Blended Parables: St. Augustine’s Footprints by the Starfish?

One day, though I can’t remember when it was or how I got there, I was strolling along the seashore. In the distance, I spied a small boy slowly making his way down the shoreline. As I came closer, I realized that he was picking up starfish, which were littering this beach to an absurd degree. One at a time, he would throw the starfish back into the ocean. When I reached him, I addressed him abruptly: “It makes no difference. There are too many of them. And they’re washing up faster than you can throw them back in. You’re just wasting your time.”

At this, the boy froze, starfish in hand. He dropped it back on the beach, and sauntered over to me, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Of course the starfish don’t matter,” he quipped derisively, “This is about you. And could you have walked any slower? I’ve been doing this all morning just waiting for you to notice so I could spin my clever moral allegory.” As I reeled from this sudden reversal, he pressed on.

“Isn’t throwing starfish exactly what you’re doing, you would-be Augustine scholar? You want to study one of the world’s most complex thinkers. Yet you have so little hope of even finishing his works, 5 million words written in a Latin that Erasmus described as ‘ talkative, wrapping up much information in tortuous sentences, which requires a reader who is experienced, shrewd, careful, endowed with a good memory and willing to do tedious, hard work.’ And it is not clear that you are such a reader.

“Even if you were somehow to finish his works, you have no hope of keeping up with the secondary literature. It’s being written not only in English, French, and German, but also in Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and Polish. Good luck learning all those. Even then, you have no hope of reading more than a fraction of the studies already listed in the Augustinus Lexikon‘s bibliography, and the Revue d’Etudes augustiniennes et patristiques lists hundreds more each year. As for your interest in later Augustinianism, do you not realize that the forthcoming Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine is 2250 pages and contains only overview articles? You’d be better off saving starfish.”

At that point he handed me a starfish to make his point. Standing still staring stupidly at the starfish, I stammered, “But… I like studying Augustine.” He rewarded me with a patronizing nod. “I know, I know. The difficulty of reading Augustine and the sheer quantity of work keep you from recognizing the utter futility of it all. But speaking of the old bishop, I have an appointment with him in a few minutes, and I’m delivering some bad news. So get lost.”

Had I not been in such a state of disequilibrium, I might have challenged the chronological possibility of the boy’s statement. But I submissively shuffled off away from the ocean. Then the boy called out to me one last revelation: “Oh, and the mystery of the one set of footprints? It’s because Jesus walks on water.” At least that made sense.

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Published in: on October 4, 2012 at 10:27 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wonderful!

  2. […] wonderful post over at Sacra Pagina: … “Isn’t throwing starfish exactly what you’re doing, you would-be Augustine scholar? […]


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