June 10, 2018


Augustine's "Confessions" Unpacked: a review of I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine's Confessions Unpacked, by Peter Kreeft (Louis Markos, 6/10/18, Imaginative Conservative)

I mentioned above that Dr. Kreeft helped me see that my old mentor's hatred of Augustine was likely linked to Augustine's belief in Original Sin. Sadly, most moderns who practice introspection do so as a means of identifying other people, or institutions, to blame for their sinful behavior. (That is why moderns have identified guilt as the problem rather than as the signal that there is a problem.) Augustine does not allow himself that easy way out. He is fully aware both of his sinful nature and his sinful choices.

What we do always manifests what we are. Where else could our deeds come from? That is why God does not accept our lying excuses: "the devil made me do it" (Eve), or "the woman You gave me made me do it" (Adam), or "my apelike ancestry made me do it" (Darwin), or "my capitalist economy made me do it" (Marx), or "the hormones of my libido made me do it" (Freud).[3]

Modern readers love to emphasize that the great Augustine was once a sexual libertine. That claim, though greatly exaggerated, is a true one, but not quite in the way that our post-sexual revolution era would like it to be. As Dr. Kreeft reminds us, Augustine was quite aware that the Christian faith of his mother toward which he was attracted held out only two options: celibacy outside marriage or chastity within marriage. Augustine knew that he was sinning with his mistress, even as he knew that his sin was a form of addiction--but he couldn't pull himself out of his self-destructive lifestyle.

Augustine is seeking after love--ultimately, the love of God--but he keeps going astray, vainly trying to satisfy his yearning for love on lesser objects. Augustine knows this; that is why he is perpetually restless as he seeks to rest his heart in the one who placed the yearning within him. Augustine is at heart a rebel, but not a rebel against sexual morality; to the contrary, he rebels against his enslavement to sexual sin, to the horrible Pauline reality (Roman 7:15-20) that he continually does the very thing he does not want to do.

One of Dr. Kreeft's simplest but most profound insights is that the Confessions is first and foremost a prayer to God. Indeed, unless we read it as a prayer, we will not understand it; we will only study it. Augustine "is not talking to us and letting God listen in; he is talking to God and letting us listen in."[4] Or, to put it another way, Augustine "wrote the book to help us look at him and at ourselves only through God's eyes."[5] Those who read the Confessions as a tell-all book to satisfy their vain curiosity, and perhaps even to feel superior to Augustine, will miss completely its meaning and its purpose. If we are not convicted and inspired by Augustine's transformation in Christ to seek our own true freedom and peace, then we might as well close the book and turn on Oprah.

It's not just that Original Sin helps us understand why none of us are the men we wish to be, but that it made our faith the only anti-utopian belief system among men.

Posted by at June 10, 2018 6:47 AM