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Confessions

St. Augustine

Book IV

Book III

Book IV, page 2

page 1 of 3

Returning to Thagaste from his studies at Carthage, Augustine began to teach rhetoric, making friends and chasing a career along the way. Though giving some account of these worldly matters, Augustine spends much of Book IV examining his conflicted state of mind during this period. Having begun his turn toward God (through the desire for truth) but continuing to be ensnared in sinful ways, Augustine wrestled painfully with the transitory nature of the material world and with the question of God's nature in relation to such a world.

[IV.1-7] Augustine opens this Book with a short description of his pursuits in Thagaste, which he says consisted primarily of "being seduced and seducing, being deceived and deceiving." He points out that he spent his public hours in pursuit of empty, worldly goals (his ambition to attain public office, which required great skill in oratory as well as contacts and money) and his private hours pursuing a "false religion" (Manicheism). This hypocritical life, in which he sought both material gain and (false) spiritual purity, was nothing but a form of "self-destruction."

Chief among Augustine's regrets about this period are his career as a "salesman" of the "tricks of rhetoric" (he was an instructor in rhetoric, partly to students at the law courts) and his persistence in keeping a concubine. Although he doesn't say much about this unnamed woman, she stayed with Augustine for nearly ten years, eventually bearing him a son (Adeodatus, who would die at age seventeen).

Augustine does recall, however, making some progress toward truth. In part through the influence of his close friend Nebridius, Augustine concluded that astrology is "utterly bogus." (This will prove an important first step in discarding the colorful Manichee mythology, which contains a number of bizarre accounts of the heavenly bodies). Shunning this dubious form of prediction and the elaborate sacrificial rituals that often accompanied it, Augustine began to attribute its occasional success almost entirely to chance, which he sees as "a power everywhere diffused in the nature of things."

[IV.8-18] Such considerations were interrupted for a while when a close friend of Augustine suddenly passed away, leaving him grief-stricken: "everything on which I set my gaze was death." Realizing now that his grief would have been alleviated by faith in God, Augustine concludes that his grief meant he had "become to myself a vast problem." Attached to the transient, embodied things of the world (rather than to God), he suffered grief when they disappeared.

This theme gets a lengthy treatment here, as Augustine investigates the unreliability and transience of things and the permanence of God. Misery, he writes, is due to an unreasonable attachment to "mortal things." Further, this is always the state of the soul without God--misery is everywhere when there is nothing eternal to depend on. "Where," Augustine asks, "should I go to escape from myself?... Wherever the human soul turns itself, other than you, it is fixed in sorrows."

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nonsense

by hhd618, August 26, 2012

The book was in old English and asked so many questions about god and toward god, which could not be answered. It's meaningless to write Book 1 because he only praised the god rather than the ordinary people who gave him knowledge to write and learn. Without human beings, how could he get over all this obstacles on his way communicating toward god. He is nothing special, and he cannot be too complacent saying that he knows too much about the god.

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Maybe not...

by Kneish, October 16, 2012

Well, being that his view is theocentric, perhaps Augustine sees the human beings as God's helpers. Meaning that if it weren't for God the human being wouldn't have been present at all. So them being present in his life was more of an effort on God's part than it actually was for those who helped. Yes, it wouldnt hurt to give the helpers some acknowledgement for the roles they played, but to Augustine they were probably smaller parts to a greater plan the God orchestrated. Therefore, God actually would deserve the ultimate praise.

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As far as Plato and the Meno go...

by IAcceptChaos, October 23, 2013

This SparkNote is wrong. Plato didn't really believe that "learning is a kind of remembering, in which the soul rediscovers a truth it knew before birth." This is a dialectical approach that Socrates uses on Meno to disprove the famous "Meno's Paradox," in which Meno asks Socrates "How will you look for virtue if you do not know what it is? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing you did not know?" I can't believe that SparkNotes would let inaccurate information like this be part of the foundation for another text.

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