Saint Augustine and the Pear Tree

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Saint Augustine and the Pear Tree

Continuing on with our Lenten series in which Saint Augustine is our guide, go here  and here to read the first and the second in the series, we come to Saint Augustine’s description of what he viewed as one of his worst sins, the theft of pears from a pear tree.  More than a few people have been mystified as to why this incident caused Saint Augustine such pain.  Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, for example, wrote  “Rum thing to see a man making a mountain out of robbing a pear tree in his teens”.  Such critics of course completely miss the point.  The incident of the pear tree is the classic example of pure sin.  Augustine and the other rowdies did not steal the pears to feed themselves, they threw the pears to hogs.  They did this evil not to satisfy some hunger or desire, but for the sake of the sin itself, and that is what makes the act so monstrous in retrospect in the eyes of Saint Augustine.  The worst sort of sin we can do is a sin that has no purpose other than to engage in sin, in disobedience to God.  Most sins men do are a bad road to reach a worldly good.  A thief who robs a bank to gain money.  A couple who fornicate with each other to show their love for one another.  A glutton who gorges himself because he loves fine food.   The pear tree sin lacks any good as a goal that led to the commission of the sin, and leaves only the desire to do an evil act.  Saint Augustine was right to weep over this, as should we all whenever we do evil solely for the sake of doing evil.  Saint Augustine on the pear tree:

“There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its colour or for its flavour. Late one night–having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was–a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart–which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error–not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.”

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  1. I’m going to concur with the Supreme Court Justice for one reason…Augustine’s next mistress after he dumped the ten year mistress that bore him a son. The first one left saying she would love him til death. Then St. Monica finds him a respectable girl to marry who however is too young to marry as yet. Augustine can’t wait for her, sexually speaking, so he gratuitously seeks and takes another mistress for sex…according to himself in the “Confessions”. Gratuitous pear theft…gratuitous mistress for fornication…which is worse? The second of course. He may have been displacing a lot of big guilt on to that real pear guilt such that the pear was doing double duty. After he converted really, Augustine according to a contemporary, chose never to be alone with a woman even relatives. Jerome, a brief fornicator in his youth, was the opposite and had many female friends after he converted. Augustine had sinned far more in that area.

  2. “Augustine and the other rowdies” Mob mentality. Each one to impress the mob, then the mob owns that individual. The mob takes away his soul and makes of him a beast. Yes, I concur. Addiction to irrationality. Senseless sin except for committing the sin and offending against God the reason being.
    Would Augustine have committed that sin if he was alone? I think not. Therefore, he avoided the near occasion of sin.
    It has occurred to me that this is how communism operates. Communism owns you, you do not own communism.

  3. “Gratuitous pear theft…gratuitous mistress for fornication…which is worse? The second of course.”

    Of course not. He and his mistress had their son, who they named Adeodatus, gift of God. His mistress ultimately repented before Augustine:

    “She was stronger than I”, wrote St. Augustine, “and made her sacrifice with a courage and a generosity which I was not strong enough to imitate.” She returned to Carthage, whence she had come, and the grace which had led her to sacrifice the object of her affection further impelled her to bury herself in a monastery, where she might atone for the sin which had been the price so long paid for it.”

    Adeodatus, a bright child with a very bright future, died at sixteen, to the intense grief of his father, and no doubt his mother. Much good came out of Augstine’s sinning with his mistress and he did not sin with her merely for the sake of sin itself.

  4. bill bannon: “I’m going to concur with the Supreme Court Justice for one reason…Augustine’s next mistress after he dumped the ten year mistress that bore him a son.” It was a sin of lust, whereas, the sin of stealing the pears was a sin of ingratitude, a sin against the Holy Spirit. Sins against the Holy Spirit are unforgivable.
    I have no respect for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. for having a mentally handicapped girl sterilized because she had been raped, instead of hanging the rapist by his man-parts so all would-be rapists could see. Now every patient under anesthesia runs the risk of the doctor’s lust. It is the patient’s fault for having been created most enchantingly beautiful, I suppose. Yet, another sin against the Holy Spirit. Hang all rapists by their man-parts and the crime of rape will drop to minus one, (-1).

  5. Confessions Book Six


    25. Meanwhile my sins were being multiplied. My mistress was torn from my side as an impediment to my marriage, and my heart which clung to her was torn and wounded till it bled. And she went back to Africa, vowing to thee never to know any other man and leaving with me my natural son by her. But I, unhappy as I was, and weaker than a woman, could not bear the delay of the two years that should elapse before I could obtain the bride I sought. And so, since I was not a lover of wedlock so much as a slave of lust, I procured another mistress — not a wife, of course. Thus in bondage to a lasting habit, the disease of my soul might be nursed up and kept in its vigor or even increased until it reached the realm of matrimony. Nor indeed was the wound healed that had been caused by cutting away my former mistress; only it ceased to burn and throb, and began to fester, and was more dangerous because it was less painful.

  6. Same argument. Augustine did not have a brief relationship with his second concubine out of a desire to sin for the sake of sin. That is what makes the pear tree sin so deadly in the mind of Saint Augustine, and I completely agree with him.

  7. Compare: “but of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden,” God said,” you shall not eat. neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” But the serpent said to the woman, No, you shall not die; for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. Did Augustine see a connection, in that he stole the pears to know evil? It seems so, Eve, goaded on not by a mob but by the Devil. Perhaps a devil inhabits a mob, something of which Augustine was painfully aware.

  8. Having found my old copy of “Confessions”, I stand somewhat corrected. He speaks for himself: “Let my heart tell you what prompted me to do wrong for no purpose and why it was only my own love of mischief that made me do it. The evil in me was foul, but I loved it”. Perhaps the theft of the pears was an affirmation of the lawless lust he had come to embrace.

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