The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Symbols


God's House

God's house is also heaven and the chaste city. Heaven is the realm nearest to God where celestial beings live. According to Augustine, this "intellectual creation largely transcends mutability through the intense bliss it enjoys in contemplation of ... [God]"; it holds fast to God and so does not endure time or change. It is an eternal realm and the destination of all devout Christians. To get to God's house, says Augustine, a human being needs to become part of "the body of Christ," chiefly by being baptized. Jesus intercedes (mediates with God the Father) by atoning for, or paying for, man's sin and by guiding human beings in their earthly journey through the vehicle of the Church.

Babylon versus Jerusalem

In Augustine's account, Babylon is the symbol for worldly life and a turning away from the creator. Jerusalem, however, is the destination of all Christians, the heavenly city where salvation is accomplished after death. Augustine talks about Babylon in Book 2, saying he walked its streets with his companions, wallowing "in its filth as though basking amid cinnamon and precious ointments." Augustine first mentions Jerusalem in Book 9, when he is praying for his mother who has recently died. He speaks about Jerusalem (heaven) at length in Book 13.


In Book 2 Augustine tells a story about how he stole pears with some of his adolescent friends. He makes much of the pear robbery because it is a sin of perversity. The structure of perversity is to violate moral or social norms in a deliberate act of corruption or distortion. Perversity is an extreme act of ego gratification and a misuse of the will. Augustine recognizes this adolescent prank as an attack on the moral order and an exercise of corrupted will. He and his friends didn't steal out of need or even desire but only for a thrill. The pears symbolize human egoism and willfulness that attempts to defy God and make itself equal to him. This fruit also recalls another fruit: that which Eve stole from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the book of Genesis, which leads to the "first fall" of human beings.

Mother Church

Augustine refers to the Church as mother, since it guides and shelters Christians and is the means through which they reach salvation. The Church, also the body of Christ, is the institution of the mediator, the Second Person. The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus, according to Roman Catholics, and the followers of Jesus continue to spread his message. Augustine first calls the Church mother in Book 1, when he talks about his own mother: "You saw how I pleaded with my loving, kindly mother and with the mother of us all, your Church." He talks about Mother Church at length in Book 13.

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