Discuss: As Augustine begins his “confession” he starts at the very early days of adolescence. Why do you think he includes this in his account? Why does he devote a lengthy discussion to this period of his life?
To be sure, puberty is a developmental milestone. But Augustine sees this not primarily as a time of physical and mental development—though he mentions his father’s rather embarrassing
recognition of it in the bathhouse. To Augustine, the adolescence was a major developmental stage for his sinful life.
He does not gloss over it as a time when “boys will be boys” or a time when he can merely “sow his wild oats.” He sees this as a dark time; a crucial time where his descent down the path of wickedness began.
For this reason he begins the chapter by mentioning the vanity of the road he set upon: “I will attempt to give a coherent account of my disintegrated self, for when I turned away from you, the one God, and pursued a multitude of things, I went to pieces. There was a time in adolescence when I was afire to take my fill of hell.”
This is an echo of what he says in another place, “our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee.” In sum, he declares that peace of mind/peace in life can only be achieved through peace with God. As we wonder further away from obedience to the Lord (and the revelation of absolute truth that he gives), we bring upon ourselves misery of mind/life.
The theme of lust is noted at the outset of the chapter. Augustine asks, “What was it that delighted me? Only loving and being loved.” He goes on to express that love and lust were two things that were profoundly confused, such that he could not distinguish the “calm light of love from the fog of lust.”
Discuss: Is there a legitimate distinction between love and lust? If so, what is it? How do we define or distinguish love and lust? What is the basis for such a distinction?
The lusts associated with Augustine’s youth may be categorized in the following ways:
1. Sexual intrigue.
Augustine starts by admitting that he was “in love with being in love.” This, at least at this time in his life, primarily means an unbiblical sexual proclivity. The number one sin of the adolescent years is that of lust so it is no surprise that he talks about this. However, the honesty of it and the expression of how vile it really was is interesting given the sexing of our culture and "free love" tendency.
Augustine notes that this yearning marriage would have curbed these desires, or at least put them to good use in propagating the race through children. There was no intention of this though. His parents cared more for his education than his chastity. His mother did admonish and instruct him on the evil of fornication, but he would not listen.
In the end, he admits that these exploits plunged him further away from God. Though sweet to the flesh they were bitter to the soul because the Lord would not bless them (he "sprinkled bitter disappointments over all my unlawful pleasures so that I might seek a pleasure free from all disappointment.")
The lust he had was not confined to that of women though. He yearned for acceptance with his male friends. This was fed by the idleness of being away from school for a time. He spent much time roaming with friends. To be recognized by them he made up stories about sexual exploits (“afraid of being reviled, I grew viler”)
3. Greater wickedness
Augustine says, “Throughout these experiences a dark fog cut me off from your bright truth, my God, and my sin grew sleek on my excesses.” Adolescence is a time marked by growth. We typically associate with it the developments that occur physically and mentally. Augie does not do this. The growth of his sin is what is in the foreground. This time of his life was marked by hardening in evil ways.
The more evil that is done, the more thirsty one becomes for more. Essentially Aug. says that there is a drug like effect of sin. You become addicted. Correspondingly, as you are attracted to more evil, your mind becomes more distant from the things of heaven and God. (The Bible talks about searing the conscience and being given a “reprobate mind.”)
Discuss: Much of the chapter is tied up with his discussion of the pear tree. What happens there? Why does Augustine deem this so important as to include it?
There is a sense in which this tale parallels the biblical story of Adam and Eve. In the Genesis 3 story we read of the initial sin that plunged mankind into sin. Here, we see Augustine’s revelry in sin. He confesses that he would not have done it if he were alone, nor were the pears of great desire (there were better ones to be had). It was purely “sin for sin’s sake;” the pleasure of ruin and destruction. (“The malice was loathsome, and I loved it.”)
Augustine insinuates that the sin of Adam had left its mark. The corruption of the heart was such that he took great delight in the evil.
Discuss: Augie also says that his friends had something to do with the whole event. Do you think that this was essentially your everyday act of peer pressure?
Augustine also remarks that the raping of the pear tree corresponded to the sin of our first parents in motivation. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve by saying, “when you eat of it you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Augustine says (II.14), “All those who wander far away and set themselves up against you are imitating you, but in a perverse way.” That is to say, in seeking to be a law unto oneself they copy the work of the Lawgiver himself. Augustine admits, “I was…trying to simulate a crippled sort of freedom, attempting a shady parody of omnipotence by getting away with something forbidden.”
Augustine ends by essentially saying, “So began my course.” While he might have had some happy moments, he lacked true joy & satisfaction because he lacked the Lord. We might hear in his concluding remarks something of what King Solomon said in the book of Eccl.: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no pleasure in them."
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