Finishing Augustine's The Confessions with my Theology Through the Centuries class yesterday was interesting. It's at least the fifteenth time I've read the text, I figured that morning, (at least one student gasped when I said that) but it's such a rich text – one of the very richest – that I always find new things striking me and making me think in new ways. In this case, I was very much struck by his treatment of his mother, Monica, in Book IX, and for some reason the very last words of the autobiographical part of the text leapt out at me in a way they never had before: that the purpose of the text was not so much his life and conversion as such, but to immortalize the impact of her life, biological and spiritual, which resulted in his lift and – by the strength of her prayer life and spirituality – in his spiritual re-birth as well. Her final request of Augustine and his brother, "One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be." (IX, 11, 27) – pray for her at Mass – is now universalized through the book, as Augustine makes a request of the reader that, for the first time, sounded like it was supposed to to me – that it was being requested of me, the reader:
Inspire others, my Lord, my God, inspire your servants who are my brethren, your children who are my masters, whom I now serve with heart and voice and pen, that as many of them as read this may remember Monnica, your servant, at your altar, along with Patricius, sometime her husband. From their flesh you brought me into this life, though how I do not know. Let them remember with loving devotion these two who were my parents in this transitory light, but also were my brethren under you, our Father, within our mother the Catholic Church, and my fellow-citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which your people sighs with longing throughout its pilgrimage, from its setting out to its return. So may the last request she made of me be granted to her more abundantly by the prayers of many, evoked by my confessions, than by my prayers alone. (IX, 13, 37)The students, most of them on their first encounter with the text, naturally talked about other aspects of Books VIII and IX, like the conversions scene itself, the models provided to Augustine of people like Marius Victorinus or Antony of Egypt, the question of the power of the will and Augustine's eventual rebirth not by will but by grace, or the mystical vision shared between Augustine and Monica in one of their last conversations. But this seemingly-little act of Augustine's request at the end was what really caught my imagination, as I realized that I was, in effect, reading a note from him to me, and getting a sense from it how it retroactively might change the entire flavour of the text.
I had dinner at the Lloyds' again the other night, with Anna and Owen treating me like their personal jungle-gym. I could almost start to suspect my friends of inviting me over just so that they can get a minute's breather from the energy of their kids. But after some work time, dinner, putting the kids down, and such, we finished a movie-set we'd begun the other week with The Prestigue with its brother-movie The Illusionist. (Yet another example, it seems, of how Hollywood, when it hears one studio is producing something, rushes similarly-themed movies into production: asteroid or comet-disaster movies; Joan of Arc movies; and here, magician movies.) The Prestigue being so good, was a hard act to follow, we figured, although I think that, had you seen them farther apart, you wouldn't be so compelled to compare the two. They both string you along nicely, and their plots really are diverse enough to avoid most obvious comparisons. Still, maybe that doesn't work anyway: the utterly-distinct The Emperors Club was still dismissed, over a decade later, as a Dead Poets Society rip-off, just because it was regarding an exceptional teacher in an East Coast prep school setting. Those stories couldn't have been more different, with DPS really being more facile in comparison to the other. For both The Prestigue and The Illusionist, the actors gave the surprises of the plot their strength: The Prestigue probably can be credited with the more creative plot and plot devices, but it also requires a greater "suspension of disbelief." But both were good fun, and worth whiling away a few hours with.