St. Augustine's roadblocks in his Confessions

Yes. That good intent is what allows us to justify even the most malicious of behaviors. Few people are actively engaged in evil because they believe it is evil. We all think we are doing what is right or good, or at the very least, are able to convince ourselves of that notion. As Ben Franklin said in his Autobiography (Chapter 4),

So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

The good intent within each of our innate tendencies is the foothold that allows us to do that.

Yes, that is a good way to put it. I said “perceives” to place it in another category of “knowing.” There are things we know intellectually, but haven’t fully integrated into our understanding. But what we need here is something beyond the intellect, an almost primal awareness of this basic fact about reality.

Yes, I have. It’s a very concerning reflection on the dangers these unchecked tribal tendencies can have, though the problems it discusses have been happening in our society for some time. People are more and more trapped in information bubbles created by television, newspapers, and even real life social networks.

It is very frightening, not just the current state of the world, but what is yet to come if people don’t take action. Our delusions grow mechanically. If we do nothing to stop them, they expand on their own. Only conscious effort, introspection, and the ability to question our own assumptions about ourselves and the world can turn back the tide of ignorance that gradually encroaches on our minds. Time and experience alone do not do this if we do not pay enough attention to our experiences to learn from them.

Pain is a good teacher in this regard. It can teach us even when we do not put in the effort to teach ourselves. (Personally, I think this is why our loving God created Hell…) But although I recognize its value, as I described above, I do not like pain, for myself or others. And circumstances that portend the necessity for a great deal of pain in the future do not bring me joy…

Yes, that sounds about right. Just a difference in terminology. :slight_smile:

When I think of the “conscience,” I think of the knowledge of the “Spirit-informed Self” being integrated as part of its awareness. I attribute the aspects of its misperception, such as projecting a dualistic mindset onto the world, to the delusion that surrounds the conscience, and colors or obscures its perception. But one could just as easily define it as you have.

Yes, pretty much. I use “conscience” and “consciousness” almost as synonyms, basically to refer to different functions or faculties of the same thing.

I think so. :slight_smile:

Yes, I would agree with that. As I alluded to above, I think sex is absolutely central to religion. Not only are the contents of the Ark strongly indicative of sexual symbolism, as I explained above, but the Talmud describes the Cherubim on top of it as being joined in sexual union:

Rabbi Kattina said: Whenever Israel came up to the Festival, the curtain would be removed for them and the Cherubim were shown to them, whose bodies were intertwisted with one another, and they would be thus addressed: Look! You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman. – Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 54a

And apparently, this created a scandal when Gentiles entered the temple:

Resh Lakish said: When the heathens entered the Temple and saw the Cherubim whose bodies were intertwisted with one another, they carried them out and said: These Israelites, whose blessing is a blessing, and whose curse is a curse, occupy themselves with such [erotic] things! And immediately they despised them, as it is said: All that honored her, despised her, because they have seen her nakedness. – Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 54b

However, not all things arising from sexual desire are spiritually beneficial. The cup and the staff are placed in the Ark with the tablets of the Law, which tells us the Covenant demands sex to be performed according to the Law of God. There are innumerable ways to engage in sexual actions that are contrary to that law, and channeling our sexual energy through those types of impure desires can only lead to suffering, and the prodigious proliferation of all manner of pornography, and its consequent effects is testament to this fact.

Haha. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it. :slight_smile:

To be honest, I’ve been sort of puzzled by this thread. It seems like every other thread here on CAF is swarmed with dozens of people replying, then I was invited into this thread, and it’s just me and @OneSheep talking back and forth between ourselves, and it’s kind of had me wondering, “Where is everybody? How come it’s so quiet in here?” For my part, I think this has been a great discussion, and I thank you both for inviting me. I’m just kind of surprised it seems to have been largely ignored.

Ha! Well if you read earlier in the thread it might not have escaped your notice that I was similarly situated with @onesheep for a while. And, fair enough, let me carve out some time to engage with you two inspiring minds. :slightly_smiling_face:

What you are saying here I describe as “empathy-blocking”. It is a blinding of our cognitive and emotional empathy. Do you identify this capacity for blindness, that we don’t even realize happens when it does? Not sure that Augustine identifies it.

Correct. They don’t deliberately say, “I think I’m going to hate that person/see them as evil”. It is a perception triggered by the conscience itself (as I define the “conscience” module). It starts with a gut-level reaction. There are also other observable instances of triggered blindness, but you have identified the blindness we get when we see injustice, as did the crowd who hung Jesus. They were blind to his humanity as well as His divinity.

Yep. “Conquerable” is doomed though. In my experience, the blindness mechanism can’t be banned or stopped, only recognized. Integration comes with exploration of the question, “Why would God put in me the capacity for triggered blindness?”.

But there are some tricks for recognizing its occurrence. Anthony de Mello said, “If you hold any negative feelings toward anyone, you are living in an illusion”.

It involves being aware of when we are blinded. But if we were already naturally aware, the blindness would not serve its purpose- but I’m getting ahead of myself here…

But are you seeing that the malicious behaviors being “justified” are not seen as malicious by the perpetrator, they are seeing them as good? Always? If there is an exception, that exception in itself must be investigated. Can you think of a counterexample? When we are rationalizing (justifying), can you see that the blindness has already occurred?

And we have identified that tribal tendency compels us to work as a tribe, as a society that is more economical and enhances protection of the individuals of the species? That the tribal tendency also instills in babies that they should not trust some stranger picking them up? I’m not sure I have named all the other evolutionary benefits, but this is a start. Are you seeing all this? That the chosen behaviors intend toenhance survival or well-being in some way?

Well stated. :+1:

I’m not sure that anything arising from sexual desire is spiritually beneficial, but sexual desire itself can be seen to benefit us in the same way it benefits other species, correct? So, if you don’t mind perhaps we can look again at the part of Confessions that most indicates (but does not clearly state) depiction of sexual desire as any enemy, therefore possibly a roadblock to integration:

“my invisible enemy trod me down and seduced me, for I was easy to seduce.”

Confessions Book 2, ch 3, para 8

It’s reasonable to state that if a person is seeing a part of self as an enemy, this is not an example of inner reconciliation or integration. It is not seeing “through the Spirit” that sexual desire, as part of existence, is good. Remember that I am saying that his seeing it as “enemy” is normal and natural in conscience formation, that the unbridled desire is dangerous and that the unconscious “banishing” of the desire to the shadow is also good and serves a purpose. Integration is a “step 2” effort, a second-half-of-life effort, going back and reconciling with the banished parts of ourselves while leaving in place those important gut-level reactions.

Do you see that a modern scientific approach would give Augustine the means of seeing sexual desire as not an “enemy”, but a friend? (Once the conscience is formed, of course.) There may be a need to address the blindness induced by sexual desire…

Yes, it was more an observation about the types of threads that seem to attract people’s attention, not directed at you specifically. :slight_smile: There are threads about politics that get a thousand replies in a matter of days. Meanwhile, this one has been plugging along for over a year now, and arguably is more edifying than yet another thread complaining about the latest outrageous thing “the other side” did, or opining about whether someone is going straight to hell if they vote for party X.

This is not an answer to your question, but more of an observation about the assumption underlying the question itself.

We often think of God as being all-powerful, and yet, from what we observe, He still operates within the bounds of cause and effect, which seems like it would be inconvenient for someone with the power to dispense with such trivial contraints. For instance, as I touched upon above, God’s ultimate plan for man is greater and beyond what He created in Adam. So why must we go through all these vituperations? Why not just skip ahead to what He really wants?

If there is a need for us to gain wisdom, or to choose God of our own free will, why not make us pre-built with wisdom, complete with memories, and the insight needed to see clearly enough to choose God all the time?

It seems to me that God’s actions may be constrained by some type of rule. There appears to be a necessity imposed upon Him to adhere to some form of cause and effect. We never see Him operating by pure “magic.” By that, I mean that the universe makes sense. It’s why science works. Even the realm of the supernatural seems to follow some form of cause and effect. Otherwise, why would Jesus need to perform any role at all? Why not “magic” people’s sins away, without the need for all that carnage? Why should he need to die in order to resurrect? (If you’re not bound by cause and effect, and if nothing you do has to make sense, simply have him resurrect without dying!) Why send him at all? Simply give people memories of something that never happened! So much easier that way!

Obviously, that’s all nonsense. But I give those silly examples to illustrate that that there do appear to be some constraints on what God can do, at least to the extent that it must adhere to some type of cause and effect or common sense. (You can’t resurrect unless you’ve died, for instance. Otherwise, what does resurrection even mean in that context?)

What I’m getting at there is, maybe God created us that way because He wanted to, or maybe we are this way because on some level it must be so.

I’m mostly in agreement with this, though I said “justified” as sort of middle ground. I think we have a lot of internal conflicts. We are rarely fully in agreement with ourselves on anything.

So one part of us may perceive a particular action as “good,” while another part may perceive it as malicious, or at very least, be uneasy about it. “Justification” is basically, the part of ourselves that believes it is good (or at least desirable) convincing the part of ourselves that may be uneasy about the “rightness” of said action.

That sexual desire serves a purpose for our species is clear. Though as with all things that are allowed to grow outside of the normal constraints of nature, that desire and its consequences may be stinging us now even on the physical level. I think it is undeniable at this point that the extent and volume of human activities on this planet have effects on our environment that reverberate, often with negative consequences back upon ourselves.

As for the spiritual benefit of sexual desire, that one is a little trickier. I think it may have some, though threading that needle (i.e. utilizing sexual desire for a positive spiritual purpose) appears exceedingly difficult.

For instance, in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, it is taught that desire can be harnessed in order to help a person along the path. Often, this is thought of as the desire to free other beings from suffering, but the Dalai Lama explains that sexual desire, and even sexual intercourse, can be harnessed in this way:

For Buddhists, sexual intercourse can be used in the spiritual path because it causes a strong focusing of consciousness if the practitioner has firm compassion and wisdom. Its purpose is to manifest and prolong the deeper levels of mind (described earlier with respect to the process of dying), in order to put their power to use in strengthening the realization of emptiness. Otherwise, mere intercourse has nothing to do with spiritual cultivation. When a person has achieved a high level of practice in motivation and wisdom, then even the joining of the two sex organs, or so-called intercourse, does not detract from the maintenance of that person’s pure behavior. Yogis who have achieved a high level of the path and are fully qualified can engage in sexual activity and a monastic with this ability can maintain all the precepts. – 14th Dalai Lama, How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

There is some evidence that practices like that might have been used in the early days of Christianity. The Virgines Subintroductae is one example. As the Dalai Lama described, Buddhist monks who had taken vows of chastity could engage in intercourse and still maintain those vows if they had enough dominion over their own mind and body to avoid having the act pollute their internal purity. It appears like something similar might have been going on with the Subintroductae. All parties involved typically had vows of chastity, and yet the occasional pregnancy suggests that they may not have been completely celibate in the physical sense.

Very little is known about this practice in Christianity, because it was not very popular among many of the religious authorities, and got stamped out pretty quickly. But I mention it because it suggests there is some avenue for utilizing sexual desire for a spiritual purpose, but doing so may be beyond the abilities of most ordinary people.

Yes, I see what you mean, though it wasn’t clear to me from reading that passage whether Augustine was seeing sexual desire itself as the enemy, or merely the unhinged outgrowth of it that he was experiencing. It seems to me like that quote you gave may have been coming from a place of wisdom. Here was a person who experienced first-hand what the effects of unrestrained desire were on his spiritual life (“And in all there was a mist, shutting out from my sight the brightness of Your truth, O my God”) and recognized the danger it presented.

I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret the word “fatness” at the end of the chapter, where he said,

and my iniquity displayed itself as from very “fatness.”

The way I read it, I assumed he was talking about the “fatness” of his desire, perhaps implying that he’s describing here the result of unchecked growth of desire, rather than the desire itself (i.e. fire on the curtains, as opposed to fire in the fireplace).

I’m not sure. What aspects of science are you thinking of? They obviously knew about the procreative aspects of sex, and likely had an even greater appreciation for the necessity of children than most modern people. Are you thinking about evolution?

I think it’s all in the “Mystery” category! :slightly_smiling_face:

Yes, I suppose so. I don’t think Augustine ever expressed any spirituality in sexuality, though. Quite the opposite, if anything.

Yes, it isn’t clear. But the point I am making is that it was a possible roadblock to seeing “through the Spirit whatsoever exists in any way is good”. In addition, a person reading “enemy” is somewhat compelled (depending on the person, of course) to read negative affect into that word, and if he or she struggles with their own desire, they may actually be influenced in the direction of associating sexuality with a bad part of existence. That’s another reason why its important to address: there are Augustine’s possible roadblocks, and there are the things he expressed in such a way that might lead the reader to form a roadblock his or herself.

Yes, evolution. That if we did not have the innate desire, we probably wouldn’t be making kids. This is looking at desire itself from a genetic standpoint, seeing it as part of of our created (evolved) being.

Are we in agreement on this? If so, I think we can move onto Augustine’s next possible roadblock.

I’m wondering how you might address this part of my last post (even though tribalism has not been specifically identified as one of A’s roadblocks, it is super-relevant in today’s world):

Yes, I see what you mean. That’s always the danger with scriptures, or with any form of art or communication, for that matter. It’s never simply the unfiltered words or understanding of the person creating them. The reader (or hearer, or viewer) always brings a part of themselves to the experience of the work, and interprets that work through the lens of their own biases and experiences.

Thus, we have people reading exactly the same Bible, and nevertheless dividing themselves into more sects and denominations than we can count. One might even go so far as to say there are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians.

I think so. It’s still not entirely clear to me why we would need an understanding of evolution to draw the connection between that innate desire and the production of more children. I think that’s something that could be grasped even before Darwin. Though maybe you’re right, and Augustine did possess some sort of blind spot with respect to sexual desire that prevented him from seeing it.

Certainly. I doubt those behaviors and inclinations could arise at such an early age if they didn’t serve some functional purpose in nature and evolution.

Our species thrived not simply because of its ingenuity, but because of ingenuity coupled with community. In a very real sense, we need our tribe. Though it’s somewhat ironic that the same innate tendency that is supposed to help us work together is, at this particular juncture in history, doing so much to tear us apart. I suppose this is another example of the unchecked growth of our blindness.

Yes, my mantra on the CAF is “there is plenty of room in the Church for that interpretation”. It’s not that I think all interpretations are valid, it is that there is so much vocabulary involved, and all vocabulary has a great deal of experience underlying, so I can’t claim to fully understand what a person is saying.

I go the evolutionary route, but @Magnanimity went the route of secondary causes, not dependent on a material emphasis. To me, both are truthful, as long as we are looking at the good intent of the parts of ourselves and our nature (that He made all things good). In this way, we are seeing as Augustine did, “Through the Spirit we see that whatsoever exists in any way is good”.

I have mentioned IFS earlier. Applying the model of Richard Schwartz, the developer of IFS, we can describe desire for tribal membership as a “part” of oneself, and that the part is good and wants something good for us, but it does take on “extreme roles”. We can modify these by harmonizing the part with the rest of our being. The “Self” is the source of compassion and kindness, and takes on the role of sort of “managing” the rest of the archetypal/instinctual parts.

Yes, with all of the polarity going on, one thing to take a hard look at is how much we are letting our tribal desire play its “extreme role”.

Just to clarify: I think it is possible that he had a blind spot, but not certainly so.

So, I think we can move onto the next possible roadblock. Unless you can find another one between Chapters 3 and 4 of Book 2, the most clearly possible one I see is at the end of Chapter 4, when he refers to the act of him and some friends stealing and wasting some pears, the most “famous” of grievances against himself:

It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error–not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.

  • Confessions, Book 2, Chapter 4:9

I am seeing some possible (probable) negative affect in his use of “depraved soul”, and the possible roadblock lies in his condemnation of his “seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.” In this line he moves from condemnation of the act of theft itself to a condemnation of an internal motive, the seeking of shame.

If this was indeed a roadblock for him, do you see an avenue by which Augustine could come to see the want to “seek shame” as coming from a part of himself that is good?

St Paul in Romans 7:19-21 says

Romans 7
19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

St Augustine says, those who know, speak, see good by the Spirit of God, it is not they who know, speak, or see the good. Rather, God who do good in them.

Confessions Book 13, Chapter 31
… It is not you who speak (Mat 10:20),…, “It is not you who see”, so that whatever they see in the spirit of God, it is not they but God who sees that good."

Gal 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Jesus explained this to Nicodemus: what is born of flesh is flesh. What is born of spirit is spirit, and one need to be reborn of the Spirit (John 3).

St. Paul in Romans7 explains that the will of the flesh oppose the will of the spirit.

Such contradiction no longer exist for those who live in the Spirit (Romans8). Just as Jesus who is one with the Father, those who believe, live in the Spirit of God, no longer live in contradiction of the flesh, because the Holy Spirit unites our fleshly will with God’s will. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of God’s Promise in us.

By the Holy Spirit we can be free of sin. No longer live under that shadow of contradiction. By Jesus Name, we have that Unity of will (the unity of our will to God’s Will), the Unity of Christ Jesus in God the Father by His Spirit (Please read this too: Jesus Prayer before his crucifixion in John 17)

1Thessalonians 1:5
because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power , with the Holy Spirit

There is no roadblocks in St Augustine’s Confessions. He was trying to explain what St. Paul has explained in his Epistle to the Galatians: that our salvation is not by mere human effort & human merit. Rather, our fleshly efforts needs a Helper: the power of God’s Spirit.

This topic has been repeated over and over throughout Church History including by St Paul, St Augustine, and Martin Luther too. Sadly, the last ends with Martin Luther being condemned.

Please also read Galatians 3

First of all, Welcome to the CAF! I am glad you responded, and I hope to understand your perspective on this.

I agree, St. Augustine was definitely showing us, in his prayerful book, our loving Father’s role in our salvation.

I think, when it comes to the theme in Confessions that you are presenting, you are correct. The theme that I am zeroing in on begins with his beautiful quote: " Through the Spirit we see that whatsoever exists in any way is good, which is a different one, though you might disagree.

So the premises I am operating from is that when we have a negative emotional reaction to a behavior, there is a cognitive corollary. We have gut-level reactions to people’s behaviors, and our brain goes to “What a jerk!”. For example, the behavior we are discussing right now is Augustine’s theft of the pears. He looks at his theft of pears with his friends and recoils, calling himself a “depraved soul”. Now I admit that we do not have access to Augustine’s emotional state when he wrote that, so we are only talking about possible negative affect. But where we have negative affect, with the cognitive corollary, we are not simultaneously seeing that “it is good”. And while I am not eliminating the possibility that a person could discipline him or herself to see someone as a “jerk” and also see them as “good”, the negative affect remains, and as negative affect goes, it can compel readers to join him in his possible condemnation of some aspect of human nature. This is a lot in one paragraph, but are you following me? Feel free to ask more questions.

So, in this thread, the “will of the flesh” would be to remain with the negative affect as the guiding force in our conception of, in the example we are working on, our want to “seek shame”. The question we are working on right now is:

To see through the “will of the Spirit” would involve coming to the place where many, including St. Thomas, find as an endpoint, that our substance is good, that our existence is good, not “depraved” (with the attached negative affect).

And please know how much I love and respect St. Augustine as a man and as a doctor of the Church. We all have roadblocks, and it is possible that he had none at all in the way that I am using “roadblocks”, for we have no certain access to the emotions and gut-level reactions underlying his words. This thread is essentially an exercise in examination of human nature, not a critical look at Augustine’s book. I invite you to respond to the current section we are working on, but I’d also be happy to discuss any responses you have to this post.

Thank you again for your response! :slightly_smiling_face:

I’ve got some more free time here lately, thank God. So I’ll jump back into the conversation. :slightly_smiling_face: I have to say that when I read this section my first reaction was that the act was fairly nasty. When he describes that the theft was all for nothing really except the sport of it, and that they had no intention of ever eating the pears, that does seem to exacerbate the evil of the act. One redeeming aspect is that he at least fed the pears to his pigs. :joy:

He says that he ”lusted to thieve” not out of any want but “through a cloyedness of well-doing, and - pamperedness of iniquity.” I had to look up that word ”cloy,” I guess it means the act of becoming sick or resentful of some thing when you’ve had too much of it, as when you’ve had too much of the same food to eat recently. Maybe he had too much of a feeling of being a goody two shoes? So the act of stealing was an attempt to provide balance? At least, that would be a positive spin.

He really goes in on himself when he says, “and this, but to do what we liked only because it was misliked.” In my translation, he describes the act as “gratuitously evil.“ I’m reading through Aristotle‘s book on politics right now. And toward the beginning he says, “For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony.” Bk 1, Ch 2.

Harsh, and also quite true. I imagine St Augustine would agree. But as Aristotle knew well, and Augustine would agree, all human acts are aimed at some good. At the end of his analysis he says that it was gratuitous. But toward the beginning he does give some type of justification, which is the feeling of cloy at well doing.

I think more of being tired of having to be “good”. Excellent that you picked up on this. The question becomes “how could Augustine have come to reconcile with his own want to ‘not be good’?” From where comes the want to “not be good” as a teenager?

I don’t know. Is there something in our nature by which we have a need for balance in this way? I’m trying to find the opposite end of the balance. I’m wondering if the “balance” has mostly to do with obedience vs. disobedience, and the fulcrum something different.

Augustine’s inclinations here reminded me of a few lines from a song by OneRepublic called “Counting Stars,” in which the singer says,

I feel something so right by doing the wrong thing
And I feel something so wrong by doing the right thing

Every thing that kills me makes me feel alive

I think Augustine is keying into something here that is present in all of us (as expressed centuries later in that song), a sense of exhilaration that arises out of feeling our own destruction.

On the surface, it doesn’t make sense, until we remember the process of the evolution of the soul. I’m going to quote Nietzsche here, and I know he’s not the best source on matters of Christianity, but before he went crazy, he had some pretty profound spiritual insights that are worth examining. This is from the beginning of Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

Three metamorphoses of the spirit do I designate to you: how the spirit becometh a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.

Many heavy things are there for the spirit, the strong load-bearing spirit in which reverence dwelleth: for the heavy and the heaviest longeth its strength.

What is heavy? so asketh the load-bearing spirit; then kneeleth it down like the camel, and wanteth to be well laden.

What is the heaviest thing, ye heroes? asketh the load-bearing spirit, that I may take it upon me and rejoice in my strength.

Is it not this: To humiliate oneself in order to mortify one’s pride? To exhibit one’s folly in order to mock at one’s wisdom?


Or is it this: To go into foul water when it is the water of truth, and not disclaim cold frogs and hot toads?

Or is it this: To love those who despise us, and give one’s hand to the phantom when it is going to frighten us?

All these heaviest things the load-bearing spirit taketh upon itself: and like the camel, which, when laden, hasteneth into the wilderness, so hasteneth the spirit into its wilderness.

But in the loneliest wilderness happeneth the second metamorphosis: here the spirit becometh a lion; freedom will it capture, and lordship in its own wilderness.

Its last Lord it here seeketh: hostile will it be to him, and to its last God; for victory will it struggle with the great dragon.

What is the great dragon which the spirit is no longer inclined to call Lord and God? “Thou-shalt,” is the great dragon called. But the spirit of the lion saith, “I will.”

“Thou-shalt,” lieth in its path, sparkling with gold—a scale-covered beast; and on every scale glittereth golden, “Thou shalt!”


My brethren, wherefore is there need of the lion in the spirit? Why sufficeth not the beast of burden, which renounceth and is reverent?

To create new values—that, even the lion cannot yet accomplish: but to create itself freedom for new creating—that can the might of the lion do.

To create itself freedom, and give a holy Nay even unto duty: for that, my brethren, there is need of the lion.

To assume the right to new values—that is the most formidable assumption for a load-bearing and reverent spirit. Verily, unto such a spirit it is preying, and the work of a beast of prey.

As its holiest, it once loved “Thou-shalt”: now is it forced to find illusion and arbitrariness even in the holiest things, that it may capture freedom from its love: the lion is needed for this capture.

But tell me, my brethren, what the child can do, which even the lion could not do? Why hath the preying lion still to become a child?

Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea.

Aye, for the game of creating, my brethren, there is needed a holy Yea unto life: ITS OWN will, willeth now the spirit; HIS OWN world winneth the world’s outcast.

Three metamorphoses of the spirit have I designated to you: how the spirit became a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.—

Thus spoke Zarathustra…

What Nietzsche is getting at here is that spiritual growth requires something more of us than blind obedience to the law. Wagner hides the same message in his Ring Cycle operas. In Die Walküre, Wotan (Odin) shatters the sword of Siegmund during a battle with Hunding.

In the following opera, Siegmund’s son, Siegfried (who represents the next stage in spiritual evolution), reforges the sword. He is then confronted by Wotan, who blocks Siegfried’s path with his staff (representing Wotan’s authority, his law, his commandments). This time, with his newly reforged sword, Siegfried shatters the staff of Wotan, and is thus (symbolically) free from the tyranny of his law.

Both of these works indicate that true spiritual maturity requires something more from us than blind obedience. When Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” he replied,

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. – Matthew 22:37-38

The Greatest Commandment involves obedience not to the law, but to God.

Jesus allowed his disciples to violate Jewish law by picking grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8). Jesus himself committed blasphemy, which was a capital crime (Matthew 26:64-66), and they killed him for it. But in all of that, he was obeying God.

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