SUMMARY: Augustine begins in his early years where he sought pleasure not in God but in his creatures, roaming the streets of Babylon in search of sensual folly, seeking shame for its own sake, running with the bad crowd. But despite his wild side, Augustine had many natural gifts and first became a lawyer, then a teacher of rhetoric. At some point he reads Cicero's Hortensius and devotes himself to the pursuit of wisdom, which he at first attempts to find in the Manichee religion. Augustine recounts how easy everything came to him, how reading Aristotle's Categories was like reading a children's book, but that these strengths were ultimately infirmities because they were not under God's control. Augustine moved away from Manichaenism, flirted with astrology and then slowly became more involved with the church through Ambrose. If something kept him from the church, it was that he needed the embraces of a woman to satisfy his insatiable sexual desire. Augustine came to study Neoplatonism and found a great amount of truth in the works of Plotnius and Porphyry. Through the Neoplatonic lens he inquired into the origin of evil (see first discussion topic). Finally, in a garden in Milan, Augustine broke down into a very dramatic fit of weirdness and converted when he read: "Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts" (Rom. 13: 13-14). Augustine must have been quite the wild man. Shortly after his conversion, his beloved mother dies.
This is more or less the end of his autobiographizing: Chapters X-XIII are more philosophical in nature. Chapter X is about memory: when Augustine speaks of memory, he means something like Plato's anamnesis, bringing forth what is already there, a gathering together (sounds like Heidegger). He equates memory itself with the mind, though at one point he says it is the stomach of the mind (in which case remembering is vomiting?). He then goes on to discuss the relationship of happiness and truth....the pursuit of truth, through the higher path of the mind's eternal knowledge or through the lesser path of the 5 senses, is only useful in as much as it serves happiness, which only God can truly provide. Pursuing truth for curiosity or for praise is no good.
Chapter XI is about time and eternity. Here Augustine asserts that God's eternal Word created time. The much quoted passage comes on page 230: "What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know." Augustine posits that there are not three times (past, present and future), but three modes of the present, a present past that is memory, a present present that is immediate awareness, and a present future that is expectation. Time is not dictated by the movement of physical bodies but by the way we measure it, and time's measurement is the mind itself. Time is a distension, a stretching out of the present, and our minds are what stretches it out.
There is a very good discussion of Augustine on time in Paul Ricoeurs "Time and Narrative," Chapter 1. I'll email it to you all. Ricoeur says: "Augustine's inestimable discovery is, by reducing the extension of time to the distention of the soul, to have tied this distention to the slippage that never ceases to find its way into the heart of the threefold present – between the present of the future, the present of the past, and the present of the present. In this way he sees the discordance emerge again and again out of the very concordance of the intetions of expectation, attention, and memory" (T&N, pg. 21).
In Chapter XII, Augustine talks about how we are to understand God's act of creation. The difficulty seems to revolve around how to understand God's actions outside of time, how, if time and differentiation are created only with form, to understand the existence of a formless mass. The only bit I found interesting in Chapter XIII was Augustine comparing the trinity to the threefold presence of being, knowing and willing in man. It seems an odd comparison. I gotta say, I didn't find these last two chapters so riveting.
1) Augustine on Evil: Augustine is firmly against the belief that there is an evil substance, or that there are two opposed principles of good and evil. He rather thinks of evil as a perversion of what was created good by God allowed by the indeterminacy of the created human will. Evil is not a thing but a deprivation of good, something that would not be seen as evil unless in contrast to an already existent good thing, like a disease to its host. Augustine also talks about evil as a kind of turning away from the inner, eternal Word to the outer, temporal world.
2) Family Romance: That Augustine was such a womanizer and so wholly devoted to an angelic vision of his mother is ripe for Freudian analysis. But the most amazing thing I found in the book is the following: Monica has a dream where God says to her "Where you are, there will he be also," meaning that Augustine will eventually come to the faith. But this is paraphrasing the Roman marriage rite, "Where you are, there will I be." So underneath the idea that Augustine will convert is the desire to marry him. But here's the amazing part: in Freud's "New Introductory Lectures," he describes the purpose of analysis as conquering the id with the ego, or "Wo es war, soll Ich werden," or "Where it was, there I shall be," or "Where id was, there ego shall be." Did Freud read Augustine? Did he know about the Roman marriage rite?