Saint Augustine: Confessions (Book 1)

Book 1

Saint Augustine raises some interesting points at the beginning of his book.  First, he begins his story as a prayer or dialogue between him and God.  The first questions deal with God’s nature, location, and what exactly he is.  Saint Augustine presents a series of paradoxes: God is both hidden and most present, or God is active yet always at rest.   He also suggests that when we pray or offer things to God, we give back what is already his.  

I appreciated Saint Augustine’s question on whether we are supposed to know God before we ask him for anything.  He suggests that if we don’t know God, how will we know that he answers us when we reach out to him?  Saint Augustine means our primary focus is deciding what God wants from us rather than the inverse.  

Initially, Saint Augustine states he cannot remember how he was as an infant; however, he can guess his nature by listening to stories of those who cared for him and by watching other babies.  Finally, he concludes that original sin is the tendency toward unperfection.  Although babies are selfish and nobody in their right mind would correct this behavior (it does no good), it indicates a direction that left unchecked would cause harm later.  

Saint Augustine shares his reflection on boyhood as one oriented toward meaningless things.  He shares that while he was proficient in literature (he mentions the Aneid), he could have gained the same skillset by studying things of God.  He also points out a recurring theme of hypocrisy – while boys were disciplined for playing games, adults played “games of business.”  Jupiter was also mentioned as a familiar judging agent who frequently committed adultery.  In this way, his early education lacked moral teaching.  For example, a student would be more judged for using incorrect grammar or word pronunciation than he would be for hating his neighbor.  

Saint Augustine looks at his childhood and schooling as a time in which he was “lured into fruitless pastimes and wandered away” from God.  His early childhood guides were focused on teaching him how to “get on in the world, gaining the respect of others, and win what passes for wealth.”