One of the most memorable sections of Augustine’s Confessions is his painful, prayerful recollection of an event that had occurred 25 years ago.
Augustine says that as a 16-year-old, “I cared for nothing but to love and to be loved. . . . Love and lust together,” he writes, “seethed within me. In my tender youth they swept me away over the precipice of my body’s appetites and plunged me in the whirlpool of sin.” “I was . . . floundering in the broiling sea of my fornication. . . . The brambles of lust grew high above my head and there was no one to root them out, certainly not my father” (II.2).
Despite his lust-filled teenage years, he focuses most of his attention upon an act that many might dismiss as good old-fashioned rabble rousing: petty theft from a fruit tree. But note carefully why Augustine, looking back, sees the sinfulness of sin in stealing these pears:
There was a pear-tree near our vineyard, loaded with fruit that was attractive neither to look at nor to taste.
Late one night a band of ruffians, myself included, went off to shake down the fruit and carry it away, for we had continued our games out of doors until well after dark, as was our pernicious habit. We took away an enormous quantity of pears, not to eat them ourselves, but simply to throw them to the pigs.
Perhaps we ate some of them, but our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden. . . .
It was not the pears that my unhappy soul desired. I had plenty of my own, better than those, and I only picked them so that I might steal. For no sooner had I picked them than I threw them away, and tasted nothing in them but my own sin, which I relished and enjoyed. . . .
We were tickled to laughter by the prank we had played, because no one suspected us of it although the owners were furious. Why was it, then, that I thought it fun not to have been the only culprit? Perhaps it was because we do not easily laugh when we are alone. . . I am quite sure that I would never have done this thing on my own. . . . To do it by myself would have been no fun and I should not have done it.
—Saint Augustine, Confessions, Penguin Classics, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961), II.4, 6, 9.
This is worth some serious meditation on sin, the nature of pleasure, forbidden fruit, and the companionship of fools.