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Jack’s Naughty Bits: Saint Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine

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Jack's Naughty Bits



The
storyline goes like this: I was bad, real bad, then I discovered the Lord, and now it
seems okay. Sounds like a classic case of Goody Two-Shoes syndrome, no? Yet despite
its proselytizing, Saint Augustine’s late fourth-century autobiography The
Confessions
retains its place among the übertexts of the Western canon, and for
good reason. Not only does Augustine convince you that he was just as ego-driven, pear-stealing
and concupiscent as the next guy, but his eventual faith in the Lord is so strong and
so compelling it makes this reader, at least, want to be a little less lapsed in his
Catholicism.


    

Alongside the current
VoiceBox on sexuality and the Catholic tradition,
I wanted to underscore the struggle involved in the most influential Church Father’s attempts
to set his life straight. Although Augustine later rails against lust and literature and all the
other pleasures of his youth, he does so having felt their sway, and having realized how
close he came to remaining under their influence. Instead of threatening sinners with
hellfire and brimstone, Augustine cries out his own weakness, his own conflicts, and the
fact that despite his human frailty the Lord came and saved him. His honesty is piercing; it
reminds us that we are all weak, all conflicted, and almost makes me wish that there was a
god who would come and save me as well.




* * *   







From The Confessions of Saint Augustine Translated by E.B. Pusey,


modified by Jack Murnighan





To Carthage I came, where there sang all around me in my ears a cauldron of unholy loves.
I loved not yet, yet I loved to love . . . I was in love with the idea of loving and sought
what I might love . . . For within me was a hunger for that inward food, Thyself, my God;
yet I hungered not for the right sustenance and had no longing for the incorruptible, not
because I was filled therewith, but because the more empty I was, the more I loathed it. For
this cause my soul was sickly and full of sores, it miserably cast itself about, hoping to be
scraped by the touch of objects of sense . . . To love then, and to be beloved, was sweet to
me; but even more so, when I was able to enjoy my beloved’s body.
I defiled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and I
beclouded its clear waters with the hell of lustfulness . . .


    

Thus with the baggage of this present world was I held down happily, as in sleep. And the
thoughts with which I meditated on Thee were like the efforts of those who would wake,
yet are overcome with drowsiness, and remain drenched therein  . . . When you called to
me, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light, I
had nothing to answer. And when Thou didst on all sides show me that what Thou said
was true, I, though convinced of its truth, only repeated my dull and drowsy words,
“Right away, one minute, leave me but a little.” But “right away” wasn’t ever right now,
and my “little while” went on for a long while . . . But I, wretched young man, even
more wretched than in my youth, begged you for chastity yet said, “Make
me chaste and continent, but not yet!”