Augustine and Dante on Sin, Virtue, and Agency
“Here I saw people more numerous than before, onone side and the other, with great cries rollingweights by the force of their chests” (Inferno 7.25-27)”The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill man’s heart. We have to imagine Sisyphus happy.”—Albert Camus, The Myth of SisyphusIn Confessions, Saint Augustine defines sin as alienation from God. Dante, too, affirms this conception in Inferno. But whereas Augustine tends to emphasize the negative aspects of human freedom—it triggered the Fall and distanced man from God—Dante practices a discerning syncretism. Probing beyond Augustinian ideas, he defends the possibility of human virtue divorced from God. In Inferno, extraordinary characters like Ulysses exemplify this possibility, displaying a uniquely human grandeur. In essence, Dante retains the Augustinian framework but proceeds to poeticize the heroic potential that arises from free will, delineating its power for good and its ability to partly redeem souls languishing in damnation.Augustine renders nearly all judgment relative to an omnipotent God. Such a worldview manifests itself in almost all his rhetoric: “Who will grant me that you come to my heart and intoxicate it, so that I forget my evils and embrace my one and only good, yourself?” (I.v ). Because God is the “one and only good,” the world of Confessions lies along the axis between the corrupted man and the perfect deity. For man to live virtuously, God must enter man, and man must accept God. Only through divine grace can man come to embrace the Lord. And only through this holy embrace can the state of sin, natural to man, be overwhelmed. The universe of Inferno has a secular ambience in contrast to Confessions. Dante refrains from addressing God in an apostrophe every second stanza. The divine remains restrained to rhetorical flourishes like “God’s art” (21.16). Though the godly design of Hell remains implicit at every level and step, God himself does not appear. The great chain of being evinced in the second canto, connecting Virgil to Beatrice to Lucia to the Virgin Mary and finally to God, further expresses this immense chasm between man and deity.This celestial silence serves at least two functions. First, it reinforces the concept found in Confessions that a great distance exists between the creator and the created, especially sinners. That God shows himself not in the depths of Cocytus makes sense, for the sinners there are physically as well as spiritually far from God. Second, and more significantly, the near absence of an omnipotent deity provides greater elbowroom for human action and thought, allowing Dante to develop a humanistic perspective on will and virtue. Before an exposition of this candle is possible, one must examine the views of Augustine on free will and sin. In reference to his incident with the pears, Augustine recalls that “criminality was the piquant sauce” (II.vi ). In other words, he sinned for the sake of sinning. Because of this motivation, Augustine portrays his crime as a recapitulation of the Fall: “I loved the self-destruction, I loved my fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fall itself” (II.iv ). In eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam chose the ability to determine his own actions. Augustine’s crime, too, was an assertion of his own will without need for divine guidance. And he loved the self-destruction because it, paradoxically, was also self-creation; a thrill derived from the feeling of agency.Given such an experience with his own free will in youth, the pessimistic attitude that Augustine develops in adulthood is understandable. Although free will implies neither good nor less good, Augustine focuses on its ability to bring about the latter and take mankind farther from God. He disparages human agency as “making an assertion of possessing a dim resemblance to omnipotence” (II.vi ). For Augustine, Adam before the Fall lived in perfect innocence and happiness under a divine plan. It was only through free choice that he became tainted.In addressing the other half of the equation, about whether agency can create virtue, Augustine posits that no virtue can exist outside of worshipping God. He states, “The soul fornicates…when it is turned away from you and seeks outside you the pure and clear intentions which are not to be found except by returning to you. In their perverted way all humanity imitates you” (II.vi ). Thus, seeking any humanistic definition of virtue will forever be futile. In the Augustinian universe, man’s distance from God bars him from exercising an independent will to virtue, the doing of which might resemble perfect divinity. Though men may attempt to imitate the virtues of God, they merely pervert themselves and their secular institutions. Of these men Augustine states, “[T]hey put themselves at a distance from you and exalt themselves against you” (II.vi ). In other words, though humans attempt to imitate godly virtue, this attempt ironically takes them farther from God and in actuality renders them less likely to receive divine grace.Augustine provides at least two reasons for why such mortal pretensions to virtue must fail. First, though Augustine does not deny the limited dignity of human moral striving, what he calls the “urge to self-assertion” (II.v ), he argues that such progress can never even approach the greatness of God. As an imitation (II.vi ) of infinite goodness, progress ultimately rings hollow. Thus, to wholly immerse oneself in the mechanisms of the world would be to lose sight of the end for the means: “We abandon the higher and supreme goods, that is you, Lord God, and your truth and your law” (II.v ). As such, Augustine exhorts repeatedly that one must humble oneself before God, for the true path to goodness lies not within the lone soul or the collective effort of the world, but through the benevolence of the Lord. Second, Augustine sees humans as essentially not capable of being heroic or virtuous by themselves. Providing ample evidence of his antagonism toward human self-sufficiency, Augustine asserts that “[n]o one who considers his frailty would dare to attribute to his own strength his chastity and innocence” (II.vii ). Augustine condemns the frailty of human will and man’s extreme vulnerability to the toxicity of worldly ideas. He then praises the overwhelming grace of God in saving a wretch like man. Such a contrast represents the Augustinian perspective. Man cannot rely on his own strength to achieve chastity and innocence. For such virtues are beyond his lowly reach and only exist through God. Now that the Augustinian view of free will and sin has been sketched, the contrasting presentations in Inferno can be related. One locality that especially clashes with Confessions is Limbo, the resting place of humans that “did not sin” (Inferno 4.34), whose only fault was the lack of baptism, gateway to the faith (4.36). Dante grapples with the problem of whether to condemn the pagans for their lack of belief in the Christian God or praise these “people of great worth” (4.44) for their virtues and achievements in the arts and sciences. That he places them in Limbo and states through Virgil that they did not sin marks a significant departure from the teachings of Augustine, who clearly writes that the soul fornicates when not focused on God (II.vi ). It seems evident that Augustine would consider paganism a form of fornication.Dante, however, does not construe paganism as sinful fornication. Because the pagans came before Christianity, it was impossible to have known and adored God (4.37-8), and therefore their fornication was partially excusable because they did not will it. Dante, like Augustine, seems to conceive of sin as inherently related to free will. Unlike Augustine, he seems to grant more recognition to the possibility of virtue in the absence of knowing God. Dante, in declaring Limbo free of sin, must believe that these spirits are paragons despite their secular existences. Only because they did not receive baptism does Dante not place them in a higher realm. But baptism seems almost a technicality, not a justification for damnation. Thus, Dante does not place these souls in Hell proper. Limbo, the realm between that of the saved and that of the damned, seems to radically represent a space for a humanistic construction of virtue. Dante expresses admiration for the grandeur of such a construction. He describes a meadow of fresh green reminiscent of the Virgilian Elysium, populated by “people with slow, grave eyes and great authority in their countenances” (4.112-3). He enthuses, “I am still exalted within myself at the sight” (4.119-20). The nobility of these great spirits comes across in the poetry. Dante must lift (4.130) his brow to find himself in the company of Socrates and Plato, who, according to him, still receive honor (4.133-4). A dimension of human will and virtue, independent of God, finds expression in Limbo. Souls seem larger than life, proud like ancient supermen. Dante portrays humans that display self-sufficiency, clearness in purpose, and lucidity in intelligence. Though they stand apart from God, their portrayal almost suggests that they do not need Him. The caveat, though, is that they live without hope, in desire (4.41-42). Augustine would not treat such a depiction of Limbo with deference. He would likely re-emphasize the Fall from which sprung Original Sin; man was displaced into a region of dissimilarity from God, into a time after the Golden Age. The salvation of man lies only in submission and humility before God: “Let not man say ‘What is this? Why is that?’ Let him not say it, let him not say it; for he is man” (VII.vi ). So much for Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, or Ptolemy (4.137-142). For man to ask why and where was for him to pretend to omnipotence– to pretend to be God. In the mind of Augustine, only in God would all things be made clear. This polemic against any liberal construction of man sees additional force in Augustine’s attack on the Neoplatonists, whom he accuses of not learning to possess a “contrite and humble spirit” (VII.xxi ). Furthermore, human wisdom and virtue are forever limited, as Augustine proves by citing 1 Corinthians 4:7: “For what has he which he has not received?” (VII.xxi ). In his epistemology, Augustine regards divine revelation as central, for what can be concealed from the wise can nevertheless be revealed to the babe (VII.xxi ). Just as Dante and Augustine differ on the damnation of the Paganists, so the two thinkers part on views of human agency. Augustine’s Confessions scorns the idea of an intransigent human will, portraying it as barely strong enough to beg for divine assistance to bolster it. Monica, perhaps the most virtuous paragon of all, is the “servant of your servants” (IX.ix ), her principal virtues being devotion and patience, not independence. Augustine also rejects the Socratic conception of man, who has the power to do only good provided he has true knowledge of good and evil: “By now I was indeed quite sure about [the truth]. Yet I was still bound down to the earth” (VIII.v ). Strength seems only to be associated with people who resolve to approach God, suggesting strength is granted by the grace of the Lord. For example, Victorinus proclaims his faith with “ringing assurance” (VIII.ii ). On the other hand, the pagan friends of the young, converted Roman officials are portrayed as “dragging their hearts along the ground” (VIII.vi ). Strength is consistently associated with those who convert to or practice Christianity, but this strength appears to only endure insofar as one has faith and obedience in God. Other supposed leaders, like Faustus (V.vii ), are shown to be incompetent and possess limited knowledge. Dante seems less willing than Augustine to ascribe the fruits of pagan thought and action to a false, proud wisdom. While Augustine puts man in a congenital state of sin, Dante explicitly recognizes the pagans as great souled and free of sin. It is unclear whether Dante rejects Original Sin, but he certainly rejects the vision of man as intrinsically weak and limited. The Italian poet ascribes to man his own kind of virtue, one that depends not on a static state of similarity or dissimilarity, but a dynamic direction of arts, science and progress. Dante even ascribes this direction to himself when he walks “as far as the light” (4.103) among the illustrious “company of six” (4.148). In associating with these poets, Dante seeks to elevate, not denigrate, himself.Dante ultimately equates virtue in man with the struggle for the heights, perhaps demonstrated most poignantly in the figure of Ulysses in Canto 26. For Ulysses, nothing “could conquer within me the ardor that I had to / gain experience of the world and of human vices and / worth” (26.97-9). He continues, “Consider your sowing: you were not made to live / like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge” (26.118-9). The extreme poetic beauty of these lines reflects Dante’s wonder at the glorious strength of the speaker. The beauty lies not so much in a sterile perfection, but in the ardor to gain experience. In other words, a special human beauty comes from the struggle for improvement and progress, a struggle only possible in the face of limitations, away from God. Ulysses did not need God in life and does not humble himself before Him in death; he represents the antithesis to the Augustinian conception of human frailty.Ultimately, the interplay between Augustine and Dante manifests itself in how they independently address the problem of evil. Augustine familiarly argues that weak human understanding cannot comprehend that all that exists must be good, and that what we perceive as good in isolation is very good as a totality (VII.xii ). Furthermore, human agency cannot prevent a slide from good to less good without the protection of the Lord. This approach destroys evil but also demeans human virtue. For man cannot be perfect like God—he exists always in sin. To save himself, man must seek the Lord. When Augustine makes his premises clear, his position becomes very rational. Dante breaks out from this restrictive conception of sin by incorporating the classical idea that virtue exists in the struggle for the heights. A human will guided by reason and virtue has meaning despite its imperfections. In also addressing the better half of the free will equation, Dante fuses the sin-centered theology of Confessions and the Hellenic humanism of Ulysses in a creative and balanced manner.
The Journey In Literature
From its beginnings, literature has been characterized to a remarkable degree by narratives and images of journeys. What gets many texts started and what keeps them going is very commonly a journey of some sort. However, these journeys are not always simple physical journeys from one place to another. Writers often use journeys as metaphorical representations of life itself. In one way or another, journey metaphors enable writers to express notions of chance and choice, discovery and departure, and search and struggle. As the critic Stephen Hutchinson so clearly puts it, “the journey is a universal, yet diverse metaphor that reveals a great deal about how writers in different places, times, and persuasions characterize themselves and the very world that they live in” (Hutchinson 72). Accordingly, great writers such as Homer, Miguel De Cervantes, St. Augustine, and John Bunyan, have all characterized life as a journey in many of their great works. For example, while Homer’s Odyssey and Cervantes’ Don Quixote examine life through metaphorical journeys of circular departure and return, Augustine and Bunyan represent life through journeys of a much more linear and progressive nature.Through and throughout telling the tale of The Odyssey, Homer reveals and examines a life in which Gods are like men and men are like Gods, a life that affords choice but guarantees fate, a life that has no price tags but in which nothing is free of charge. Odysseus’ journey home to Ithaka after the Trojan War consists of many small adventures, and by examining any one of his adventures along the way, one can come to understand Odysseus’ journey as a whole, and the journey of life itself as it seen through the eyes of Homer. For example, the installment involving the Kyclops in Book IX of The Odyssey is one such revealing episode of Odysseus’ journey. After Odysseus defeats the Kyclops and finally reveals his true name, the Kyclops realizes that fate has been fulfilled:”Now comes the weird [Fate, destiny] upon me, spoken of old.A wizard, grand and wondrous, lived her—Telemos,a son of Eurymos; great length of dayshe had in wizardry among the Kyklopes,and these things he foretold for time to come:my great eye lost, and at Odysseus’ hands.” (Homer IX.531-536)This passage clearly reveals that some of Odysseus’ journey is predestined, however, that is not to say that his entire journey is completely fated. Throughout the poem, Homer makes it clear that Odysseus and his men can and do make their own choices throughout their odyssey, and they are also clearly subject to the consequences of those choices.For example, before they meet the Kyclops, Zeus raised a storm against Odysseus and his men in response to their piratical raid of Ismaros, a storm that carries them to the land of the Lotos Eaters and subsequently to the land of the Kyclops. Therefore, since Odysseus and his men meet the Kyclops as a direct result of their actions, but are also destined to defeat the Kyclops, they seem to somehow participate in their fate. Throughout the entire poem, Homer seems to be illustrating this complicated interaction between choice and fate. Throughout their entire journey, Odysseus and his men actually participate in a kind of envolving, fluid fate that is based on choice, consequence, and the will of the Gods. Throughout his journey, Odysseus and his men may choose how to walk on a certain path, but it is the Gods who choose what path they are on. Like most journeys in great literature, The Odyssey is a journey that undoubtedly represents the journey of life. The greatness of The Odyssey is found in its grayness. Nothing is black and white. Through Odysseus’ journey home, Homer presents life in all of its mystery. A complicated life in which choice lies within fate, and fate lies within choice, a life in which there is no simple answers.Miguel Cervantes also examines life through a similar metaphorical journey in his most famous novel, Don Quixote. Although most of Cervantes’ novels coincide from beginning to end with journeys, Don Quixote is clearly the most memorable of them all. As one of the best-known fictional characters ever created, Don Quixote embodies a noble quest for a romantic ideal in a corrupt and fallen world and as Cervantes narrates Quixote’s knightly expedition, he continually juxtaposes chivalry and modernity, and by doing so, he reveals life in all of its confusion and complexity. While the novel is full of metaphorically loaded scenes, Don Quixote’s battle with windmills is perhaps the most unforgettable and representative scenes of the entire novel. As Don Quixote mistakes a field of windmills for an army of giants in the following passage, his confusion between the everyday and the legendary could not be more apparent:At this point they caught sight of thirty or forty windmills which were standing on the plain there, and no sooner had Don Quixote laid eyes upon them than he turned to his squire and said, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we could have wished; for you see there before you, friend Sancho Panza, some thirty or more lawless giants with whom I mean to do battle…” (Cervantes 1208)Throughout his entire journey, Don Quixote ridiculously romanticizes the real in this manner, and as his journey progresses, it becomes clear that the chivalric world of the past is gone forever. Cervantes’ juxtaposition of romanticism and modernity parodies every aspect of knighthood and chivalric romance, demonstrating once and for all that European society had changed irrevocably since the age of knights and castles. However, through Don Quixote’s journey, Cervantes not only parodies medieval life, he also calls the values and realities of modern life into question. At last, when Don Quixote is defeated at the end of the novel, he finally returns to the reality of life as usual. At the end of his journey, Don Quixote arrives where he started, but now knows that place for the very first time.St. Augustine’s Confessions is yet another narration of a metaphorical journey. However, instead of using a fictional odyssey to represent real life, Augustine uses real life as a metaphorical representation of a spiritual odyssey. Although Augustine’s Confessions is an autobiographical account of his early life and conversion to Christianity, it is also much more. It is an intricately woven piece of literature in which Augustine highlights certain episodes of his life with subtle biblical allusion (Foreman 9). For example, in Book II of his Confessions, the pear tree episode clearly parallels the Genesis account of original sin: “We carried off an immense load of pears, not to eat—for we barely tasted them before throwing them to the hogs. Our only pleasure in doing it was that it was forbidden” (Augustine 623). When reading of forbidden fruit in a garden, one cannot help but to think of the Garden of Eden. Accordingly, numerous critics argue that Augustine includes this episode because it corresponds to the archetypal experience of Adam and Eve in the garden of Genesis and to its tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Leigh 79, Mallard 30). The pear tree in the orchard of Augustine’s neighbor in every sense is also his personal tree of knowledge in a less than Edenic garden. Creatively aligning himself with the sin of Adam and Eve is but one way that Augustine presents his life as a recapitulation of Christian history. From his stealing of forbidden fruit, to his acceptance of grace in a garden, the real life journey of Augustine’s Confessions continually parallels Christian history. He is even thirty-three years old at the time of his conversion—The very same age Christ was when he was crucified. St. Augustine found universality in the journey of his life. He believed that the real life escapades of his life fully represented a journey that we must all make, a spiritual journey back to God, a journey that can only be completed through the grace of God.John Bunyan’s allegorical novel The Pilgrims Progress tells the tale of a very similar journey and both works share the very same theological underpinnings. The basic metaphor of Bunyan’s allegory is simple and familiar. The objects and characters that the pilgrim Christian encounters are homely and commonplace but they are also charged with spiritual significance as Bunyan charts the pattern of puritan conversion. As the critic Philip Edwards argues, Christian’s journeys marks the progressive attainment of spiritual understanding but also strongly emphasizes the danger of losing ones way (Edwards 116). St. Augustine’s journey does also stress the difficulty and confusion involved in the Christian odyssey back to God, but Bunyan clearly presents that journey in an even darker light. Christian’s journey is a perilous adventure in which Christian encounters giants, wild beasts, and bottomless pits. For Bunyan and for countless other believers, this difficult journey represents the narrow path to god that every Christian hopes to travel to the end.Each one of these texts is a complicated masterpiece, and this analysis is clearly but one simple way of wrestling them down to our level. Their exploration of the journey ranges from the unknown to the everyday world as each one of these writers show how much is possible within the limits of human life, a life that is anything but ordinary.Works CitedAugustine, St. Confessions. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: Fifth Continental Edition. New York: Norton & Company, 1987. 617-633.Bunyan, John. The Pilgrims Progress. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1987.Cervantes, Miguel De. Don Quixote. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: Fifth Continental Edition. New York: Norton & Company, 1987. 1181-1321.Edwards, Philip. “The Journey in The Pilgrims Progress.” The Pilgrims Progress: Critical and Historical Views. Ed. Vincent Newey. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1980. 11-117.Forman, Robert J. Augustine and the Making of a Christian Literature: Classical Tradition and Augustinian Aesthetics. New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.Homer. The Odyssey. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: Fifth Continental Edition. New York: Norton & Company, 1987. 172-227.Hutchinson, Steven. Cervantine Journeys. Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.Leigh, David J. “Augustine’s Confessions as a Circular Journey.” Thought: A Review of Culture and Idea. LX.236 (1985): 73-88.Mallard, William. Language and Love: Introducing Augustine’s Religious Thought Through the Confessions Story. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.
The Impossibility of Evil Without Ignorance and the Progression Toward Good
As society’s rules and ideals have changed over time, so have their definitions of evil been completely revolutionized. While today evil is something morally wrong, a violation of some universal law, it was not always seen in the same light. St. Augustine and Plato both characterized evil as simply an absence of good. Since both men equated good with wisdom, evil, the absence of good, was akin to ignorance, the absence of wisdom. In their books, Confessions and Symposium, both Augustine and Plato support the idea that evil is only possible through ignorance. They explain the transition from evil and ignorance to good and wisdom as a progression toward fulfillment, and once a higher level of understanding is reached, it becomes obvious that evil had never been necessary in the quest for what is ultimately sought, happiness.In Confessions, Augustine equates God with truth. The only way to find the truth is to find God, and the two are so intertwined that it is difficult to distinguish between them. “No one can tell me the truth of it except my God, who enlightens my mind and dispels its shadows,” (52). Ultimately the two become one entity, and Augustine realizes, in retrospect, that he was searching for both at the same time. “…you [God], who truly are the Truth…” “Truth! Truth! How the very marrow of my soul within me yearned for it…” (60).It might be argued that Augustine knew what he was doing when he sinned as a young man. He says on page fifty that he knew it was wrong, but he did not know why he did it (“Could I enjoy doing wrong for no other reason than that it was wrong?”). There lies the ignorance. If he had really sat down and reflected upon his desires, really discovered himself and, at the same time, God, he would have realized that the sin would not make him happy. He says many times that he was ignorant, that he lacked the truth, that he had to learn how to love God. These are not statements of a wise man, but rather of one who did not know the harm of what he did. Once he found God and became a Christian, he stopped sinning. The closer he got to God and the truth, the wiser he became, and the wiser he became, the less he sinned. It was only because he did not realize the pain and guilt his sins would cause him to suffer later on in life that he committed them. Had he known, he would never have deviated from Christianity in the first place and saved himself a great deal of hardship. Instead he underwent a great deal of study and questioning to arrive at the point of salvation. “So, step by step, my thoughts moved on from the consideration of material things to the soul, which perceives things through the senses of the body, and then to the soul’s inner power, to which the bodily senses communicate external facts,” (151). Only then did he understand the harmful nature of sin and evil enough to be able to give it up.In Plato’s Symposium we see a similar progression. Diotima asserts that beauty and knowledge are synonymous, and that love is simply a life-long journey in search of beauty and wisdom. Obtaining these things for ourselves is the first step. The second step is passing them on to someone else. We achieve immortality by teaching wise and beautiful things, good things, to others. Since everyone’s ultimate goal is this immortality, this glory, no one can possibly do evil unless they are too ignorant to realize what it is they search. On page 49 (ln204A) she says, “For what’s especially difficult about being ignorant is that you are content with yourself, even though you’re neither beautiful and good nor intelligent.” Ignorant people do evil because they do not realize that they could do better.It might seem, initially, that Alcibiades’s actions in the years following the Symposium might refute this idea; he was wise and still committed great sin when he defaced the statues of the gods and abandoned Athens, but Socrates makes some comments during Alcibiades’s speech that indicate that Alcibiades really had no concept of wisdom or good, that he was relying on Socrates on blind faith. The wisdom of his youth was not his own but simply an imitation of a man he revered. He wanted what Socrates had, even though he did not truly understand the nature of that thing (wisdom). He showed how ignorant he was when he proposed a trade, wisdom for sex. If he had been wise, he would not have need to offer sex to Socrates in exchange for wisdom he already had, and, he would have realized that it was an unfair exchange. In response, Socrates says, “[Alcibiades] you offer me the merest appearance of beauty, and in return you want the thing itself, gold in exchange for bronze,'” (pg70, ln218E) and “The mind’s sight becomes sharp only when the body’s eyes go past their prime,” (pg71, ln219A). Socrates knew that Alcibiades was ignorant if no one else did. Alcibiades did not want to be ignorant, but desire alone was not enough to make him wise and protect him from the harm of evil.In another of Plato’s works, The Menos, Socrates says “…those who are ignorant of their nature do not desire them [evils]; but they desire what they suppose to be goods, although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose the evils to be goods, they really desire goods?” (203). It is against man’s nature to desire anything that is not in his best interest, and his best interest, according to Augustine and Plato, is always the good. In Augustine’s case, best interest was not sinning and being a faithful follower of God to avoid guilt and the wrath of God. Once one knew about the glory of heaven, it was impossible to turn away from it. In Plato’s case, anyone who could clearly see the immortality they desired would never do evil. Evil was detrimental to immortality and to the person.But it is necessary to realize that neither Plato nor Augustine arrived at the truth all at once. As we progress, we begin to see the truth. We always wanted happiness, but we do cannot know what will bring us happiness without wisdom. Rather than one earth-shattering insight, we undergo a series of epiphanies, almost like gradually waking up. Every little while we wake up a little more, arriving at a whole new plateau of reality. With each plateau we understand a little more clearly, but we realize that we are still not fully awake. With each revelation, each epiphany, we see a little more of the big picture. We see the harm we inflict upon ourselves when we do evil things, and we begin to realize what evil is. Evil may not seem to be the same thing, depending upon one’s level of truth.Both Plato and Augustine said that this search for truth was a lifelong journey. Diotima talked of love of bodies, then beauty in general, then souls, then knowledge, ending in a cosmic love. The last stage is not something we can ever reach, but we must keep journeying toward it. Augustine’s personal progression toward Christianity was similar. He first realized that something was lacking and began to search. He found that a series of things were not at all what he needed, then found Christianity. He did not accept it immediately, but instead studied it and took it as his own, bit by bit. Finally he became a Christian, but because he is human and on earth, he is still imperfect. He still sins. He still studies, hoping to learn more. It is part of the never-ending progression of knowledge and good. No one, according to Diotima and Augustine, can ever be completely good.And so understanding the nature of our journey is a huge step to reaching our destination. We search for happiness, and the knowledge we gain in the search causes us to leave behind our evil. This progression can be seen clearly in Confessions and Symposium, but it can also be seen today. Wisdom, good, and happiness must be actively sought, even if we can never fully possess them.BibliographySaint Augustine. Confessions. Trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin. London: Penguin Classics, 1961.Plato. Symposium. Trans. Alexander Nehamas & Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1989.Plato. Menos.
Augustine with a Twist: The Similarities and Differences of the Political and Theological Ideas of Augustine and Luther
Martin Luther, one of the foremost leaders of the Protestant Reformation, sought to reject much of the doctrine and authority of the Catholic Church, yet many of his theological and political ideas are extremely reflective of the Catholic luminary St. Augustine. While major differences do exist between Augustine and Luther in some areas, especially the areas of the authority of kings and nobles over peasants and slaves, most of Luther’s arguments can be linked to Augustine’s in some way or another. Some areas in which the two men greatly agree include their thoughts on the existence of false Christians (i.e. sinners who masquerade under the title of Christians), and their assertions that wars bring unnecessary misery to life. Even though each author discusses these themes in different ways and for different reasons, including different aspects and examples of the idea, the premises for each author’s arguments on these ideas are similar. Some topics written upon by Luther that are somewhat, though not entirely, similar to Augustine’s ideas include Luther’s assertions that true Christians do not necessitate temporal law yet thrive in it, and Luther’s insistence that man must abide by both temporal and heavenly authority in order to survive the human life and reach salvation in the eternal life.One of the greatest parallels between Augustine’s beliefs and Luther’s writings is Luther’s echo of Augustine’s assertion that “there are false Christians within the Church” (I:35). Luther agrees on this point and further embellishes this theme by adding “The world and its masses will always be Un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name. Christians are few and far between” (Hillerbrand, 48). The two author’s differ, however, in their methods of settling the problem of Christian imposters. Augustine acknowledges the incapability of man to always discriminate the true from the imposters and believes that those sinners who craftily label themselves Christian will only be separated from the true Christians on judgement day (I:35). Luther sees the difficulty in determining the true Christians as one reason for the necessity for both human and divine law. It is interesting to note that neither author quotes Scripture supporting their assertions that fake Christians exist; this suggests that both Augustine and Luther came to these conclusions through their life experiences rather than by their interpretations of Scripture.Another topic upon which Augustine and Luther decidedly agree upon is the necessity to avoid war, however, both authors handle this subject in different ways. Augustine asserts that “Peace is the instinctive aim of all creatures, and is even the ultimate purpose of war” and that “there is no man who does not wish for peace” (XIX:12). Augustine makes the distinction, however, between seemly peace and real peace when he states “the peace of the unjust, compared with the peace of the just, is not worthy even of the name of peace”. Augustine Christianizes his statements on temporal peace when he concludes that “God created all things in supreme wisdom and ordered them in perfect justice” (XIX:13) and that man can achieve peace by following God’s orders such as “love thy neighbor” (XIX:14).Augustine’s statements on peace are congruent with both the actions and writings of Luther, most specifically in his Friendly Admonition to Peace Concerning the Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants. Firstly, as stated in Mackenson’s introduction, this writing is Luther’s “appeal to peace” (Hillerbrand 67) in order that “if any misfortune or disaster come out of the matter, it may not be blamed on me because of my silence” (Hillerbrand, 68). In his plea for peace To the Princes and Lords Luther uses both the tactics of impending hell and gentle persuasion to persuade the nobles to gain peace with the peasants. He reminds the nobility of the passage from Psalms “He poureth contempt upon princes” (Hillerbrand 69) and advises them “You will lose nothing in kindness; and even though you were to lose something, it can afterwards come back to you ten times over in peace, while in conflict you may, perhaps, lose both life and goods” (Hillerbrand, 71). In To the Peasants Luther greatly narrows Augustine’s idea that peace is the natural goal of man by claiming that peace is a uniquely Christian goal. This is demonstrated by Luther’s claim that if neither the peasants nor the nobility allow themselves to be instructed and live at peace, neither side is Christian (Hillerbrand, 78).Augustine and Luther’s interpretations on temporal law vary slightly from one another, with Augustine’s beliefs reflected by the passage from Corinthians “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (XIII:5) and Luther’s resonating in the passage from the first book of Timothy “The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless” (Hillerbrand, 46). Augustine argues that the law itself is a temptation, that the very restriction of a deed is a reason that some perform it. In this way, some who might not ordinarily commit sins may be swayed to commit them because of the stronger temptation, or as Augustine writes “when the love of righteousness is not strong enough to overcome the sinful desire by the delight it affords” (XIII:5). Luther bypasses the question of whether the law can be taken to bad account by the wicked in his writings; there is little need for Luther to consider whether laws enhance the temptation of the wicked to violate them, because Luther believes that laws are not made for true Christians anyway. He writes “If all the world were composed of real Christians, that is, true believers, there would be no need or benefits from prince, king, sword, or law” (Hillerbrand 46).There is a similar contrast between Augustine and Luther’s interpretations of man’s obediency to temporal law. Augustine states plainly “when man lives by the standard of man’ and not by the standard of God’, he is like the Devil” (XIV:4). Augustine clarifies that even though man comes from God, who is all good, he can live falsely, as in not living in a godlike manner, for “Falsehood consists in not living in the way for which he was created” (XIV:4). Luther however, in distinguishing the two options of lifestyles (to live by a heavenly government or by a temporal one) grants that the heavenly one is best, but he also adds that the temporal government is necessary: “Both must be permitted to remain; the one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and prevent evil deeds. Neither one is sufficient in the world without the other” (Hillerbrand, 48). In this way, Luther takes Augustine’s condemnation of temporal lifestyle to another level; while Luther admits that it would be best if the Christians of the world could live in peace without laws, like sheep, he admits that given the wolves or Non-Christians of the world would quickly devour them (Hillerbrand, 48). Augustine does not make this distinction, possibly because of his beliefs such as “When starvation killed…it snatched [the Christians] away from the evils of this life, as disease rescues men from the sufferings of the body” (I:11).One substantial difference between the theological and political thoughts of Augustine and Luther is each author’s unique interpretation of the authority between kings and nobles and their respective peasants and slaves. Augustine takes a rather surprising turn on this subject when he uses a passage in Genesis to back his claim that “[God] did not wish the rational being, made in his own image, to have dominion over any but irrational creatures, not man over man…That is why we do not hear of a slave anywhere in the Scriptures until Noah…punished his son…that son deserved this name because of his misdeed, not because of his nature…” (XIX:15). Augustine goes on to clarify, however, that slavery can only happen “by the judgement of God”. Therefore Augustine is stating that man is not meant to be enslaved, but God is just when He gives man a life of slavery. Furthermore, Augustine states, “Everyone who commits sin is sin’s slave”, and thereby somewhat justifies slavery as a sin which will cause the master to be a slave because the master practices slavery.Luther, on the other hand, spares no time in his tract On Governmental Authority in quoting Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authority, for there is no authority except from God; the authority which everywhere exists has been ordained by God. He then who resists the governing authority resists the ordinance of God, and he who resists God’s ordinance will incur judgment” (Hillerbrand, 44). As mentioned in Hillerbrand’s introduction to Twelve Articles “The Protestant Reformation…seemed to be tailor made for the peasants” (Hillerbrand 63). As Mackenson states in his introduction to Admonition to Peace, however, “Luther left little doubt that he disapproved of the peasant’s marshaling of scriptural arguments in support of their economic and social goals…Luther rejected the use of the gospel to sustain secular demands, and insisted that the laws of society must provide the answer for social amelioration (Hillerbrand, 67).In conclusion, the similarities and differences in the theological and political thought of Augustine and Luther are caused by the correspondences and variances in the ways that each author interprets Scripture. Both authors never question the truth of the Scripture, yet it is obvious that the passages of the Bible can be construed to form two opposing political/theological views. The differences in these views reflect the differences of political motivation of each author. It is ironic that Luther, who was trying to sever himself from the Catholic Church should echo so many of Augustine’s teachings, yet it makes sense, for each author is defending an interpretation of Christianity from an outside existing force (the Romans for Augustine, the Catholics for Luther). Furthermore, when Augustine wrote City of God, the Catholic Church had not yet become the elaborate and corrupt political system, full of the “blind bishops and mad priests and monks whose hearts are hardened” (Hillerbrand, 68) of which Luther writes. It follows that in many cases the basic premises for Luther’s writings are the same as Augustine’s; it could be said that Luther is Augustine with a twist.
Defining a Happy Life
Throughout time, countless people have sought to understand what the good life is and how to achieve it. One such person is Saint Augustine, who details in Confessions his path to achieving the good life through God. Throughout the book, Augustine seeks to attain the good life, however, he must first discover what it means. After much searching, he eventually does this, only to realize that it is not enough to simply know what the good life is. While in a garden in Milan, he learns that achieving the happy life does not come without great struggle. This struggle must happen because a person must strive to better themselves, be wholeheartedly willing to do whatever it takes to achieve the happy life, and undergo great internal conflict.
In order to attain the good life, a person must first know what it is. Although different people may have different beliefs of what the happy life truly is, Augustine’s belief is very clear. To Augustine, “the happy life is joy based on the truth” (Augustine 199). He believes that in order to achieve a happy and fulfilling life, a person must achieve joy through the truth. However, a person seeking the good life through Augustine’s definition must also know what they believe the truth to be. Augustine struggled for most of his life before his conversion to find not only what he believed the good life to be, but even after he developed his definition of the good life, he struggled to discover what he believed the truth to be. However, he eventually came to realize that for him, the truth was his faith in God. Therefore, Augustine views faith as his pathway to the good life. However, he also learned that this cannot come without significant struggle. Augustine believes that these trials were out of his power; the trials he underwent, the long path to his conversion were all predestined by God. However, whether God wanted Augustine to endure and struggle for his faith or it was entirely caused by Augustine himself, it does not change the fact that in order to achieve the happy life, Augustine had to undergo great turmoil. Whether there is a higher power who intends for a person to struggle or they have autonomy over their path, their struggle will always be trying, which is what will lead them to the truth and therefore the happy life.
Despite knowing that his path to a happy life lay in putting his faith in God, Augustine is unable to achieve this goal for a long time. He learns later in his life while in Milan that he must not only know the path to God, but he must also struggle to follow it. One such struggle is the constant endeavor to better oneself in order to be ready for the happy life. Augustine’s goal for self-betterment is to convert to Christianity and be of sufficiently strong moral character to be close to God. Prior to his conversion at the garden, Augustine knew that his path to the good life lay in Christianity, yet he did not convert because he was not pure enough, on one occasion praying to God “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet” (Augustine 145). Augustine wanted to convert to Christianity eventually because he knew that it was the right thing to do, but at the time he was not a sufficiently moral person because he did not wish to be chaste or continent. Yet while at Milan, after years of personal betterment and effort, he becomes sufficiently moral and he is okay with being chaste because he knows that it is the right thing to do, and doing the right thing is now more important to him than the satisfaction of his carnal pleasures. Prior to this, he was strong enough to resist temptation, but he only had a vague desire to do so. However, it was not until the Garden in Milan that he became sufficiently pure to truly value virtues such as chastity above all else, and he truly desired to be the most moral person that he could. This is a severe struggle because Augustine must change his priorities and improve his character. However, by improving his character, Augustine is brought closer to god and therefore closer to attaining the happy life.
In order to achieve the good life, a person must not only struggle with self-betterment but they must also struggle with their will. They must ensure not only that their will is to pursue the happy life, but also that their will and desires align with it. Prior to his conversion in the garden, Augustine is not fully devoted to Christianity, which is why he did not convert prior to this despite believing Christianity to be right. He “had not seen any certainty by which to direct [his] course” so he did not choose a course for fear of being wrong (Augustine 145). Therefore, he spent a lot of time struggling with discerning what the correct course is when he could have already been living what he deemed to be the happy life if he had wholeheartedly devoted himself to becoming a Christian. Then, while in the Milanian garden he fully devoted himself to his endeavor and committed to being baptized. Although he did not begin to live the happy life right at that moment, it taught him that in order to live that life one day he had to struggle with his devotion in order to become fully committed to his path to the happy life.
Augustine’s conversion was not easy for him; in fact, it was quite hard and trying. This is because he had to struggle with a great deal of personal turmoil during his conversion in the garden. While questioning his beliefs just prior to converting, Augustine was “distressed not only in mind but also in appearance” causing him to leave his discussion with his friends and flee to the garden in search of clarity (Augustine 146). While in the garden, Augustine tore his hair, struck his forehead, and was eventually brought to tears while trying to determine the right course of action when he finally opened the book of the apostle, leading to his conversion (Augustine 153). These physical actions manifest the internal turmoil and struggle he underwent not just in the garden, but also throughout his life in pursuit of the happy life. He ripped out his hair and beat himself in the head out of severe frustration caused by his inability to find the good life or christianity. This taught him that internal conflict and struggle is necessary to find the path to the happy life, as the anguish he was enduring is what caused him to open his bible, thus leading to his conversion.
This event, Augustine’s conversion in the garden, is therefore crucial to the understanding of the happy life because it showed Augustine what he needed to do in order to achieve the happy life. He viewed the happy life to be “joy based on truth”, the truth being his belief in God, therefore he believed that he could attain the happy life by achieving happiness through his relationship with God. For this reason, his conversion to Christianity is very important to his understanding of how to achieve the happy life. The experience taught him that pain and struggle can sometimes simply be a path to the good life and joy, therefore allowing him to understand that if he is able to struggle and fight through any issues he may be having, it may allow him to be happier in the long run.
Augustine’s conversion to Christianity is already a crucial point in his life because religious conversions are significant parts of a person’s life, but this also taught him more about how to achieve the happy life and that struggle is sometimes necessary. However, Augustine’s definition of the happy life is not necessarily universal, so some people’s definition of the happy life may differ from his or their truth may be something other than faith in God. Despite this, Augustine’s lessons from the garden regarding the happy life also apply to other definitions of the happy life, because achieving the happy life will never be easy and will require struggle, but it will also always aid in the pursuit of the happy life.
The Role of Guidance in The Aeneid, Confessions, and The Divine Comedy
Galileo Galilei once stated that “all truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” However, in order to understand and discover such truths, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Saint Augustine’s Confessions, and Dante’s Divine Comedy, all three protagonists are in need of guidance due to a lack of understanding on their respective journeys of discovery. Their guides, who are all figures whom they admire and respect, in turn possess such understanding and impart it unto the protagonists. In The Aeneid of Virgil, the figure of guidance for the protagonist, Aeneas, is his father, Anchises, especially in the form of visions and shades after his death. Although Anchises dies during the journey from Troy to Italy, he continues in spirit to help his son fulfill fate’s decrees. In Book V, shortly after the death of Anchises, Aeneas dreams of his father, who tells him to “obey the excellent advice old Nautes gives” (958-959) to leave some Trojans – the elderly, the weak, and the women weary of sailing – in the care of Acestes, and “take [his] chosen young men, [his] bravest hearts, to Italy” (959-960). Anchises’ image also directs Aeneas to visit him in Dis after arriving in Latium. In the underworld, Anchises “[reveals] the fame that is to come from Dardan sons and what Italian children wait for [Aeneas] – bright souls that are about to take [his] name” (VI, 999-11002). Finally, through the guidance of his father, Aeneas grasps the profound significance of his voyage to Italy and is ready to face the challenges that lie ahead. Anchises is able to act as a guide for Aeneas due to his status of authority and his ability to foresee events after his death. During his journey from Troy, Aeneas does not fully understand the significance of his voyage. He is uncertain about going to Italy and often “his mind is torn apart by all his cares” (V, 949). However, after the vision of his father, Aeneas makes up his mind immediately and “at once calls his comrades… and tells… what he himself has now resolved” (V, 983-986). This illustrates the seniority of Anchises and the authority and status that come with it. Aeneas reveres his father and thus trusts and follows his advice willingly. In this way, Anchises serves as a wise counselor to his son, as Aeneas makes his way toward Italy. In Dis, Anchises once again displays his wisdom as Aeneas’ mentor when he guides Aeneas through the underworld, showing him what fate has in store for his descendants. As a living human being, Aeneas is unable to understand the future consequences of his journey and his actions in Latium. Anchises, on the other hand, is able to “[study] the souls of all his sons to come” (VI, 899-900). After passing on from the living world, he is able to see the future and thus understand the larger significance of Aeneas’ journey. Aeneas’ respect for and trust in Anchises and Anchises’ ability to perceive the fated significance of Aeneas’ present exploits make him a fitting mentor for Aeneas.In Saint Augustine’s Confessions, the guides for Augustine’s journey toward Christianity are his mother Monica and Bishop Ambrose. A devout Catholic who “greatly put her trust in [God]” (I, 17), Monica accompanies Augustine on many of his moves throughout his life. Augustine gives great credit to Monica for being God’s instrument for his own salvation. She never stops encouraging him to convert to Catholicism: “with a pure heart and faith in [God] she… [travails] in labor for [his] eternal salvation” (I, 17). Even during a time of “darkness and falsehood” (III, 20) in Carthage, “this chaste, devout, and sober widow… never [ceases] her hours of prayer to lament about [him] to [God]” (III, 20). In Milan, Monica leads a quiet and devout life, serving as a constant reminder to Augustine that he may well have been destined for Catholicism.During this time, Augustine becomes increasingly open to Christian doctrine because of the influence not only of Monica but of Bishop Ambrose as well: “Every Lord’s Day [Augustine] [hears] him ‘rightly preaching the word of truth’ among the people” and “more and more [his] conviction [grows] that all the knotty problems and calumnies which those deceivers… had devised against the divine books could be dissolved” (VI, 4). Bishop Ambrose’s interpretation of the Old Testament has an immense impact on Augustine, who has previously dismissed the text because of its simple and apparently literal language. Bishop Ambrose interprets the scriptures in a much more abstract, spiritual sense: “the letter kills, the spirit gives life” (VI, 6). This approach allows Augustine to overcome Manichean objections to specific phrases in the Bible and “from this time on… [Augustine] now [gives] [his] preference to the Catholic faith” (VI, 7). Bishop Ambrose, along with Monica, is directly responsible for Augustine’s conversion to Catholicism.Monica and Bishop Ambrose act as figures of guidance for Augustine much in the same capacity as Anchises does for Aeneas. Monica, being a parental figure to Augustine, demands the same respect as does Anchises. Although at the time, Augustine never quite heeds her advice, he never dismisses it either. Her role as his mother puts her as a figure of high influence. Thus, Monica is able to guide Augustine’s actions, though in a much less overt fashion than Anchises, through her lifelong influence rather than direct instructions. Bishop Ambrose, too, is in a position of authority in his guidance of Augustine. As a bishop, he is a leader of the Catholic faith, and Augustine therefore takes his words and actions to be exemplary of the religion itself. In addition, like Anchises, both Monica and Bishop Ambrose have the ability to understand what Augustine could not. As a non-Christian, Augustine could not recognize God as a “spiritual substance” (III, 12) and questions regarding the existence of evil, the form of God, and the like were beyond his comprehension. He has difficulties grasping the idea that faith, not reason, is the basis for true knowledge. As believers, Monica and Bishop Ambrose are able to perceive the truth because of their faith. It is this superior understanding of God, along with their positions of authority, that enable Monica and Bishop Ambrose to lead Augustine into the arms of the church.In The Divine Comedy, the figures of guidance for Dante on his journey through the world beyond death are Virgil and Beatrice. In Hell and through most of Purgatory, Virgil serves as Dante’s “‘guide… governor… master’” (Inferno, II, 140). Lost and in despair in the dark forest, Dante meets the spirit of the great Roman poet Virgil, who offers to “guide [him], taking [him] from this place through an eternal place” (Inferno, I, 113-114). As they journey through Hell, Virgil leads and protects Dante through different gates and obstacles; for instance, Dante is able to get past Charon and Minos with Virgil’s help. As they visit the different circles of Hell and the difference terraces of Purgatory, Virgil explains to Dante the various sins the tormented souls have committed in their lifetime to deserve their punishment. Virgil serves as Dante’s guide, showing him not only the physical route through Hell and Purgatory but also reinforcing their moral lessons. At the gate to Earthly Paradise, Virgil arrives at “the place past which [his] powers cannot see” (Purgatorio, XXVII, 129); from there on, “a soul more worthy than [he] [is] will guide [Dante]” (Inferno, I, 122). Beatrice now takes over the role as Dante’s guide through Heaven. Beatrice leads Dante through the different spheres of Heaven and answers Dante’s many questions, such as why there are dark spots on the moon, whether all spirits live in the Empyrean, and what the true nature of angels is. Through Beatrice, Dante learns more about the divine nature of Paradise. In the end, Beatrice brings Dante to his glorious vision of God. Like Anchises in The Aeneid and Monica and Bishop Ambrose in Confessions, Virgil and Beatrice are able to act as Dante’s mentors because they are figures whom Dante reveres and they possess the wisdom and understanding that Dante, as a living being, does not have. Upon seeing Virgil, Dante is thrilled to meet the poet he most admires, “[his] master and [his] author” (Inferno, I, 85). Dante puts his complete trust in Virgil as his guide due to his high respect for him. Beatrice, too, is someone whom Dante loved and admired when she was alive, and remains his object of affection and inspiration after death. “Within her presence, [Dante] had once been used to feeling – trembling – wonder, dissolution” (Purgatorio, XXX, 34-35) and upon seeing her again in Earthly Paradise, he once again “[feels] the mighty power of old love” (Purgatorio, XXX, 39). Beatrice is in a position to guide Dante because of his love and admiration for her; on many occasions during his travels through Hell and Purgatory, Dante believes that he can go no further, but the promise of meeting Beatrice motivates him to continue, and the same enthusiasm propels him through his journey in Heaven. In addition to being people whom Dante looks up to, Virgil and Beatrice are both inhabitants of the world after death, and thus possess understanding which living human beings do not. As a spirit who dwells in Limbo, Virgil is “‘wise; [he knows] far more than’” (Inferno, II, 36) Dante, as he is familiar with the way through Hell and can act as Dante’s knowledgeable guide. Not only does Virgil have the knowledge of the Underworld, he also symbolizes human reason, which Dante currently lacks yet needs in order to navigate through the world of sin. However, at the gate of Heavenly Paradise, Virgil becomes as ignorant as Dante because reason is powerless without faith in gaining access to Heaven. Here, the guide becomes Beatrice, who possesses the faith and understanding required to enter Paradise. Beatrice believes that Dante “is… so astray” (Inferno, II, 65) from the path of righteousness that she needs to bring him on this journey so that he can gain the same understanding of the afterlife as Virgil and herself in order to be saved. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Saint Augustine’s Confessions, and Dante’s Divine Comedy, all the protagonists are in need of guidance due to a lack of understanding. They are ignorant because they have not experienced or perceived the consequences of their actions or the significance of their beliefs. The guides and mentors of the protagonists are all in positions of authority and are all people whom the protagonists have tremendous respect for. Furthermore, they are more experienced and have either gone through or have had visions of what the protagonists are attempting to achieve. Such things – the future of one’s descendants, the spirituality of faith, the realm after death – are beyond human comprehension without having experienced them, either first-hand or through visions. The guides in these works possess such understanding and are thus in the position to impart their wisdom unto the protagonists who lack it.Following this model, these three books thus mirror the pedagogical relationships in their texts because they act as the medium through which the readers undergo the experiences that they tell. The readers, who are inexperienced and ignorant to the stories told in these works, are like the protagonists, and they are able to gain understanding only by reading the texts, just as the protagonists do through their journeys, led by their guides. The books themselves thus serve the roles of the guides in that they bestow knowledge and wisdom to the readers as they lead them through the book. These works act as the readers’ guides and mentors as they direct the readers through the tales of the journeys of the protagonists, thereby allowing the readers to acquire the same wisdom and understanding as the protagonists.All three protagonists in The Aeneid, Confessions, and The Divine Comedy are able to acquire truth and understanding through the guidance of their respective mentors. Parallel to their journeys is the experience of the readers, who gain the same wisdom under the guidance of the texts themselves. Guidance from those who possess greater understanding than ourselves, whether in the form of another human being or of a book written long ago, is and will remain an indispensible element of human life as we navigate through the labyrinth of existence.
Synchronizing Religion and Philosophy
One of the most important Christian writers, St. Augustine acts as a bridge between the Classical period and Late Antiquity. His autobiography about personal struggles, conversion, and contemplation about God sheds light on both how people of Late Antiquity observed Christian traditions and how Neo-Platonism influenced Christians’ relationship with God. Augustine constantly probes the question of evil in his Confessions. To seek an answer to this dilemma, he draws upon Christian tradition and the Neoplatonist philosophy. Neither of them alone is sufficient to answer the problem of evil’s existence. Combining the two traditions, Augustine can achieve spiritual wisdom by going through Christian initiation, studying biblical texts, and contemplating inwardly and upwardly to God. In the early part of the Confessions, Augustine is struggling to give up the temptations of the material world and become a devout Christian. He relies heavily on Christian traditions to make a decision to convert. Monica, Augustine’s mother, influences her son by her demonstration of faith and devotion. Her piety and visions inspired Augustine to convert. Like a good Christian, she obeys Bishop Ambrose’s rules and concentrates on personal worship for the saints. Augustine, seeing these actions, naturally feels guilty for not converting. An important vision he receives at the Milan Garden shows an important Christian belief that happiness and comfort is in God. Lady Continence reveals to Augustine that only believing in God can lead to true continence. In addition, following the command to “pick up and read,” Augustine finds the answer in the Bible. Afterwards, he is able to relinquish his attachment to lust and desires. These events exhibit the Christian traditions’ impacts on Augustine’s initiation process. In addition, Augustine believes in salvation through narration and the importance of the present as a critical time for redemption. These beliefs are rooted in the Christian tradition that past sins are forgivable as long as one starts believing in Jesus and God in the present. In the Gospels, for example, Jesus reiterates that whoever believes in him will be saved and forgiven. The letter from Paul to the Romans shows that Christians should not be a slave to sin but a slave to God. After Augustine’ conversion, he no longer enslaves himself to his flesh and bodily pleasures. Instead, he looks to God for help and guidance. His idea of salvation through narration offers Christians a way to redeem themselves from sinful pasts. The Gospel teaches that one needs to submit himself to God like a child with innocence and a pure mind. Augustine, on the other hand, believes that children are essentially sinful. As a result, he advocates that Christians can gain God’s favor by reflecting on the past and by learning from past mistakes. Essentially, a person can go back to his or her childhood and repent for the committed crimes by narration and interrogation. Thus, Augustine’s conversion and recollection of the past are impacted by Christian traditions. Augustine’s profound analysis of the biblical stories and texts draws on and reshapes Christian tradition. Instead of taking the Bible literally, Christians should have a spiritual understanding of the written text. This figurative interpretation of the Bible is not novel. The Gospel of John, for example, starts with the Word and the Word made flesh. These lines reveal that God’s words may not have a single literal meaning but represent something bigger. When Augustine discusses the line “increase and multiply,” he concludes that procreation does not only apply to aquatic animals and humans but is relevant to all creatures. Along with the study of the biblical text, Augustine recognizes different interpretations for a biblical story. The creation of heaven and earth, for example, can have ten different axioms. This transition from the literal reading of the Bible to using the text for spiritual fulfillment shows Christian tradition’s influence on the Confessions. After he becomes a Christian, Augustine relies heavily on Neoplatonist philosophy to find a path to unite with God. In fact, the arrangement of the Confessions, represent Plotinus’ upward struggle from the Sensible Realm, to the Soul, to the Intellect, and to the One. In books one through nine, Augustine is shedding mud and material from his body by narrating his past. After book nine, he takes a semi-philosophical approach to become spiritually closer to God. By reading the philosophers’ books, he found inward contemplation as a means for transporting his mind to a higher realm. He says that he cannot understand God until he understands himself. In addition, Augustine agrees with Plotinus that the One is the source of all good. Unlike the One, however, God is a true being who can be described and sensed. Nevertheless, inspired by Neoplatonism, Augustine can look inwardly to move upwardly toward God.Besides finding the way to God, Augustine draws on Neoplatonist tradition to find an explanation for the existence of evil and corruption. Rejecting the Manichean ideal that some evil matter opposes God in a cosmic struggle, Augustine seeks a different explanation for evil. He follows the Neoplatonist tradition that the One only emanates good. Evil cannot possibly exist because all of God’s creation is good and beautiful. This conclusion is similar to Plotinus’ doctrine that the One only produces Beauty, which may be polluted by interaction with matter. According to Augustine, God is omnipotent and only produces material that is good. The problem of evil lies in human freewill. Freewill leads to the possibility of people deviating from the true Good by their own will. This resembles Plotinus’ idea that some souls become contaminated by mingling with the body. One’s soul, once bounded by undesirable will, is stuck in the sensible and material world. For Augustine, our will has to command the soul to contemplate instead of dwelling on lust and greed. With the help of Neoplatonist philosophy, Augustine hopes to find an answer to the presence of evil. In conclusion, he manages to see evil as lacking substance and presents freewill and the conflict of interests as the two sources of evil. Probing the past, present, and future, Augustine writes about human nature in general and humans’ relationship to God. By synchronizing Christian traditions and Neoplatonism, he hopes to gain more followers for God. Reading the Confessions is an act of transformation for the readers because we see Augustine grow from a sinful youth with internal struggles to a Catholic with a new understanding of God’s designs and creations. Both religion and philosophy shapes Augustine’s transformation from a rhetorician to a Christian, his study of the Bible, and his interpretation of evil. He reflects on Christian traditions and reshapes them, especially in the analysis of the Bible. Although following Plotinus’ argument closely, Augustine distinguishes himself from the philosopher by having a greater interest in the creator rather than the creation. Not just simply an autobiography, the Confessions exposes a man’s vulnerability, his intellectual quest, and his real concerns about the world, which aroused the empathy of generations of readers.
Love of Love, and Thus of Pain: Misguided Reasoning in ‘The Confessions’
The Confessions illustrates many times through which Saint Augustine appears to desire and pursue pain throughout his life, made especially clear in the beginning of Book III. His apparent desire for pain is a surprising concept for a man who so blatantly writes in On Teaching Christianity that one cannot hate himself. Both Augustine in his Confessions and Breyfogle in A Reader’s Companion to Augustine’s Confessions give insights on the nature of this complex and counterintuitive pursuit of pain, giving three reasons: the attempt to satisfy internal hunger with external joys, personal guilt, and a love of self. All three of these reasons are misguided and focused on the sin of curiositas, further illuminating his true desire for Wisdom, Goodness, and thus for God.
In the second paragraph of Reader’s Companion to Augustine’s Confessions, Breyfogle summarizes his first answer to the grand question of why Augustine appears to seek out pain: “The ‘restless heart’ of Confessions’ opening lines (Conf. 1.1.1) takes pleasure in pain because it mistakenly conceives its inward hunger as an external hunger to be satisfied externally”. Augustine can be seen throughout the first half of The Confessions attempting to satisfy his inward hunger for Wisdom and Truth and thus God through the temporary satisfaction of the flesh in three parts: concupiscence of the flesh, concupiscence of the eyes, and pride. Chapter three is closely linked to the second of these, or curiositas. This intellectual curiosity and restlessness pulls one away from God so that they must seek out satisfaction in other means. For Augustine, he searched for peace of heart within the theater and fell in love with love itself, enjoying the pain it inflicted upon his heart and relishing in the tears it brought.
In love with loving, I was casting about for something to love; the security of a way of life free from pitfalls seemed abhorrent to me because I was inwardly starved of that food which is yourself, O my God. Yet this inward famine created no pangs of hunger in me. I had no desire for the food that does not perish, not because I had my fill of it, but because the more empty I was, the more I turned from it in revulsion.
Augustine acted out of this desire to fill the hole left in his heart which could only be satisfied by God. In some parts of the text, it appears that he desires relief from these pains. In 3.1.1, he compares the pains of his soul to sores and writes that it is “longing to sooth its misery by rubbing up against sensible things,” (Conf. 3.1.1) but then later writes of his desire for sadness. In 4.5.10, he writes of how he would rather feel the pain of the loss of his dear friend than to see him again as he has grown too close to the pain. In chapter 3.2.2, he writes of the theater. Even Augustine asks himself why he enjoys the ensuing pain, writing that “the sadness itself is the pleasure” (Conf. 3.1.1) It appears that Augustine desires a wholeness and healing from the pains caused by his lack of communion with God, and that curiositas had blinded him to this pure desire of his own heart.
Secondly, Augustine appears to enjoy the sadness in part out of a foul sort of guilt. He admits that he “had no desire to undergo [himself] the woes [he] liked to watch” (Conf. 3.1.1). Instead, he writes that “it was simply when I listened to such doleful tales being told they enabled me superficially to scrape away at my itching self, with the result that these raking nails raised an enflamed swelling, and drew stinking discharge from a festering wound” (Conf. 3.1.1). The tears he cries for the fictitious people onstage are the puss from his true wounds and spiritual destitution. Despite his lack of current participation in the Catholic faith, Augustine was raised Catholic by Monica, and thus knew of Catholic morality due to engrained habits and teachings from childhood. He would have known that his actions hurt his mother, and that they directed him further from the faith he grew up with. Engrained Catholic morality combined with his attempted return and eventual true return to the faith show that he still thinks of and considers Catholicism despite his not actively practicing it, even if it is only in the back of his mind. This could explain his sense of guilt and need to experience great pains such as his friend’s death and the pains of the tragedy onstage, to release the built-up pains from his internal battles through tears. His return to things such as the theater instead of the root of his pains further shows the damage his curiositas contributes to his life, and that he has an intense feeling of unworthiness and awareness of his wounds.
The third reason for this desire for pain is a misguided desire for love from self. According to Breyfogle, “fiction produces a delight devoid of responsibility” (Paffenroth 39) in which the compassion one feels while watching a tragedy is directed only at “self-indulgence, not the love of another” (Paffenroth 39). Augustine brings up a similar point in The Confessions by writing, “ No one wants to be miserable, but we do like to think ourselves merciful, and mercy must entail some sorrow” (Conf. 3.2.3). It appears, with the insight of both points, that part of why one would delight in the misery brought about from the theater is so that one may feel an empty sort of pity devoid of responsibility towards the one who is pitied, so that the pitier may feel without the obligation to get involved and to help, and to feel the pride of knowing that he is one who can express sympathy for others. Restlessness again works through this as one cannot find peace of heart through self-love alone, but must know that they are loved by God. Their love of self cannot come through things expressed in theater such as their ability to sympathize, but through the fact that they are His beloved. Augustine’s appreciation for the ability to sympathize and the ensuing delight he takes in this good quality shows that he values what is good, even if he is unaware of The Good due to his battle with curiositas.
Desires misguided by curiositas drive Augustine towards the love of love and of pain throughout Book III of The Confessions. The first shows his true desire for his internal pains left from his sins to be healed. The second shows his awareness of his wounds and unworthiness. The third shows a desire to be a good person and to love himself in his goodness, pursuing what is good. These three desires are misguided, but illuminate to the readers his good intentions beneath his curiositas, showing his desire for Wisdom, Goodness, and thus for God through his apparent love of pain.