Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 10 Sections 58 70 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 10, Sections 58–70 (Memory) | Summary

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Summary

Augustine now turns to the sin of pride, which can occur when people are given positions of power and authority. This is the last of the three types of concupiscence that Augustine warns against, the other two being concupiscence of the flesh (including all the senses) and of the eyes (meaning the mind). "Let us be loved on your account," he says, "and let it be your word in us that is honored." Wealth is a great temptation, he further notes, because people tend to use it to satisfy one or more types of concupiscence. Augustine confesses that the worst temptation for him is desire for the esteem of others, and even as he calls himself out for this flaw, he is in danger of wishing others to admire his contempt for vainglory.

In summary, he addresses God as Truth, praising him for walking every road with him and teaching him "what to avoid and what to aim at," and calling him "the abiding Light whom I consulted throughout my search." He mentions how God led him "into an inward experience," but he has been "sucked back into everyday things" and held fast by "burden of habit." He has once again tallied up his sins and is asking "your right hand for saving help." This help can come only from the true Mediator, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Analysis

In these passages on sin, Augustine does not spare himself in cataloging his perceived failings. He has great insight into the workings of his own ego, showing how even when he tries to avoid vainglory, he might be secretly patting himself on the back for being so saintly. The subtle sins Augustine alludes to are those in which the ego tries to make much of itself, striving for recognition and power. In Augustine's worldview, union with God requires shrinking the size of the ego, which tries to put itself in God's place. "This tendency [pride] is one of the chief impediments to loving you and revering you," he says. The less there is of the ego, the more room God has to fill the soul.

In calling on God and reminding himself and his readers of his "inward experience" (his visions in Books 7 and 9), he also reiterates that they were short-lived, and he was easily returned to his everyday habits of mind. As Kenney notes in his scholarship on Augustine's mysticism, these experiences are not enough to attain salvation: he needs Jesus to mediate for him if he is to achieve salvation. As a Christian he can be redeemed only by God's grace, not by his own contemplative efforts.

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