Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Confessions, by St. Augustine

Toward the end of his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo says an interesting thing. Basically, he says that if he had been assigned to write scripture as Moses had been assigned, he would have written it in a way toat "many truths" could be drawn from them, since many truths that are equally good can and should be extrapolated from good writing. Thus we see how eager mankind is to add their own interpretations to the messages from the prophets.

We're all guilty of it -- those who actualy pick these things up and read them, that is. We all enter into whatever bit of reading we happen to pick up and, bearing our truths in hand, try to see how what we read reinforcess those truths. That is one of mankind's logical faccacies, no matter how logical and no matter how objective we try to be. So you'd think that a learned man of scripture would long for scripture that was clear-cut, that offered not as many interpretations as there are colors in the rainbow, but exact, clear-cut doctrine to help mankind avoid the Confusion of the Good Things. Alas, it is not so, at least as far as Bible scholarship and man's interpretation of oft-translated books.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading St. Augustine's Confessions. I won't say it was doctrinally earth-shattering, as he mixes plenty of earthly philosophy into the mix, but it's certainly interesting to read what's considered the first Western autobiography and a detailed exploration of one man's search for faith and how one man approached the common wisdom of the day -- steeped heavily in Greek and Roman thought -- and dared challenge some of the notions held that day (that some of the notions he concluded as truth are now challenged today is also of great interest, notably for LDS readers, the thought of original sin and, for everyone, the notion that wars can sometimes be justified). He outlines his search in the doctrines of Christ in comparison to his searches in the philosophies of men in this manner:
And as I had already read and stored up in memory many of the injunctions of the philosophers, I began to compare some of their doctrines with the tedious fables of the Manicheans; and it struck me that the probability was on the side of the philosophers, whose power reached far enough to enable them to form a fair judgment of the world, even though they had not discovered the sovereign Lord of it all. For thou art great, O Lord, and thou hast respect unto the lowly, but the proud thou knowest afar off. Thou drawest near to none but the contrite in heart, and canst not be found by the proud, even if in their inquisitive skill they may number the stars and the sands, and map out the constellations, and trace the courses of the planets.
In all, i sincerely believe he wasn earnest, God-fearing man, searching for the truth. It's interesting to note that he didn't consider his searchings out of the ordinary -- as they certainly would be regarded today -- as we deal not with asceticism but an increased evangelistic brand of atheism which is not content to not believe in God, but insists that the rest of us not believe as well.

If you're setting about to read this book, (read it online for free here) here's some advice: Don't plow through it quickly. Take your time to not only read what St. Augustine writes but also to ponder what he writes. I spent some time, also, looking up the scripture references he cites, to help me understand more where he is coming from, but more importantly to see how what he believes meshes -- or conflicts -- with what I believe and with what I've been taught. Many, many interesting cmparisons that have strengthened my testimony in modern revelation.

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