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by Saint Augustine

Confessions Book III Summary

Section 1

  • Augustine heads to Carthage, the big metropolis in North Africa (modern-day Tunis), and for him it's like Vice City. He is ready for love, both emotional and, um, physical. And he finds it. 
  • Our man Augustine ain't one to get Friend Zoned. So he does the deed and finds himself in a relationship. Good for him, right? Well, Augustine calls it "a snare of my own choosing," and says how, in spite of the joys of love, he was a jealous and suspicious lover. And you know just how fun it is to sit at home, wondering if your boyfriend or girlfriend is out with someone else. Yep, not. Fun. At all.

Section 2

  • Who doesn't love a good play? Augustine prefers tragedy, because he loves feeling pity for characters when miserable things happen to them. It's like watching Bambi's mother die for the first time. (Hush, we're sensitive.) 
  • But wait, don't we all hate feeling miserable in real life? And don't we also hate seeing others suffer—well, at least, most of the time? So why do we love to watch suffering on the stage? 
  • Augustine realizes that the irrationality of the feelings you experience at the theater are proof of how evil it is.

Section 3

  • Thank God that God is merciful, because Augustine sure loved to sin. He even did the nasty in a church. 
  • Plus, Augustine is studying law, and he's really good at it, which makes him all kinds of conceited. 
  • But he's not as bad as this group called the "Wreckers," who were like the jocky frat of Augustine's Carthage clique. Augustine wishes that he was cool enough to hang with these Wreckers. In the end, of course, those bullies were just fooling themselves. They weren't really cool at all, they were just some mean sinners.

Section 4

  • Augustine falls hard for the writings of Cicero. Cicero was a Roman orator from the 1st century BCE who Augustine thought encouraged people to love the pursuit of wisdom itself, rather than simply encouraging them to jump on the bandwagon of the latest and shiniest brand-name philosophy. 
  • Augustine says that reading Cicero brought him closer to God, indirectly, by putting him on the hunt for truth. 
  • Oh, and we learn that Augustine is nineteen and that his father died two years before. The end.

Section 5

  • Augustine decides to pick up the Scriptures, and honestly, he finds them sub-par, especially compared to the writing of Cicero. But he says that he struggles with them because he it was hard to look past the language (which he thought was too easy) to see the deep messages.

Section 6

  • So Augustine falls in with some sensualist dudes who talk about God, but who don't seem to get what it means to have a real relationship with God. He doesn't say who they are in the text, but he's talking about the Manichees, who were followers of a religion that believed that all matter was light/good and dark/evil. 
  • Augustine just wants the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God. But these guys dish out food that isn't really food, or, um, truth that isn't really truth.
  • Here, Augustine distinguishes between philosophical lies and the "falseness" of literature and poetry. Like, Augustine likes stories about Medea because you can learn from them without having to believe that they really happened. 
  • Oh, and that weird thing he's talking about at the end of this section is the Foolish Woman from Proverbs.

Section 7

  • So Augustine has a few questions. Does God have fingernails? And why is the Old Testament so weird? Reasonable inquiries, if you ask us. 
  • Augustine doesn't get the idea of a spiritual God, and he also can't understand the contradictory logic of God's judgments of patriarchs like Isaac or Moses. 
  • But he uses the metaphor of the different rooms of a house to show how different eras called for different kinds of rules and judgments. 
  • He also uses the metaphor of meter in poetry. BTW, this is what he means by feet—as in, not the things attached to your legs.

Section 8

  • People need to obey God's rules, says Augustine, even if they go against a culture's customs.
  • Kings are allowed to make up new laws, right? No. No excuses for going against God's rules. 
  • Also, violence isn't cool. Violence is just another form of self-gratification. Even though sins aren't directed against God, they're still bad because they pervert the souls that God made.

Section 9

  • God is complicated. Sometimes he asks us to do things that society deems wrong.
  • Sometimes society allows us to do things that God thinks are wrong. 
  • And sometimes God just randomly decides to switch things up and tell us to do something that, before, he expressly forbid. Deal with it.

Section 10

  • The Manichees believed that killing plants, even for food, was a serious offense. Only lesser sect members were allowed to do it. 
  • Augustine says that he was stupid to buy into it.

Section 11

  • Augustine's new religion is causing his mother a lot of grief. But, one night, she has a dream where she is standing on a ruler (it's a dream, just go with it) and a man tells her that where she is, so is Augustine. 
  • Augustine misreads the dream at first, but his mom is quick to set him straight.

Section 12

  • Book III ends with Augustine's mother begging a local bishop to talk with Augustine. The bishop tells her about how Augustine is still too new to the Manichees to see their flaws yet, but he will. The bishop himself used to be one of their followers, and eventually realized that they were weirdos. So if he can do it, Augustine can, too.
  • Augustine's mom doesn't relent. She begs and begs the bishop until he finally tells her (somewhat wryly) that with a mother like her, there is no way Augustine won't eventually join the (Christian) Church. Ha.

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