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Confessions: Applause

My God, let me say something about my mind, your gift to me, and about the delusions by which it was worn down… I was to give a speech… But what should it have mattered to me… that I was applauded for my performance, more than the rest of the large class, my fellow scholars of the same age? Wasn’t all of this only smoke and wind? Wasn’t there, then, any other possible exercise for my mind and my tongue? Your praise, Master, your praise as read in the scriptures would have been a stake to hold up the vine-shoot that was my heart, so that futile triviality wouldn’t leave it a despicable prey to the birds of the air. There’s more than one way to make a sacrifice to those angels who’ve changed their allegiance. — Saint Augustine, Confessions 1.27

Applause is ‘smoke and wind.’ How is it that something so temporary can be sought after so earnestly? Because it makes us feel good, it makes us feel important, it makes us feel affirmed. And yes, applause is important; how else can we express our joy is someone/things performance? How else can a person be affirmed in the good work they have done? Yes, applause is good, but applause for ego’s sake is what Augustine speaks about here. Augustine was not interested in applause for the story, he was interested in applause for himself. So, if this is the case, he asks himself if there was any other possible exercise for my mind and my tongue? His answer is yes. Instead of performing Virgil’s Aeneid, he should have performed God’s praises. The former brings applause to the self, while the latter brings applause to God.

I love the illustration he uses of his heart and the vine. Praise is the stake (or lattice) we lay down, that our hearts may grab hold of it and grow upward. Performance for applause is a triviality that leaves us on the ground to be trampled upon or ‘prey to the birds of the air.’ By neglecting to praise, and redirect applause, ‘we make a sacrifice to those angels who’ve changed their allegiance (demons).' Lord, may my tongue perform your praises. May my life bring you applause.

Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.


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