Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 4 Sections 17 31 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 4, Sections 17–31 (Augustine the Manichaean) | Summary



Augustine moves on to praise the material world, which the Manichaeans disparage. He says, "If sensuous beauty delights you, praise God for the beauty of corporeal things, and channel the love you feel for them onto their Maker, lest the things that please you lead you to displease him." These things that God made are "from him but also in him ... The good which you love derives from him," says Augustine; they should be enjoyed but will turn bitter if unjustly loved by those who forsake God.

Augustine then relates how he wrote a book called The Beautiful and the Harmonious, which he dedicated to Hierius, a great Roman orator. He did this because he "admired people simply because they were judged praiseworthy by others." He also wanted to be like Hierius and earn his praises, and he confesses this incident to demonstrate how he was like a boat being tossed in the wind, weak because he was "not yet anchored in the solid ground of truth."

In this period he still thought of God as a "distended mass" and believed in a "supreme good" and a "supreme evil," called "Monad" and "Dyad." He did not yet know that evil has no substance, he says, or that the mind is not the "supreme, immutable good." He calls on God to "light my lamp ... [and] illuminate my darkness."

Augustine also recalls how he learned Aristotle's 10 categories when he was 20 and prided himself on understanding this philosophy better than any of his peers, yet he continued to think of God as "an immense, luminous body" of which he was a particle. He ends this section with a prayer to his God: "Grant us to trust in your overshadowing wings: protect us beneath them and bear us up."


Augustine continues to refute the Manichaeans in this section, first by criticizing their negative view of the material world, which is a good given by God when used properly. He relates how he thought of God as an extended mass of some sort, or a luminous body of which he was a particle. In Manichaean theology the good deity is dragged into the hostile and fallen world, and people are particles in that deity. Monad and Dyad are the names Augustine gives to the good and bad deities who are separately responsible for good and evil. In this bad deity is found all evil, so in some sense a human being is not responsible for evil in the Manichaean system.

Augustine calls on God to light his lamp and give him clear thinking, and the imagery of light and the personification of God as light, also found in the Bible (for example, in Psalms and the Gospel of John, which Augustine was especially fond of), is introduced here: "I did not realize that [my mind] had to be open to the radiance of another light in order to become a partaker in the truth, for it is not itself the essence of truth." In the Manichaean system, the rational mind is identified with the Monad, an idea Augustine categorically opposes. In Augustine's view the Manichaeans give human beings too much credit in locating divinity in the rational mind and too little credit in not holding them responsible for their transgressions.

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