[God, you] arouse [man] to take joy in praising you, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
No other book has been recommended to me more than Saint Augustine’s Confessions. I bought it expecting a gripping tale of repentance, but instead encountered a philosophical tome addressed to God that I could only hardly understand, and the parts I could understand were overly emotive and coated in sentimentality. Nonetheless, I forged through the entire book to extract the best highlights.
We obsess over frivolous matters
Regard, O Lord my God, patiently regard, as is your wont, how carefully the sons of men observe the properties as to letters and syllables received from former speakers, and how they neglect everlasting covenants of eternal salvation which they have received from you. Thus if a man who accepts or teaches the ancient conventional forms of pronunciation violates the rules of grammar, and utters the word homo (man) without sounding the “h” in the first syllable, he will offend men more than if, contrary to your laws, he who is a man himself would hate another man. It is as if he thought an enemy more pernicious to him than his own hatred by which he is aroused against the other. Or as if he thought that he could do more damage to another by persecuting him than he does to his own heart by this hostility. Certainly, no knowledge of letters is more interior to us than that written in conscience: that one does to another what he himself does not want to suffer.
We’re chafed when someone says they support homosexual marriage, but have no problem uttering “God damn it” in frustration. A man is eager to call someone a “bad person” for a minor slight, but remains silent at his own pornography habit. A woman complains at the shallowness of men, and then spends hours doing squats in the gym to entice their eyes at first glance. We are eager to announce the transgressions of others, or invent transgressions where none exist, but are strangely quiet when it comes to our own sins. We obsess over the external and yet wholly ignore the internal.
Bragging about sins
…I ran headlong with such great blindness that I was ashamed to be remiss in vice in the midst of my comrades. For I heard them boast of their disgraceful acts, and glory in them all the more, the more debased they were. There was pleasure in doing this, not only for the pleasure of the act, but also for the praise it brought. What is worthy of censure if not vice? But lest I be put to scorn I made myself more depraved than I was. Where there was no actual deed, by which I would be on equal footing with the most abandoned, I pretended that I had done what I had not done, lest I be considered more contemptible because I was actually more innocent, and lest I be held a baser thing because more chaste than the others.
Foul was the evil, and I loved it. I loved to go down to death. I loved my fault, not that for which I did the fault, but I loved my fault itself. Base in soul was I, and I leaped down from your firm clasp even towards complete destruction, and I sought nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself!
In my past, the best part of sleeping with a new girl wasn’t necessary the sex act, but regaling my friends with all the details, including added embellishments to elicit guffaws and laughter. If the girl played hard to get, I began my story by highlighting the unlikelihood of success. If the girl was overweight, I made it seem like she was a giant to show my masculine determination. Even better when I could share these stories online to receive adoration from men who turned out to be the first to rage against me upon my repentance. I used sex to bond with both women and men, but those bonds were weak indeed.
All relationships without God will fail
Yet foul and vicious as I was, with overflowing vanity, I took pride in being refined and cultured. I plunged headlong into love, whose captive I desired to be. But my God, my mercy, with how much gall did you sprinkle all that sweetness of mine, and how good you were to do it! For I was loved, and I had gained love’s bond of joy. But in my joy I was bound about with painful chains of iron, so that I might be scourged by burning rods of jealously, and suspicion, and fear, and anger, and quarreling.
Don’t most couples today pair in a secular way? We can see the fruits of their relationships—a 50% divorce rate, women-led households, smartphones and iPads as babysitters, and the prioritization of comfort, money, and Marxist education over faith. Parents will teach their children everything except how to save their souls. Fathers will push their daughters into degenerate universities and mothers will dress her inappropriately for the occasion.
You are too wise for the secular marriage “scam,” you declare, and will casually date until the end of your days, but how long will the relationship with your Tinder match last? How many orgasms will you receive before she is ready for the next man, no matter how much time you labored to be interesting or attractive? What vow has she made to you before God? You will fail, you will suffer without any spiritual benefit, and then you will blame all of womankind before returning to your “monk mode” LARP that does not including the reining in of your passions.
Don’t cast pearls before swine
You gave [my mother] another answer, then, through one of your priests, a certain bishop brought up in the Church and well trained in your books. When that woman besought him that he would deign to talk with me, refute my errors, correct my evil beliefs, and teach me good ones—for he was accustomed to do this for those whom he found to be properly disposed—he refused, very prudently indeed, as I later understood. He told her that I was as yet lacking in docility, that I was puffed up by the novelty of that heresy, and that I had already unsettled many unlearned men with numerous trifling questions, just as she had indicated to him, “But let him be,” he said. “Only pray to the Lord in his behalf. He will find out by reading what is the character of that error and how great is its impiety.”
Direct intervention on a lapsed Christian won’t work. Intervention on an agnostic or atheist won’t work either, as I have learned. The intervention that we have a duty to perform is on the Christian in our community who is harming others. We may intervene privately, but otherwise we leave it up to God through our prayers.
Recognize your corrupted state
It was made manifest to me that beings that suffer corruption are nevertheless good. If they were supremely good, they could not be corrupted, but unless they were good, they could not be corrupted. If they were supremely good, they would incorruptible, and if they were not good at all, there would be nothing in them to be corrupted. Corruption damages a thing, and it would not suffer damage unless its good were diminished.
The Orthodox Church teaches that upon repentance, your mission is theosis, to gradually become like God. We must co-work with God while alive to be what He intended us to be upon creation—what you would have been had Adam and Eve not been tempted by Satan. You cannot accomplish this in a mere moment or in a short series of emotional experiences; the task will take every day of the remainder of your life to accomplish, and Satan and his demons will try to thwart you along the way.
Your sins cause permanent damage
Yet in my memory, of which I have said many things, there still live images of such things as my former habits implanted there. When I am awake, they assail me but lacking in strength; in sleep they assail me not only so as to arouse pleasure, but even consent and something very like the deed itself. So great a power have these deep images over my soul and my flesh that these false visions persuade me when asleep to do what true sights cannot persuade me to when awake.
You will never forget your sins. They will pop in your head at the most inopportune of times to remind you of the wretch you are without God’s grace. You will have dreams where you possess the same conscience as the old man when your conscience was dead, consenting to all manner of vile acts until you finally wake. The more sins you commit, the more it will weigh on you when you try to live life without sin.
Don’t seek out spiritual visions or spectacles
…monstrous sights are exhibited in the show places. Because of it, men proceed to search out the secrets of nature, things beyond our end, to know which profits us nothing, and of which men desire nothing but the knowing. Such curiosity is also the motive when things are investigated by magic arts and with the same purpose of perverted science. Because of this, God is tempted in religion itself, when signs and wonders are demanded of him, and are desired not for some wholesome purpose but only for experience of them.
Father Seraphim Rose has echoed the same sentiment in modern times through his book Orthodoxy and the Religion Of The Future. Faith is primarily built through inward labor, not through miracles or visions. The latter will only keep you “faithful” for a short time before you demand yet another experiential boost to your faith. In reality, as long as you have the Church, Bible, and prayer book, you have all that you need to save your soul.
I did feel a connection to Saint Augustine because we were both lustful men, but either due to his philosophical style or the time he lived in, I can’t say I strongly identified with Confessions. Page after page I searched for myself but I mostly found abstractions such as this passage…
Deus creator omnium—“God, creator of all things”—this verse of eight syllable alternatives between short and long syllables. Hence the four short syllables, the first, third, fifth, and seventh, are simple with respect to the four long syllables, the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth. Each long syllable has a double time with respect to each of the others. This I affirm, this I report, and so it is, in so far as it is plain to sense perception. In so far as sense perception is clear, I measure the long syllable by the short one, and I perceive that it is exactly twice as long. But when one syllable sounds after another, and if the first is short and the second long, how will I retain the short syllable and how will I apply it to the long syllable while measuring it, so as to find that the latter is twice as long?
Saint Augustine, a saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, writes directly to God, making both entreaties and praise. I’m sure the words were welcome to God’s ears but to me it felt like accidentally intruding on a man’s private prayers or even… confession. He also raises innumerable questions about God that I never had, and likely never will have, which were more philosophical than practical, so in this book I got neither a straightforward memoir nor a clear lesson on the faith. My critiques are only against the book, not the man, but in the end, Confessions did not speak strongly to me.
Learn More: Confessions on Amazon