101 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2007
Translation by Rex Warner (in Signet Classics)
This one is a very good translation, especially for the modern reader. It conveys the immediacy and vividness of a text written more than 1500 years ago. One feels almost as a voyeur peeping into the private confession of a man to his God. The honesty and unembarrassed disclosure of his sins, and fruitless search for worldly wisdom, is something we can personally identify with, even today. It is amazing how vivid the description of life in late 4th century is in this Confessions. What a wonderful way to approach History, places like Carthage, Rome or Milan, thru the eyes of a skilled and intelligent man who pours his heart on these pages for us to benefit from.
St. Augustine's life, however distant in time, is filled with events, desires, and troubles, as common today as in the year 400. We can identify fully with him, and in his longing and weakness we can see our own soul portrayed. He talks about his childhood, his family, his studies and his lifelong pursuit of wisdom and truth, specially since the age of 19. We get immersed in the daily life of people in the 4th Century under the Roman Empire, their daily worries, their intellectual debates, their religious confrontations. We see the social conditions of all classes of people, from the wealthy and idle to the slaves who fight in the Circus. We see people living, talking, traveling, dreaming, and going about their business as if we were present with them. No wonder this book is an authentic classic, one that I should have read long ago.
There are many reasons to read this book. Those interested in History are certainly going to find plenty of information from eye-witness perspective; those who like to read personal memories and autobiographies won't have it easy to find a better one. For those interested in the history of religion and Catholicism, this is a must, a landmark in Christian literature. Whatever you are looking for, this book is certainly one that will satisfy your intellectual curiosity as well as fill you spiritually.
One thing to bear in mind is that the Confessions are not addressed to us, readers, that is why certain things about the author's behavior seem inexplicable: certain things that would seem to us to merit more explaining, being only mentioned briefly (his behavior toward the woman he had a child with, for example), while other issues are given a lot more space. Of course the Lord knew his heart well, but still, one is intrigued at this man.
296 of 316 people found the following review helpful
St. Augustine is one of the greatest thinkers the West ever produced. Born in North Africa in the waning years of the Roman Empire, his Confessions detail his ultimate conversion to Nicene Christianity after a ten year journey through the various trendy sects of the 4th century C.E. Augustine was a member of the Manichean heresy, a follower of Astrology, and an all around sinner. He enjoyed the barbaric games of the coliseum, was overly proud of his education and teaching positions, and just couldn't bring himself to give up the ladies. He even had a son, Adeodatus, who was born out of wedlock. In short, Augustine loved the things that most people love, and he loved the same things that we love in our decadent age. This is what makes this book so relevant today; it shows how little the human race has come in 1500 years. Augustine's struggles are our struggles.
Two points of interest are worth mentioning here. The first is Augustine's mother, St. Monica. Throughout the book, Monica is an omnipresent figure in Augustine's life. She is a tireless Christian, and she does many things to try and bring Augustine into the faith. She prays incessantly, has visions and dreams from God that promise Augustine's conversion, and she follows her son everywhere he goes. Augustine gives much praise to his mother, but it's important to remember that he was writing this account after his conversion. At the time, Augustine must have been sick to death of some of her antics. He actually lied to her so he could sneak off to Rome without her, although she was soon on a boat so she could catch up with him. I also felt sorry for his father, Patricius. Dad wasn't really into the Christian thing, so Monica put on the pants in the family. Augustine even says that Monica made God the 'true' father in their house.
A second point of interest is Augustine's actual conversion. He seems to go through two of them in quick succession. The first is an intellectual conversion, as Augustine uses the texts of Neo-Platonic authors to prove to himself the fallacy of the Manichean theology. It seems the Manicheans believed in a Christ figure that was not fully divine, as well as the idea that God was a substance. Augustine shows how substance can be corrupted, making this idea totally incompatible with the idea of a perfect God. After all, if a substance can be corrupted, how can it be perfect? After the intellectual conversion, Augustine still can't totally believe because he can't give up the fleshly sin of lust with women. This second conversion finally comes about in the famous 'pick it up and read' incident in the garden. Augustine, wracked by his sins and on the verge of some type of mental collapse over his anguish, hears a child's voice singing, 'Pick it up and read.' Seeing this as a sign from God, he picks up Paul's Epistles and reads the first thing he sees in the book. He reads a passage about the evils of fleshly vice and his conversion is complete.
After this conversion, the rest of the book veers off on a tangent. Augustine examines the concept of time, in great detail, and writes an incredibly dense exegesis on the first parts of the book of Genesis. This section, with the exception of his discourse on time, isn't nearly as interesting as the account of his life and the fundamental changes he goes through as he tries to find the true way to live life. I do suspect that thousands have converted after reading this book because it speaks to every human on a fundamental level. The above description I've given doesn't even begin to cover the amount of information in this book. The Confessions is both beautiful and thought provoking and I would recommend it to anyone.
I do have a word of warning for those who are considering giving this one a shot. Avoid, like the plague, the John Ryan translation. It is wordy, dense, and not at all clear. Read this Penguin version, written by Mr. Pine-Coffin (great name, huh?). It is a clear and concise translation. It's one thing to struggle with ideas in a book, but why should we have to struggle with the syntax? Go forth and read, young man!
113 of 118 people found the following review helpful
I first came across St. Augustine's "Confessions" when I was a freshman in college. It was a monumental experience in terms of both the content of his writing and the freshness and relevance of his writing style. After re-reading them again recently, I am still struck with how contemporary the book feels. Aside from many of its 4th century particularities, the concerns that St. Augustine had and the way he frankly and honestly dealt with them could be lifted from almost any contemporary tell-all autobiography. The biggest exception is the fact that "Confessions" is a quintessentially and irreducibly a religious text, and in an age when religious considerations are largely pushed towards the margins of their life stories, it is refreshing and uplifting to see what would a life look like for someone who took them very seriously and committed himself to reorganizing one's whole life around the idea of serving God wholly and uncompromisingly. "Confessions" is a very accessible text, and for the most part it does not deal with theological and philosophical issues. The exception is the latter part of the book, which are almost exclusively dedicated to those topics. You may want to skip those at the first reading, but I would encourage you to read them nevertheless. Maybe the very inspiring and uplifting story of St. Augustine's conversion to Christianity can lead you into deeper considerations about your faith or the meaning of life in general. I cannot think of a better introduction to those topics than "Confessions," nor of a better guide than St. Augustine.
72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2000
I won't recount all the excellent reasons for reading this remarkable book. It's not a part of the Western Canon for nothing! It's a seminal work (autobiography) in a seminal field (Patristics)worth reading regardless of religious orientation, including none. What makes THIS particular version so exciting is that it is eminently readable and still quite stylized. Chadwick's eloquent translation caputes not only Augustine's ideas and thoughts, but equally important, his rhetorical skills. This alone justifies the purchase of this work. The philosophical nuances that, ironically, have entered twentieth-century thought again are very clearly articulated in Chadwick's translation. Other translations are likely to obfusicate what Chadwick elucidates. Read this great work by a great translator. I am confident you'll return to it again and again (even if you disagree with the Doctor).
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Augustine's 'Confessions' is among the most important books ever written. One of the first autobiographical works in the modern sense, it also represents the first time a psychological and theological enterprise were combined. It also helps to bridge the gap between the Classical world and the Medieval world, exhibiting strong elements identifying with each of those major historical periods.
Most undergraduates in the liberal arts encounter the book at some point; all seminarians do (or should!). Many adults find (or rediscover) the book later, after school. For many in these categories, there are concepts, narrative strands and historical data new and unusual for them. However, Augustine's 'Confessions' is still generally more accessible in many ways that truly classical pieces; it has interior description as well as external reporting that we are familiar with in modern writing.
The 'Confessions' shows Augustine's personality well - he was a passionate person, but his focus wavered for much of his life until finally settling upon Christianity and the Neoplatonic synthesis with this faith. Even while remaining a passionate Christian and rejecting the sort of dualism present in the Manichee teachings, he varied between various positions within these systems. Augustine's varied thought reaches through many denominational and scholarly paradigms.
The 'Confessions' are divided into thirteen chapters, termed 'Books' - the first ten of the books are autobiographical, with Augustine describing both events in his life as well as his philosophical and religious wanderings during the course of his life. The text is somewhat difficult to take at times, as this is writing with a purpose, as indeed most autobiographies are. The purpose here at times seems to be to paint Augustine in the worst possible light (the worse his condition, the better his conversion/salvation ends up being); at other times, one gets a sense (as one might get when reading the Pauline epistles) that there is some significant degree of ego at work here (Paul boasts of being among the better students, and so does Augustine, etc.).
Augustine also uses his Confessions as a tract against the Manichean system - once a faithful adherent, Augustine later rejects the Manichean beliefs as heretical; however, one cannot get past the idea that Augustine retained certain of their intellectual aspects in his own constructions even while denouncing them in his official life story.
The whole of the conversion turns on two primary books - Book Seven, his conversion to the Neoplatonic view of the world, including the metaphysics and the ethics that come along with this system; and Book 8, which describes his conversion to Christianity proper. This is where perhaps the most famous directive, 'Tolle! Lege!' ('Take and read!') comes from - Augustine heard a voice, and he picked up the nearest book, which happened to be a portion of the Pauline epistles, arguing against the undisciplined lifestyle Augustine lived. Scholars continue to debate whether Augustine's conversion to Christianity was more profound or more important than his conversion to Neoplatonism; in any event, Christianity interpreted through a Platonic framework became the norm for centuries, and remains a strong current within the Christian world view; Protestant reformers as they went back to the 'original bible' in distinction from the Catholic interpretations of the day also went back to the 'original Augustine' for much of their theology.
The final three books are Augustine's dealing with the creation of the world via narrative stories in Genesis 1 exegetically and hermeneutically. This is very different from what is done in modern biblical scholarship, but is significant in many respects, not the least of which as it gives a model of the way Augustine dealt with biblical texts; given Augustine's towering presence over the development of Western Christianity in both Catholic and Protestant strands, understanding his methods and interpretative framework can lead to significant insights into the ideas of medieval and later church figures.
This is a book that will be of interest to novice readers of Augustine as well as scholars, to students, clergy and laypersons, and anyone else who might have an historical, literary, philosophical, theological or other interest in Augustine - something for everyone, perhaps?
This particular edition is an abridgement, drawing in crucial elements in a new translation of the text. It probably consists of only about one-tenth of the overall text of the Confessions, pulling out significant stories and passages rather than preserving the entirety of the narrative strand. It is a good primer, but be advised that it is not the complete text. It does have a nice feel and design to it, and makes a good gift book.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2011
The Confessions of St. Augustine is one of the most important literary and spiritual classics in Western civilization. It is a profound and brilliant spiritual autobiography in which Augustine paints a picture of himself, "warts and all." Augustine's honesty about himself is matched by the beauty of his expression, but what is most moving about The Confessions is Augustine's engagement with God. Throughout, you see a soul which God is drawing to Himself, as well as a soul that gradually responds to the grace of God in its life. "The Confessions" is a rare book written by a towering intellect that is matched with a searching and probing heart. The psychological aspects of the book seeming startling contemporary - and not like a book from the 5th century! "The Confessions" is a book that may be read as devotional literature, autobiography, theology, and literature.
As Augustine discovered, "our heart is unquiet until it rests in you."
Actually, The Confessions are addressed to God, and this gives them a sense of immediacy and intimacy, as if God has been watching over Augustine his entire life. One of the most compelling aspects of The Confessions is that we are able to see the gradual conversion of St. Augustine's heart. His isn't an instantaneous conversion, as conversions are often portrayed, but a series of steps on the path to God. Along the way we are privileged to experience with Augustine some of the turning points in his spiritual pilgrimage. One of these is the famous story in which Augustine hears a voice say, "Pick it up and read," provoking him to read Romans 13:13-14, after which light flooded his heart and his face was peaceful.
It has been said that The Confessions are "the West's first autobiography," and the influence of The Confessions on Western literature is incalculable. It is a book that continues to speak to us, more than 1500 years after its original writing and a book that is worth wrestling with. Augustine's meditations on memory, the senses, time, eternity, and heaven and earth (which make up Books X-XII) are also worth reading and contain not only some profound theology but a theology intermingled with prayers and praise to God.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2008
I very much enjoyed reading this book. I just have a few minor complaints:
1. No Table of Contents. When further studying this book and comparing it with other versions of Confessions, it is very hard to find what page number the chapter you are looking for.
2. The Chapters in the book do not identify what chapter number they are. This could have helped reduce my frustration from the missing Table of Contents.
3. I would have loved an Index. The ability to find a certain concept, etc. I was searching for would have been a great addition to this book. I don't see why there wouldn't be one.
The text itself is very readable, but I find it hard to use this book for further exploration into Augustine's work. Overall, I enjoyed this book tremendously, but it'd be better to choose a different version for more in depth study.
41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2006
This is a good translation of St Augustine's 'Confessions', one of the most important works of Christian and also world religious and philosophical thought.
St Augustine's genius needs no advertisment. His brilliant intellect is more or less the founder of Western Christianity as we know it. Between St Paul and Aquinas, he is the most brilliant theological and philosophical mind the medieval period managed to produce. If Western philosphy is a cathedral, then Augustine is one of its capstones.
The Confessions is a personal narrative of Augustine's life, which describes his spiritual and intellectual journey from childhood to adulthood. Augustine is such a brilliant writer he manages to capture countless facets of experience in a book which itself is only about 340 pages long (thirteen books in total) and this work also has immense range and depth, from the strange nature of free will and sin to the inner quest for the indwelling image of the Trinity, to Augustine's mystical experiences, to his dramatic conversion, to his allegorical commentary on Genesis to his ceaseless praise of God's goodness and the beauty of creation.
Augustine is clearly influenced by several sources, especially Neo-Platonic Philosophy. Augustine read the Enneads of Plotinus in translation into Latin (thanks to Marcus Victorius, a Christian convert from Neo-Platonism) and found its concepts of God made more sense to him than that of the sect he was a member of, the Manicheans. The Manicheans, a syncretic sect who blended Buddhism, elements of Christianity, Zorastrianism and Gnosticism, and Platonism captivated Augustine for several years, seeming to provide a satisfying explanation for the baffling problem of evil. Yet Augustine, after reading Plotinus, thought the explanation of evil in terms of non-being made more sense than God making an evil world, or being ruled by an evil principle. In this sense Augustine made a crucial breakthrough in theology, not only by finding God 'within' the depths of his own soul, but also in associating God with the Platonic Good.
Yet Augustine's strongest influence is the Bible. References to the Bible abound far more than references to Plotinus, and for Augustine, pagan thought is mostly useful for articulating truths already main plain by the Word of God. However, Augustine is always too brilliant and original thinker to merely fall into a rigid pattern of dogma he never leaves (in contrast to many more mediocre minds in the Christian tradition) and reworks his theology consistently and constantly in a creative manner.
However the Confessions is too brilliant and profound a work to summarise in one review, and it is best if readers avail themselves to a copy of this work as soon as they can.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2008
I have several versions of this classic work, and was very refreshed by this excellent translation (you almost forget the number of centuries between the author and now as you read). Augustine's love for the psalms shines through very nicely here. If you do not know the work, do not dismiss it as "confessions of sins" -- it is the emotive chronicle of a cultured man finding God through Christ and His Word. A stunning story, with so much food for thought -- and answers to some of life's most common questions. This volume is worth a dumpster of modern best-selling tomes.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2002
St. Augustine - Confessions
Ostensibly, the religious meditations of a fourth century Christian seem quite far removed from our lives. After all, what use would anyone outside of the Religious Studies department at a university have for Augustine's musings on the nature of God and the Christian church? A fair question and one that has likely kept many readers from enjoying the pleasure that is "Confessions." Often pigeonholed as an obscure religious document Augustine's "Confessions" is part memoir, part philosophy, and part doctrine.
At its most basic level, "Confessions" is Augustine's life story with a twist: he is telling it to none other than God. As one might expect from a story told to God, the plot of "Confessions" centers around Augustine's discovery of the Christian church. Like many stories it starts out far from where it ends up; before becoming a Christian Augustine spent many years as part of a vegetarian cult in which initiates spent their time harvesting food for elders whom then "purified" the food by eating it. Besides overcoming his allegiance to this cult, Augustine also had to conquer another, more familiar temptation, his mistress.
From the very first page it is starkly obvious that Augustine feels a great deal of contrition for these transgressions of Christian law. In fact, the depth of emotion that Augustine puts into his writing is one of the most interesting and most endearing parts of "Confessions." Through Augustine's unyielding honesty (even in the face of embarrassing, even scandalous, wrongs) we immediately understand that he has become the forthright, quietly confident person he aspired to be. It is clear that Augustine's detail and openness in "Confessions" does not stem from sensationalism, but rather from a desire to be as honest and instructive as he can be. Although Augustine was aware that "Confessions" would be published and made available to anyone who could get a copy (in the fourth century book distribution wasn't quite up to today's levels) it is quite clear that this book is for only one audience, God.
Yet while Augustine was sure that "Confessions" was written for God, he wasn't nearly as sure as to what God is, and a sizable chunk of "Confessions" is devoted to discovering just that. Augustine does make it clear what God is not; he spends some time ridiculing those who believed that God is nothing more than a huge spirit in heaven shaped like a man. One soon discovers that Augustine's concept of God is slippery, but that it involves some idea that God is everywhere at once, yet in a way that transcends common sense ideas of a three dimensional world. Augustine also spends some time on the nature of God's infallibility, specifically explaining why this is so, and even addresses the question (although, in my opinion, unsatisfactorily) of what came before God. More familiarly, Augustine also sees God as an entity that teaches people by letting them make mistakes, and as an entity that is always prepared to accept a believer once she finds her way to Christianity.
In addition to the nature of God Augustine's book covers several other areas of Christian belief. "Confessions" is liberally peppered with quotes from the Bible and these quotes are used to examine and interpret portions of Augustine's own life. For example, when describing the long and arduous path that brought Augustine to Christianity he quotes from the Bible that though "the ground should yield me thorns and thistles" he should "earn his bread with the sweat of his brow." These frequent quotations serve two functions. First, they describe and analyze events from Augustine's life (presumably in far more exact and aesthetic ways that Augustine's own words could). Second, the use and interpretation of these quotes brings to the reader an idea of Christian belief at this time. In this way "Confessions" serves as an important historical document, one that fuses man and religion through the electricity of the Bible.
The last three "books" of "Confessions" are devoted to an allegorical understanding of Genesis. The first of these three books deals with the nature of time and what separates past, present and future. I found this discussion the be a quite interesting digression from Augustine's book ad well worth my time. The next two books, however, are not nearly a interesting on a philosophical level and at times verge on tedium. There has been considerable debate over just why Augustine included this interpretation of Genesis in "Confessions"; some believe it was part of an unfinished interpretation of the entire Bible (which, given the space Augustine commits to Genesis would have been quite lengthy) while others see it as an appendix to "Confessions." Regardless of one's belief on the reason for these last three books, most seem to agree that they are superfluous and at best make for an awkward ending. As such they constitute the only major flaw I can find in "Confessions."