Confessions

by: St. Augustine

Wickedness and Evil

1

Both boiled confusedly within me, and dragged my unstable youth down over the cliffs of unchaste desires and plunged me into a gulf of infamy.

In poetic and inflated language, Augustine describes the descent into wickedness and sin that he experienced in his teenage years. He blames his sinfulness on uncontrollable passion and the hot imagination of puberty. He takes complete responsibility for his transgressions and blames himself heavily and without mercy throughout Book II.

2

But fool that I was, I foamed in my wickedness as the sea and, abandoning you, followed the rushing of my own tide, and burst out of your bounds.

In Book II, Augustine confesses, in detail, about the transgressions of his sixteenth year. This comparison to the foaming ocean both reveals his poetic tendencies and hints at the inevitability of this phase of life. Specifically, he cites sexual exploits, deceit, and at least one instance of theft, a crime he committed with other boys when they stole pears from a tree.

3

Thus I fell among men, delirious in their pride, carnal and voluble, whose mouths were the snares of the devil[.]

In Book III, Augustine describes his time in Carthage, where his transformation happened. He had read the scriptures, but he associated with false believers who talked about truth but did not accept the idea that god is truth. These men acted as foolish deceivers who distracted him for some time while he was on his path to faith and belief.

4

And it seemed better to me to believe that no evil had been created by you—for in my ignorance evil appeared not only to be some kind of substance but a corporeal one at that.

In his twenty-ninth year, Augustine still questioned the existence of evil because evil would have to have been created by the all-good god. He admits that at this point in his spiritual evolution, he imagined evil as a material object, something that took up time and space. Readers learn that Augustine changes his mind about the nature and origin of evil later in his life.

5

And I kept seeking for an answer to the question: Where does evil come from? And I sought it in an evil way, and I did not see the evil in my own search.

Augustine spends a good deal of Book VII exploring the paradoxical question about the origin of evil. He would wonder: If god is all good and created all, then where does evil come from? He answers his own question in terms of the disharmony and corruption of things that are essentially good. Augustine believes that god cannot create evil, but god made humans, and humans may easily corrupt what is good and create evil.

6

For when I am wicked, to confess to you means nothing less than to be dissatisfied with myself, but when I am truly devout, it means nothing less than not to attribute my virtue to myself; because you, lord, bless the righteous, but first you justify him while he is yet ungodly.

In Book X, Augustine works through his thoughts about his newfound existence as a follower of god, including the practice and meaning of confessing his sins, both past and present. He claims that god knows the words of his soul and that he doesn’t even have to confess aloud. He may be justifying writing his Confessions for others to read someday, wondering how others will know if he speaks, or writes, the truth.