The Truth About Sin: Faith and Reverie in the Confessions of Saint Augustine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Michael Q. Abraham

“I have resolved on an enterprise which has no precedent, and which, once complete, will have no imitator. My purpose is to display to my kind a portrait in every way true to nature, and the man I shall portray will be myself…Simply myself. I know my own heart and understand my fellow man. But I am unlike anyone I have ever met; I will even venture to say I am like no one in the whole world. I may be no better, but at least I am different. Whether Nature did well or ill in breaking the mould in which she formed me, is a question which can only be resolved after the reading of my book.”[1]
(Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions, 1770)

What is it — to confess? Catholics, depending on the rigor of their devotion, confess each day, each week, or just before death, to a priest and thereby to God. In each case, there is the implication of contrition and authenticity in the recounting of actions. The very term confession implies that the truth, a specific rendering of the entirety of a situation or a life, long buried or disguised, is finally uncovered or unmasked. Paul de Man comments that “to confess is to overcome guilt and shame in the name of truth,”[2] but such a position emphasizes purpose over actual confession. Indeed, a truly pious confession is an abnegation: self-interest is denied in the name of truth. Thoughts of reward should not enter into one’s prostration before God. Put simply, to confess is to tell the truth about one’s sins. About this there can be little argument…or can there?

The epigraph of this essay comes from one of the most famous confessions of all time. Rousseau was a man saturated with questions about the state of man, the nature of society, and the reality of truth. Far from acquiring the uniqueness its author envisioned, the Confessions of 1770 generated imitations by writers such as Goethe, Tolstoy, Mill, and Joyce. But Rousseau was different. He embodied the link between originality and genius that so occupied eighteenth-century thinkers[3] and, fittingly, his work inspired other “originals.” He was not like Montaigne, who claimed that his Essais of 1580 were not meant to “exact belief” but simply to “reveal [him]self”[4] while selecting only the faults that were “likeable” (Rousseau, p. 479). Rousseau frankly reveals himself as a thief, a self-abuser, a philanderer, an abandoner of his children, an indecent exhibitionist, and even something of a sadomasochist, all while remaining utterly unapologetic and unrepentant. He was unlike Voltaire and Diderot — his friends-turned-enemies — who cast themselves as warriors on the side of reason. He understood the role of morality, but was not strictly, as Allan Bloom characterizes him, “morality’s defender against reason.”[5] Neither was he simply, as Karl Barth writes, an embodiment of “man’s optimistic effort to master life by means of his understanding.”[6] And it is equally problematic to cast him, as Charles Taylor does, as part of “an Augustinian tradition.”[7] Rousseau listens to the voices of his own reveries, and constructs his own epistemology — his own “castles in the air.”[8]

For all of his differences, Rousseau’s autobiography begins with striking similarities. Saint Augustine’s Confessions were written 1400 years prior to Rousseau’s, and was indisputably the best-known autobiography of all time. Less the story of a life than a profession of faith, Augustine’s Confessions are meant to provide lessons for those who read them, an implicit didacticism that Rousseau wishes to undercut. Both works bear the imprint of an unburdening, of joy, even pride at admissions. Only Augustine, however, shows the contrition one associates with confession. Indeed, Rousseau insists that his Confessions are not apologies, but are intended rather as a truthful portrayal of the author “as he actually was and not as his unjust enemies unremittingly endeavour to paint him” (Rousseau, p. 373). His confessions are meant to reinterpret, rather than admit, his wrongdoing. In this, he does not attempt to right his wrongs, but somehow to recreate them as right. Justification, then, not confession, is the primary task which Rousseau sets himself.[9]

So why call his work the Confessions ? If Rousseau wished the book to have “no precedent, and…no imitator,” why choose the title of the best-known autobiography of all time? Why not preserve the more accurate emphasis of the original title, Mon Portrait ? A detailed comparison of the two books reveals that Rousseau’s is not a confession at all, but rather a polemical reaction not only to Augustine’s oppressive legacy, but also to the Enlightenment philosophers by whom he felt betrayed and slandered. Rousseau performs a critical rewriting of Augustine’s classic text, drawing the reader’s attention to specific similarities within the two texts in order to point out their fundamental differences. That fundamental difference, in turn, is reducible to each man’s conception of the origin of sin. If, as Augustine writes, “not even a child who has only lived one day on this earth…is free from sin,” but God, who created man, “did not create sin in him”[10] (Augustine, p. 27), where did sin originate?

For Augustine, this is a fruitless and, what is more, a blasphemous question. Faith allows true Christians the enviable option of ignorance. Augustine’s conception of faith shuns curiosity and reveals any earthly inquisitiveness as merely “the appearance of a thirst for knowledge” (Augustine, p. 50), while being in reality “the rites of strange gods, the lure of lies” (Augustine, p. 160). Willed ignorance, or divine grace, removes choice and allows certainty: “this blessed certainty is a gift of Grace…Unredeemed man’s choice between need and desire is bound to be blind, contingent, haunted by remorse and second thoughts.”[11] As Pascal characterizes such believers in his Pensées: “It is by being without proof that they show they are not without sense.”[12] The question of sin’s origin, then, is not only irrelevant but dangerous. Contrary evidence, no matter how compelling, is not enlightening but damning, not correcting but impugning.

For Rousseau, however, proof is of the utmost importance. His response is a willed submersion in his own curiosity. In the “First Walk” of his Reveries of the Solitary Walker, he writes:

I shall say what I have thought just as it came to me, with as little connection as the thoughts of this morning have with those of last night. But on the other hand I shall gain new knowledge of my nature and disposition from knowing what feelings and thoughts nourish my mind in this strange state.[13]

Rousseau agrees with Augustine’s assessment of humankind as far as it goes. His Emile begins: “Everything is good as it leaves the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.”[14] Rousseau, however, extends the formulation, claiming that corruption stems gradually from the influence of human behaviour, that “Man is born free, [but] is everywhere in chains.”[15] The chains of corruption are in turn forged from “the gap between the ‘outer counterbalance’ and the ‘dispositions of the heart,'”[16] the disparity between appearance and reality, between evidence and truth. The salient question for Rousseau, then, is “What is the truth about sin?” If sin is God’s creation, it is God’s concern; one must have faith in His will. But if sin is the creation of man, redemption is in man’s hands; it is not only one’s responsibility, but one’s opportunity. The fundamental difference between Augustine and Rousseau, and the difference Rousseau wishes to emphasize, is the difference between faith and reverie.

The Truth About Sin

“As they were afraid I might complain to our spiritual directors I was forbidden to go to confession.”[17]

From the outset, Augustine presents his work as the truthful story of his life. Throughout, what Augustine is is of more importance than what he was . Descriptions of his sinful early life are used as the means to an end, “not for personal display or justification but to tell of a vital religious experience which might serve as an example to others.”[18] Augustine’s accuracy in recounting such events is thus of secondary importance to the lessons they will teach. Literal truth is replaced by that of morality, or, the spiritual ends justify the somewhat deceitful means. This is a direct inversion of de Man’s definition of Rousseau’s use of confession, in which “ethical values of good and evil are superseded by values of truth and falsehood.”[19] With a frankness that mocks the obsequiousness of Augustine’s tone, Rousseau closes his portrait by insisting that his story is also true:

I have told the truth. If anyone knows anything contrary to what I have here recorded, though he prove it a thousand times, his knowledge is a lie and an imposture; and if he refuses to investigate and inquire into it during my lifetime he is no lover of justice and truth. (Rousseau, pp. 605-606)

Far from sharing, as Barth contends, “an utter frankness”[20] with Augustine’s work, Rousseau is satirizing Augustine’s utter lack of candour. That the events Rousseau
describes are to be deemed true even if proven otherwise is meant to reveal Augustine’s Confessions as an engine of hypocrisy, not faith. It is this sort of belief, the conviction that is only strengthened by proof of its invalidity, which has placed naturally free man in the chains of obedience. That the revealed deceiver should be treated not only with impunity, but with renewed trust, is the focus of Rousseau’s satire.

To Augustine, “the whole of man’s life is pain” and “[i]t is altogether inevitable that those words of Scripture should prove true, ‘A heavy yoke is laid on Adam’s sons, from the day they issue from their mother’s womb until the day when they go for burial to the mother of all things.'”[21] Such is life and such is man. God owes not at all, and all things are owing to God. For Rousseau, while it is undeniable that “[m]an was born free, and is everywhere in chains,” it is equally undeniable that God “owes [His creatures] all He promises in giving them being…to give them the idea of a good and to make them feel the need of it is to promise it to them.”[22] That the promise may not be fulfilled until after they have gone for burial is immaterial: the debt must be paid. Mankind, wicked or just, must be given the happiness and justice they have been promised if the world is to be as it is meant to be.

Rousseau’s few references to his predecessor reveal his purpose. An incident early in his Confessions shows him as a young boy who, faced with the sophistries of an overzealous priest, occupies himself by subverting the priest’s faith by “put[ting] every [possible] difficulty…in his way” (Rousseau, p. 70). Later, in his Reveries, Rousseau’s direct reference to Augustine is no less combative:

I do not go as far as Saint Augustine [in my resignation], who would have been content to be damned if such had been the will of God. My resignation is of a less disinterested kind perhaps, but its origin is no less pure and I believe it is more worthy of the perfect being whom I adore.[23]

Rousseau is different from everyone who has preceded him, and nowhere is this difference more evident than in his recounting of sins very similar to those of Augustine.

For all of Rousseau’s assertions of uniqueness, his autobiography and Augustine’s bear a striking resemblance to one another in everything but tone. Augustine’s numerous transgressions are admitted in humble prostrations, while Rousseau discounts his transgressions as the result of necessity. Augustine reveals his earliest sin, other than the sins of childhood which are common to all men, as thievery. The memory of the theft of some pears is clear and painful:

it was not the pears that my unhappy soul desired…I only picked them that I might steal. For no sooner had I picked them than I threw them away, and tasted nothing in them but my own sin. (Augustine, p. 49)

Using himself as an example, Augustine imposes the notion of man’s innate evil, which is presumably created, but not fed, by God. The pears are picked for the experience of stealing: “perhaps we ate some of them, but our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden” (Augustine, p. 47). Augustine thus joins himself to the Biblical pattern, as this “youthful acte gratuit…reveals to him his participation in the theft of an apple from Eden.”[24] The similar “forbidden fruit” of the tree of knowledge provided Adam and Eve with an experience and knowledge they had not been capable of imagining. Their actions caused questions to be asked, incurring the necessity of a thinking mind and a reliance on the will: “the will itself was…the evil tree which bore evil fruit, in the shape of those evil deeds; or rather it was the man himself who was that tree, in so far as his will was evil.”[25]

Scripture reveals that the initial tasting was sufficient to give the tasters the knowledge of sin. But if the scriptural account of Adam and Eve is to be trusted literally, as Augustine insists it must be, a significant quandary is set up. If “original sin” is in the taking and the eating of forbidden fruit, how is it possible that this sin can be committed before it exists? If Eve was without sin prior to taking the apple, why did she take it? While it is true that the serpent, “with his slippery body, moving along in tortuous twists and turns,”[26] tempted Eve, how was she temptable if she had no sin? If, as Augustine asserts, she was merely “gullible,” and therefore a less perfect being than Adam,[27] how is it that Adam “knowingly” participated in the sin? He was not “seduced” or tricked by the serpent, but willingly sinned against his creator and provider. But if Eve was gullible, and therefore was merely seduced, not knowing what she did was a sin, and if Adam was not gullible but knowingly committed the first sin, from where did that first compulsion stem? In his explanation of the earliest event in Genesis, Augustine points out the impossibility of a “creation prior to creation”:

Earth and heavens…proclaim that they did not create themselves. “We exist,” they tell us, “because we were made. And this is proof that we did not make ourselves. For to make ourselves, we should have had to exist before our existence began.” And the fact that they plainly do exist is the voice which proclaims this truth. (Augustine, p. 256)

Creation occurred because things exist. The case is stated clearly, and nothing less than the entire universe is presented as evidence of its reliability.

Implicit in such a concept is that the proof of creation resides in all that was created, and the responsibility for all that was created necessarily resides with the Creator. God, having created everything, must also have created sin. Augustine, however, emphatically denies such a concept: “How wicked are the ways of men! Men say this and you pity them, because you made man, but you did not make sin in him” (Augustine, p. 27). To associate God’s perfection with man’s imperfection is the essence of blasphemy. In reference to Eden, Augustine insists that “God would not have created or planted anything evil in such a place of felicity.”[28] This seeming inconsistency is effectively ignored by the faithful, who enthusiastically suspend their disbelief. The burden of proof, therefore, lies with the doubters. To Augustine, the imperfection of mankind is inherent and everlasting. Sin and evil are not rooted in sinful actions — they are only symptoms. The true disease is curiosity:

the mind is also subject to a certain propensity to use the sense of the body, not for self-indulgence of a physical kind, but for the satisfaction of its own inquisitiveness. This futile curiosity masquerades under the name of science and learning, and since it derives from our thirst for knowledge and sight is the principle sense by which knowledge is acquired, in the Scriptures it is called gratification of the eye. (Augustine, p. 241)

A proud curiosity, then, caused humanity’s fall and its torment. Adam and Eve would have done better to obey God’s will as He expressed it. Such curiosity must now be rejected in favour of total trust. Regaining paradise, entering into heaven, depends upon it.

Rousseau’s first memory of sin is also one of theft:

I learnt to…steal — an idea that had never before come into my head and one that I have never been able entirely to rid myself of since. Unsatisfied desires always lead to that vice. That is why all lackeys are rogues and why all apprentices should be; though under quiet and equitable conditions, when everything they see is within their reach, these latter throw off the shameful propensity as they grow up. But my circumstances were not so happy, and I derived no such advantage from them. (Rousseau, p. 41)

While Augustine treats his stealing as proof positive of man’s innate evil — the common “lust of adolescence” — Rousseau treats the identical act as a societal condition, the result of the unhappiness and frustration that servitude brings. There is no “originality” in Rousseau’s sin, be it the first or the hundredth time it is committed. Indeed, there is little that is sinful in Rousseau’s depiction of what he has done and what he continues to do while writing his Confessions. He forthrightly, and heretically, asserts in his own defence: “I learnt that stealing was not so terrible as I had thought” (Rousseau, p. 42). Ann Hartle writes: “Rousseau does not describe his thefts as ‘sins’ and the desire for the approval of others is a mitigating factor.”[29] Rousseau’s impulse to steal, far from being evidence of an omnipresent evil, is proof of an innate compassion that seeks to offset the inequalities implicit in society. Jacques Derrida writes in Of Grammatology:

According to Rousseau, the negativity of evil will always have the form of supplementarity. Evil is exterior to nature, to what is by nature innocent and good. It supervenes upon nature. But always by way of compensation for [sous l’espéce de la suppléance] what ought to lack nothing at all in itself.[30]

Opposing Augustine’s declarations of innate greed, Rousseau claims to counteract the inequality that is brought about by a greed not innate but ingrained. To say, as Augustine does, that vice is innate is to legitimize it. For Rousseau, what is innate is somehow necessary, and what is necessary can hardly be sinful. Greed is not an inevitable necessity. Rather, it is the result of a created inequality among men, a hunger initiated by those who “attribute a natural propensity for servitude to man because the men they observe endure their servitude so patiently…[and who] do not realize that freedom is like innocence and virtue, in that only those who have it are aware of its value, and when they lose it they also lose their taste for it.”[31] Ostensibly “the root of all evil,” greed depends upon a willed ignorance, a denial of others desires. Servants, unable to imagine freedom, do not feel desirous or deserving of it. Masters, unable or unwilling to conceive the possibility of such desire, do not feel the servants deserve it. The servers do not know what they are missing, the served do not know that they are missing it. Desire becomes synonymous with desert, want is transformed into need, and servitude becomes a “natural propensity.” Ironically, greed ceases to be simply overweaned desire, rooting itself instead in a denial of the desire of others. In this way, Rousseau’s conception of greed resembles Augustine’s conception of faith: both require an implicit trust that things are as they must be.

Following hard upon his explanation of his own thievery, Rousseau’s determined theft of an apple is a direct answer to Augustine’s very pointed analogy. In neither case does hunger spur the thief. Augustine claims he had “plenty of [pears of his] own, better than those” (Augustine, p. 49), while Rousseau admits that he “was not exactly undernourished at [his] master’s; the modesty of the fare was only painful…when compared to the luxury [his master] enjoyed” (Rousseau, p. 42). Motivated by this envious sense of inequality, Rousseau devises a method of retrieving apples from a locked cupboard. With no sign of remorse, he describes his attempts to steal an apple from its forbidden storage, only to be discovered at the very brink of success. His desire to steal the forbidden fruit is not prompted by desperate hunger, but by curiosity, an inquisitive desire for experience. Augustine’s thievery is incontrovertible evidence of his innate evil. Rousseau’s is precipitated by his natural aversion to evil, for “the custom of sending young people away from the table when those dishes are brought on that tempt them [is] calculated to make them not only greedy but dishonest” (Rousseau, p. 42). Augustine’s sin proves the existence of innate evil and the existence of God. Rousseau’s action proves the existence of justice and conscience[32] and the existence of God in man. Both men receive punishment for opposite results: Augustine for his success, Rousseau for his failure. Rousseau’s use of an apple, rather than a pear, responds directly to Augustine’s anecdote and analogy. Though Rousseau never mentions Augustine by name, this incident alone suffices to draw such a conclusion.

Rousseau’s philosophical attack begins by asserting that the evils that men do are not ills natural to the state of man but ills “of our own making.”[33] Thus, the doctrine of “original” sin has no credibility. Humankind did not inherit the sins of Adam, but created its own. Human sins are willed and therefore surmountable. Moreover, if both sin and redemption are to occur in this world, the question of creation ceases to be ours and becomes one’s own. The events of Genesis, so faithfully explained by Augustine, become a metaphor for the beginning, duration, and uncertain end of each life. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden become simply “man in the state of nature,” a situation prior to the onset of corruption. Jean Starobinski writes of this aspect of Rousseau’s thought:

The state of nature presumably exists prior to any distinction between truth and falsehood, and Rousseau accords to man in the state of nature the privilege of immediate possession of the truth. As he himself admits, this state is akin to that of childhood, and even now it is possible for a child to live in a state of nature so long as adults do not “corrupt” him prematurely.[34]

In this sense, the story of Genesis is more tangibly examined in the birth of each child and the events of each childhood. Both autobiographies, the story of each man’s creation and corruption, predictably begin with descriptions of their births and early childhoods. Inherent in each description is each man’s thoughts on the nature and education of children. Through a sketch of the two writers’ lives in relation to an account of their handling of these concepts, the nature of Rousseau’s response can be examined.

Children of God, Childhoods of Men
The tutor should make his pupil sift everything, and take nothing into his head on simple authority or trust.[35]


In comparing Augustine’s and Rousseau’s Confessions, Hartle points to the lack of a thirteenth book in Rousseau as the most significant difference in the structure of the two works. Her account of this discrepancy is simple: “There is no parallel ‘creation’ book in Rousseau’s work.”[36] The final chapters of Augustine’s Confessions are a detailed explanation of the book of Genesis, and his mammoth City of God is dedicated to a similar examination. While it is true that Rousseau’s work lacks a thirteenth book to reflect Augustine’s, it is rather hasty to conclude from a structural inconsistency that a thematic one exists. If Rousseau’s Confessions function as a philosophical attack on the legacy of St. Augustine, the entire work must function as an exploration of creation. Since the concept of creation is a central theme in Augustine’s life as well as his writings, Rousseau’s Confessions , insofar as they reply to Augustine, are a “creation” book in themselves.

The thirteenth book of Augustine’s Confessions describes the creation of all things visible and invisible:

When I spoke of these things, I took the word ‘God’, who made them, to mean the Father, and the ‘Beginning’, in which he made them, to mean the Son. (Augustine, p. 314)

In attempting to tie his explanation of Genesis to that of the holy Trinity, Augustine links creation, or beginning, to childhood. That said, Augustine’s view of children is a jaundiced one at best. Taking himself as an example, Augustine portrays children in much the same way he describes Adam and Eve: they are given God’s gift of life and the satisfaction of their needs, yet through crying and wailing, they presumptuously demand more. Michael Ignatieff writes of this aspect of Augustine’s thought:

If human nature had been content with plenitude, it would have had no history, only the bliss of a permanent present. Instead, we ate from the tree of knowledge and were expelled from the garden. Our nature was forced, by our sin, to have a history, and the history of our needs has been tragic: the toil and suffering of Adam’s curse.[37]

The image of Eden in Augustine’s descriptions is like his descriptions of his own childhood, but what his paradise resembles most is the womb. The total plenitude that seems to have pervaded paradise is not to be found anywhere else. Augustine shows a strong desire to return to such a world, to regain the paradise of his mother’s womb, where all was provided and certain. In this scenario, as each human is born, he or she is expelled from paradise. Birth becomes evidence of the fall. The reason for this expulsion is difficult to decipher. To begin at the beginning, the childhood of each writer must be examined.

The Child Augustine

Augustine was born in Thagaste, in Northern Africa, in A.D. 354, the son of an unlikely couple. His father was irreligious and philandering; his mother, Monica, was a devout Catholic and devoted wife. Indeed, Monica’s devotion to her pagan husband extended to defending him on Christian grounds. Upon hearing the complaints of the battered wives whose lot she shared, Monica chastised them for their disobedience, saying “they should remember their condition and not defy their masters” (Augustine, p. 195). In response to this rule, Augustine claims of women that “those who accepted it found it a good one; the others continued to suffer humiliation and cruelty” (Augustine, p. 195). Despite Bloom’s assertion that “no serious thinker ever regarded women as slaves,”[38] this lesson of forced servitude was one that Augustine would eventually prescribe to the world.

In spite of his parents’ conflicting religious views, Augustine was raised as a Christian and wanted for little in his formative years. On the subject of his birth, Augustine shows the same hesitant reliance on his own beginning that he applies to the beginning of all things:

I do not know where I came from when I was born into this life which leads to death — or should I say, this death which leads to life?…I was given the comfort of woman’s milk. But neither my mother nor my nurses filled their breasts of their own accord, for it was you who used them, as your law prescribes, to give me infant’s food and a share of the riches which you distribute even among the very humblest of all created things.
(Augustine, p. 25)

Despite the heaven-sent plenitude that surrounds him as an infant, a situation so fortunate as to conjure up notions of Eden, Augustine finds nothing in this borrowed memory but his own sin. Though he is loved at every opportunity, his innate greed rears its head before even a moment of this “death that leads to life” has elapsed.[39] Indeed, he does not know where he came from, but his expulsion was likely the cause of this greed.[40] His conviction regarding the sinful nature of infants arises from his subsequent experiences.

To prove the existence of this evil born in infants, Augustine points to one of the few “actions” an infant can perform — crying:

Was it a sin to cry when I wanted to feed at the breast? I am too old now to feed on mother’s milk, but if I were to cry for the kind of food suited to my age, others would rightly laugh me to scorn and remonstrate with me. So then too I deserved a scolding for what I did….It can hardly be right for a child, even at that age, to cry for everything, including things which would harm him; to work himself into a tantrum against people older than himself and not required to obey him; and to try his best to strike and hurt others who know better than he does, including his own parents, when they do not give in to him and refuse to pander to whims which would only do him harm. This shows that, if babies are innocent, it is not for lack of will to do harm, but for lack of strength. (Augustine, pp. 27-28)

Is crying a sin? The first thing an infant does is presumably more instinctive than willful. Augustine, however, negates the impunity of instinct, identifying crying as the first sinful action. The cries which begin existence, which enable a baby to expand its lungs and breathe, signal an earlier damnation: “Infancy, indeed, starts this life not with smiles but with tears…[that are] an unconscious prophecy of the troubles on which it is entering.”[41] One might well ask: if the transgression is unconscious, how can it be sinful? If there is no evil intent, how can God take it as evil? Augustine’s assertion requires that the infant’s intent is evil, that sin has already been committed. Since the child is not even a minute old, it follows that sin occurred in the womb. As a result, the infant has been banished from the paradise of the womb into this wilderness of vanity and pain. Breathing becomes proof not only of man’s descent into chaos, but of the sinful self-interest that took him there. The cries are not humble pleas or requests, but forceful and loud demands . This is the first known affront to the God who created all things, who is “supreme, utmost in goodness, mightiest and all-powerful, most merciful and most just” (Augustine, p. 23). The assumption , even by an ignorant baby, that anything can be demanded from God is perhaps the gravest of all sins. God provides not only life, but the milk to sustain it. Proper reception of this gift requires gratitude. The demand implicit in a child’s tears transforms its suckling from grateful acceptance to sinful theft.[42] The child takes the milk provided, just as Eve stole the apple. Not surprisingly, Augustine closes the first book of his Confessions with thanks to God for His gift, without which he would “not even exist” (Augustine, p. 41).

If the cries of a hungry infant deserve “scolding” (Augustine, p. 27), then more willful transgressions require more severe punishment:

For what is the meaning of the manifold fears which we use on little children to keep their foolishness in order? What is the purpose of the pedagogue, the schoolmaster, the stick, the strap, the birch, and all the means of discipline? By such means, as holy Scripture teaches, the flanks of a beloved child must be beaten, for fear he may grow up untamed, and become so hardened that he is almost, or even completely, beyond discipline. What is the point of these punishments, but to overcome ignorance and to bridle corrupt desire — the evils we bring with us into this world?[43]

For Augustine, what begins as an “unconscious” evil soon becomes a conscious, though presumably no less instinctive, greed. Moreover, “innocence” in infants is associated not with their recent creation but with the weakness that prevents them from doing the evil they intend (Augustine, p. 28). Thus beatings, the “bridle of corrupt desire,” are not just a deterrent but a means of keeping the infant weak. Augustine views the crying baby’s desires much as he views his own desire for the pears. He was not hungry, only curious and greedy: the crying infant is also less hungry than inquisitive, intent on reception. There is no need, only desire. This desire is transformed into the evident envy of children: “[The infant] was not old enough to talk, but whenever he saw his foster-brother at the breast, he would grow pale with envy” (Augustine, p. 28). Crying, once merely the manifestation of presumptuous demands, becomes a tool for extortion, and “revenge” is exacted by “bursting into tears” (Augustine, pp. 25-26). That Augustine considers the cries of infants as “revenge” reveals just how irksome he finds such behavior. Surely a God whose mercy surpasses all others, whose knowledge is supreme and whose innocence is the greatest of all (Augustine, p. 50), would not be insulted by His newly created being. After all, in order to receive, one must ask, and how else is a baby to ask than by crying? Augustine holds that it is God who despises this behavior in the face of plenty. But how is this possible in a being as yet untouched by the ways of men? What are “the evils we bring with us,” and if they do not come from our creator, where do they come from?

The Child Rousseau

Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712 to Isaac Rousseau, a learned and gentle man of modest means. His mother died as he was born, and young Jean-Jacques was thus born into misfortune. Still, his childhood reveals that he too wanted for little, although he had little enough. Not surprisingly, he appears to have been an intelligent child and claims that he “always felt and thought like a man” (Rousseau, p. 67). Far from experiencing Augustine’s brand of impatience, Rousseau was left free to err, to learn, and to satisfy his precocious appetites. Indeed, the notion of “corrupt desire” is addressed early, and the notion of “bridling” is portrayed not as protection, but as corruption: “My desires were so rarely excited and so rarely thwarted, that it never came into my head to have any. I could swear indeed that until I was put under a master I did not so much as know what it was to want my own way” (Rousseau, p. 22). Rousseau had many masters through the course of his life, but his first master provides a satirical link to Augustine’s “necessary bridle.”

Augustine’s first beatings occurred for the crime of disobedience and, as he writes himself, were “for [his] own good” (Augustine, p. 30), since they were brought on by an “eager curiosity” (Augustine, p. 31). They were also successful: “For I would not have studied at all if I had not been obliged to do so, and what a person does against his will is not to his own credit, even if what he does is good in itself” (Augustine, p. 33). Augustine does not point to any beating in particular — rather, he confesses the ends achieved rather than the means employed. Rousseau, on the other hand, describes the first beating he received with biting satire. Beginning with a sermon-like exclamation reminiscent of Augustine’s digressions, Rousseau writes: “How differently people would treat children if only they saw the eventual results of the indiscriminate, and often culpable, methods of punishment they employ!” (Rousseau, p. 25). The thought is so phrased that the reader expects a damning indictment of the unjust pain inflicted on those unable to defend themselves, but Rousseau’s description is quite different. His chief objection to the beating of children is less the infliction of pain than its fundamental injustice, but his first story simply attacks Augustine:

Mlle Lambercier…had a mother’s authority, which she exercised sometimes in inflicting on us such childish chastisements as we had earned…[and] the threat of punishment entirely unknown to me frightened me sufficiently. But when in the end I was beaten I found the experience less dreadful in fact than in anticipation; and the very strange thing was that this punishment increased my affection for the inflicter. It required all the strength of my devotion and all of my natural gentleness to prevent my deliberately earning another beating; I had discovered in the shame and pain of the punishment an admixture of sensuality which had left me rather eager than otherwise for a repetition of the same hand. No doubt, there [was] some precocious sexuality in all this…Who could have supposed that this childish punishment, received at the age of eight at the hands of a woman of thirty, would determine my tastes and desires, my passions, my very self for the rest of my life, and that in a sense diametrically opposed to the one in which they should normally have developed. (Rousseau, pp. 25-26, italics mine)

The manifestation, indeed the inception, of his desires occurs at this formative stage in his life. He is unaware of the temptations of his innate sin until it is imposed upon him by other people. Rousseau’s corrupt desires are not restricted but exacerbated by the beating itself, and cause him to develop “in a sense diametrically opposed to the one in which [he] should normally have developed.” Augustine’s bridle becomes a spur, or rather “the stick, the strap, [or] the birch” acts as the whip that hastens corruption.

Rousseau’s later beatings were less pleasant, but had a similar effect on his development. He describes a beating at the hands of Mlle Lambercier’s husband for a crime he claimed he did not commit and for which he would not confess. Given the title of his book, it is ironic but fitting that Rousseau refuses to confess to his tormentors, for he never actually claims that he did not commit the crime, only that he said he did not and “would have rather died than give in” (Rousseau, p. 29). Whether Rousseau is innocent or not, the violence against him serves only one purpose; it causes him to be “less ashamed of wrongdoing, and more afraid of being caught…to be secretive, to rebel, and to lie” (Rousseau, p.31). Later, in describing the infamous apple hunt, Rousseau again reveals the effects of Augustine’s “necessary” punishments:

Soon I had received so many beatings that I grew less sensitive to them; in the end they seemed to me a sort of retribution for my thefts, which authorized me to go on stealing. Instead of looking back and thinking of my punishment, I looked forward and contemplated vengeance. I reckoned that to be beaten like a rogue justified my being one…In this assurance I began to thieve with an easier conscience than before, saying to myself, ‘Well, what will happen? I shall be beaten? All right, that’s what I was made for.’ (Rousseau, pp. 42-43)

Here, the switch that is put to Rousseau’s backside is justifying, rather than restricting. The fear of punishment is replaced by the strength of obstinacy. Deterrence becomes determination.

That Augustine’s sin is innate is evidenced by the ungrateful tears shed by infants. This sin is not created by God, for God, being the purest and only good, is incapable of such action. Neither is this sin created after birth, for it is an “evil we bring with us into this world” (italics mine). But if the evil is not created before, during, or after an infant’s emergence into the world of men, then when is it created? Augustine acknowledges the dilemma: “Where then does evil come from, if God made all things, and because he is good, made them good too?” (Augustine, p. 138). M.H. Abrams claims that “the question is answered by [Augustine’s]…discovery that evil issues in a greater good,” and that Augustine’s strength lies in his discrimination “between what the altering mind brings to its perceptions and what is given to it in perception, of the difficulty of separating pure fact in memory from the intrusive presence of the self that remembers.”[44] But, while this explanation avows the existence of evil and the corresponding need for grace, it does little to explain the origins of evil. Once again, inquiry is vain curiosity. Witness Augustine:

My life is full of such faults, and my only hope is in your boundless mercy. For when our hearts become repositories piled high with such worthless stock as this, it is the cause of interruption and distraction from our prayers. And although, in your presence, the voices of our hearts are raised to your ear, all kinds of trivial thoughts break in and cut us off from the great act of prayer. (Augustine, p. 244)

Essentially, the true Christian engages in selective forgetting, a re-fashioning of history that excludes the intrusion of falsehood into God’s truth; falsehood is not condemned so much as it is silenced. Augustine admits to his own “indefinite beliefs,” but discounts them by “never relinquish[ing] the faith but [drinking] it in more deeply day by day” (Augustine,
p. 139). Thus, all that is contrary to the notion of God’s goodness is conquered through faith. The dilemma of where evil came from remains a mystery.

It is this seeming inconsistency to which Rousseau directs his philosophical energies in Emile . Ostensibly a treatise “on education,” Emile is part novel, part philosophical treatise, and part spiritual exposé. Given Rousseau’s eventual desire for solitude and isolation, it is not surprising that the events of his Confessions so little resemble the events of his Emile, which begins:

[Man]…wants nothing as nature made it, not even man; for him, man must be trained like a school horse; man must be fashioned in keeping with his fancy like a tree in his garden.[45]

That Rousseau uses the analogy of “a tree in a garden” to represent an object of manipulation is particularly telling. Consider Augustine’s assertion concerning Adam in the garden of Eden, that “it was…[Adam] himself who was that tree, in so far as his will was evil.”[46] If man manipulates man “in keeping with his fancy,” Augustine’s dire warnings about the tree of knowledge can be interpreted in a similar manner. To keep man faithful, he must be kept weak. To keep him weak, he must be frightened. By describing Eden’s tree as the instrument of man’s doom, Augustine “fashions” it according to Catholic purposes. By using the same image, Rousseau challenges faith with fact; that men, Augustine among them, are responsible for their own problems.

In the same sense, an infant’s cries are not proof of an ungrateful demand of God, but a natural response to the manacles of corruption forced upon it:

Unhappier than a criminal in irons, they make vain efforts, they get irritable, they cry. Their first voices, you say, are tears. I can well believe it. You thwart them from their birth. The first gifts they receive from you are chains. The first treatment they experience is torment. Having nothing free but the voice, how would they not make use of it to complain? They cry because you are hurting them. Thus garroted, you would cry harder than they do.[47]

According to Augustine’s notions of childhood, the birth of a child not only is riddled with sin, but is indeed one of the gravest misfortunes:

the whole of man’s life is pain, because the whole of it is temptation, as the holy Scriptures proclaim. For Scripture says, ‘Is human life on earth anything but temptation?’ Folly and ignorance are in themselves no small punishment, and it is rightly considered that they should at all costs be avoided — so much so that children are compelled, by dint of painful punishments, either to learn a craft or to acquire a literary education. And the process of learning with its attendant punishment is so painful that children not infrequently prefer to endure the punishments designed to compel them to learn, rather than to submit to the process of learning.[48]

At first, these passages appear to agree with one another. In being born, a child necessarily moves from a state of perfection to one of imperfection, from a goodness that precludes all evil to the pervasive threat, and indeed certainty, of corruption. But while Rousseau describes a perfect being delivered into imperfect and corrupting hands, Augustine describes a fundamentally imperfect being. Augustine’s infants must be kept weak; it is only lack of strength that keeps them from doing harm. Rousseau’s infants must be free to exercise and strengthen their goodness:

All wickedness comes from weakness. The child is wicked only because he is weak. Make him strong; he will be good. He who could do everything could never do harm. Of all the attributes of the all-powerful divinity, goodness is the one without which one can least conceive it.[49]

M.H. Abrams describes a major aspect of Augustine’s legacy in his Natural Supernaturalism: “Augustine expanded in great and fine detail the tendency…to individualize and internalize the pattern of Biblical history” and consequently originated the spiritual autobiography or confessional narrative.[50] But, while Rousseau is attempting to place himself and mankind within the pattern of Biblical history, he turns Augustine’s method on its head. Augustine’s blessed internalize by accepting the Biblical pattern, and individualize by attempting to conform to it at all times. The confessing voice of the sinner is thus silenced; it is too full of conformity to allow room for the peculiarities of the self. Certainty, and thus the only real happiness, is achieved only through grace. Like his mother, who ironically quotes scripture and Christian doctrine in order to justify her silence, Augustine espouses a complete reliance on God, who has “forgiven…[his] past sins and drawn a veil over them…[giving him] happiness in…[God], changing…[his] life by faith and…[God’s] sacrament” (Augustine, p. 208). The veil is drawn over the sin as the Biblical pattern shrouds the individual. In each case, the confessional voice is stilled. Santa Teresa, the matriarch of an Augustinian convent, writes in her Life that “[the Lord] favours those who do violence to themselves in order to serve Him.”[51] In this, Augustine’s confessional voice is linked to his own silent and suffering mother: “Our malady arose through the corrupted spirit of a woman; from the incorrupted flesh of a woman proceeded our salvation…born of a woman, He freed those deceived by a woman.”[52]

Rousseau’s “confession,” through sheer volume and obstinacy, lays itself over the Biblical pattern like a cytoplasmic pseudopod, osmotically absorbing the Biblical pattern into the individual self:

Rousseau did not have to travel back somehow to the beginning of time in order to enter the state of nature and become its historian. He had only to describe himself, to know himself intimately, to get close to his own true nature through a process that was at once active and passive: exploring his inner nature and abandoning himself to reverie.[53]

Ironically, as Augustine’s confessional voice is drawn inward and silenced in deference to an external force, Rousseau’s voice shows an aggressive movement outward in its attempt to reveal what is inward, what is included, and subsequently, what is true. What is true for Augustine is what is not false. Past sin, or prior belief in what is false, is the opposite of truth. Thus confession, if it is to be truthful, should not include specific descriptions of sin.[54] It is faith, even (indeed, especially) in the face of incontrovertible fact, that determines truth:

Because man fell through pride, He applied humility as a cure. We were trapped by the wisdom of the serpent; we are freed by the foolishness of God. Just as that which was called wisdom was foolishness in those who condemned God, thus this which is called foolishness is wisdom in those who conquer the Devil.[55]

In this way, the problematic question of original sin is ignored. God warned Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of knowledge, they would “surely die.”[56] When they disobey Him, however, they do not die. Rather, they acquire just what the serpent promised them: “Ye shall not surely die. For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”[57] Ironically, the serpent is more truthful than God. God lies or, at the very least, excludes facts to protect his new creatures. Their rejection of His warning leads to a fate worse than the death He promises. The question of good and evil is thus answered in a damning fashion. The question remains of how, “in such a place of felicity,”[58] corruption prevailed. Given the consequences of the first curiosity, Augustine insists that the second question stay unanswered. Here, faith requires abstaining from curiosity, an acceptance that “there are some needs, some yearnings which this world cannot satisfy…, that there is no secular equivalent to the state of Grace.”[59]

By contrast, Rousseau’s truth attempts to include all facts before reconciling them into provisional possibilities for the ideal state of mankind. The sin of Adam and Eve is not “original” because evil already existed in the garden. They were not corrupt when they were created; they were corrupted by the serpent. As Rousseau’s infants wail at the injustice and corruption that surround them from their first moments, so must the confessional voice rail against the ills that mankind has wrought:

I demolished the petty lies of mankind; I dared to strip man’s nature naked, to follow the progress of time, and trace the things which have distorted it; and by comparing man as he has made himself with man as he is by nature I showed him in his pretended perfection the true source of his misery. Exalted by these sublime meditations, my soul soared toward the Divinity; and from that height I looked down on my fellow men pursuing the blind path of their prejudices, of their errors, of their misfortunes and their crimes. Then I cried to them in a feeble voice which they could not hear, ‘Madmen who ceaselessly complain of Nature, learn that all your misfortunes arise from yourselves!’ (Rousseau, p. 362)[60]

In this way, the emphasis of confession shifts from the constancy of the faithful mother to the unknown dreams and cathartic cries of the newborn child. In Rousseau’s response to Augustine, the devoted mother is, from the outset, attempting to “convert” that child into what she, as well as mankind, has become.

Mothers of Faith

From the incorrupted flesh of a woman proceeded our salvation.

-Augustine, On Christian Doctrine.

It is clear, I think, that for a child, and even for a man, to have a religion is to follow the one in which he is born. Sometimes one dispenses with part of it, one rarely adds anything to it; dogmatic faith is the fruit of education.

-Rousseau, The Confessions (p. 67).

The most influential persons in the lives of both Augustine and Rousseau are maternal figures. Their depictions of these mother-figures are very similar, though the women themselves are polar opposites. Indeed, like the two authors, the figures of Monica, Augustine’s natural mother, and Mme de Warens, Rousseau’s adopted “Mamma,” are diametrically opposed in their viewpoints, yet each is a professed Catholic and the tool of religious conversion in their sons. In each case, the description is full of reverence for the woman who has shown each man the true path. Augustine’s Monica is the embodiment of an ideal. Rousseau’s Mamma is an amiable aberration. In each case, the concept of faith, or belief for belief’s sake, is examined.


Augustine’s mother is his beacon, his connection to the Lord in his years of sin and spiritual blindness: “In the flesh she brought me to birth in this world: in her heart she brought me to birth in your eternal light” (Augustine, p. 192). She is a woman with an ardent faith in the structure and teachings of the Roman Catholic church, dedicated to the strict enactment of God’s Law in the only manner it can be enacted: through absolute adherence to scripture. Her attempts to convert her son to the one true faith are humble yet relentless . Augustine’s prime example of his mother’s holiness, her rebuke of the local women, reveals its silent nature:

Many women, whose faces were disfigured by blows from husbands far sweeter-tempered than her own, used to gossip together and complain of the behaviour of their men-folk. My mother would meet this complaint with another — about the women’s tongues.
(Augustine, p. 195)

It is the women’s “tongues,” the “danger of conversation,”[61] at which Monica aims her criticism: faith is silent and obedient and finds its ultimate manifestation in the figure of the devoted mother. Linking faith to motherhood makes the transgressions of women more egregious than those of men, and the consequences more dire. Santa Teresa addresses this double standard when she writes:

[Here is] a warning to men to be on their guard against women who attempt tricks of [seduction]. Let them be sure that once a woman — who is even more bound than a man to lead a chaste life — has lost her shame before God, she cannot be trusted in any way at all. What is more, to gain the gratification of her desires and of an affection inspired in her by the devil, a woman will hesitate at nothing.[62]

From Teresa’s description, one made in true Augustinian fashion, not only is the propensity to sin more pronounced in the “weaker” sex, but the sins themselves are more serious. With this in mind, the notion of self-denial is brought into sharper focus: if women are more easily tempted, their steadfast rejection of temptation is more admirable. Monica thus provides an example for Augustine’s life and his history of mankind.

Monica is also responsible for Augustine’s attitude toward children. She belonged to “one of those good Christian families which form the body of [the] Church” (Augustine, p. 192), in which the doctrine of self-denial is paramount. Like her son, Monica admits to many sins, but provides only one specific example. Her sin is curiosity and, predictably, leads to theft. Charged with the task of drawing wine for her parents’ dinner table, Monica succumbs to “the natural greediness of childhood” and takes to the liquor “not because she had any relish for the liquor and its effects, but simply from the exuberant high spirits of childhood, which…are generally kept in check by the authority of older people” (Augustine, p. 193). Augustine uses his suffering yet resilient mother as his model for the Church and for the tone of his Confessions.


Augustine provides a model of the Catholic church in the portrayal of his nurturing mother. Rousseau’s natural mother died giving birth to him, and he was left in the care of his father. Thus, the first event of Rousseau’s life — his mother’s death — also signals the difference that Rousseau wishes to emphasize. His nurturing mother is silenced by his birth. The model so crucial to Augustine’s work is discarded and reinterpreted. From the very outset of his Confessions, then, Rousseau’s birth signals the birth of a different world. Rousseau is born, like the children he describes, free and innocent. His Confessions respond yet again to Augustine’s, however, in that Rousseau provides a “mother-figure” as a counterpart of Monica. But whereas Monica represents Augustine’s church as a source of certainty, Rousseau introduces a similar “mother” to represent the uncertain nature of his vision.

Rousseau entered the household of Madame de Warens at seventeen. She is, like Monica before her, a devout Catholic and the impetus for her “son’s” conversion to Catholicism: “in a moment I was hers, and certain that a faith preached by such missionaries would not fail to lead to paradise” (Rousseau, p. 55). She is less than ten years older than Rousseau, yet she refers to him as “my child” and “my little one,” and he responds by calling her Mamma. Rousseau’s lust for her is unlimited, and Mamma eventually becomes his lover. Thus, the name he gives her is an unsettling one. Rousseau himself declares, “I felt as if I had committed incest” (Rousseau, p. 189), although this trepidation does not seem to impede him in any way. Despite Derrida’s protest that “il n’y a pas de hors-texte,” that “we have access to their so-called ‘real’ existence only in the text and we have neither any means of altering this, nor any right to neglect this limitation,”[63] the idea that Rousseau’s work is a direct response to Augustine’s makes just such an examination possible. Like the cytoplasmic pseudopod which covers and supplements the Biblical pattern, Rousseau effectively consumes Augustine’s hors-texte, making it part of his philosophical purpose. The “limitations” of Rousseau’s depiction of Mamma are thus much wider than they appear to Derrida, for Mamma emerges as not only a “supplement” or substitute for Rousseau’s natural mother in the context of his life, but also for Augustine’s Monica in the context of his response. In this way, we do not “neglect the limitations” of Rousseau’s Mamma so much as we broaden them in order to examine Augustine’s Monica.

Rousseau names his most influential character with the same intention that he names his work as a whole. Mme de Warens does not serve any strictly maternal function. Rousseau calls her Mamma not because she resembles his mother, but because her role resembles Monica’s. His Confessions do not fulfill the requirements of their title. Rousseau’s choice of title contributes to a larger textual aim: not to gain forgiveness, but to justify his actions. The similarities to Augustine’s text are very pointed. Ultimately, such similarities are used to emphasize differences. The fact that the mother-figures diametrically oppose one another is also a matter of such counterpointing. Rousseau describes Mamma as follows:

Her doctrine clearly destroyed the whole doctrine of original sin and redemption, and shook the complete basis of common Christianity, so that Catholicism, at any rate, could not subsist with it. Yet Mamma was a good Catholic…and it is clear that her claim was made in very good faith. In her opinion the Scriptures were too literally and too severely interpreted. All that is written there about eternal torments was in her opinion to be interpreted as a warning, or in a figurative sense…She could have slept with twenty men every day with a clear conscience, and with no more scruple about it than desire. (Rousseau, p. 219)

Rousseau’s characterization is contorted to serve his own needs. As Monica is used as an example of the purity and faithfulness of the Catholic church, so Mamma is used to exemplify the new world that Rousseau spent his life defining. Augustine’s portrayal of Monica exemplifies his Christian spirit:

My son, for my part I find no further pleasure in this life. What I am still to do or why I am here in the world, I do not know, for I have no more to hope for on this earth. There was one reason, and one alone, why I wished to remain a little longer in this life, and that was to see you a Catholic Christian before I died. God has granted my wish and more besides, for I now see you as his servant, spurning such happiness as the world can give. What is left for me to do in this world? (Augustine, pp. 198-199)

Rousseau’s Mamma describes herself in a fashion similar to Monica, but it is her similarity to Rousseau that is paramount:

I am a good Catholic…and wish always to be one. I accept the decisions of our Holy Mother Church with all the strength of my heart. I am not mistress of my faith, but I am mistress of my will, which I unreservedly submit. I endeavour to believe everything. What more can you ask of me? (Rousseau, p. 219)

Mamma is obviously not a “good” Catholic in the same way that Monica is. She is, however, the embodiment of Rousseau’s independent spirit and the instrument of his conversion. Monica’s faith is an act of will; it involves acceptance of need and rejection of desire. Mamma’s faith is God-inspired — the actions of her will are thus accomplished with a pure heart and without malice. Monica’s greatest victory is Augustine’s conversion to Catholicism. Rousseau’s Mamma is as beautiful as she is generous and gentle — the sole pitfall in his knowing her was his conversion.

Among the transgressions he committed, the most serious one Augustine describes is his conversion to Manicheanism. Above all, he denounces this doctrinal error for its curiosity and inquisitiveness, its search for some definable truth. The search for truth is vain blasphemy, for truth is God, and is unattainable by human means. If truth is God, and He is too vast for comprehension, then it is sinful pride to attempt to acquire it:

All that they said was false, both what they said about you, who truly are the Truth, and what they said about this world and its first principles, which were your creation. But I ought not to have been content with what the philosophers said about such things, even when they spoke the truth. I should have passed beyond them for love of you, supreme Father, in whom all beauty has its source.
(Augustine, p. 60)

To “have passed beyond” Manichean philosophy meant resigning the desire for tangible proof of God, and a reliance on faith. Simply put, relying on faith meant unconditional trust in the tenets of the one true faith that Augustine’s Confessions were meant to confirm. Desire for certainty was satisfied by the gift of grace. At the end of Book VI, Augustine renounces his heathen ways and, in planning to get married, dismisses his mistress. Marriage, however, is quickly deemed unacceptable — a mate can only be an obstacle to Augustine’s devotion to God. When Augustine re-converts to Catholicism, returning to his mother’s church, he also returns to her and readies himself to return to his birthplace. That Augustine so embraces this theme of returning to his beginnings shows his aversion to the outward search for truth. He essentially marries the church.[64] In a symbolic sense, since Monica represents the church he marries, Augustine dismisses his mistress in favour of his mother. A baby’s cry demands more than what its mother and God are providing. The greedy search for more than God thus begins with the first breath and is followed only by vanity. Augustine symbolically attempts to renounce all that has followed his birth. By returning to the holy mother church, he symbolically returns to the womb of God, where everything is provided. As in Eden, where Adam and Eve “fall in [their] desire to have more than [they] need, in the hubris that would not be content with the fullness of paradise,”[65] Augustine realizes his own transgression was to desire more than he needed. Unsatisfied, however, with “becoming as a little child” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, Augustine attempts to recover the innocence that precedes birth, to return to the plenitude of the womb.

Rousseau also strays from his initial religious path and converts to a dogmatic religious order that he ultimately renounces. Like Augustine, Rousseau describes his conversion soon after describing his foray into thievery. His remarkably candid descriptions of the febrile sexuality and pederasty that are practiced and tolerated within the walls of the Catholic church conclude with the following appraisal:

Protestants are generally better instructed than Catholics, and necessarily so, for their doctrine requires discussion, where the Roman faith demands submission. A Catholic must accept a decision imposed on him; a Protestant must learn to decide for himself. (Rousseau, p. 69)

Augustine confesses that he was unable to give up the sins of the flesh, and his conversion was consequently delayed. Rousseau, however, describes the homosexual advances of a soon to be ordained Catholic aspirant with such graphic candour as to assert that celibacy is not accomplished by vows. When Rousseau attempts to punish his attacker by recounting this conduct to his confessor, he is rebuked for “impugning the honour of a sacred establishment.” That the truth can impugn that honour is ironically and satirically evident in the fact that Rousseau is advised to relax and enjoy such attentions: “[The resident priest] told me quite openly that in his youth he had been similarly honoured and, having been surprised in a situation where he could put up no resistance, he had found nothing so brutal about it at all” (Rousseau, p. 73). Facts are left out, allowing faith to survive. In this way, Rousseau shifts the model for the Catholic church from the nurturing mother to the sexually-aroused pretender. Once again, the vice is perpetuated through its denial.

Mistresses of Corruption

Our malady arose through the corrupted spirit of a woman.

-Augustine, On Christian Doctrine

Rousseau typically takes Augustine’s lead but on his own tangent. He begins life without a mother. When he finds one in Mme de Warens, she is, like Monica for Augustine, the instrument of his conversion to Catholicism. Rousseau’s Mamma, however, also becomes his mistress, introducing him to an important, albeit carnal, experience. Rousseau expresses regret that his mother became his lover and is shame-faced at this “incest.” In this, Rousseau provides us with eighteenth-century parallels of Augustine’s feminine archetypes — the faithful mother and the corrupting mistress. These archetypes, however, are combined into one person, linking the instrument of faith to the instrument of corruption:

Appearing to teach virtue to children, one makes them love all the vices. The vices are given to them by forbidding them to have them…They are taken to Church to be bored. Constantly made to mumble prayers, they are driven to aspire to the happiness of no longer praying to God.[66]

The pattern of Augustine’s Confessions is thus inverted as it is paralleled. Augustine presents a mother who showed him the way and a mistress who led him astray. Rousseau’s description of one feminine figure imitates and inverts this formulation.

Augustine’s unnamed mistress, however, also serves a dual function. Just as Rousseau’s Mamma is a mother/mistress, Augustine’s first mistress appears as a mistress/mother, a corrupted partner in his lust but ultimately the mother of Adeodatus, his “son of sin,” who becomes an admirable and exemplary co-aspirant to Catholicism. Not to be outdone, Rousseau presents Thérèse Le Vasseur, his longtime mistress and mother of his five children.

The Unnamed Mistress

Augustine’s Confessions articulate their model of Catholicism through the actions of his mother. Monica is Augustine’s initial religious influence and the figure to whom he returns for redemption. The corruption from which he returns, however, includes a conversion to paganism and the taking of a mistress. Augustine, to his mother’s grief, fell in love with philosophy shortly after moving to Carthage. After joining the Manichees as an aspirant, Augustine moved back to Thagaste and took a mistress:

In those days I lived with a woman, not my lawful wedded wife but a mistress whom I had chosen for no special reason but that my restless passions had alighted on her. But she was the only one and I was faithful to her. Living with her I found by my own experience the difference between the restraint of the marriage alliance, contracted for the purpose of having children, and a bargain struck for lust, in which the birth of children is begrudged, though, if they come, we cannot help but love them. (Augustine, p. 72)

Although Augustine apparently spent at least a decade with this woman, effectively living as man and wife though outside the bonds of official matrimony, her name is absent from the text. In keeping with Augustine’s vow of silence, the mistress is dealt with sparingly, though he does admit to loving her enough to feel anguish at her departure. She, for her part, swears she will never love any other man. As the companion of his sinful desires, however, she must be relegated to a position of ambiguous anonymity in his life. As his sins have been forgiven and veiled by God, so the identity, the physical manifestation of that sin, has been covered.

Like his theft of the pears, Augustine’s “restless passions” alighted on this first mistress. Though he never explicitly blames his mistress for his corruption, his characterization of Solomon, who “was induced to such acts of sacrilege by feminine cajolery,”[67] seems to provide an explanation, if not an excuse, for his behavior. In the battle for Augustine’s soul, Monica’s purity is pitted against the mistress’ allurement. The mother of faith dedicates her life to her son’s conversion. The mistress of corruption necessarily exacerbates his sinfulness.

Augustine’s relationship with the unnamed mistress is a past sin. In the understanding of Catholic faith, sin should be veiled; it should be forgotten to avoid impugning the sanctity of a great saint and his church. It is for this reason that she remains nameless. So why is the mistress mentioned at all? The answer can be found in Augustine’s use of a mother-figure to symbolize his Church. Augustine had a son with his mistress. Adeodatus, though intelligent, virtuous, and Augustine’s co-aspirant to Catholicism, is still referred to as his “natural born son of sin” (Augustine, p. 190). Thus, Augustine abandons his son, like the boy’s mother, because he is a physical manifestation of his father’s sin. Yet, also like his mother, Adeodatus cannot be forgotten because he is a critical element in Augustine’s conversion. The harsh term Augustine applies to Adeodatus is ultimately offset by Augustine’s praises of the boy “who had been given every gift” (Augustine, p. 190) and his use of his son to praise God: “His intelligence left me spell-bound. And who but you could work such wonders?” (Augustine, p. 190). His “natural born son of sin” embodies his sin and precipitates his confession, yet the same son is the subject of his praise and exaltation. The unnamed mistress emerges as both a mistress of corruption, the partner in Augustine’s “bargain of lust,” and literally a mother of faith, evidenced by her son’s actions. In this way, the nameless mistress links Augustine’s notions of motherhood, childhood, and sin.

Unlike Monica, who exemplifies the uncorrupted spirit that proceeds from salvation, Augustine’s mistress is clearly corrupted. Her bargain of lust with Augustine is proof of that corruption, just as their son provides proof of the bargain. Yet, the spirit of Adeodatus is not so corrupted. That he is ready to take vows alongside his father is proof of his purity. Augustine’s salvation was the result of his mother and his desire to return to her ways, indeed, to the paradise and certainty of her womb. Adeodatus apparently desires the same thing. Once again, the womb appears as a paradise. Though Augustine’s mistress is corrupted, an evil embodiment of what Augustine’s theological convictions mean to combat, her womb is not so corrupted. If it were, could a man such as Adeodatus issue from it? While the mistress is a corrupting influence for Augustine, she is not one for her son.


Rousseau’s mistresses were more numerous than Augustine’s, but it was Thérèse Le Vasseur, a servant girl, who had the greatest effect on his life. In the “bargain of lust” he strikes with Thérèse, Rousseau commits Augustine’s sin of begrudged birth no fewer than five times. For the author of a radical treatise on the raising and education of children, Rousseau achieved a dismal record as a father. Unable to support his children as he felt they deserved, he abandoned each of them at birth. On this subject, however, Rousseau again manages to invert Augustine’s assertions. He claims the heartless abandonment of his children was in accordance with Catholic doctrine. His self-justification once again lies in the restrictive nature of his adopted faith:

Too sincere with myself, too proud in my heart, to be willing to belie my principles by my actions, I began to consider the fate of my children and my relationship with their mother, by reference to the laws of…that religion…which men have soiled whilst pretending they were trying to purify it, and which they have turned by their formulas into no more than a religion of words, seeing that it is not costly to prescribe the impossible if you excuse yourself from performing it. (Rousseau, p. 332)

Rousseau’s rationalization follows the same pattern as Augustine’s. The children are the product of sin. For their good as well as their father’s, they must be renounced as such. Rousseau’s children are, after all, born out of wedlock and are therefore born into a false family. Surely, under Catholic doctrine, “they would have been led to hate, and perhaps to betray their parents…[and therefore] it is a thousand times better that they have never known them” (Rousseau, p. 333). Unlike Augustine, Rousseau registers strong regret on this score. Although the children are certainly better off than he himself was — indeed, Rousseau wishes that he could have been “brought up and nurtured as they have been” (Rousseau, p. 334) — he has been deprived of his function as their father. In other words, Rousseau resists the desire to chain his children as he was himself chained. He frees his children from the burden of his sin. Despite his protestations of well-meaningness, the abandonment of children is distasteful to even the most trusting reader. Rousseau’s admission takes the form of an excuse or justification while cunningly satirizing Augustine’s lesson and method. Again, the striking similarities between the two texts draw attention to deliberate differences.

Augustine admits to keeping a mistress and fathering a bastard son, and these sins are ostensibly the source of intense shame. It is with considerable pride, however, that he is baptized alongside Adeodatus. Adeodatus is no longer the son of Augustine, he is a child of God. Rousseau, on the other hand, makes no such admission of guilt. Rather, he freely admits to never having loved Thérèse. His relationship with her was only necessary in order to sate his desires: “I have never felt the least glimmering of love for her…the sensual needs I satisfied with her were for me purely sexual and had nothing to do with her as an individual” (Rousseau, p. 386). Since it is the unsatisfied desire that is the source of vice, Rousseau needs no other justification for his loveless relationship with Thérèse. He desires her and, therefore, must have her. Oddly enough, the fact that he does not love her makes his subsequent abandonment of their children seem more humane than Augustine’s desertion of Adeodatus. Augustine’s professed love for his mistress[68] makes his abandonment of her and their son seem all the more heartless. By contrast, Rousseau’s lack of love makes his eventual marriage to Thérèse, and financial support of her family, seem like an act of charity, and the desertion of his children a misguided act of faith.

In his portrayals of female characters, Augustine presents a faithful mother and a corrupting mistress. The corrupting mistress is, in turn, revealed as a faithful mother as evidenced by the actions of her son. Rousseau, who so economically combined Augustine’s mother and mistress into the parallel character of Mamma, now uses Thérèse as a parallel character for Augustine’s mistress/mother. Just as Rousseau’s Mamma fills the dual role of mother/mistress by converting and corrupting him, Thérèse fills the dual role of mistress/mother by being at once Rousseau’s connection to freedom and proof of his sin. By being his mistress, Therese satisfies Rousseau’s desires and, therefore, keeps him from vice. By being the mother of his abandoned children, Thérèse is a reminder of Rousseau’s sin. His sin, however, does not lie in his repeated impregnation of her, but in his abandonment of her issue. That desertion, in turn, is the result of his conversion. Mamma is the instrument of his corruption, not by becoming his mistress but by spurring his initial conversion. Catholicism, not carnality, is the corrupting force. Similarly, it is Catholicism that causes Rousseau to desert his children, not his bargain of lust with Thérèse. Once again, the similarity is undercut to reveal the difference. Thérèse parallels and inverts the role of Augustine’s mistress/mother, revealing Rousseau’s desire as cleansing and his Catholic faith as corruptive.

Faith, Reverie, and Confession

Deorum injuriae Diis curae.[69]

-John Stuart Mill

In the “Sixth Walk” of his Reveries, Rousseau mentions his “castles in the air.” It is the only time the term is used in either his Reveries or his Confessions, but the topic to which the phrase speaks is at the heart of Rousseau’s response to Augustine. Augustine and Rousseau both construct such theoretical castles in their Confessions. They are theological and epistemological structures which have necessary similarities and intentional differences.

For Augustine, the castle is obtained by “winning the kingdom,” the reward for faithful obedience. The faith that constructs his castle stems from a belief that not only withstands the onslaught of contrary facts but actually derives strength from them. God’s lessons abound in such seeming inconsistency: from the story of Abraham, a Christian learns that his or her faith is, by definition, frequently tested “so that…dutiful obedience might be put to the proof, and be brought to the knowledge, not of God, but of future ages.”[70] If the test is passed, and the lesson properly learned, the Lord’s reward “shall assuredly multiply [one’s] posterity like the stars of the sky, and like the sand that stretches by the lip of the sea.”[71] The lesson of Job, who lost everything except his faith, is that the Lord’s burden is never more than can be borne. From Jacob, who slept and saw angels on a golden ladder and knew the Lord’s promise, it is learned that there is a reward for suffering in silence. Ascension into heaven is the reward for silence, for not uttering words of discontent and resistance. Heaven is a kingdom, a castle in the air to which one climbs.

Rousseau’s castle lets him imagine a mythical ring that makes him invisible. Such an accessory “would have made…[him] independent of all men and made them dependent on…[him].”[72] By this means he could effectively frighten and cajole human beings into doing as he wished. He could cause them pain or pleasure, and, under the laws of Augustine’s faith, they would be forced to assume that such experiences were the works of God. Faced with contrary evidence, with proof revealed a thousand times, ignorance would provide a greater reward for his victims. They would believe they owed all that they had to him. Moreover, if he wished, the invisible Rousseau could enslave anyone, and reward them for their obedience: “If I had been invisible and powerful like God, I should have been good and beneficent like him.”[73] Alas, Rousseau is not God. Such power in his mortal hands could only lead to corruption. Rousseau’s castle is built in the mind of man, in man’s contemplation of all that surrounds and elevates him. He writes: “It is strength and freedom which make really good men; weakness and slavery have never produced anything but evil-doers.”[74]

With Rousseau’s construction in mind, what can be said of Augustine, who orders that every human being be obedient to the one “true” faith? He claims his sins have been forgiven and hidden by the Lord. He moves through the world of men, proclaiming their innate and inevitable evil. Ironically, incapacity is their only hope. He places himself above them, effectively claiming “they will never have liberty or freedom of spirit until they submit themselves wholly to their superiors.”[75] Faith is manifested in humility and obedience. Obedience requires an unequal state, where man is made to despise himself and is told to love all others. Left with no reliable self, and ordered to love the sinners who surround him, man must depend on his faith in God. Moreover, the true measure of one’s faith comes when it is tested, thus evidence of injustice and wickedness is denied. In this way, Augustine’s castle in the air is one that echoes with the silence of obedience. It is built by God and waits for the blessed to come to it.

What, then, of truth and the truth about sin? Taylor describes Augustine’s truth as higher than reason, to which “Nothing is superior…in human nature.” Its nature is above what we can understand, fathom, or judge:

There are truths of wisdom, such as that humans ought to live justly, or the worse ought to be subjected to the better, or the incorrupt is better than the corrupt, the eternal better than the temporal, and the inviolable better than the violable. These are not truths that each person makes on his own; they represent common standards. We do not judge these and ask whether, for example, the eternal ought to be superior to the temporal, or whether seven plus three ought to equal ten; there is no question that one is superior, and that ten is the sum…Hence we see that there is something superior to the human mind [or] God = truth exists.[76]

What the words have come to define is taken on faith. Rousseau himself corroborates this: “All peoples who have recognized two principles have always regarded the bad as inferior to the good; if they had done otherwise, they would have been supposing something absurd.”[77] But can such an assumption be considered a truth? Taylor’s description, like Augustine’s explanation of creation and of confession, avoids the specificity that Rousseau is intent on engaging. The question of truth is not whether better is better than worse, but what is better than worse. The equation of “God = truth” has the same generality and hesitancy as Augustine’s earlier equations: Earth = creation happened, or truth is not equal to falsehood. Augustine admits that he “cannot prove…that his confessions are true,” yet holds that he will be believed “by those whose ears are opened…by charity” (Augustine, p. 208). Charity, however, cannot negate disbelief, only suspend it. Moreover, such suspension of disbelief does not necessarily lead to truth — at best, it creates a belief that can be shared, if not completely trusted. Rousseau’s theft of a ribbon and subsequent denial of guilt is an incident which “continually torment[s him for]…fifty years.”[78] The torment derives not only from the fact that he lied, but that his lie was believed. In short, that Rousseau was believed did not make him truthful.

Rousseau’s truth is not simply a reflection of his times. From the outset of his Confessions, Rousseau is an original. The fundamental difference between himself and his Enlightenment fellows is his conviction that the “altar” of the ancien regime was no longer of any significance, “that revolution would shortly sweep [it] away to make room for a new world based on the egalitarian principles of the new philosophy.”[79] Rousseau’s assertions of uniqueness require that he define the principles of such a society. Rather than exhaust his energies in denouncing religion, Rousseau lets God punish sins against God.

Rousseau’s truth is divided into factual truth, which includes everything, and moral truth, which is selective: “To lie to one’s own advantage is an imposture, to lie to the advantage of others is a fraud, and to lie to the detriment of others is a slander — this is the worst kind of lie. To lie without advantage or disadvantage to oneself is not to lie; it is not falsehood but fiction.”[80] Under this formulation, Augustine is an imposter, lying to his own advantage just as Voltaire and Diderot claimed. But Voltaire, Diderot, Grimm, d’Alembert, Rameau, and the rest of Rousseau’s enemies are all guilty of fraud and slander. Only Rousseau engages in fiction. Not naïve or cynical enough to believe that this world of sin is the best possible, he is not sufficiently vain to claim the mantle of factual truth for his philosophical battle. Rousseau’s moral truth is not intentionally selective; it does not deliberately leave facts out but is nevertheless subject to “defects of memory” (Rousseau, p. 17). These defects are remedied not by exclusion but by embellishment. At the beginning of the “Fourth Walk” of his Reveries, Rousseau recalls what he has determined to be the purpose of his life: vitam impendere vero or “to dedicate oneself to the truth.”[81] It quickly becomes evident that this means finding out what truth is, not necessarily expressing what is truthful. His descriptions of his mother-figure, conversion, epiphany, and return from whence he came show obvious similarities to those of Augustine. The tone of the descriptions, however, reveals very pointed differences. This leads one to believe that “the work is closer to fiction than to autobiography,”[82] and certainly closer to explanation than confession. Coincidence can be trusted only so far.

Does Rousseau’s critical rewriting of Augustine contribute to making his Confessions “fictions” or simply lies? Is his work an attempt to deceive his readers? Rousseau himself repeatedly draws attention to the contrast between truth and falsehood. He begins and ends his Confessions with suggestions that what he writes may not be the whole truth, and he dedicates the fourth book of his Reveries to an examination of lying. If he wants to deceive his readers, why does he so overtly suggest falsehood? Rousseau’s Confessions, like many other good satires, are not only an indictment of Augustine’s technique, but an example of it. In manipulating and embellishing the facts of his own life, Rousseau provides an example of how Augustine accomplished the same purpose. Augustine’s reliance on a faith that willfully precludes or “veils” certain occurrences, creates a “truth” that is acceptable to his readers — a belief that can be shared and trusted. Rousseau asks his readers to overlook the “gaps” in his memories and to accept that his embellishments are based on fact, but he accompanies this request with the disclaimer: “I may have taken for fact what was no more than probability, but I have never put down as true what I knew to be false” (Rousseau, p. 17). With such an admission, Rousseau could hardly hope to deceive anyone. It is almost as difficult to believe that Rousseau expects his readers to accept his excuses. Regarding the theft of the ribbon, he writes :

Never was deliberate wickedness further from my intention than at that cruel moment. When I accused that poor girl, it is strange but true that my friendship for her was the cause…My age should also be taken into account, I was scarcely more than a child…really my crime amounted to no more than weakness.
(Rousseau, pp. 88-89)

On the same subject, he writes in the “Fourth Walk” of his Reveries:

if one were to consider only my state of mind at the time, this lie was simply the product of false shame, and far from its being the result of a desire to harm the girl who was its victim, I can swear to Heaven that at the very moment when this invincible shame dragged it from me, I would joyfully have given my life’s blood to deflect the blow on to myself alone.[83]

Why, if Rousseau was so tormented, did he do nothing? He claims he “would willingly face torture rather than tell a lie,” yet admits to one so damning as to undermine his own credibility. Hartle asks: “Are we to believe that Rousseau’s shame kept him from confessing for the sake of the innocent girl…but does not keep him from confessing to anyone who can read?”[84] Rousseau is intentionally provoking skepticism in his readers. But why?

For the most part, Rousseau’s purpose and technique are covertly executed, but there are moments in his Confessions when his intention is frankly stated. The end of Book Four provides an admission that he has “only one thing to fear in this enterprise; not that I may say too much or tell untruths, but that I may not tell everything and may conceal the truth” (Rousseau, p. 170). That “concealing the truth” lies in “not telling everything” is a striking statement when viewed against Augustine’s works and teachings. For Augustine, the “truth” is what necessarily excludes falsehood: a selective, rather than an inclusive process. For Rousseau, truth includes falsehood insofar as man is not entirely capable of telling one from the other: “Man is free to speak, but the interpretation of his utterances by the other is always mediated by a code over which neither he nor the other exercises complete control.”[85] Rousseau’s truth is an inclusive one, although necessarily selective due to humankind’s inevitable subjectivity. His awkward assertion that he tells the truth even if it is proved otherwise is a condemnation through a strategic employment of Augustine’s technique. Belief is somehow not dependent on facts, be they corroborative or contrary, but on faith.

Through his critical rewriting of Augustine’s Confessions, Rousseau uses Augustine’s technique of providing “facts” and claiming they are the truth. At the same time, Rousseau launches a philosophical attack on his predecessor by leading the reader to question the author’s veracity and, thereby, the veracity of his predecessor. Rousseau suggests the skepticism with which Augustine’s Confessions should be treated. In speaking of Montaigne and the nature of confession, Rousseau writes:

I decided to make [my Confessions] a work unique and unparalleled in its truthfulness, so that for once at least the world might behold a man as he was within. I had always been amused at Montaigne’s false ingenuousness, and at his pretence of confessing his faults while taking good care only to admit to likeable ones; whereas I, who believe, and always have believed, that I am on the whole the best of men, felt that there is no human heart, however pure, that does not conceal some odious vice.
(Rousseau, p. 478-479)

In this short passage, Rousseau simultaneously employs and condemns Montaigne’s, and indirectly, Augustine’s technique. Augustine confesses only those sins that were once committed and have now been abandoned. His shame, therefore, “is primarily exhibitionistic.”[86] Rousseau’s “sins” are evidence of his uniqueness, and although he “confesses” them, he makes no apologies. Like Augustine, he is now “the best of men,” and there is no sin or vice that he cannot somehow excuse on that basis. Augustine’s confessional technique is satirized, and the skepticism it necessarily creates is intentional. Skepticism spurs reverie, just as faith bridles it. Rousseau suggests that his Confessions, and thus the Confessions of Augustine, should not be taken on faith but with a grain of salt. Rousseau appears as a literary confidence-man, able to undercut not only Augustine’s doctrines but his whole life, to present situations and characters similar on the surface, while inscribing messages that are radically different. The undermining of blind faith will, he hopes, force man into reverie — into contemplation of his own culpability and, ultimately, his own opportunities for redemption.


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[1]Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions (London: Penguin Books, 1953), ed. and trans. J.M. Cohen, p. 17. All subsequent references are from this edition.

[2]Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 279.

[3]Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein, “Figures in the Corpus: Theories of Influence and Intertextuality” in Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History, ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), pp. 4-5.

[4]Michel de Montaigne, “On the Education of Children” in Essays, trans. J.M. Cohen (London: Penguin Books, 1958), p. 52.

[5]Bloom, “Rousseau: The Turning Point,” in Giants and Dwarfs: Essays 1960-1990 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 214.

[6]Karl Barth, Protestant Thought: From Rousseau to Ritschl, trans. Brian Cozens (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959), p. 11. Barth characterizes the Enlightenment in this manner, then goes on to say that “it was in Rousseau himself that eighteenth-century man achieved fulfillment” (p. 58).

[7]Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 362.

[8]Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, trans. Peter France (London: Penguin Books, 1979), p. 102. As Rousseau suggests, the Reveries will be “regarded as an appendix to [the] Confessions ” (Reveries, p. 33).

[9]De Man, Allegories of Reading, p. 280.

[10]Saint Augustine, Confessions (London: Penguin Books, 1961), ed. and trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin, p. 27. All subsequent references are from this edition.

[11]Michael Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers (London: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 63.

[12]Blaise Pascal, Pensées (London: Penguin Books, 1966), trans. A.J. Krailsheimer, p. 150.

[13]Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 32.

[14]Rousseau, Emile, or On Education, ed. and trans. Allan Bloom (Basic Books, 1979), p. 37.

[15]Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (London: Penguin Books, 1968), trans. Maurice Cranston, p. 49.

[16]Jean Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), trans. Arthur Goldhammer, p. 3.

[17]Denis Diderot, The Nun, trans. Leonard Tancock (London: Penguin Books, 1972), p. 84.

[18]J.M. Cohen, “Introduction” to Rousseau, The Confessions (London: Penguin Books, 1953), ed. J.M. Cohen, p. 7.

[19]De Man, Allegories of Reading, p. 279.

[20]Barth, Protestant Thought, p. 93.

[21]Augustine, City of God, trans. Henry Bettenson (London: Penguin Books, 1972), p. 991. John O’Meara admirably links Augustine’s two major works in the introduction: “[City of God ] is an application of the theme of [Augustine’s] own development and conversion, as described in the burning pages of the Confessions, to the broader, less immediate, canvas of man’s destiny” (p. vii).

[22]Rousseau, Emile, p. 282.

[23]Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 45.

[24]M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism (London: W.W. Norton and Co., 1971), p. 86.

[25]Augustine, City of God, p. 568.

[26]Augustine, City of God, p. 570.

[27]Augustine, City of God, p. 570. “[The serpent] had deceitful conversation with the woman…supposing that the man would not be so easily gullible.”

[28]Augustine, City of God, p. 571.

[29]Ann Hartle, The Modern Self in Rousseau’s Confessions: A Reply to St. Augustine (Indiana: Notre Dame University Press, 1983), p. 25.

[30]Jacques Derrida, “…That Dangerous Supplement…”, in Of Grammatology, trans. G.C. Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 145.

[31]Rousseau, Discourse on the Basis and Origin of Inequality Among Men in The Essential Rousseau , trans. Lowell Bair (London: Penguin Books, 1975), p. 189.

[32]Or rather, the innate potential for conscience and compassion. Perhaps the best expression of this idea is provided in Rousseau’s Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar, in Book IV of Emile: “To know the good is not to love it; man does not have innate knowledge of it, but as soon as his reason makes him know it, his conscience leads him to love it. It is this sentiment which is innate.” (p. 290)

[33]Rousseau, Discourse on the Basis and Inequality Among Men, p. 150.

[34]Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction, p. 26.

[35]Montaigne, “On the Education of Children”, p. 56.

[36]Ann Hartle, The Modern Self in Rousseau’s Confessions, p. 26. Hartle, in the note that accompanies this assertion, goes on to claim that “Rousseau’s failure to parallel Book 13 is…most significant in terms of his response to Augustine” (p. 162).

[37]Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers, p. 57-58.

[38]Bloom, Love and Friendship, p. 100.

[39]In reflecting on his earliest infancy, Augustine writes: “Who can recall to me the sins I committed as a baby? For in your sight no man is free from sin, not even a child who has lived only one day on this earth” (Augustine, p. 27). In attaching the sins of men to a crying child, Augustine implies that infants are merely newly “created” men. The association made between birth and creation thus seems to be corroborated by Augustine himself.

[40]How this greed would be manifested in the womb is unclear. The possible associations to be made between the umbilical cord and the serpent of Eden are perhaps better left to another essay.

[41]Augustine, City of God, p. 991.

[42]Hartle, The Modern Self in Rousseau’s Confessions, p. 25.

[43]Augustine, City of God, p. 1066.

[44]Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, p. 86.

[45]Rousseau, Emile, p. 37.

[46]Augustine, City of God, p. 568.

[47]Rousseau, Emile, p. 43-44.

[48]Augustine, City of God, p. 991.

[49]Rousseau, Emile, p. 67.

[50]Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism, p. 83.

[51]Santa Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself, trans. J.M. Cohen (London: Penguin Books, 1957), p. 33.

[52]Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, p. 15.

[53]Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction, pp. 18-19.

[54]Santa Teresa, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself, p. 21. Suppression of this nature is outlined in Santa Teresa’s foreward to her Life: “I wish that I had been allowed to describe also, clearly and in full detail, my grave sins and the wickedness of my life. This would have been a great comfort to me, but I may not do so. In fact, I have been put under severe restrictions in the matter.”

[55]Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, p. 15.

[56]Genesis, 2:17.

[57]Genesis, 3:4,5.

[58]Augustine, City of God, p. 571.

[59]Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers, p. 64.

[60]This quotation from the Confessions refers to Rousseau’s Discourse on the Basis and Origin of Inequality Among Men, but is applicable to the motive of his Confessions as well.

[61]Santa Teresa, The Life of Santa Teresa of Avila by Herself, p. 26.

[62]Santa Teresa, The Life of Santa Teresa of Avila by Herself, p. 41.

[63]Derrida, “…That Dangerous Supplement…,” p. 158.

[64]Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, p. 16. “For the Church…is called his bride.”

[65]Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers, p. 57.

[66]Rousseau, Emile, p. 103.

[67]Augustine, City of God, p. 570.

[68]Abandoning his mistress “was a blow which crushed [his] heart to bleeding, for [he] loved her dearly (Augustine, p. 131)

[69]Mill, On Liberty, ed. Gertrude Himmelfarb (London: Penguin Books, 1974), p. 159. “Offences to the gods are the concern of the gods.”

[70]Augustine, City of God, p. 693.

[71]”Genesis 22,15″ quoted by Augustine in City of God, p. 695.

[72]Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 101-102.

[73]Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 101.

[74]Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 103.

[75]Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, p. 40.

[76]Taylor, Sources of the Self, p. 133.

[77]Rousseau, Emile, p. 67.

[78]Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 65.

[79]Bloom, “Emile,” p. 179.

[80]Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 69.

[81]This motto is in fact attributed to Rousseau in the note that accompanies the opening page of the “Fourth Walk” of his Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 63.

[82]Hartle, The Modern Self in Rousseau’s Confessions, p. 20.

[83]Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, p. 64.

[84]Hartle, The Modern Self in Rousseau’s Confessions, p. 19.

[85]Thomas M. Kavanagh, Writing the Truth: Authority and Desire in Rousseau (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987), p. 57.

[86]De Man, Allegories of Reading, p. 285.

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