Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 9 Sections 1 22 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 9, Sections 1–22 (Death and Rebirth) | Summary

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Summary

Augustine begins Book 9 with more praise for God. Addressing Jesus, he says, "How sweet did it suddenly seem to me to shrug off those sweet frivolities, and how glad I now was to get rid of them—I who had been loath to let them go." He asks where his "power of free decision" had been in "those long weary years," and from where had it been "called forth in a moment," enabling him to bow his neck to God's "divine yoke." He has decided to renounce his career and give up his position as the emperor's rhetor (chief speechwriter), but he wants to do so quietly without drawing a lot of attention to himself. Since he gets sick, he is able to stay in his position and then bow out unobtrusively during the holidays.

Augustine retires with his mother and his likeminded friends to a villa in Cassiciacum to prepare for baptism. Augustine spends time praying the psalms, quoting a particular passage that mentions the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth and the third person of God who descended on the apostles after Jesus's ascension into heaven. According to Catholic teaching, Jesus returned to heaven 40 days after his resurrection from the grave. The Holy Spirit then ascended on the apostles 10 days later and anointed them with tongues of spiritual fire.

Finally, Augustine's party returns to Milan, and he, his son Adeodatus, and Alypius are baptized.

Augustine inserts incidents from his mother's life in Sections 17 through 22, which shows that while she is not without faults, she lives as an exemplary Christian who has successfully managed a difficult husband and mother-in-law, taught others by example, and even convinced her husband to follow Christ.

Analysis

By praising God at the beginning of Book 9, Augustine once again takes up the topic of free will and the role of grace in redemption. "You burst my bonds asunder ... Who is like you, O Lord? ... you respond and say to my soul, 'I am your salvation.'" God has drained the cesspool in his heart, and he gives his Lord all the credit for changing what his will desires. But at the same time, Augustine's will had been previously divided, and part of him wanted to want what God wanted. He also worked very hard for many years to get to a point where he would be open to divine grace. And he did this by using his free will, given by God. Thus, Augustine does not discount the role of free will in salvation, since people have a choice to choose God. In fact, Augustine calls his ability to accept God's yoke as coming from his power of free decision, previously missing in action. Thus, it would seem that free will and the grace of God operate together; grace is available to put the pilgrim on the right path, but the pilgrim has to respond to that grace.

Augustine finally mentions the third person of God, the Holy Spirit, who descends only after Jesus has redeemed the world. In Augustine's personal story, he has finally accepted Jesus, so it makes sense for him to turn to the Third Person of God. The Holy Spirit can be thought of as descending wisdom available to human beings as a result of the union of Father and Son. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit caused the followers of Jesus to "speak in tongues," meaning that all languages became available to them because they were in contact with the divine Word.

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