Augustine was born and raised in Thagaste, eastern
Algeria. His studies began in grade school in Thagaste and then Carthage. He
admits that his teachings were of no value as they were misleading with aimless
pursuits of material gain.
Augustine, however, did manage
to develop a passion for philosophy while learning the doctrines of skepticism,
Neoplatonism and Manicheism. Of the disciplines learned, Neoplatonism would be
the one to have the greatest influence on him, as the Confessions is
combined with and infusion of Catholic theology with a few Neoplatonic ideas.
Before settling in Rome,
Augustine moved back and forth between Thagaste and Carthage. In the interim,
as he continued to engage in his career as a rhetoric teacher, Augustine begins
to doubt what he has learned, as he wrestled with his new-found interest in
Catholicism, the faith of his mother, Monica. He also continued to hold on to
self-destructive habits such as sexual indulgence and other worldly pleasures.
However, after leaving Rome and arriving in Milan, Augustine began to make a
positive turn towards Catholicism, believing that it holds the only truth.
After a long struggle with
the idea of giving up all worldly pleasures, Augustine finally made a full
commitment to the church following a conversion experience in his garden in
Milan, and was baptized. Shortly after Augustine’s mother died. This is where
the narrative of Augustin’s life ends.
Augustine writes about his
continuous struggle with sin and temptation while openly confesses his past
mistakes while praising the analysis of the creation story ends his work.
The Confession is an
intensely spiritual autobiography that covers the first 35 years of Augustine’s
life. Its focus is on two aspects; confession and praise to God. Augustine not only
confesses and gives and account of his faults, but he also praised God during
the process. In Augustine’s time, to confess was a dual process. Augustine
recounts his ascent from living a life of sinful pleasure to a life faithful to
God. He believes it is important to highlight this truth as it speaks of God’s
greatness and supernatural power to transform lives, thus we must be thankful
to God for His redemptive power.
The Confession is comprised
of thirteen books. The first nine books outlines Augustine’s life from infancy
up to the death of his mother Monica. However, the last four books, make a
sharp turn towards theology and philosophy. The sudden change in direction sets
up the story of his sinful life and redemption, which is viewed as a
philosophical and a religious matter. It is a story that depicts the broken and
imperfect creatures’ inward longing to return to God. So, it is arranged first
as an autobiography, and then in conceptual terms.
Augustine was greatly influenced by
Neoplatonism shortly before his conversion and it is represented on a very
large scale, second to the Bible. The system of Neoplatonist is hierarchical;
everything is considered good in so far as it exists, even if it is lower on
the scale, it not considered to be bad or evil. In contrast to an eternal God,
the lower levels of beings are engulfed in a visible universe that consists of
matter and experiences constant change and is affected by time. Augustine’s
success lies largely on the combination of these two worldviews, Neoplatonic
and Christianity. In this system, all creation is good, regardless of their
condition, namely because it has it’s existence in God alone. For this reason,
all creation seeks to return to God, its constant and perfect source and form.
The question that is reviewed in the
last four Books of the Confessions, points back to the existence of a
relationship between an eternal God and a temporal creature. If God is eternal
and we owe our existence to him, why is the return to Him a process that takes
place over time? How and when was the world created, if God is eternal and
unchanging? Augustine’s solution, one must have a deep understanding of the
connection between time and eternity. He argues that, time does not exist, it’s
an illusion that we generate, likewise of past and future. From God’s perspective,
everything exists all at once, furthermore, the universe was net created at a specific
time, but rater, it is created constantly and always, in one external act.
This idea gives a new perspective to
the Neoplatonic worldview and Augustine’s own act of “confessing”. Since time is
simply an illusion of the lower hierarchy, there would be no conflict between the
idea of a return to God over time and everything’s constant existence in God, as
they are both one and the same. To wander and return to God is the same as owing
one’s existence to God.
The use of the Neoplatonic system is
the most challenging aspect of Augustine’s thought, of which Christ is not a part
of. Be, it not said that Christ isn’t important to Augustine, since it is Christ
that is the instrument by which the return to God is affected. Since Christ is God
made human, it is only through Him that a human can come to know his or her existence
Augustine suggests that Christ is also wisdom itself, since wisdom
too is a kind of intermediary between God and the lower levels of creation. It
is in this wisdom, in the context of this ‘Christ,’ that God created the
universe, and it is through this wisdom, Christ, that the universe can return