laugh"; making him well known (in modern day at least) as Patron Saint of Brewers. He valued his own rhetoric, and spoke highly of orators and the importance of words. I'm not sure how keen he would be on his present notoriety...raise a toast to Augustine?


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments Monica wrote: "Interesting observations on his character/likability...I had similar thoughts as I read along. He is an enigma, so to be fair I read sections by three different translators, and in some small part ..."

It's an interesting point. Translation can definitely affect choice of words, and choice of words will definitely influence our perceptions of his character.


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

This seemed interesting, so I thought I'd share

1. The context of fourth-century Christianity is important to keep in mind throughout much of the Confessions,not only with regard to Augustine's parents but also as a framework for his own lengthy struggle with becoming a Catholic. In the fourth century, Catholicism was one young theological philosophy among many, competing for followers with Christian splinter groups like the Manichees, secular philosophies like Neoplatonism, trendy returns to ancient religions like the cult of Osiris, and the much more traditional propitiation of 'pagan' Greek and Roman deities (this last being the primary religion of the Roman aristocracy which Augustine was trying for a long time to join). Becoming a Catholic or any other kind of orthodox Christian would not have been seen as an entirely normal thing for a person of society to do, and could in fact hinder the kind of successful public career Augustine pursued for much of his young life.


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2. Augustine was among a large number of cultivated, well-educated people that joined the Manichees, in part because their texts were written in what Augustine called 'a good Latin' and were presented in handsome volumes. Manicheism was an impressive, colorful faith, depending heavily on its forceful, rhetorically embellished disagreements with Christianity and also on an elaborate cosmology. For ten years, Augustine preferred the well-worded Manichee arguments to the simple parables of the Bible, which he thought crass and uneducated (it didn't help that the Latin Bible was at that time in a particularly poor and unliterary version).


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3. The immediate reasons for writing his masterpiece seem largely to have to do with his appointment as a bishop at Hippo (also in Northern Africa) in 396. Augustine does not seem to have wanted this post—it was more of an offer he couldn't refuse (the forcing of ordination on a person was not uncommon at the time). His critics, however, had even stronger doubts that he was the right man for the job, citing his Manichee past, his cleverness in rhetoric, and his relatively recent conversion. The Confessions were written partly as a response to these critics, openly confessing Augustine's past mistakes, praising God with effusiveness and poetry, and roundly denouncing the Manichees.


Monica Davis Giorgia wrote: "3. The immediate reasons for writing his masterpiece seem largely to have to do with his appointment as a bishop at Hippo (also in Northern Africa) in 396. Augustine does not seem to have wanted this post—it was more of an offer he couldn't refuse (the forcing of ordination on a person was not uncommon at the time)."

I'm fascinated at how Augustine's life came together. It appears that (from his perspective) most things happened to him rather than he taking initiative with directed purpose and a lifelong passion. He doesn't seem to take responsibility for many things he attempts to rationalize. One example is that as a young boy he only stole pears because his friends did (peer pressure). There's always an "excuse" for why he did the things he did...usually involving someone or something else to take (or share) the "blame". And later he only reluctantly became bishop.

I appreciate his openness and broad scope (to this day) of relevant topics, but who would he have been if not lead (or pushed) through life by happenstance? He is certainly not an example of a "self-made" man.


message 34: by Leslie (last edited Apr 02, 2015 06:00AM) (new) - added it

Leslie | 15985 comments I ran across this poem by our current seasonal poet, Denise Levertov, which seems appropriate to your readalong.

"For the Asking"
   'You would not seek Me if you did not already possess Me' -- Pascal

Augustine said his soul
was a house so cramped
God could barely squeeze in.
Knock down the mean partitions,
he prayed, so You may enter!
Raise the oppressive ceilings!
                                                Augustine's soul
didn't become a mansion large enough
to welcome, along with God, the women he'd loved,
except for his mother (though one, perhaps,
his son's mother, did remain to inhabit
a small dark room). God, therefore,
would never have felt
fully at home as his guest.
                                                Nevertheless,
it's clear desire
fulfilled itself in the asking, revealing prayer's
dynamic action, that scoops out channels
like water on stone, or builds layers
of grainy sediment steadily
forming sandstone. The walls, with each thought,
each feeling, each word he set down,
expanded, unnoticed; the roof
rose, and a skylight opened.

(From "This Great Unknowing")


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Brilliant observation Monica!


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments Leslie wrote: "I ran across this poem by our current seasonal poet, Denise Levertov, which seems appropriate to your readalong.

"For the Asking"
   'You would not seek Me if you did not already possess Me' -- P..."


Wow, that's a great find Leslie! Thank you for sharing.


Charbel (queez) | 2665 comments Monica- I agree that much of his life is the subject of circumstance. In fact the only action he seemed to take was deciding that he would only become a true Christian when he could control his lust. That admirable all-or-nothing mentality is overshadowed by placing so much blame on his friends, his pagan roots, and plain old human nature.


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