Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 7 Sections 1 12 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 7, Sections 1–12 (Neoplatonism Frees Augustine's Mind) | Summary

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Summary

Book 7 picks up the thread of Augustine's dawning understanding of a transcendent God and his happiness that "our spiritual mother, your Catholic Church" seems to be pointing in the same direction. While he believes God to be "imperishable, inviolable, and unchangeable," he is still stuck on a corporeal idea of God spread through space, "whether infused into the world or even diffused through the infinity outside." In addition, he understands that God has made everything without defilement, but he still can't account for evil. He tries to understand the Catholic explanation that evil is a "free decision of our will," but cannot penetrate its meaning. Is the devil responsible for planting evil seeds in people, and if so, what is the origin of the devil's evil will? In Sections 8-10, Augustine says that he finally rejected astrology once and for all after hearing a story about how two people born at the same moment ended up in completely different circumstances, which proved to him that the findings of astrology are false.

Analysis

In these first sections of Book 7, Augustine is still wrestling with a conception of God, even though he has heard the sermons of Ambrose, who himself was familiar with Neoplatonic ideas. As John Peter Kenney points out, the materialist notion of God in all the ancient religions, including Christianity and Judaism, was so widespread that Augustine was in his early 30s before he encountered the sophisticated notion of God's transcendent nature. In fact, Augustine is largely responsible for embedding this idea in Western Christianity, an idea that came from the Neoplatonists. He is also still trying to replace the idea of a materialist substance of evil (learned from the Manichaeans) with something that makes more sense. He is clearing away his mental cobwebs, including his prior credulity about the pseudoscience of astrology, which he now rejects.

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