Confessions Book VIII Summary
- By now, Augustine is pretty convinced by the Scriptures about God. But he isn't able to live a Christian life yet, and so he goes to see a man named Simplicianus about it.
- Basically Augustine doesn't want to stop having sex. He also doesn't want to marry.
- Simplicianus was a mentor to Ambrose, and he tells Augustine a story about Victorinus, the man who translated the Platonists into Latin (from Greek).
- Victorinus was a really intelligent and popular guy who mingled with the upper crust in Rome and worshiped the pagan Egyptian gods who were in fashion at the time. He secretly started believing in Christianity, but Simplicianus told him that his beliefs didn't count for much unless he went to the Church like everyone else.
- Eventually Victorinus starts worrying that Christ will deny him if he doesn't profess his faith publicly, so he does.
- Why is it that God is happier to re-gain a soul that has been lost than he is to just keep holding on to all the souls that have never left him? That is the question Augustine is asking here, and he sees the same idea everywhere.
- Hey, it's even better when the re-gained soul belongs to a powerful person.
- Augustine wants to be like Victorinus and give up all worldly ambitions to follow God, but, as always, he keeps refusing to give up his old habit: lust.
- Isn't it strange how Augustine is so reluctant to free himself from the thing that is keeping him trapped?
- Nebridius takes a day job that allows him enough free time to sit around and philosophize, so Alypius and Augustine are hanging out by themselves when this man Ponticianus comes over.
- He sees a book on Augustine's table, and it happens to be Paul's epistles (which is a fancy word for letters). He tells Alypius and Augustine about the monastery outside of Milan, and then tells them a story about two of his friends who, one time, came upon a monastery and found a book on Antony, a famous Egyptian monk.
- After reading it, one of the friends had a revelation that serving the Emperor will gain them nothing when compared to serving God. So he made a career change then and there. The other friend did too, and they decided to stay at the monastery. Even their fiancées became nuns.
- Kinda like when one person in your family goes vegan, and you follow suit because suddenly there's only kale chips and soy protein in the house.
- Crisis moment. Augustine has no more excuses for why he shouldn't give up worldly pleasures.
- As a youth, he avoided turning to Christianity because he didn't want to give up sex before he had even experienced it. So he turned to the Manichees.
- But now, the truth that he has spent ten years looking for has been found, and he can't bring himself to truly accept it.
- Augustine is overwhelmed with emotions and runs melodramatically out to the garden, where he tears his hair and hammers his fists, and does all manner of anguished gestures.
- He does these gestures because he's willing his limbs to do them, yet he can't will his mind to give in to its desire to accept God. Deep.
- The question is: why can we command our hands to move and grasp, but we can't (always) command our mind in the same way?
- Augustine reasons that our lack of mind-control results from inner conflict: there are two wills, one that wants us to do something and another that doesn't.
- Now we're getting into some stuff about light and dark, good and evil. Some people (cough cough the Manichees cough cough) believe that we possesses a good will and an evil will, but this idea is evil in and of itself because it assumes that our souls are like God.
- Augustine alone shoulders the responsibility for not wanting to serve God. He is at odds with himself, but this is part of human nature. It doesn't mean that there are two of him duking it out.
- A battle rages within Augustine.
- His lower instincts are all, "Do you really want to give up sex forever and ever?"
- On the other side of the debate, this figure of Continence (self-restraint) is like, "Jump into Christianity, the water's fine, I promise."
- Augustine is about to burst into tears, so he moves away from Alypius. He doesn't want to cry in front of his bro, which we think is pretty understandable.
- He goes to sit under a fig tree to bawl his eyes out. All of a sudden, he hears a child singing in a house nearby: "Take it and read it." Um, what?
- For some reason, Augustine understands this song as a divine message telling him to go get Paul's epistles and flip to a random page. The passage he lights upon is about giving up nature's appetites like lust. What a coincidence. Not.
- This experience seals the deal for Augustine. His inner turmoil is over. He closes the book, marks the passage, and tells Alypius he's ready to convert. Alypius asks to read the passage.
- The next line is about finding "a man of over-delicate conscience" (i.e., someone who is weak in the faith), which Alypius takes to refer to himself, so he jumps on the wagon too.
- They go tell Augustine's mother the news, and she is overjoyed that her prayers have finally come true.