St. Augustine's roadblocks in his Confessions

have to dig it up. :upside_down_face:

When Augustine called the Manichees truly evil, he was simply in a different mode of speaking and wasn’t referring to their whole substance but their moral character. The quotes are from entirely different contexts.

Yes, that sounds quite reasonable.

But what’s the point? If evil is only a matter of personal judgment then, ok, moral accountability has no basis, nor does a sense of injustice or moral outrage or righteous indignation at “atrocities” (wink, wink) committed. Ok

Ok, so Augustine maintains that all evil is committed in the pursuit of some good, or perceived good in any case.

Can you please elaborate on how he integrated this? Pride and the desire to be in control is something I struggle with whenever I serve in the Church.

It’s worth investigating, but I won’t get to my book until tonight. Can you distinguish the emotion Augustine is expressing in the statement I quoted?

There are some distinctions to be made, but no, evil acts are not simply a matter of personal judgment.

Great, you found your book! So, the first question is what “goods” are those that are being pursued? The desires to pursue the goods are part of our nature; can you pick out the desires? I named one in the OP.

I’m not really sure how Augustine came to integrate this. “Pride” is a very nebulous word, that comes to involve several different desires, so in my experience it has to be teased apart.

“Desire to be in control” is a very common human attribute that we come to resent/repress because of societal attitudes about “control freaks”. And of course, desire to be in control can motivate us (with the added essential ingredient of blindness) to do some pretty bad things, so we naturally come to resent/repress, and deny, that we have this desire.

The first step in integrating any element of the shadow is to name the element, and then admit (painfully) that one has this attribute, just as the person one may be currently condemning has the same attribute. This is “the post in your eye” that is the same as the “sliver in his eye” to which Jesus refers.

In general our pursuits surround the innate desire to be happy. They can be divided, as the Church does, in three categories based more or less on 1 John 2:16: pride or the desire for self-glorification (which yours is an example of), desire for material possessions/wealth, and the desire for pleasure. These are problems when they become idols, when they become “inordinate desires”.

The “ordinate” desire for power or authority is not a bad one as we have need for positions of authority in human life. But when this becomes a sole source of our worth, which we’ve come to desire in extreme measure because we think this will obtain maximum happiness for us, then our focus is off the mark and our power will be abused, with harm of neighbor often resulting.

In any case whenever these worldly pursuits become too important-our main desire-then our focus is off God and we ironically become less than who we are in that moment with our lust and greed and pride, rather than the greater being we’re striving to be with those actions. People often become consumed by or slaves to these desires.

Well, the desires in themselves, as part of our nature, can be seen as “good”. The focus here in the beginning, I hope is to specifically discern which parts of our nature were in the realm of “good” according to St. Augustine.

So you perhaps personally do not repress/resent human desire to dominate or be in charge. Many people have this desire as part of their shadow, therefore do repress/resent it. What we are trying to find is what specifically can be see to be probably part of Augustine’s shadow.

People come to believe an untruth.

He thought everything in our nature was good. I’ll try to clarify what should be simple enough IMO. When we overeat to the point of gluttony and weigh 600 lbs, the good and natural appetite for food has become our god, and we’re enslaved to it. Same can happen with sex and money and possessions and self-love. So we become pettier and lust-ridden and greedy and miserly and jealous and that much more selfish, etc, often resulting in harming others and/or ourselves

I think I read somewhere that Augustine had become so pure, so holy, so spiritual, that when he walked he cast no shadow,.

Keep in mind that he said things like “they themselves were truly evil” or “what a thing of evil I was” or “there is a further evil within us” or “apart from you it is evil with me, not only outside myself, but also in myself”. These are clearly contradictions, and there is no need to apologize for them, we are all subject to contradictions, the same contradictions. These all indicate his roadblocks (as I am calling them) and these are worthwhile to investigate.

I think @Wesrock had it right, Augustine had his emotions triggered, and that emotion overrode the absolutes of goodness he asserted. What I am saying is that yes, he thought (was dedicated to the idea) that everything in our nature is good, but like all of us, we have emotional “triggers” that are manifestations of the shadow, which is an important part of the core of the human conscience. Augustine would have avoided the contradictions if he did not have the roadblocks.

Suffice to say, Augustine went a long way toward eliminating common roadblocks, integrating many aspects of his own shadow that the vast majority of people never even consider addressing. He addressed these things in reaction to Manichean dualism, it was serendipitous.

I’m not trying to ignore these statements. They are quite truthful, but I am trying to focus the topic. What you are addressing is “what happens such that from our good nature, we still do evil”. It’s a great topic, but I am trying to narrow in on emotional triggers which are manifestations of the “dark part” of the shadow.

I believe Wesrock actually said the opposite, that Augustine was actually referring to moral character tending towards evil rather than being evil in nature. And personally I believe Augustine was well past his dualism stage at this point. But in any case I think there’s a way in which we can damage ourselves, so to speak, and “stamp” ourselves with evil or align with it even if the substance, our natures, remain good. So again, the Church teaches, “By free will one shapes one’s own life.” And then continues:

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil , and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

Ok. I just don’t think that Augustine was a prude at the end of the day, or anti-human as if we’re all so much garbage underneath it all. I think he just understood that we can be “all that we can be” or fail to be what we were created to be. And that involves choices. He wasn’t like the Calvinist who thought we’re all bad for all practical purposes, and that God elects to save some of us worthless wretches anyway without regard to our will. Yes, he thought there was something wrong within man, but that involved our spiritual separation from God, which is why he personally took “corrective measures” in that area by turning to Him.

But I also understand that not everything he taught in this area was accepted by the Church, from fairly early on.

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You are correct, now that I look back, though not the “opposite”. For sure, though, Augustine was reacting to something about the Manichaens, and even though he was “past his dualistic phase”, his statements clearly advocated dualism; he saw the Manicheans as evil and he didn’t mind inspiring others to see them the same way.

*Unless,*of course, he was reacting emotionally without thinking about the blatant contradiction, which happens so very easily. How did Augustine feel about the Manicheans once he embraced Christianity? Can you distinguish the emotion?

Yes, we can adapt the virtues.

Yes, this verse is talking about “human acts” not characterizing human existence, as he did in the quotes I put forth. Again, this is all good stuff, but it is not what I meant to address in this thread.

Okay, and when we fail, as the Manicheans did in his eyes, what was the emotion that Augustine was feeling? Can you name it?

He certainly wasn’t happy with their opinions-and thought they could do better. Augustine had found a treasure, in his mind, that was not only better because more logical or reasonable, but also of a higher moral order as it approached the truth of who man is and who God is and what we’re capable of and what’s expected of us more correctly. He disdained their ignorance and thought they could be better enlightened if they wanted, if they were willing to overcome arrogance, which is truly an ugly thing that maintains darkness in humans. And while the language was strong-and probably not theologically precise-he also said, "they shall become good only when they come to hold the truth and consent to the truth that thy apostle may say to them: “You were formerly in darkness, but now are you in the light in the Lord.” Here he at least acknowledges that they can move from their positions, and not irredeemably “bad”.

Yes, he views adherence to the Christian faith, once understood, as a measuring rod for ones orientation towards goodness so to speak. And as constituting a turning from darkness and towards the light that produces true goodness in man, with humility being a requirement in this.

And yet I tend to think that moving away from or towards perfection has to do with something deeper than mere external acts. I’m not sure how to frame it though. In Catholicism we can become? better or worse as our justice is increased or decreased; we can approach more nearly who or what we were created to be.

Okay, I’m still trying to bring some focus here. Is it accurate to say that he looked upon the Manicheans, and himself as a Manichean, with some negative emotion?

Yes, it is not theologically precise. Specifically, it is not anthropologically precise; his own emotion was influencing his statements. This is an example of a “roadblock”. We all do this: we see goodness in people except this, this, and this, etc. These are all roadblocks to seeing “through eyes of the Spirit” as Augustine describes.

We see bad behaviors, and our negative emotion is triggered. While we may adhere to “love the sinner, hate the sin” or something like that, we can honestly admit that our gut reaction is to initially feel some negative affect toward both the sin and the sinner, this is a very normal activity of the human conscience. Augustine was not immune, but he went a long way toward reconciling with his own natural drives/motives.

Shall we begin making a list from Book 2, Chapter 5?

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Reading that chapter I’d say probably so, yes.

And yet emotion can be valuable in our identifying and responding to negativity, to sin or injustice. We can always back down, as you seem to agree. Anyway, sure, let’s see where it goes.

In the legal practice, there is a common expression that “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” It would seem that in Bk 2, Ch 5, this is what St Augustine is after.

But, I should first admit that I am a novice when it comes to St Augustine. I listened thru the Confessions about 6-7 years ago and very much enjoyed it at the time. But when it comes to the thought of this great saint, I claim much more ignorance of, than insight into, his theological work. But ignorance never stopped a contemporary American from delving right into any given subject, so here goes! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I like how Augustine admits, early in ch. 5, “The life which we live here has also its peculiar attractiveness, through a certain measure of comeliness of its own…” and “through an inordinate preference for these goods of a lower kind, the better and higher are neglected…”

I wonder if St Augustine would argue that these inordinate preferences lead to a trapping of the human mind & heart by force of habit, akin to an Aristotelian theory of vice—the repetition of the act leads to habituation of the act, which, over time, forms the character of the person. And if overcoming these inordinate preferences/attachments to lower goods is the goal, I wonder what might be his suggested method for achieving this ongoing preference for the higher and better things of God?

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