Arrears blogging: November 13 -- Portrait of a Puritan As A Young Man

In the opening of today's passage (which I first encountered in an Updike short story, coincidentally enough) St. Augustine is hard (heh, heh) on himself:

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, and out of a deep-seated want, I hated myself for wanting not. I sought what I might love, in love with loving, and safety I hated, and a way without snares... For this cause my soul was sickly and full of sores, it miserably cast itself forth, desiring to be scraped by the touch of objects of sense. ... I defiled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscense, and I beclouded its brightness with the hell of lustfulness...
He got all up in there, is what he's trying to say, and what an awful sin he found it to be, his rolling around in the hay with girls. (I particularly like, as an image, his sick soul "desiring to be scraped by the touch of objects of sense" -- true enough, really -- why do bankers build big houses? To scrape the sores of their souls with them.) And then, even worse, he went to the theater:
But I, miserable, then loved to grieve, and sought out what to grieve at, when in another’s and that feigned and personated misery, that acting best pleased me, and attracted me the most vehemently, which drew tears from me. What marvel that an unhappy sheep straying from Thy flock, and impatient of Thy keeping, I became infected with a foul disease?
It's good that the Harvard Classics contains within it at least one rant against popular culture infecting a wayward youth? For that's what Augustine is, in this part of his autobio -- he's nineteen. Somehow I missed this fact when I was assigned this book in college, even though I was nineteen myself at the time. I suspect that, like the young saint, I had my mind on other things.

And when you go back and read the passages, they seem to be describing not so much an archsinner as a typical nineteen-year-old, let loose at college in a big city, weepy over his pop culture, feeling deeply, chasing the opposite sex, hot for love and perhaps confusing lust with it. He even wants to be a lawyer to please his mother. He could be anybody (which is his point, I guess). And that he presents himself here, in later life, condemning the wild ways which he has made sure to enjoy already -- well, that's small-c classic too.


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