Augustine's Confessions Book 7 Outline

section 1: Augustine struggled with how to conceive of God.  He did not imagine him like a pagan god with a human form, but under the Manicheans he had learned to think of God as an infinitely large material sphere penetrating all reality.

section 2: Nebridius pointed out a real contradiction in Manichean thought:

1) The Manicheans believe that evil is a separate physical force in the universe.
2) And they believe that God is an unchanging, perfect being who can't be corrupted.
3) Yet they also hold that the soul, which is supposed to be a product of God, can be corrupted by the external world.
4) As a result, God, who is supposed to be without change or corruption, is made to participate in corruption.

sections 3-5: A second problem: What is the cause of evil then?  If God created all things, then where does it come from?  Equally, if God is not the author of evil, where did it originate, and how did it make its way into the creation?

section 6: Augustine rejects astrology through the help of Firmenus.

sections 7-9a: Augustine distinguishes the ideas of scripture that he found also in the writings of the Neo-Platonists and those that he did not:

Neo-Platonists

The Logos creates and illumines the world.

God isn't a product of human creation.

The (Son) Logos is equal with God.

The Logos eternally abides with God.

New Testament alone

The Logos came as a human being.

God is incarnated for us as a human.

Christ's kenosis, death on the cross, and exaltation (Phil 2).

Christ's sacrifice for human sinners.

 

sections 9b-10: We may "plunder the Egyptians" because all truth is God's truth.  Augustine finds in God the source of "eternal truth and true love and beloved eternity," but he also recognizes his own separation from God.

sections 11-16: God created good things, but they are liable to corruption.  He also recognizes that some things are good in and of themselves though they seem hostile -- fire, ice, hurricanes.  He moves from a Manichean position that good and evil are two active forces.   Eventually, he comes to hold that evil is without true being, that it is the absence of good rather than a positive, active force per se.

sections 17-18: In his desire for truth, he catches a glimpse of God's unchanging nature.  He reflects on the source of knowledge by going from its most immediate experiences to its origins: bodies -- the soul -- senses -- reasoning -- the light of being -- God.  He realizes that he could not maintain that vision because he was too proud to receive the humble Christ.

section 19: A third problem: Augustine and Alypius have beliefs that keep them from true Christianity.  Augustine, like Photinus, holds that Christ was not preexistent and equal with God.  Alypius thinks that Christians hold a belief like that of Apollinarus, who believes that God only inhabited a human body, so Christ was not a true human being.

section 20: Augustine realizes that he encountered Neo-Platonism to prepare him for Christian truth in two senses:  as intellectual preparation and to distinguish arrogant presumption from confession.

section 21: He is attracted to the New Testament, especially Paul, and there he discovers all that the Neo-Platonists lacked -- devotion, confession, and contrition.

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding