The terrible fruits of getting bored at church

A couple of my students pointed out a passage in Augustine’s Confessions (III.3) that we all had difficulty interpreting. Outler’s translation is relatively tame: “I dared, even while thy solemn rites were being celebrated inside the walls of thy church, to desire and to plan a project which merited death as its fruit.” The Penguin edition we’re using, however, has the following: “I defied you even so far as to relish the thought of lust, and gratify it too, within the walls of your church during the celebration of your mysteries.”

The Latin is as follows: “ausus sum etiam in celebritate sollemnitatum tuarum, intra parietes ecclesiae tuae, concupiscere et agere negotium procurandi fructus mortis.” It seems to me at first glance that Outler’s translation is more accurate and the Penguin is reaching — either way, though, it’s difficult to understand what Augustine might be referring to. Indeed, in the Penguin edition it seems possible that he’s confessing to masturbating during church.

11 thoughts on “The terrible fruits of getting bored at church

  1. FYI, Henry Chadwick’s translation, “I mean interpretation: During the celebration of your solemn rites within the walls of your church, I even dared to lust after a girl and to start an affair that would procure the fruit of death.” And he footnotes Romans 7:5, which also speaks of the fructus moris in connection with fleshly passions.

    I think the self-pleasuring thesis is really out of line with Augustine’s self-description. He seemed to never have a problem hooking up, at least as he tells it, so for him to suggest that he failed at procuring a partner and had to take matters into his own hands would seem out of character here.

  2. I emailed a friend of mine, the Professor of Classics at Swansea University, on this one. Here is his reply.

    Dear Kim,
    It seems to me that Augustine is being deliberately imprecise. The verb concupiscere does, however, imply an external object for his lustful desire. (He has a great deal to say in the first books of the Confessions about concupiscence, much of the thinking based on I John 2:16: cf. procurandi fructus mortis evoking Romans 7:5.) The picture he gives of his life in Carthage implies that he might descend to anything, but I don’t think we can read this as code for masturbation during the administration of Holy Communion. He is reluctant to go into detail, but I guess Gillian Clark is pretty close to the mark, i.e. that he started an affair with a woman he saw in church. (Remember that he’s writing the Confessions years later, when he’s gone through the agony of embracing – and advocating – celibacy.)

    I hope these (immediate) musings are of help.
    Best wishes,

    Professor Ceri Davies
    Professor of Classics
    Swansea University

  3. I have a friend who was excommunicated for pulling out his penis and giving it a play during the preacher’s prayer that preceded Decisions for Christ Time. During the first 1/2 hour of his hearing before the elders of the church, he maintained that the girl making the allegation – the same girl that was sitting next to him that Sunday morning – was lying. He stuck to his guns until an elder told him that somebody, somebody other than the lucky girl, was peeking during prayer. The elder’s next question was, “So why did you do it, ——?” His answer: “Because she asked me to see it.”

    Maybe some chick wanted to get a look at Augustine’s wayner.

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