Saint Augustine... Sex Addict, Shock Artist, Zen Master
Last night I downloaded Saint Augustine's Enchiridon and Confessions.
As I may have mentioned before, Augustine is far and away history's most famous sex addict, and honored for having recorded his recovery from the illness of sex addiction in the Confessions. His illness and recovery are his defining story. The fact that he is a spiritual and intellectual giant impresses me less than the astonishing personal transformation.
Good translations are important. As you know from reading my blog, it gives me great pleasure to seek and find a vigorous English rendering. Last night I quickly found very fine translations of Confessions and Enchiridon from the superb online library, Ethereal Christian Classics. New, classy font; verrry nice. I compared with the Pusey translation from Project Gutenberg and within two paragraphs preferred the Ethereal Christian Classics version of Confessions.
The opening paragraphs of the Confessions were fascinating - a series of emotionally charged questions that you couldn't have answered - at least I couldn't answer them. Maybe you can.
Confessions is a shock. Confrontational. You sit down to read Saint Augustine, guessing his life story will be a nice little drama for an evening's amusement, little expecting to be body tackled by the saint himself in full moral flight and dragged along the pitch, a human football kicked at the goal of a spiritual awakening. Somehow you don't expect Saint Augustine to be so... unsaintly.
But on starting the Enchiridon I instantly noticed how beautiful the ideas were (beautiful ideas make for beautiful prose), and decided to read the latter work first. The form is smooth but obscure and rich as pure butter - you would be familiar with the kind of writing from modern Zen writing. Augustine is like a Zen master pointing out the utterly simple fact of his experience for you to ponder. Again the saint surprises: Augustine as Zen master. In the darkness of the humbled mind and heart, a Mystery.
From the translator of Confessions I learnt two more fun facts about Augustine:
1, that Saint Augustine (in his magnum opus 'The City of God') invented our idea of a society. I was surprised when I learnt last year that Aristotle invented the notion of energy, so pervasive the concept is, but after a few instances of hearing some basic idea was invented by so-and-so, you get used to the shock of the old.
2, that a confession cuts both ways. First and obviously a confession is a record of false thoughts, feelings, and actions; tossing out stock-in-trade thoughts and feelings which have caused nothing but pain; and noting your responsibility for having created it; thus the sign of a successful confession is a sense of gratitude. Second, and more mysteriously, confession is an act of recognition of a Higher Power. When you or someone you know, then, embarks on a course of deep therapy, a spiritual inventory, a searching memoir, a period of directed journaling or a similar type of inner investigation, it is worth remembering that the ultimate motive of our mucking about in negative and painful memories is a more joyful connection with a Higher Power.
One more thing: Augustine's mature writing in Enchiridon is a striking, basso profundo voice, like Prospero in The Tempest. Augustine's is a listening prose, and the audiobook of Enchiridon must have quite an impress. Augustine's style really reminds me of the late Rvd Billy Graham's - a voice not to be blinked at.
That's my dish on hanging with Augustine last night, August 22. I find him fascinating. I think you might also find him fascinating.
PS - I must add that Augustine also invented the genre of the memoir with his Confessions. Knowing the rash of 'mislit' or misery literature on the shelves of Borders, this is one of the few books that actually scratches the itch.