Wikipedia “Confessions”

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

I got exactly one paragraph into St. Augustine’s “Confessions” before I came across tonight’s Wikipedia entry.

The edition that I’m reading starts with a timeline outlining “the world of Augustine and the Confessions”, beginning in 313 A.D.

Emperors Constantine and Licinius agree on a policy of religious freedom for the whole Roman Empire: The Edict of Milan marks the end of the period of intermittent state persecution of Christians. In Africa, there is growing schism between Christians who continue to identify strongly with the tradition of the martyrs, and those who take a less heroic view of how the church should henceforth define itself. The hardliners, as followers of Donatus, bishop of  Carthage, will be known as Donatists.

Reading this got me geeked up in the extreme and I had to run off to Wikipedia to find out more.  I give you a sample:

The primary disagreement between Donatists and the rest of the early Christian church was over the treatment of those who renounced their faith during the persecution of Roman emperor Diocletian (303–305), a disagreement that had implications both for the Church’s understanding of the Sacrament of Penance and of the other sacraments in general.

The rest of the Church was far more forgiving of these people than the Donatists were. The Donatists refused to accept the sacraments and spiritual authority of the priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution.

On the surface of it, my sympathies lie with the Donatist. I don’t know why exactly. It may be that I have not always been fond of the theology of the Catholic church. It may be that I rebel against the hierarchical nature of the Catholic church. Maybe I just like underdogs and heretics. I dunno.

The Donatist sentiment does seem to jibe well with at least one passage in Hebrews 10, which deals specifically with apostasy.

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.

28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

30 For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.”

31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,

33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.

34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.

35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.

36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

37 For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay.

38 But My righteous one shall live by faith;
And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.

39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.

Reading the above passage, it seems that it proscribes falling away due to persecution and denies the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice for those who had accepted and then denied it. I can certainly see the point of the Donatists in this light.

However, I’m a believer in big Grace. We all fall away from God time and again, through our own wilfullness and disobedience, even after we’ve accepted Christ’s sacrifice as payment.

In this light, we all trample Christ underfoot and woe to us all if his sacrifice be insufficient to cover multitudes of sin. I’m more likely to accept the Catholic position that righteousness comes from God no matter the state of man. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Anyway, it seems that the Donatist were not of God but were of man and faded away under the onslaught of the Muslims. It’s an interesting line of inquiry though and one I’ll probably spend more time with in the coming days. Maybe I’ll share additional thoughts here.

Pop, if you’re out there, I’d love to get your input via the comment section. What do you think? Can you shed a little philosophical light on this debate?

Until then, I’m off to read the second paragraph of “Confessions”. At this rate, the blog will be full of Wikipedia commentary by the end of chapter one.

Sunday Book Run

St. Autustine's Confessions
St. Autustine's Confessions

After three months, I finally have a new book to read. Two, actually. I made a book run to Barnes & Noble this afternoon and picked up St. Augustine’s “Confessions” and J. Christopher Herold’s “The Age of Napoleon“.

“Confessions” is meant to be a prequel for me to “City of God”. I bought “City of God” some while ago but never really dove into it. I was advised to read “Confessions” before making the attempt. “City of God” was written in 413 A.D. and the language is a little archaic to say the least. I figure I can get a feel for Augustine’s style before digging into the thicker book.

The Age of Napoleon
The Age of Napoleon

“The Age of Napoleon” is a sequel of sorts to the book I just, finally, finished. I started Thomas Carlyle’s “The French Revolution” way back before Thanksgiving and have been painstakingly making my way through it two or three pages at a time.

The language isn’t as old as Augustine’s, obviously, but Carlyle really knew how to turn a parenthetical phrase! The guy was so flowery he could’ve single-handedly populated the field of poppies in “The Wizard of Oz”. I read the first page and almost took the book back because I knew it was going to be a hard slog, but I challenged myself to get through it.

The French Revolution, Thomas Carlyle
The French Revolution, Thomas Carlyle

I’m glad I did. After getting a feel for the style, I started to enjoy it and got into the flow. I also found the tone of the novel to be more sympathetic to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette than I expected. You hear a phrase like “let them eat cake”, purportedly spoken by Antoinette, and you have little sympathy for either person.

While the novel does mention the widespread shortage of bread and grain, it never mentions the line and it was likely never spoken. Louis doesn’t come off as a hero of the affair but is certainly painted in the best light possible. Marie Antoinette is more sympathetic still and is portrayed as a strong and courageous woman. I certainly don’t feel that’s what I’ve been led to believe by popular history.

At any rate, the book portrays both as minor and incidental characters in the drama of the French Revolution, mainly culpable in their inability to understand the causes behind it than by any sin of their own.

More important players are those such as LafayetteMirabeau, Danton and Robespierre. I knew a little about Lafayette and knew enough to associate Robespierre with the Reign of Terror but that was about it. The book filled in a lot of holes and it was worth the read for that.

Had I to do it all again, I would have purchased a more updated history of the revolution than the one I chose.  A more recent book would have given me the same historical detail in a much more easy to consume fashion, I’m sure.

I wonder if the same will be the case with the Saint Augustine novels. Somehow, I think not.