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by Saint Augustine

Confessions Book XIII Summary

Section 1

  • Augustine points out that God isn't affected by whether or not Augustine serves him. But Augustine himself stands to gain everything by serving God.

Section 2

  • That applies to all of creation, too.

Section 3

  • Augustine understands the phrase "Let there be light" from Genesis 1 as God permitting there to be light by allowing life to turn toward him. The matter itself didn't create its own light.

Section 4

  • Things get better and happier when they turn towards God, but God is already perfect.

Section 5

  • The line "And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2) reinforces the notion of the Trinity: the Father who made heaven and earth, the Son (who in this case is the Beginning), and Holy Ghost/Spirit.

Section 6

  • But why does the Holy Spirit not get mentioned until Verse 2? Augustine reasons that in order for the Spirit to move, he needs to have something to move over. So something had to be created first before the Spirit could be described.

Section 7

  • Using some hard-to-follow logic, Augustine says that the love of God surpasses all else, and it is the Holy Spirit that raises us up out of the depths (metaphoric "waters") of our worldly passions and back to God, who is "over" the waters. Like, so over them.

Sections 8-10

  • If God hadn't let there be light, then the world would be in darkness by default. So everything good has been given its goodness by God.
  • The Holy Spirit's job is to lift us up back to the Light of God, which is the Heaven of Heavens itself.

Section 11

  • In order to help people better understand the idea of the Holy Trinity, Augustine asks his readers to bear with him and complete a mental exercise. He asks us to imagine three things: existence, knowledge, and will. Each of these three things exists simultaneously with one another, yet are also distinct.
  • But Augustine cautions against taking this metaphor too far.

Sections 12-13

  • Now Augustine talks about the long and difficult journey toward God as it is described by the apostle Paul (who, by the way, is the "friend of the Bridegroom"). He discusses how to put one's hope in Christ.

Section 14

  • When Augustine is feeling down, he knows that's just because everything was darkness/sorrow/badness things before God's light. So he has to wait for that light of all lights to re-light his way. (No, not that light.)

Section 15

  • Now Augustine uses the sky, which is what he means by the "firmament," as a metaphor for the Scriptures. He talks about the dead guys who wrote the Scriptures, and he keeps referring to "skin" because in those days, paper was made from animal skin.
  • Augustine believes that the angels reside above the firmament. And angels don't need to read measly words on a page like humans do, because they've got front-row seats to the eternal word of God.

Sections 16-17

  • Augustine compares humanity to the oceans of the world and talks about how, even though people all want the same thing (happiness), they pitch about because they pursue happiness in all kinds of wrong ways. 
  • But, switching now to a plant metaphor, Augustine says that good souls who do good things are like plants that get watered and bear fruit.

Section 18

  • People wouldn't just magically learn the teachings contained in the Scriptures if they the Scriptures didn't exist. Augustine thinks of the wisdom that people gain in reading the Scriptures as shedding their own little light, like the stars in the sky compared to God's sun.

Section 19

  • Spread that light.
  • If you want to win eternal life, you need to not only live by all of the commandments—don't steal, don't kill, don't commit adultery, you know the drill—but also give up everything you have and thwart the proud by being weak.

Section 20

  • Augustine uses the creation story as the basis of a metaphor to talk about other things relating to God. In this section he refers to Genesis 1:20: "Let the waters produce moving things that have life in them." He thinks of the world's waters as a huge baptism, and the creatures as God's truth in the form of signs and sacraments.

Section 21

  • Now Augustine thinks of the land as producing the living soul. He also thinks of the land as a believer that has already been baptized and therefore no longer needs signs and miracles and whatnot to be one with God.

Section 22

  • In Genesis 1:26 God says, "Let us make man wearing our own image and likeness." Augustine points out that this means that man isn't supposed to imitate other men, but aspire to God's will.

Section 23

  • In the next line of Genesis, man is given dominion over all of the beasts, and Augustine compares this to the dominion that spiritual leaders and members of the Church should have over those who have not yet come to God. But he adds that it is not the spiritually gifted person's place to pass judgment on God's law.

Section 24

  • Next, we come to that famous line, "increase and multiply and fill the earth." Augustine is baffled by this, because the command is only given to sea-beasts (Gen. 1:22) and humans (Gen. 1:28), yet land animals obviously "increase and multiply" too. 
  • His believes that you have to read this command figuratively, like a lot of other things in the Scripture, and understand "increase and multiply" to refer to good works. Like turning people to God. Remember that, in his allegory, souls who have not accepted God are in "the deep."

Section 25

  • Augustine is also puzzled by the fact that God grants the food of the earth to humans and land animals, but not sea animals. Again, his response is to read this line figuratively.

Section 26

  • Now Augustine talks about the trials of Paul and the people who were nice to him because he was a servant of God.

Section 27

  • True nourishment is not literal food, but the joy of the soul. In Augustine's allegory, the sea represents humanity that hasn't accepted God; this is why the sea beasts aren't given any of the food in Genesis 1:29. Ah, we get it.

Section 28

  • Augustine pulls a whole-is-more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts when he talks about God looking at his creation and finding it good.

Section 29

  • Wait a second. How can God have stated something seven times when his will and voice is outside of time? 
  • "Silly rabbit," says God to Augustine. "Obviously the Scriptures speak in time even though I don't. Duh."

Section 30

  • Augustine mentions another belief system in which God didn't create all matter, but merely assembled it—after defeating his enemies and relegating them to the world below.

Section 31

  • Next order of business: if only the Spirit knows God's thoughts, how are we supposed to understand God's gifts? Well, when we see a good thing and recognize it as good, it is actually God who sees it as good, through our eyes.

Section 32

  • Augustine goes through all of the good aspects of the earth named in Genesis 1, though he ends by saying that women are physically subject to men. Eek. He was a man of his times.

Section 33

  • A reminder that God created the matter of heaven and earth from absolutely nothing.

Section 34

  • A recap of chapters 1-33.

Section 35

  • All good things in the world will eventually come to an end.

Section 36

  • Like God on the seventh day of creation, when our lives are done, we will also rest.

Section 37

  • Just as God works in us now, our eternal rest will be his, outside of the time he created.

Section 38

  • God made all good things, and once the Holy Spirit inspires mankind, then it, too, does good things. This is the truth that we will find if we go looking for it by knocking on God's door.

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