Blogging the Confessions: Pleasure

Confessions 1.xvii(27) - 1.xx(31)

Augustine, in Confessions, could never be accused of making little of his sin. The entire work is filled with confessions, hence the title. However, he does also acknowledge the influence of the pagan myths upon his young mind and life. In 1.xviii(28) he writes, "when one considers the men proposed to me as models for my imitation, it is no wonder that in this way I was swept along by vanities and travelled right away from you, my God" (Chadwick, ed. 20). I do see that this is consistent with the Biblical witness. We are fully culpable, or blameworthy, for the sins committed by our own hands and we are certainly not victims, even the youngest of children. Sin comes, as James 1:14-15 informs us, when our own sinful desires "lure and entice" us. He then states clearly, "then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin". The "vanities" proposed to Augustine as a means to educate him in the things of Latin and other disciplines had proved to me a means of stirring up his own desires which then gave birth to sin.

Near the end of Book 1 he makes a statement that gets to the heart of the nature of sin: "My sin consisted in this, that I sought pleasure, sublimity and truth not in God, but in his creatures, myself and other created beings" (22-23). Just one sentence later he states that God is his "source of sweet delight" (23). I believe that this is the heart of sin and holiness. Sin is not the presence of pleasure but it is the misplacement of pleasure. Pleasure in good things in the proper way is the generous gift of God. Physical pleasure in marriage, for example, creates unity and intimacy and, further, ought to underscore the joy in conception and child-rearing. We must be wary of thinking that views the created order and its pleasures as vices. Many evangelicals (as well as Roman Catholics and E. Orthodox) are guilty of this mindset. The Biblical witness maintains that the created order was made very good. The concept of physical as evil and spiritual as good comes from the Gnostic heresy of the 1st and 2nd centuries. The very issue, I believe, the apostle John was combating in 1 John.

So, Where comes sin? my own sinful nature and desires stirring itself up. Where comes holiness? In loving, appraising, worship and seeing God as the source of all pleasure and the means through which we experience physical pleasures in this life, in their proper measure and means.

End of Book 1.