Not really. Augustine basically chronicles the story of his average life up until the point when, at the age of thirty-three, he converts to Christianity. His book is both an admission of his sins to God and an example that he hopes other people will learn from.
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- Confessions (Outler translation).
- Saint Augustine's "The Confessions" | New City Press;
- In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree?
Because, you know, converting to Christianity is exactly the kind of thing saints tend to endorse. In this book, Augustine talks about all of his doubts about God's existence, his dabbling in other religions, his love of pride and of sex especially sex , and how badly he just wants to know the truth. Like, Are you there, God? It's me, Saint Augustine.
Don't worry, Confessions is not a laundry list of every inane sin the guy ever committed. When it comes down to it, Augustine is just some dude who really, really wants to know how the universe works and how he's supposed to live his life by its rules. But the road to his conversion is pretty rocky.
He runs with a weird cult for a long while, he really doesn't want to give up his mistress, and, more than anything, he wants to be known as the smartest person in town. He has a really hard time coming to terms with ideas like God's immateriality and where evil comes from in the Christian theology. Many people take these things for granted now, but Augustine believed he had to work out all of the technicalities… before he would be willing to permanently give up sex for them.
St. Augustine's Confessions
And it's a good thing that he work all this stuff out, because Augustine's writings have had a huge impact—and not just on Christianity, but on all of European philosophy. You find echoes of his thoughts on the creation of the universe, God's immutability, free will, and so on in the works of Dante , Milton , and T. Eliot , who are all pretty big names in our book s. When you think of the "classical" texts of the ancient world, as we know you often do, you probably think of Homer, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle… and then, at some point, you start thinking of Roman dudes instead of Greek ones, and you think of Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, and so on.
Heartfelt, incisive, and timeless, The Confessions of Saint Augustine has captivated readers for more than fifteen hundred years. Retelling the story of his long struggle with faith and ultimate conversion -- the first such spiritual memoir ever recorded -- Saint Augustine traces a story of sin, regret, and redemption that is both deeply personal and, at the same time, universal.
Starting with his early life, education, and youthful indiscretions, and following his ascent to influence as a teacher of rhetoric in Hippo, Rome, and Milan, Augustine is brutally honest about his proud and amibitious youth. In time, his early loves grow cold and the luster of wordly success fades, leaving him filled with a sense of inner absence, until a movement toward Christian faith takes hold, eventually leading to conversion and the flourishing of a new life.
I find it helpful to remind myself that Old Testament prophetic books like Isaiah and Jeremiah are also mixed-genre books, as are the Gospels. The starting point for negotiating a mixed-genre book which literary scholars also call an encyclopedic form is to regard it as a mosaic of diverse parts. We can also look upon such books as anthologies of separate genres and selections. If we know from the start that the book will be a kaleidoscopic collection of diverse genres instead of a smooth-flowing narrative, we will not be frustrated and will find the variety entertaining even though the Confessions is a book that we go to in the first place for edification.
I have no desire to excise the story aspect from the book. Like the book of Ecclesiastes, the Confessions uses narrative snatches, journalistic entries, and reflective pieces to tell an overarching story. The book is not organized like a story, but it tells a story. I do not for a moment deny that Augustine is a master storyteller. In the Confessions , he gives us a memorable gallery of characters, including his mother Monica.
Confessions by Augustine of Hippo
By the time we end the book, we feel that we are part of a network of acquaintances. There are also momentous events told in a riveting way. The primary story that Augustine tells is not the story of the external events in his life. Instead he tells three more profound stories, all at the same time. One is the story of his flight away from God.
For thirty-two years, Augustine led a dissolute life of self-seeking careerism and sexual immorality. He was a latter-day Jonah, engaged in a futile quest to run away from God.
But interspersed passages, climaxing in the story of Augustine's conversion, add a second story to the mix. It is the story of Augustine's quest to find God.
The mature author looks back at his seeming flight from God and interprets that flight as an attempt to find God. Paradox is at the heart of the Confessions. Running from God is actually searching for God.
But then Augustine puts a third layer on top of the foregoing two stories. Other interspersed passages show that Augustine believes that the real story was God's pursuit of him. Today we call this the hound of heaven motif, based on a poem by that title authored by Victorian poet Francis Thompson a poem obviously influenced by Augustine's Confessions.
About the Author
Augustine orchestrates his book in such a way that we can clearly see all three threads of action, but only if we are looking for them. The aspect of the Confessions that I like best is the prayers that make up a large portion of the book. At any point, Augustine is capable of addressing God directly in prayer.
It is impossible not to read the Confessions devotionally.