Reflections: The Anxious Augustine

My classes are now in full swing, one of which is my class on Augustine.  Each week I will write some reflections on a couple points of interest to me in that week’s reading.  I offer these extemporaneous reflections for your consideration, beginning with this:

Throughout books 1-10 in Augustine’s Confessions he repeatedly emphasizes the importance of one’s intention in actions.  One can perform a good task or kind act and still be completely disobedient to God’s desire.  Furthermore, Augustine writes that “things liable to corruption are good . . . therefore, as long as they exist, they are good (124; see footnote 24).”  These two points when taken together make sense of how Augustine could see evil as the privation of good, and how the best thing anyone can do is love and obey God.  I wonder though if Augustine has inadvertently made it harder to follow God by making everything physical a constant source of temptation.  Shouldn’t the truest expression of love and obedience to God come in the way we act in our homes, jobs, etc., in the very physical lives we live?  I greatly appreciate Augustine’s wariness of idolatry, but how exactly can we honor God with our bodies if we are constantly on guard from temptation, as it seems he is in book 10?  This seems to have a very practical import on daily Christian living.  If we spend much of our time focusing on not letting ourselves become too attached to anything in this world, this could easily become a new type of bondage, and ironically a serious distraction from focusing on God.  I am still learning what a proper balance between alertness and freedom is, and while I respect Augustine’s desire for purity, I think he is too sensitive to the potential for idolatry, which leaves him wary and anxious, presenting at times a less than helpful model for discipleship.

The Anxious Augustine 🙂


2 responses to “Reflections: The Anxious Augustine

  1. And you’ve hit the nail on the head as to why Thomas finds him to be such a useful ethical trump card. The whole notion of form being given by God to matter, and all things being set on a path from formlessness to perfection, takes this tendency to disobedience and corruption and leans still harder on the incontrovertible goodness of creation. For Gus, it’s huge; for Tom, however large, it can never be more than token resistance, slowing but never reversing progress toward the ordained good.

    Don’t forget that the man was Manichean — rigorist dualism dogs his steps from then on, right into Neoplatonism. Ambrose wasn’t enough correction! And you’re right, it has a very practical import on daily Christian life, one I’m not sure we’ve ever gotten over.

    It sounds like a good struggle to keep up, in conversation with your source material.

  2. derek,

    I always enjoy your candor and believe that it is the platform of good dialogue. i think you make an interesting point about Augustine’s adherence to his awareness of intention as becoming a prison of sorts resulting in actually detracting one’s focus from pursuing the Lord. As I reflect on my own experience, I see that some of my greatest passions, generally grounded in a desire to more properly and effectively display the kingdom, can also become distractions from the very end i desire. i speculate that Augustine’s struggle is illutrative of everyone’s struggle to maintain the balance of passionate desire to honor and pursue Christ in the specific manner in which he sees most rewarding and not allowing that very view to confine him from other possibilities.

    thanks for the post,


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