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St. Augustine


Book VII

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Book VII

Book VII

Book VII

Although Augustine has been using Neoplatonic terms and ideas throughout the Confessions thus far, it isn't until Book VII that he reaches the point in his autobiography when he first reads Neoplatonic philosophy. This is a watershed moment for the young Augustine, who finds in Neoplatonism a way of reconciling his long pursuit of philosophy with his new and serious faith in the Catholic church. The union of this philosophy and this theology will guide his work (including the Confessions) for the rest of his life.

[VII.1-7] Augustine begins with another appraisal of his philosophy at the time, paying particular attention to his conceptions of God as a being and of the nature of evil (the two concepts that Neoplatonism would alter most for him). The problem of picturing God remained central. Having rejected Manichee dualism, Augustine was finally trying to imagine God as "incorruptible and inviolable and unchangeable" rather than as some kind of limited, partly impotent substance.

He still, however, has no conception of spiritual substance (a substance that is not matter and does not exist in space). He pictured God as "a secret breath of life" or like sunlight, when he shouldn't have been "picturing" him at all. "My eyes are accustomed to such images," he writes, and "my heart accepted the same structure. Augustine couldn't get around the idea that anything not occupying space could still have existence. (He notes that even the power of thought itself, if he had considered it, would have served as an example).

Similarly, although Augustine now thought of Manichee dualism as "an abomination," he still had no solution to the problem of evil. He even reached the point of suspecting (after listening to other Catholics) that human free will causes evil, but was left with the question of why humans can choose evil at all. How could it even be an option to choose something other than God, if God is omnipotent?

This problem, too, Augustine now attributes to improper visualization. He thought of God like an immense ocean, with the world as "a large but finite sponge" within it. Thus, he asked, "how [did] evil creep in?" And if matter itself was evil (as the Manicheans taught), why did God create it?

[VII.8-22] After a brief discussion of astrology (which, in a conversation with a prominent astrologer called Firminus, he finds as improbable as ever), Augustine turns to his Neoplatonic experience. Picking up a Neoplatonic text, he read what seemed to be almost another version of Genesis. The book (he doesn't name it) struck Augustine as thrillingly similar to Genesis, and authoritatively contrary to Manichee dualism.

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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.


16 out of 17 people found this helpful

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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