Confessions Summary | GradeSaver
You can learn more about this topic in the related articles below. Read More on This Topic. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. His De civitate Dei —; The City of God presents the whole drama of human history as a progressive movement of humankind, redeemed by…. Augustine, whose Confessiones is a record of a new sort of introspection, combined a Classical and Hebraic dualism.
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From the Stoics and Virgil he inherited an austere sense of duty, from Plato and the Neoplatonists a contempt for the illusions of appetite, and from the Pauline…. History at your fingertips. Sign up here to see what happened On This Day , every day in your inbox! By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Notice. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox.
More About. The "One" is a transcendent, ineffable, divine power, the source of everything that exists. It is complete and self-sufficient. Its perfect power overflows spontaneously into a second aspect, the Intelligence Mind or Nous , which contemplates the power of the One. By contemplating the One, the Intelligence produces Ideas or Forms. The unity of the One thus overflows into division and multiplicity.
These Forms are translated into the physical world through the creative activity of the World Soul. In the immaterial realm, the higher part of the Soul contemplates the Intelligence, while in the material realm, the lower part of the Soul acts to create and govern physical forms. According to Plotinus, the Soul, in descending from the immaterial to the material world, forgets some of its divine nature. All human individual souls, therefore, share in the divinity of the One and will eventually return to the divine realm from which they came, after they shed their physical bodies.
Porphyry further developed Plotinus' ideas about the soul, asserting that individual human souls are actually separate from and lower than the World Soul. However, by the exercise of virtue and contemplation of the spiritual, the human soul can ascend from the lower, material realm, toward the highest good, the absolute beauty and perfection of the immaterial One.
Augustine refers to this Platonic "ascent of the soul" in Book 9 of the Confessions. Christians, for their part, were deeply suspicious of Platonism and of all the old pagan philosophies that Christianity had superseded. Nonetheless, Neo-Platonism had qualities that made it attractive to intellectual Christians. Neo-Platonism's three-fold model of divinity fit well with the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Neo-Platonism's stress on the transcendent, immaterial realm as the highest good also appealed to the ascetic streak in Christianity.
Augustine found Neo-Platonism to contain all the major ideas of Christianity, with the important exception that it did not acknowledge Christ.
Augustine's other great spiritual influence was the religion of Manichaeism. Manichaeism was actually one of several Gnostic religions that flourished during this period. Gnostic religions from gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge promise believers a secret knowledge, hidden from non-believers, that will lead to salvation. Gnostic religions are also intensely dualistic, viewing the universe as a battleground between the opposing forces of good and evil. Like all Gnostic religions, Manichaeism held that darkness and the physical world were manifestations of evil, while light was a manifestation of good.
Manichaeism was founded by the prophet Mani A. Born in Persia, Mani was raised as a member of a Christian sect, but as a young man he received a series of revelations that led him to found a new religion.
Manichaeism was distinguished by its elaborate and detailed cosmology. According to Manichee myth, Light and Darkness originally existed separately, without knowledge of each other. Its opposite, the realm of Darkness and matter, consisted of five disorderly elements. The Prince of Darkness then discovered the realm of Light and tried to conquer it. Together with the five elements, the Primal Man went out to battle Darkness, but he was overcome, and demons of Darkness devoured his Light.
Light became trapped in evil physical matter. In order to rescue the Light, the Father created the Living Spirit.
From the demons' corpses, they fashioned heaven and earth. They formed the sun and the moon from liberated bits of Light. Plants and animals were formed by the abortions and ejaculations of demons, as they tried to imprison the Light. The demons, overcome by lust, copulated, eventually giving birth to the first human couple, Adam and Eve. Salvation began when Adam received enlightenment about his true state from the Primal Man. One of the central beliefs of Manichaeism was the notion that every human being had two warring souls: one that was part of the Light, and another that was evil.
Human sin was caused by the activity of this evil soul; salvation would come when the good part of the soul was freed from matter and could return to the realm of pure Light. Through lust and the act of procreation, the Darkness tries to imprison more and more bits of Light within matter. Through Mani, the true revelation of knowledge will allow believers to liberate the Light within themselves and achieve salvation.
Manichee believers were of two types. The Elect, having reached spiritual perfection, practiced extreme asceticism, fasting regularly, following a strict vegan diet, and abstaining from all sexual activity. The Hearers, who made up the majority of believers, devoted themselves to caring for the Elect. Hearers were not held to the same rigorous standards of asceticism, but they were admonished not to have children, because doing so imprisoned more Light within matter. Manichees were not to eat any food derived from animals, because after it was dead and, therefore, empty of Light, animal flesh was nothing but evil matter.
Eating fruits and vegetables, however, was a sacred act. Plants contained Light, and by eating them, the Manichee Elect freed the Light from bondage.
THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT AUGUSTINE
Finally, no Manichee was to ever give food to an unbeliever, because by doing so, the Manichee would be imprisoning more bits of Light in matter. Augustine mocks this belief in Book 3. Manichaeism had a strong missionary element, so it spread rapidly through the Middle East. Because Manichaeism had absorbed some elements of Christianity, it appealed to many mainline Christians. The Manichees, however, viewed Christianity as a flawed and incomplete religion. They were sharply critical of the moral failings of the patriarchs of the Old Testament, such as Abraham, David, and Moses.
The Manichees pointed to Old Testament stories that described episodes of lust, anger, violence, and deceit to support their claims that the Old Testament God was really an evil demon, not a God of Light.
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The Manichees believed that parts of the New Testament were true, but they argued that the books of the New Testament had been altered to corrupt Christ's actual teachings, which reflected the true faith of Manichaeism. The Manichees specifically rejected the idea that Christ had been born from a human mother into a material body, because they viewed the body as evil. It was, therefore, also impossible that Christ could have suffered a physical death on the cross.
Despite its popularity, Manichaeism was viewed as subversive by most civil authorities, and it was repeatedly banned. By the sixth century, Manichaeism had largely disappeared in the western part of the empire, although it survived well into the 14th century in parts of China, and religions similar to Manichaeism reappeared in Europe during the Middle Ages.
Augustine was a Manichee Hearer for almost ten years, and in the Confessions, he frequently refers to Manichaean doctrine and practices.