Friday, September 14, 2012

Forbidden Fruit Syndrome

From time to time I can't sleep for long at night, and so I go into my library to read something I haven't read in a while. The choice is sometimes random, sometimes calculated. Last night it was random. I picked up Augustine's Confessions and soon remembered why that work remains classic:
In a garden nearby to our vineyard there was a pear tree, loaded with fruit that was desirable neither in appearance nor in taste. Late one night--to which hour, according to our pestilential custom, we had kept up our street games--a group of very bad youngsters set out to shake down and rob this tree. We took great loads of fruit from it, not for our own eating, but rather to throw it to the pigs; even if we did eat a little of it, we did this to do what pleased us for the reason that it was forbidden.1 
Surely, Lord, your law punishes theft, as does that law written on the hearts of men, which not even iniquity itself blots out. What thief puts up with another thief with a calm mind? Not even a rich thief will pardon one who steals from him because of want. But I willed to commit theft, and I did so, not because I was driven to it by any need, unless it were by poverty of justice, and dislike of it, and by a glut of evil-doing. For I stole a thing of which I had penty of my own and of much better quality. Nor did I wish to enjoy that thing which I desired to gain by theft, but rather to enjoy the actual theft and the sin of theft.  
Behold my heart, O Lord, behold my heart upon which you had mercy in the depths of the pit. Behold, now let my heart tell you what it looked for there, that I should be evil without purpose and that there should be no cause for my evil but evil itself. Foul was the evil, and I loved it. I loved to go down to death. I loved my fault, not that for which I did the fault, but I loved my fault itself. Base in soul was I, and I leaped down from your firm clasp even towards complete destruction, and I sought nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself!2

The line which strikes me the most is his admission that he didn't even enjoy pears.

1.  For those who have a copy of Augustine's Confessions, it is rather noticeable that I have rearranged the order of what Augustine originally recorded. The English translation which I used for this post includes three paragraphs total, but I begin with the second paragraph which Augustine originally wrote, followed by the first paragraph, before concluding with the third paragraph. My reason for this new arrangement is merely to bring out the occasion for this confession first, as that, in my mind, helps clarify things for an audience who may not be familiar with Augustine's writing style.
2.  St. Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine (translation by John K Ryan) [Doubleday; New York, NY; 1960] pp. 69-70

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