The first three books of the Confessions present the first nineteen years of Augustine’s life. The autobiographical portion of the book opens as a prayer of thanks and praise to God and an acknowledgement that “restless is our heart until it comes to rest in You.” Before beginning his story, Augustine ponders God’s immensity and the miracle of God the Creator coming into the heart of a mortal human being. “And, when You are poured out on us, You are not thereby brought down; rather, we are uplifted,” he states in amazement.
Man’s sinfulness from infancy is noted and expounded upon as Augustine begins to relate the details of his birth in Tagaste, North Africa in 354. As a student in grade school, he speaks of his idleness, the evil that exists in his heart even as a child, and pride that was instilled in him that later turned into resentment and anger. In the middle of his severe reprimand of his own childhood actions and attitude, Augustine gracefully brings his mother, Monica, into the picture, writing of her Christian faith and desire that he too trust in the God she loves. He portrays his mother as a saint, before again resuming his reprimand against his own actions.
During his discourse regarding his schooling, Augustine mentions several positive things that he learned during this time of his life, one of the most important being that “a free curiosity is more effective in learning than a discipline based on fear.” It is one of Augustine’s trademarks that he take something good out of every situation he has passed through, no matter how hard or sinful the situation may have been.
As Augustine enters his teenaged years, his sins begin to grow in number and seriousness. “I wish now to review in memory my past wickedness and the carnal corruption of my soul – not because I still love them, but that I may love You, O my God,” he states as he reminisces about his teenage years. “My form wasted away, and I became corrupt in Your eyes, yet I was still pleasing to my own eyes – and eager to please the eyes of men,” he admits before speaking of some of his sinful actions.
Although he is remembering a fruitless and empty time of his life, Augustine does not fail to thank God for the emptiness he felt inside. “You were always by me, mercifully angry and flavoring all my unlawful pleasures with bitter discontent, in order that I might seek pleasures free from discontent. But where could I find such pleasure except in You, O Lord – except in You, who teaches us by sorrow, who wounds us to heal us, and kills us, that we might not die apart from You.”
The catharsis that Augustine goes through in describing his sinful youth leads him to the question of who he is narrating to. He states clearly that he is not repeating all these events only to God, but to “that small part of the human race that may accidentally come upon these writings.” His desire is so that the reader will understand what depths there are from which one should cry out to God.
The most intriguing confession in this section revolves around an incident in which Augustine, together with some school friends, steals pears from a pear tree. Augustine readily admits that the gratification came only in the thievery, not at all in the taste of the pear, for it was the thrill of the sin that satisfied him rather than the sin itself. After this happening, he begins to take a deeper look at the evil of the human heart and the natural tendency to shy away from God’s commands.
As an older teenager, Augustine falls into the sin of fornication, the sin that will haunt him until he gives his life to Christ later on. “I was not in love as yet, but I was in love with love,” he states frankly. He compares this period of his life to “fantasy” and “illusion” several times, being as one who is eating food in his sleep – always eating but never nourished.
He moves to Carthage and begins to become interested in philosophy, “yearning” for an “immortality of wisdom” that led him at first to the Scriptures. Unfortunately, the style of the Scriptures repels him and he sees himself as too “witty” and “proud” to accept their teachings. Although he ponders the source of evil and what determines true justice, Augustine is still far from God, and his search for peace continues.
His mother, Monica, however, does not give up hope that Augustine will come to the Christian faith. Her tears, prayers, and devotion to the Lord make an impression on Augustine, as does the words of a priest spoken to Monica: “As you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.”
written by Trevin Wax. © 2007 Kingdom People Blog