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This bitter sea, the human race,
This review is from: The Confessions of St.Augustine (Dover Thrift Editions) (Paperback)
This is an eminently Catholic book written by a sinner in his young age, becoming a singer of the heavenly pleasures of asceticism, growing older. It is a long masochistic call to God for forgiveness of his previous sins in order to get eternal bliss.
Saint Augustine sees sins everywhere and every time. Every newborn baby receives a stamp `original sin' from his first day on earth, followed immediately by `Was it a sin to cry when I wanted to be feed at the breast?' All organs are sources of sin: the ears, the eye, the smell, taste (eating and drinking) and obsessively, sex (`better a eunuch for love of the kingdom of heaven'). The bodily pleasures leave him so terrified to loose eternal bliss that `Even in my sleep I resist the attractions'!
Other characteristic cardinal Christian rules are: obey all authorities (`In his own kingdom a king has the right to make orders'), censure (`But your law, God, permits the free flow of curiosity to be stemmed'), and deep anti-science sentiments (`futile curiosities masquerade under the name of science and learning. The secrets of nature are irrelevant to our lives.')
One should think that `love thy neighbor' is one of his basic principle. Absolutely not. He is a profound sectarian: `the Manichees, I ought to have disgorged these men like vomit.'
But, why is he so sure that he is right? Because of his faith, `not a clear view'; his faith in God and the Holy Scriptures.
Saint Augustine's Confessions contain also rather childish reflections on the mind, the body-mind dichotomy, memory and, e.g., `the problem of space and God's dimensions'.
But not everything is negative in this book. There is the love for his mother and his young son.
Remarkable is his vision that time didn't exist before the creation of the universe.
As a former sinner, Saint Augustine knows human nature all too well; e.g. `Men love truth when it bathes them in its light; they hate it when it proves them wrong.'
More importantly, he found a religious solution for the problem of evil: if God created everything, he is also responsible for all evil in the world. But God gave all human beings a free will. Every human being is individually responsible for his actions. (This is not the case for Calvin's creed of predestination).
This book gives a clear picture of the `Catholic' mentality in Saint Augustine's times. Unfortunately, this mentality didn't change that much since then.
One should in no way underestimate Saint Augustine's influence on Christian and Western morals.
Only for historians and theologians.
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Initial post: 1 Jan 2011 15:58:57 GMT
Mr. J. E. Norman says:
I'm a bit surprised by you review, as you seemingly missed out/misinterpreted huge parts of confessions. One key point is that even when he is seeing bad things happen, he is still praising God constantly throughout the book, still remembering the existence of Good in the World, and often mentioning God's gift of Love. I will grant that he is often negative about society and the Evil that existed within it, but to be honest any Saint probably would have noticed the problems within the Roman World at that time! Also, I don't think he was doing it all just to get into Heaven. Augustine's position does not mean that his position was necessarily anti-science, as it seems that most of the secrets of nature are irrelevant to the things in one's life that matter (at least to Augustine) and lots of it is really interesting, but fuelled by curiosity.
Finally, the biggest mistake that you made was your complete and utter misrepresentation of the concept of Privatio Boni. Augustine did not argue that freedom is what justifies Evil, or that Evil is justified in any way. He only really says two things about evil, firstly that it was introduced to the world by the fall (which is not the same as a justification) and then secondly that the introduction of Evil was not Evil as a positive thing, but a privation of good, a lacking of a substance. This position naturally leaves to one not justifying evil, but protesting against it (for justifying evil from a Privatio Boni view is justifying something that is absurd and does not really exist, and thus serves no purpose).
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