Quick Thoughts on Augustine

I’m reading Augustine’s Confessions again. He is terribly hard on himself for things that most of us would dismiss without a second thought: we’d say either “Oh, that wasn’t so bad,” or “You didn’t know any better,” or “You were just trying to test your boundaries,” or “You were still finding yourself,” or “You were only 16”.

Do we tend to go easy on stuff like that because we are permissive, or because we have a better understanding of psychology than he did?

Is he hard on himself because he’s a fanatic, or because he understands sin better than we do?

Is he especially neurotic, or are we especially degenerate?



10 Comments on “Quick Thoughts on Augustine”

  1. Kate says:

    We’re a both/and people, Joey.

    1. So then he’s neurotic AND we’re degenerate. Awesome.

  2. Annette says:

    Or maybe he’s not justifying and that’s hard to read/deal with. Maybe we’re so used to justifying that it has become too easy and seeing someone without it is uncomfortable.

    Or something.

  3. Anna Macdonald says:

    I have the same debate on a near-daily basis. SHOULD I have cleaned the house more today? Or was I right to take it easy? Should I have pushed myself to drink more water or did I do the best I could? Should I have gone the extra mile and thought up something nice to do for my neighbor/friend, or was that an unrealistic expectation in the first place? If I *always* listen to what my head tells me I (logically) SHOULD be doing, then I will lead a very regimented life, driven by (a harsh) perfectionism. (And experience suggests I will just keep failing at that, anyway.) If I *always* listen instead to what I WANT to be doing, I will spiral into a degenerate state of mostly doing nothing. It is exhausting and impossible to try to continually choose which is the appropriate approach to take in all the many open moments of my day.

    Some thoughts:

    – Sometimes God seems to force me into doing things I REALLY don’t want to do. Other times, he doesn’t.
    – While it doesn’t necessarily help with the “do I need to confess this as a sin” question, there are a lot of times where I can say “Even if I was just too young/tired/other-excuse this time, I know that the results were not desirable, so I will try to do it differently next time.”

  4. richard says:

    Augustine of Hippo came to an understanding of sin which we have greatly lost in our times.

  5. Jason says:

    my money is on our being completely depraved.

  6. Michael says:

    Difference between saints and the rest of us. The closer we get to God the more we understand how even our smallest sins impact ourselves and others

  7. AGyB says:

    As far as I know, many of today’s theologians lean towards him being neurotic and not understanding enough of psychology. I’ve heard during my studies that it’s considered the negative aspect of his tremendous influence that Western Christianity developed that “angular” attitude towards sexuality that used to predominate until recently. Great saints have their weak points too, and for Augustine it was self-reproach. Though, possibly, what later generations have imbibed from his writings is not the same as interpreting him while having in view the whole of his personality.
    St. Augustine is the Patron of our parish; I’m also planning to read some things from him before the feast :).

  8. T. Rede says:

    Reading Augustine’s Confessions for me is always humbling… And anyway for my life, looking back on my own story–I for one find myself quite shocked at the depravity of my youth. But then again, I can either work myself up into a self-loathing storm of disgustedness… Or I can look at it again and see what was actually happening, the fact that as a sentient being–we like pleasure… We are programmed for it. To hate that we like pleasurable things is in some way to hate ourselves… What would have been stranger is if I would have been doing things that were physically painful to myself–or physically painful to others and deriving joy from that. That is body hating, creation hating, and wrong. Not to say that making pleasure your God is wise either–but it is understandable that we are driven in that basic direction. The problem is realizing that anything pursued without balance or moderation will enslave you. So certainly, we could all be body hating prudes who walk around pretending that we are not like other men… Or we can bring some presence and recognize that because we like pleasure does not make us animals–but rather it makes us human–which is what God created and loves. It is our responsibility to cultivate those appetites in a way that neither leads to enslavement nor a self-loathing desire to destroy the parts of us that desire. And in that process of getting in touch with the desperate parts of our own being, it should give us a little compassion and understanding for the next generation–and make us better teachers to help them avoid the pitfalls and pain we failed to see coming, and help us pick them up with a gentle spirit when they inevitably fail to meet perfection.

  9. Ryan Gooseling says:

    I often wonder how St. Peter felt when he clung to the knees of Christ and told him to send him away. How do you categorize an encounter between the soul of a sinner and an inferno of love?

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