Part 2: Research Paper: Choose between Canterbury Tales, Odyssey, Oedipus, Augustine, Divine Comedy

Part 2: Research Paper: Choose between Canterbury Tales, Odyssey, Oedipus, Augustine, Divine Comedy

Susie Student Anne Benenhaley English 261.0901 25 January 2018 The Confessional Journey of Augustine For the majority of his life, Augustine struggled to find his true identity in relation to his mortal life and his spiritual reality. At the age of about forty three, Augustine embarked on a literary journey that would ultimately bare his life and soul in what is appropriately known as “Confessions”. Augustine struggles to overcome pride through his internal conflict between self and God. His misguided perceptions of love instill confusion in his already tormented heart as he wrestles to differentiate between natural, emotional and physical love as well as Godly love. It is in fact these varying degrees of love that bring Augustine to understand his sins and develop a desire to forsake them so as to grow closer to God. As he comes to understand his need for and the Omnipotence of God, he begins to align his life to Gods’ standards through repentance and acceptance of his spiritual nature and potential. It is through the process of his confessionals that Augustine comes to acknowledge his carnal ways, testify of his ultimate dependence upon God and essentially confess his sins in hopes of redemption and true conversion. Augustine’s spiritual journey to overcome pride, understand love, forsake sin and recognize the Omnipotence of God and be closer to him through true conversion are intimately reflected in the “Confessions”. Augustine’s spiritual journey to overcome pride leads him to analyze different types of pride and recognize them within himself. He first addresses the dangers that come with pride and ambition. Augustine determines that pride in the worldly sense may be idealized however it detaches man from God and in so doing, God and his laws are rejected. Furthermore, Augustine refers to the things of the world as “lesser things” stating that “These lower things have their delights, but not so much as my God has, for He made them all” (53). Augustine’s implications are direct in addressing pride of the world as he plainly states that it separates man from the very God who created all. Metaphorically speaking, Augustine uses the following comparison to exemplify pride and ambition, “Thus the soul is guilty of fornication when she turns from You and seeks from any other source what she will nowhere find pure and without taint unless she returns to you” (54). His implication that pride and ambition are equivalent to fornication reinforce the fact that these are indeed sins against God and his laws. Augustine refers to pride as a “loftiness of spirit” and that “Ambition seeks honor and glory” reiterating afterward that only God is above all and to be honored (54). As he continues to evaluate his own sins of pride and ambition he readily confesses his own imperfections in these sins. Andre´s G. Nin˜o examines the spiritual conflict and characterization of Augustine claiming that, “He admits to a condition in himself that characterizes humans: struggling, from the depth of material existence, with an innermost orientation towards the transcendent” (92). Nin˜o specifically labels Augustine’s weakness as prideful ambition by stating that he is “driven by the desire to be applauded by men and to be successful” (92). Augustine’s recognition of this shortcoming within himself essentially sets the tone of journaling his confessions as he acknowledges the choices and actions in his life continually lead him away from the companionship of the very God of whom he worships. Not only does he struggle with love of self overshadowing love of God, but he also expresses confusion about love in general. Augustine’s spiritual journey ultimately brings him to confront his conflicting perceptions of love. Earthly love is observed by Augustine as that of carnal nature regarding flesh and lust as well as self-serving. He finds himself in a repeated predicament of giving into the sexual desires of his lustful inclinations rather than seeking true love and companionship. He is in a very real sense, a slave to himself as he cannot seem to refute his sinful nature. In his book about Augustine’s confessional journey, Carl Vaught points out in his book, The Journey towards God in Augustine’s Confessions, that, “Augustine begins to lose contact with his soul and with the souls of other people when the fundamental thing that binds him to them is a bodily connection” (69). Confusing lust for love, Augustine opts for instantaneous gratification rather than endearing relations with the opposite sex. Since this lifestyle conflicts with the will and standards of God, Augustine inevitably wrestles with his confusion about love. Andre´s G. Nin˜o addresses this conflict by stating that Augustine’s unbridles sexual desires “…resulting from an unresolved conflict between flesh and spirit (VIII, 5, 11), causes saturation and moral fatigue” (93). This moral exhaustion does not go unnoticed by himself or his mother, Monica, who suffers over her son’s belligerence toward Christianity and righteous living. Though he struggles to let go of his carnal ways, Augustine recognizes the concerned love of his mother to be God’s tender mercy upon his unrepentant soul. His mother, being a Christian, observes Augustine’s worldly ways and worries for his salvation as he eludes baptism and reformation. She encourages marriage on his part, on her terms, and rebukes Augustine’s Manichean belief system. Augustine implies his mother’s genuine concern over the state of his spiritual soul by stating, “She found me in a perilous state through my deep despair of ever discovering the truth” (58). Throughout his life, his mother petitions Augustine to save himself through the waters of baptism and conversion. It is in her final days that she acknowledges her petition of the Lord that her life be extended to see this desire fulfilled. It is his mother’s tenderness toward him that instills a sense of earthly love in Augustine. In spite of his sinful ways and prideful nature, Augustine recognizes that love for all creation is vital if there would be love for God as He alone is the creator of all. Vaught points out Augustine’s view that love simply for the sake of loving, “…is a negative reflection of the hidden love that will remain unsatisfied until it finds rest in God” (69). In other words, the greatest love is spiritual love which immolates and essentially is in and of God. It is this spiritual law of love that Augustine grapples to come to terms with. His journey toward conversion leads him through the process of repentance and submission to the will of God. Augustine acknowledges God’s love as merciful and all-encompassing for his children and that all things testify of him. In summarizing Augustine’s resolution of this truth Vaught states, “Augustine claims that the whole creation points beyond itself to the source that brings it into existence: souls praise God directly, and animals and corporeal things praise him indirectly through those who meditate on them” (117). God’s love and mercy for man is infinite and it is Augustine’s intent to reiterate that man’s love for God is essential for ultimate happiness, peace and salvation. Augustine asserts that it is his sins against God that alienate him from communion with God and that in all reality this is the downfall of humanity in its carnal state. Ultimately, it is Augustine’s sins of lust and sexual promiscuity that prevent him from feeling bonded with God and being truly converted. At the onset of adolescence Augustine fell into the pattern of sexual encounters increasing his desires for fornication. Augustine adamantly admits that, “My longing then was to love and to be loved, but most when I obtained the enjoyment of the body of the person who loved me” (55). Again, his habitual need to appease his carnal nature restricts Augustine from understanding love on any level to include love of himself. In his grief over his own misconduct, Augustine laments that he recognizes the absence of God in his own sins by stating, “I was tossed about and wasted and poured out and boiling over in my fornications: and you were silent, O my late-won joy” (52). He is fully aware that his sins alienate him from God but is resistant to forsake them. Ironically, at the very time that Augustine feels as if he has lost the companionship of God, circumstances and influences are coercing him toward the road of conversion. In reality God does not forsake him but instead redirects Augustine’s life that he might forsake his sins. Augustine struggles to overcome his sins and fully relinquish the control in which they hold over him. He petitions God that though he understands the need to repent and forsake his transgressions he finds it difficult to change and conform to a life of spiritual devotion. In his character analysis, Donald Capps emphasizes Augustine’s dual struggle between spirit and self by suggesting that he is, “…distracted by the struggle between two souls in his breast, and ashamed of his own weakness of will, when so many others whom he knew and knew of had thrown off the shackles of sensuality and dedicated themselves to chastity and the higher life” (556). Essentially it is this distortion that prevents Augustine from liberating himself from the restraints of sin. As he wrestles with his carnal desires and spiritual intuition to change, Augustine yearns for the Omnipotent power of God to release him from his bondage. Throughout his life Augustine acknowledges the Omnipotence of God in all creation and in his very life and existence. He is intimately aware that God is in every detail of his life as well as the essence of true love and reality. Nin˜o notes that Augustine’s recognition of God’s Omnipotence is reflected in the details of his life by stating, “He looks back and finds signs, events, situations that point out God’s care for the individual and the whole creation. In this he attempts to gain some understanding of his place in God’s providential and redemptive plan” (92). It is in this belief that Augustine progressively develops a repentant heart that leads him to conversion. His pure testimony and acceptance that man is nothing without God is emphasized in his emphatic claim that even when man forsakes God, He in return does not forsake them but in reality is everywhere and aware infinitely. Augustine implies that even when the pride and ambition of man leads them to attempt or claim power above God, their efforts are only a direct implication of God’s omnipotence, “But by the mere fact of their imitation, they declare that You are the creator of all that is, and that there is nowhere for them to go where You are not” (54). Augustine’s understanding of this truth helps to transition him from a slothful servant to a converted man of God. Augustine’s internal struggle to overcome his carnal nature continually leads him God in desperation for redemption. Though he finds it difficult to forsake his sins, Augustine greatest desire is to be reunited with God. It is this battle to overcome the world that ultimately leads Augustine to find his true self created in the image of God. It is Augustine’s mother who instilled many of the beliefs to which he holds true and sacred. Augustine reverences his mother by confessing to God his remembrance of her example, “….how pleasant and considerate her conversation was with You” (69). He recalls her patience and long suffering toward his father and her firm convictions in Christianity continually serving her God. Referring to his mother, Augustine recalls that, “…we were discussing in the presence of Truth, which You are, what the eternal life of the saints would be like, which eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man” (65). Prior to his mother’s death, Augustine’s journey to conversion comes to a climax as in the gall of his bitter despair he is prompted by the spirit to read a scripture passage. Upon reading Romans 13:13, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscence’s” (62), Augustine immediately felt and accepted the power of true conversion and desired to sin no more. Augustine’s journey to find God requires him to spiritually align his will with that of his creator. In so doing, Augustine finds that true peace and happiness can only be obtained through God who is everything to everyone. Through his personal conversion, Augustine finds his true identity in God’s love and forsakes the pride, sins and selfish ambition that alienate him from spiritual companionship. Essentially, Augustine’s destination is true conversion, but it is in the journey that his foundation is built as he overcomes pride, comes to understand love, rebukes sin and ultimately recognizes God’s hand in everything. Works Cited Augustine. “From Confessions.” Ed. Martin Puchner. Trans. F.J. Sheed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Vol. Books I-IX. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2012. 47-70. Print. Capps, Donald. “Augustine’s Confessions: The Story Of A Divided Self And The Process Of Its Unification.” Pastoral Psychology 55.5 (2007): 551-569. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Nov. 2013. Niño, Andrés. “Spiritual Exercises In Augustine’s Confessions.” Journal of Religion & Health 47.1 (2008): 88-102. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Nov. 2013. Vaught, Carl G. The Journey Toward God In Augustine’s Confessions : Books I-VI. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 9 Nov. 2013.


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