Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 13 Sections 16 37 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 13, Sections 16–37 (The Days of Creation, Prophecy of the Church) | Summary

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Summary

Augustine moves to the second day of creation and finds that the vault of heaven (earth's heaven) is none other than divine scripture. He then discourses on the value of scripture for salvation. On the third day, when God separates the land and the water, Augustine sees an allegory for how God controls "unruly urges of our souls," setting boundaries and imposing order. On the fourth day, God creates the stars and the planets and signs to mark the seasons. Augustine now draws a parallel between these "luminaries" that light the world and people who can serve the same purpose on earth. God expects people to purge their sins and then turn to good works. The saint recalls a rich man in the Gospels who seeks out a teacher to find out what he needs to obtain eternal life, and the teacher says he must keep the commandments. On the fifth day, God creates the creatures of the sea and the air, and Augustine equates the sea creatures with holy signs from God. The birds symbolize "the voices of God's messengers." God creates the animals on the sixth day, along with man in his likeness and image. The animals symbolize "the impulses of the soul," according to Augustine. At this point in the story they are subdued and amenable to reason. Man does not yet need baptism, but "attachment to this world" brought humanity "to death's door by evil living" as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

In Section 35, Augustine turns to God's command to "increase and multiply," a blessing that was pronounced exclusively on the first parents. Augustine believes that this singular blessing given only to human beings is highly significant. He concludes that human procreation symbolizes "truths processed by the intelligence." By this blessing, God gave human beings "the power to articulate in various forms something ... grasped in a single way in our minds," and to come up with multiple interpretations of what they read.

Analysis

As Augustine continues his exegesis (analysis) of Genesis, it is difficult for the reader at times to understand how he is drawing out his allegories from the details of the creation story. It is possible, however, to look at elements of theology that Augustine expounds upon as he takes apart the Genesis story.

Scripture is a tool that God uses, says Augustine, and the words given to those who wrote the scripture are revelation. "We know no other books with the like power to lay pride low," he says. Augustine asks God to grant him understanding of his words. Those who live above the vault of scripture have no need for its words, since they are constantly in the presence of God, but mortal men and women may look into that vault and "recognize the mercy which manifests ... [God] in time."

The additional allegorical meanings identified by Augustine move along a train of thought in which he shows how God's Church and Christian scripture can refocus people's "unruly urges" mired in temporality (time) and transform them into the desire for the greatest good, which is eternity in God's house. On earth Christians can serve as "luminaries" for one another, marking the path to salvation as the celestial bodies mark the seasons.

God's commandment to increase and multiply is seen allegorically by Augustine as "a symbol of truths processed by the intelligence." This means people can variously articulate the same truths, grasped both in their lives and in scripture, regarding the means for salvation.

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