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by Saint Augustine

Confessions Book XII Summary

Section 1

  • This book begins with Augustine saying that there are more questions than answers. We're pretty sure we understood that point from Books I-XI.

Section 2

  • The Heaven of Heavens = the stuff that isn't earth or the stuff above earth (the sky). It's where God lives.

Section 3

  • Genesis says that the earth was, at first, "invisible and without form." Augustine thinks about what exactly this means.

Section 4

  • Augustine concludes that these words were choices so that, um, slower folk could understand the idea of formless matter. Awesome.

Section 5

  • This "matter" was definitely real stuff, but it wasn't stuff that could be perceived by the senses. Just go with it, Augustine says.

Section 6

  • Augustine used to have a problem imagining a formless world because for him, having no form meant either having a weird form or not existing at all. So now he turns his attention to mutability.

Section 7

  • Fact: God created heaven and earth from nothing.

Section 8

And it was very dark—until God made more lighty stuff.

Section 9

  • But the formless matter created "In the Beginning" doesn't get counted in the seven days of creation (see Genesis), because you can't have time when there is no form yet, silly.

Section 10

  • Augustine is panting for the truth. No, really. He actually is.

Sections 11-13

  • Now we're talking about the Heaven of Heavens, a.k.a. Where God Lives. Augustine believes that it is technically susceptible to changes because it isn't made of the same stuff as God, but because it is so near God's awesomeness, it doesn't change. 
  • He also says that if all matter on earth was formless, then time wouldn't exist, because nothing would change. Interesting.

Section 14

  • There's nothing that Augustine hates more than people who don't believe in the Scriptures. But he also hates people who disagree with him on what the Scriptures mean. Which we think is a little prideful, actually.

Sections 15-16

  • Augustine wants to set some things straight. First, God's will is eternal, i.e., he doesn't suddenly decide to do something. He has always known he would do it. And second, things that are mutable are not eternal.
  • So, to all his haters out there: if the Heaven of Heavens is so close to God that it doesn't change, then it must also be eternal. Even though it's technically distinct from God.

Sections 17-20

  • Here, Augustine takes a close look at the different ways people have interpreted the phrase "heaven and earth" in the first line of Genesis. People might interpret the same words in different ways, but since the words themselves contain truth, then all of these interpretations might be valid.

Section 21

  • Same goes for the next line of Genesis: "The earth was invisible and without form, and darkness reigned over the deep."

Section 22

  • Next up, Augustine imagines an interlocutor asking questions about the next part of Genesis 1:2: "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

Sections 23-25

  • Again, it annoys Augustine when people not only question the truth of the Scriptures, but also when they assume that they themselves know the true meaning of the Scriptures (there's no winning with Augustine). The writing of Genesis, by the way, is attributed to Moses.
  • Augustine says that it's possible for there to be multiple interpretations for what the lines mean, but that people shouldn't assume that their interpretation is the Real McCoy over somebody else's (cough cough Augustine's cough cough).

Section 26

  • Augustine fantasizes about being Moses. Actually, he just says that God gave Moses the ability to write words in such a way that no one can reject them, even if they seem vague. And obviously Augustine envies this ability.

Section 27

  • The simple language of the Scriptures is not so simple after all. Like a bunch of little channels that can cover more area than a single stream. 
  • While people might misunderstand the Scriptures, they can still believe in them because of how they are written. People who think that the language is too simple to be truthful are in for a fall.

Section 28

  • We're back to the debate about what "heaven and earth" mean, though this time the central question is whether or not, once heaven and earth were created, they had form.

Section 29

  • Augustine uses the metaphor of how when people sing songs, they do not assemble different sounds in the way that you'd assemble materials to make a box. Instead, the song automatically has form, and you can't separate a song from its sounds. The material (sound) precedes the form (song), but once the song is sung they are the same thing.

Section 30

  • Of course, Augustine isn't positive that his theory is the right one, but he hopes that everyone else who is in search of truth will all sit around the campfire and sing "Kumbaya" together.

Section 31

  • Hooray for multiple meanings.

Section 32

  • Phew. So many words for just two verses. Augustine hopes that he isn't horribly misreading the Scriptures, but he's just doing his best with the abilities God gave him. So he can't really be faulted for his potentially imperfect readings. And, hey, at least he's trying, right?

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