Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Brush Up Your Augustine

St. Augustine has found himself in the news lately, due to the hapless commentary of our Speaker of the House. (And just in time for his feast day, which is today.)

Maureen of Suburban Banshee has found the passage (from Quaestionum in Heptateuchum: Liber 2 which is Quaestiones in Exodum) which Ms. Pelosi's staff claimed to be the basis for her theological analysis. Maureen posts the whole thing in Latin, which a quick English translation. As it turns out, a mis-translation of the two sentences that Pelosi's staff cites is commonly found on pro-choice Christian websites, though always mis-attributed (as Pelosi did) as coming form "On Exodus". I've no idea whether this particular chestnut originates, but from the evidence one would guess a single source with an agenda.

One hopes that with his brief moment of news-cycle prominence, perhaps people will be encouraged to take a bit of time reading Augustine. In addition to his vast body of sermons and theological analyses, Augustine was the author of one of the first autobiographies in the recognizable modern sense, Confessions.

The ancient world provides us with a number of fascinating biographies, and several noteable leaders wrote about their own exploits. (Caesar's authorized history of himself by himself in the Gallic Wars and Civil Wars is the most obvious example.) But except for the obvious and embarrassing ommission which someone will point out to me in the comments, Augustine's Confessions is the first work which allows us to meet the author at a person level and understand how he came to be the person that he was. It's a very personal and spiritual book, and also a surprisingly readable one. A decent translation of the Confessions is quite as reasonable as any modern spiritual autobiography -- and brings you into the world of the Church in the late 4th Century in a unique and powerful way.

Reading Confessions is also a great way to brush up on your Latin, if like me you are struggling to retain the vocabulary and grammar that you haven't already forgotten. Augustine's Latin is very readable, much more so that Golden Age authors like Cicero or Virgil. Should you so desire, there's a handy school-boy edition with selections from Confessions along with grammatical notes and a vocabulary in the back: The Confessions of St. Augustine: Selections from Books I-IX

As with most Bolchazy-Carducci editions, this is not a pretty book. It's a trade paperback with a brightly colored cover. But it is a very handy edition if you're working at a 2nd to 3rd year Latin level -- beyond working through a standard grammar text, but not yet reading with ease. And it includes all of the classic stories: Augustine's youthful raid on the peach orchard; his struggles with learning Greek; his conversion moment in the guarden where he hears the voice of nearby children saying "take and read".

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