by Saint Augustine
Confessions Book VI Summary
- Augustine's mother just can't bear to be away from her boy, so she makes the perilous journey to Italy.
- When she learns that Augustine is in the market for a new religion, she doesn't do what you'd expect and leap for joy. She was expecting this change in her son, what with how hard she prays and all.
- She believes that she will see Augustine become a Catholic before she dies.
- While she lived in Africa, Augustine's mother used to bring wine and food to the shrines of saints on their saint's days. In Milan, Ambrose forbids this behavior because people might use the occasion to get drunk. Not that Augustine's mother would ever, ever do that. But Ambrose also doesn't like the fact that the whole wine-and-food deal makes the celebrations resemble pagan rites.
- Augustine is surprised how readily his mother gives up the custom, and suspects that she does this because she respects Ambrose so much.
- Ambrose is a hot commodity, and Augustine has a hard time finding opportunities to talk to him.
- When Ambrose reads, he does so silently… which might seem obvious, but apparently it was worth mentioning in Augustine's day. It means he's serious about knowing God, unlike a lot of those arrogant rhetoricians Augustine was used to hanging with.
- Augustine wants to pour his heart out to Ambrose, but he settles for listening to him preach every Sunday. And he finally starts to get over the whole How-Does-God-Have-No-Body? issue.
- Augustine is finally figuring out that what he thought the Church believes is actually not at all what the Church believes. And he is ashamed that he used to be so adamant about denouncing it without really understanding it.
- But he's not totally on the Christian belief train yet. As a scientific-minded individual, Augustine wants to be absolutely sure about everything. Especially the important things, like what he should be doing with his immortal soul.
- The Church, unlike the Manichees, asks its followers to accept that not all things can be proven. Some must be accepted on faith.
- This starts to make sense to Augustine once he realizes that he believes in a lot of things that haven't necessarily been proven to him. We bet you do, too.
- Augustine is composing this speech in praise of the Emperor, even though it seems like he really doesn't care about the Emperor and neither will his audience. So he goes out to walk the streets of Milan to shake the feeling that he's a sell-out. That's when he sees this beggar who is all full of mirth.
- Augustine wonders why he has the ambitions he does when they're not going to bring him any happiness. Hm. That's a real stumper.
- Augustine has these two friends, Alypius and Nebridius (people had more exciting names back then).
- Augustine knows Alypius from his hometown and from when he taught at Carthage. Alypius is addicted to the gladiator games, like, hardcore. His father and Augustine had a falling out, so Alypius wasn't one of Augustine's students, but sometimes he would come and listen to Augustine lecture.
- Augustine gives us a spoiler: in the future, Alypius will become a bishop. And actually, Augustine sorta accidentally helped him become a bishop because one day, while Alypius happened to be in the room for his lecture, Augustine used an example about the gladiator games to elucidate something about a Biblical passage. It resonated with Alypius, who thought that Augustine was directing the metaphor at him.
- So Alypius broke his gladiator addiction and became one of Augustine's pupils. But then Augustine got him interested in those darned Manichees.
- Alypius went to Rome before Augustine did. While there, he ran into some friends on their way to the arena. They peer-pressured him into going with them, but he told them that he would not succumb to the bloodlust.
- He went to the arena but kept his eyes shut, refusing to watch the games. However, every time he heard the crowd roar, he wanted to see what they were roaring about. So he opened his eyes, thinking that he'd be strong enough to withstand the sight. He wasn't. Lo and behold, he gets re-addicted to the games.
- Here's another story about Alypius. This one time, in Carthage (not band camp), he was strolling down the street, minding his own business, when some guy with an axe broke into the moneylenders' shops.
- The moneylenders inside hear the commotion and send some muscle to see what the heck is going on. The would-be thief drops the axe and books it. Alypius, meanwhile, is oblivious to all of this and is like "Oh look an axe" and picks it up. He's arrested.
- But fortunately an architect friend sees him, and leads the mob that has amassed to the house of the real culprit. The would-be thief's slave identifies the axe.
- There's a lesson lurking in here somewhere.
- In Rome, Alypius is an assessor for the government, and an uncharacteristically honest one too. He doesn't take bribes or succumb to threats, even when they come from really powerful people.
- The closest he comes to corruption is to almost have books personally copied for him at the government rate (by hand in those days—still 1,000 years from the printing press, much less Kinko's).
- There's also this friend named Nebridius who went with Augustine to Italy because he is obsessed with the pursuit of truth and knowledge too. But even with their three powers combined, they still can't solve all of life's big questions.
- Now Augustine gives us a play-by-play of his search for truth from the time that he was nineteen (he's now thirty).
- Basically he keeps finding excuses for not converting… one of which is celibacy.
- Alypius doesn't want his bro Augustine to get hitched because he's afraid that then they won't be able to go rage together as often.
- He doesn't get why Augustine loves sex so much, because Alypius has done it, like, once.
- Augustine claims that his situation with his mistress is different. He's been with her for ten years, remember? And so Augustine makes Alypius curious about marriage and mistresses.
- Which is ironic because while Alypius is free of the chains of lust, Augustine starts to make him want to be enslaved (to lust).
- Augustine gets betrothed to a girl, and his mother is happy and all but doesn't have any God-sent dream-visions about the marriage.
- The girl is literally a girl and two years too young to marry, so Augustine has to wait it out.
- Augustine and his friends think about pooling all of their money and living in a commune together where they share everything, but the plans fall apart.
- Augustine's long-term mistress is sent back to Africa after Augustine gets engaged, and this breaks his heart. She leaves their son with him.
- His unholy response to the loss is to take another mistress. He can't go without sex, and he can't get over the loss of his original mistress either.
- Augustine cannot figure out why he's down in the dumps, especially considering all the sex he's getting.
- He has some deep discussions with his friends about good and evil and immortality, but he still can't figure out what could possibly fix his sadness.
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