March 22, 2023
Chapters 11-13

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Confessions of Saint Augustine. Chapters 11-13. The first question raised in these chapters is the question of Augustine's not being baptized even though he was quite sick as a child. We learn that his mother's rationale concerned keeping him from the sin he could commit by his actions. Augustine would learn later in his life about the beauty of God's mercy.

Chapters 11-13

Chapters 11-13
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Chapters 11-13: Confessions of Saint Augustine

Chapter 10. Through a Love of Ball-Playing and Shows, He Neglects His Studies and the Injunctions of His Parents. 

16. And yet I erred, O Lord God, the Creator and Disposer of all things in Nature, — but of sin the Disposer only — I erred, O Lord my God, in doing contrary to the wishes of my parents and of those masters; for this learning which they (no matter for what motive) wished me to acquire, I might have put to good account the afterwards. For I disobeyed them not because I had chosen a better way, but from a fondness for play, loving the honor of victory in the matches, and to have my ears tickled with lying fables, in order that they might itch the more furiously — the same curiosity beaming more and more in my eyes for the shows and sports of my elders. Yet those who give these entertainments are held in such high repute, that almost all desire the same for their children, whom they are still willing should be beaten, if so be these same games keep them from the studies by which they desire them to arrive at being the givers of them. Look down upon these things, O Lord, with compassion, and deliver us who now call upon You; deliver those also who do not call upon You, that they may call upon You, and that You may deliver them. 

Chapter 11. Seized by Disease, His Mother Being Troubled, He Earnestly Demands Baptism, Which on Recovery is Postponed — His Father Not as Yet Believing in Christ. 

17. Even as a boy I had heard of eternal life promised to us through the humility of the Lord our God condescending to our pride, and I was signed with the sign of the cross and was seasoned with His salt even from the womb of my mother, who greatly trusted in You. You saw, O Lord, how at one time, while yet a boy, being suddenly seized with pains in the stomach, and being at the point of death — You saw, O my God, for even then You were my keeper, with what emotion of mind and with what faith I solicited from the piety of my mother, and of Your Church, the mother of us all, the baptism of Your Christ, my Lord and my God. On which, the mother of my flesh being much troubled — since she, with a heart pure in Your faith, travailed in birth Galatians 4:19 more lovingly for my eternal salvation — would, had I not quickly recovered, have without delay provided for my initiation and washing by Your life-giving sacraments, confessing You, O Lord Jesus, for the remission of sins. So, my cleansing was deferred, as if I must need, should I live, be further polluted; because, indeed, the guilt contracted by sin would, after baptism, be greater and more perilous. Thus, I at that time believed with my mother and the whole house, except my father; yet he did not overcome the influence of my mother’s piety in me so as to prevent my believing in Christ, as he had not yet believed in Him. For she was desirous that You, O my God, should be my Father rather than he; and in this You aided her to overcome her husband, to whom, though the better of the two, she yielded obedience, because in this she yielded obedience to You, who so commands. 

18. I beseech You, my God, I would gladly know, if it be Your will, to what end my baptism was then deferred? Was it for my good that the reins were slackened, as it were, upon me for me to sin? Or were they not slackened? If not, from where comes it that it is still dinned into our ears on all sides, “Let him alone, let him act as he likes, for he is not yet baptized?” But as regards bodily health, no one exclaims, “Let him be more seriously wounded, for he is not yet cured!”  How much better, then, had it been for me to have been cured at once; and then, by my own and my friends’ diligence, my soul’s restored health had been kept safe in Your keeping, who gave it! Better, in truth. But how numerous and great waves of temptation appeared to hang over me after my childhood! These were foreseen by my mother; and she preferred that the unformed clay should be exposed to them rather than the image itself. 

Chapter 12. Being Compelled, He Gave His Attention to Learning; But Fully Acknowledges that This Was the Work of God. 

19. But in this my childhood (which was far less dreaded for me than youth) I had no love of learning, and hated to be forced to it, yet was I forced to it notwithstanding; and this was well done towards me, but I did not well, for I would not have learned had I not been compelled. For no man does well against his will, even if that which he does be well. Neither did they who forced me do well, but the good that was done to me came from You, my God. For they considered not in what way I should employ what they forced me to learn, unless to satisfy the inordinate desires of a rich beggary and a shameful glory. But You, by whom the very hairs of our heads are numbered, (Matthew 10:30) used for my good the error of all who pressed me to learn; and my own error in willing not to learn, You made use of for my punishment — of which I, being so small a boy and so great a sinner, was not unworthy. Thus, by the instrumentality of those who did not well did You do well for me; and by my own sin You justly punished me. For it is even as You have appointed, that every inordinate affection should bring its own punishment.  

Chapter 13. He Delighted in Latin Studies and the Empty Fables of the Poets But Hated the Elements of Literature and the Greek Language. 

20. But what was the cause of my dislike of Greek literature, which I studied from my boyhood, I cannot even now understand. For the Latin I loved exceedingly — not what our first masters, but what the grammarians teach; for those primary lessons of reading, writing, and ciphering, I considered no less of a burden and a punishment than Greek. Yet from where was this unless from the sin and vanity of this life? For I was but flesh, a wind that passes away and comes not again. For those primary lessons were better, assuredly, because [they were] more certain; seeing that by their agency I acquired, and still retain, the power of reading what I find written, and writing myself what I will; while in the others I was compelled to learn about the wanderings of a certain Æneas, oblivious of my own, and to weep for Biab dead, because she slew herself for love; while at the same time I brooked with dry eyes my wretched self dying far from You, in the midst of those things, O  things, O God, my life. 

21. For what can be more wretched than the wretch who pities not himself shedding tears over the death of Dido for love of Æneas, but shedding no tears over his own death in not loving You, O God, light of my heart, and bread of the inner mouth of my soul, and the power that wedded my mind with my innermost thoughts? I did not love You, and committed fornication against You; and those around me thus sinning cried, “Well done! Well done!” For the friendship of this world is fornication against You; (James 4:4) and “Well done! Well done!” is cried until one feels ashamed not to be such a man. And for this I shed no tears, though I wept for Dido, who sought death at the sword’s point, myself the while seeking the lowest of Your creatures — having forsaken You — earth tending to the earth; and if forbidden to read these things, how grieved would I feel that I was not permitted to read what grieved me. This sort of madness is considered a more honorable and more fruitful learning than that by which I learned to read and write. 

22. But now, O my God, cry unto my soul; and let Your Truth say unto me, “It is not so; it is not so; better much was that first teaching.” For behold, I would rather forget the wanderings of Æneas, and all such things, than how to write and read. But it is true that over the entrance of the grammar school there hangs a veil; but this is not so much a sign of the majesty of the mystery, as of a covering for error. Let not them exclaim against me of whom I am no longer in fear, while I confess to You, my God, that which my soul desires, and acquiesce in reprehending my evil ways, that I may love Your good ways. Neither let those cry out against me who buy or sell grammar-learning. For if I ask them whether it be true, as the poet says, that Æneas once came to Carthage, the unlearned will reply that they do not know, the learned will deny it to be true. But if I ask with what letters the name Æneas is written, all who have learned this will answer truly, in accordance with the conventional understanding men have arrived at as to these signs. Again, if I should ask which, if forgotten, would cause the greatest inconvenience in our life, reading and writing, or these poetical fictions, who does not see what everyone would answer who had not entirely forgotten himself? I erred, then, when as a boy I preferred those vain studies to those more profitable ones, or rather loved the one, and hated the other. One and one are two, two and two are four, this was then in truth a hateful song to me; while the wooden horse full of armed men, and the burning of Troy, and the spectral image of Creusa were a most pleasant spectacle of vanity. 

Chapters 11-13. The first question raised in these chapters is the question of Augustine’s not being baptized even though he was quite sick as a child. We learn that his mother’s rationale concerned keeping him from the sin he could commit by his actions. Augustine would learn later in his life about the beauty of God’s mercy.

Maybe like many, Augustine can look upon his childhood with much more liking than his adolescence. And due to the faith of his mother, and the fact his father did not stand in the way, the seeds of faith were planted in young Augustine. He knew of eternal life. Perhaps like many, the fullness of Augustine’s faith would not be realized until much later, but the importance of these actions of instilling faith in Augustine by his mother cannot be overlooked.

Even the best and the brightest can struggle in school. Often it is because they are bored. At other times it is because they are uninterested in the material. What student has never asked the question, “When will I ever use this?” In chapters 11-13 we see that as a boy Augustine had the same struggle. A struggle that was often met with the discipline of the day: beatings.

Yet when the rest of the life of Saint Augustine is considered, even that which he did not think was very important probably served some use to him in life. Perhaps if Augustine had been a student in the education system today he might have been put into the gifted and talented program. Sadly, as a teacher, I have had very bright students whom I did not serve as well as I could have. Sometimes it is the case of too many students and not enough time.

For Augustine, school was a challenge. Why was it that he liked Latin, with its rules and grammar, and not Greek which seemed so much more to his liking? There are times in life when we are a mystery, even to ourselves. Only God knows us completely.

As we shall see in the next chapters, perhaps it is the struggles of adolescence more than school itself that posed the problems for Augustine. At any age it can be hard to grow up into adulthood, and that time in between poses especially difficult challenges.

Questions to Ponder

Have you ever pondered your own baptism? What is it that comes to mind when you think about it?

If you were baptized as an infant, are there instances you discuss (or have discussed) your baptism with your parents?

As you consider your own childhood, and you see the ways in which faith was instilled in you even though you may have gone through a period in your life where you did not believe?

What are the best memories of your childhood?

Background on the necessity of baptism in Augustine

The position of Augustine as it pertains to baptism concerning children was harsher than what the Church holds today. Here is a short explanation. “In response to Pelagius (d. 425), who taught that the heresy that baptism is not necessary for salvation (called Pelagianism), St. Augustine (d. 430) contended that unbaptized children who die are condemned to hell. They do not suffer all its pains because they are not guilty of personal sin, but because baptism is necessary for salvation, they will not enter heaven.”

The Previous Chapters of The Confessions of Saint Augustine

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Chapters 11-13

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Chapters 6-10

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Chapters 3-5

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Chapters 1-2

The Confessions of Saint Augustine Introduction

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