Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 2 Sections 1 8 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 2, Sections 1–8 (Adolescence) | Summary

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Summary

Augustine now seeks to give a "coherent account" of his "disintegrated self"; when he turned away from God he "went to pieces." He says he engaged in a variety of "furtive love affairs," lamenting that his "beauty wasted away and I rotted in your sight." Since his father needed to save money to send him for further study in Carthage, he was brought back home from Madaura, where he had been studying literature and rhetoric. Augustine was 16. He faults his father for his "shameless ambition" for his son and for being unconcerned about his chastity. Being idle at home began to get him into trouble. When his father notices his "ripening sexuality" at the baths, he begins to look forward to grandchildren. Meanwhile his mother Monica asks him to avoid sex, especially with "any man's wife." Nonetheless, Augustine wishes to keep up with his peers who boast of their sexual activity, and when he has no "indecent acts" to brag about he makes them up. "With companions like these I roamed the streets of Babylon and wallowed in its filth as though basking amid cinnamon and precious ointments," he says. He also faults his mother, who didn't arrange a marriage for him since it would have interfered with his earthly success.

Analysis

During the short period (about a year) in which Augustine came home from Madaura and waited to be sent to Carthage, he ran wild with a pack of his adolescent friends. He criticizes both parents for being more concerned about preparing him for a career and success in the world and less about his spiritual state. Augustine also begins in Book 2 to demonstrate the influence of companions. In his view the people around a person—particularly friends and peers—can help an individual obtain the highest good or can lead them down the road to sinfulness. Augustine was by nature a sociable person, and he stresses the importance of finding salvation in community, particularly the Catholic Church. But in these early days he is concerned about being accepted by his misguided peers, which is why he brags about both real and imaginary sexual conquests. He notes that he would have been better controlled if he had been married and that what he wanted most was "loving and being loved," although he could not distinguish "the calm light of love from the fog of lust." He finds himself on the streets of Babylon, a motif used in this work to indicate the fallen world, as opposed to God's city of Jerusalem.

When Augustine's father saw his "unquiet adolescence, my only covering," he is referring to mental instability, caused in part by sexual restlessness. On the other hand, his father sees the physical evidence of a young man who can now provide him with grandchildren. Although there have been some misguided Freudian interpretations of this scene, the correct reading is that Augustine links it with a future scene in which he will be naked under very different circumstances. That is, in the future, he will be baptized by his spiritual father, Bishop Ambrose, and he will emerge from the baptismal waters "wearing" God as Jesus Christ.

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