Augustine: The Significance of One's Autobiography Before God
Confessions by Augustine Truth and piety are two terms Augustine illustrates throughout his book Confessions. There are two types of truth: the truth found in God, but also the truth found in oneself. The truth found in and through God is quite obvious throughout the whole book. The other requires the reader to search deeply in the text. Augustine feels that if you develop self knowledge, then you can find truth. You have to be true to yourself and God. With self knowledge, you can reveal your true beliefs and pursuit in a religion that is fit for you. Augustine relates truth, God, and self knowledge to each other and finds they are the path to life of contentment.
In Augustine 's Confessions, Augustine tells his entire life story leading up to his conversion to Christianity. Throughout his life, he experiences a vast amount of events, both that had major impacts and minor impacts. In the Confessions, Augustine called these events “episodes". The episodes supported his transformation of who he was into who he wanted to be after his conversion to Christianity. Certain episodes in Augustine’s life led to inspiring moments, while others lead to grief and pain. One of the most significant episodes that helped transform him both in the immediate future and long term future was the meeting of the Catholic Bishop Ambrose. This is where he finally met the influential Ambrose, a Catholic Bishop of Milan that Augustine found was worth speaking to and really had something to say that was meaningful. After the encounter with Ambrose, Augustine soon realized that not only was his mother, Monica, an influence, but also Ambrose had quite an effect on Augustine in relation to his journey to conversion. Augustine made a genuine connection with Ambrose as is shown when he said, “That man of God received me as a father, and as bishop welcomed my coming”. This statement not only sums up the fact that Ambrose was welcoming and was like a father to him, but also, through Ambrose, Augustine was granted a way to speak to God. This is the first step to coming closer to his conversion. Augustine repaid this respect and love for Ambrose by saying, “I came to love him, not at first as a teacher of the truth, which I had utterly despaired of finding in Your Church, but for his kindness towards me". In this statement alone, it is evident that Augustine and Ambrose both shared a mutual love for each other and it also showed that they shared a kind of father-son bond. Like with any father- son bond, Augustine felt that Ambrose was a sort of mentor for him. This father-son mentor relationship, led to Ambrose having a deep and profound influence on Augustine.
In the first paragraph of the confessions, Augustine is saying that the place where God’s mind touches our own is like a light. This means that when we as sinners start to think like God or like then this is the first step of our redemption. According to Augustine, human beings who have led a sinful life should try to go back to God by starting to think like God and to adopt his teachings (Warner 12). At this point they will start to make sense of the greatness of God and they will start to see the greatness of God in them and in other people. In the confessions, the presence of God is like light. Light in a general context always makes us see things and it drives away fear. God’s presence can be said to be light because when he is present in our lives, we start to see things differently and we lose all the fear that we were having. We start having an essence of courage in us that we did not have before we started knowing God just as Augustine who started seeing a change in his life when he turned back to God. The light is seen to be the truth because what is seen in the light is very true it cannot hide. In our lives, what usually comes to light is always considered as the truth. When Augustine came back to God and started believing in his word and his teachings, he was more truthful and was more honest and truthful with himself and with others (Warner 17).The light in this sense is usually unchangeable in many aspects. Augustine was referring to God as the light in the confessions. God does not change whether you die, whether you live Him and become a sinner or whether you come back to Him redeemed. He will always be the same. This therefore shows that the light does not change. When Augustine was a sinner, God was the same and when he was redeemed, God was still the same, he had not changed. This is because once you have a good relationship with the light, it will never change. You will never experience darkness. According to Augustine, everything usually goes back to God. The whole universe tends back to God in its constant source and ideal form (Chadwick 31). This means that God does not change even though his creations change. God is an eternal essence to which we owe our existence. His eternity means He cannot change and since he is the light, it means that the light is unchangeable. All things created by God have a relationship with God. Charity and Love also know the Light because of the relationship that they have. Once you have the light or know the light, then it shines upon you good deeds and values such as love and charity. The light can be inside our minds at the same time it is above us. The light according to Augustine is above us because it shines over us to kip us safe and to guide us. It is also inside our minds because it penetrates our minds through its rays. In this case God penetrates our minds through His teachings and through the doings of others for example when He does something good through our friends it remains in our minds. Augustine is therefore opening up to God and to his readers and praising God for being his light and salvation in the confessions.
To sum up, beyond and behind even those Augustines, was a man whose privacy we never penetrate. His earliest biographer closed with an account of the dying Augustine asking to have the seven penitential psalms written out and posted on the walls of his chamber, then asking to be left alone with those sobering words for his last hours and days. Many structures of interpretation could be erected around such a report, but we should not fail to see the image presented, of an old man who knows he is dying, choosing to be alone with words that come from his God and that tell him, insistently, and that are meant to let him tell himself how far he falls short of divinity. Our last impression of Augustine is of a man who never made things easy for himself.
Chadwick, H. Saint Augustine: confessions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008
Warner, R. The confessions of St. Augustine. New York: Penguin Books. 1963