Confessions

by: St. Augustine

Study Questions

1

Early in Book I, Augustine considers the problems involved in asking God to 'come into me.' What qualities of God make this request impossible (at least when it is taken literally)?

The two primary problems with asking God to 'come into' Augustine are God's own infinite properties and God's presence as the cause of existence in all things. How, Augustine asks, can he request God to enter him when God exceeds all creation? How can something infinite be contained in the finite world it has created? Similarly, how can Augustine ask God to enter him when God is already present 'in' him as the very cause of his existence? These quandaries are put aside for the moment, as Augustine simply declares his faith that, if we seek God well, we will find him.

2

What is Augustine's opinion on how the soul joins the body to form an infant human?

Augustine refrains from answering this question, not only here in his account of his infancy but also throughout the rest of his work. This is a significantly Platonic indecision, following Plato's own non-committal to answering this mystery. The question is also closely linked to the question of the state of the soul prior to birth. The soul is eternal, but what form it takes when not 'in' a human body is unclear (both here and in Plato).

3

What elements of Augustine's early schooling does he now disapprove of? Why?

Augustine identifies two closely related primary causes of these misadventures. The first is simply that, through a weakness of will, he turned away from God and truth toward the 'lower' realms of creation (as set out in Augustine's blended Neoplatonic-Christian worldview). This is the realm of base, sensory matter, of time, of flux, and of multiplicity, all of which distract us from God. Plato called this realm the 'region of dissimilarity' (a quote Augustine uses) in order to denote its distance from the pure, heavenly forms that represent the perfect models for each thing. But Augustine also says that he was seeking only love in all these lustful trysts. This account refers to the presence of God in all things, no matter how low in the hierarchy of Being-since God is the constant cause of the existence of all these things, they all yearn to be with God (whether they know it or not). So Augustine, though turned away from God toward lower things, cannot escape the desire to be like Him.


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