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St. Augustine


Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

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.

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).

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.

What is Augustine's religious status as a young boy?

What is Augustine's opinion on reading fiction?

How does Augustine account for his sins as an infant? How does he account for his sins as a schoolboy?

What were the root causes of Augustine's erotic adventures as a teenager?

What is the proper role of sex, according to Augustine?

Why does Augustine first leave Thagaste for Carthage?

How does Monica respond to Augustine's promiscuity as a teenager in Thagaste and Carthage?

What particularly disturbs Augustine about his theft of the pears? How does he account for his motives in the theft?

What is the central argument of Cicero's Hortensius? How did it influence Augustine?

What was Augustine's reaction to his first encounter with the bible?

Name three Manichee challenges to Christianity.

Describe the Neoplatonic concept of different levels of Being.

How does Augustine use the Neoplatonic conception of evil to refute the Manichean conception?

What is Augustine's error in 'picturing' God?

What were some Manichee criticisms of the Old Testament?

What is the difference between divine justice and relative justice?

How does Augustine categorize sins?

Describe Monica's first vision (the one about Augustine).

How does Augustine view his career as a teacher of rhetoric?

What does Augustine learn from the death of his friend in Thagaste?

What are some problems with using language to get closer to God? What is the exception to these problems?

What was Augustine's basic argument in The Beautiful and the Fitting? What does he regret about this book?

What mistake does Augustine make with regard to Aristotle's Categories?

What was Augustine's opinion of Faustus?

How did Augustine's belief in Manichee dualism compromise his acceptance of responsibility for his sins?

How did Bishop Ambrose help Augustine toward conversion to Catholicism?

What is a 'spiritual substance?' What made it difficult for Augustine to grasp this concept?

What bothers Augustine about the beggar he encounters in Milan?

Describe Augustine's initial response to Neoplatonism (what he likes, what he doesn't).

What happens in Augustine's 'Neoplatonic' ecstatic vision of God? What breakthrough does he achieve in it?

What is the relationship between free will and evil?

Why does Augustine find the gospel of Paul better than the Neoplatonist texts he had read?

How does Augustine describe his state of mind just prior to his conversion experience in Milan?

Tell the story of Augustine's conversion in the Milan garden.

What practical changes does Augustine make following his decision to convert to Catholicism?

For what does Augustine specifically praise Monica?

What happens in the vision at Ostia?

What change occurs in the Confessions after Book IX? Why?

What does Augustine take from Plato in his idea of memory?

What is the difference between the 'life of the body' and the 'life of life?'

What categories of memory does Augustine specify? What are some puzzling features of the type of memories in each category?

How does Augustine account for ideas that are self-evidently true?

How is it possible to seek God if we don't yet know what he is like?

How does Augustine account for universal characteristics in people's idea of the happy life? Why do people fail to find the happy life?

In what ways does Augustine feel he is still sinning at the time of writing the Confessions?

How does Augustine read the following statement from Genesis: 'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him nothing was made.'

In Augustine's reading of Genesis, what is the major difference between God's 'word' and human speech?

How, according to Augustine, is it possible that God is changeless and eternal but his creation is constantly changing over time?

Why did Porphyry claim that God's act of creation was impossible? How does Augustine respond?

Recount Augustine's argument that time does not exist.

What does Augustine mean in claiming that time is not an external phenomenon but rather a condition of the soul?

What is the 'heaven of heaven?'

What is 'formless matter?' How does Augustine say he misunderstood this concept?

Augustine argues that there is no change without form and no time without change. Explain.

How does Augustine respond to potential Catholic critics of his exegesis of Genesis?

What does Augustine say about authorial intention in the bible?

In Augustine's reading of Genesis, what is the relationship between the trinity and the soul?

How does Augustine interpret the command 'increase and multiply'?

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