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Confessions (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – February 15, 2009
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"Chadwick's translation is superb." -Church History
"If the Latin is a "work of high art", so is this translation."-The Times
"A masterpiece beyond classification."-Church Times
"...Chadwick has the gift for being able to pinpoint significant, as well as sometimes unfamiliar aspects of the life of the church: and in this respect his footnotes in the present volume do not disappoint us."-Expository Times
"Excellent translation ... this new translation is the most readable version in modern English"-Vernon J. Bourke, Saint Louis University
"It is a great pleasure to welcome a translation of the Confessions from one who is both a scholar and a lover of Augustine. There is a concise but very informative introduction, and a bibliography which will be extremely helpfull to the students who wants to read some of the work of Augustine's contemporaries in extenso. The translation itself is clear and accessible ... of available English version, this offers the most comprehensive identification of scriptural allusions in the text."-Rowan Williams, Journal of Theological Studies
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Concerning the book, it’s been a wonderful read so far. The translation well done. Augustine’s prose is beautifully written. He’s philosophical, poetic, and just gets your mind and heart engaged in an incredible way. This book I don’t think is for everyone. If you like practical, to the point books, you will not enjoy the philosophical prose of Augustine- get the summary and you’ll appreciate it much more.
If you enjoy Christian philosophy/poetry then this classic is a must read.
Augustine organizes his autobiography into thirteen books. The first three books deal with his life as a student; Augustine discusses his early years in detail that shows his very relatable, human side—childhood opinions on school, peer pressure towards vandalism, and strong sexual drive towards promiscuity as an adolescent. The next six books concern his conversion. He discusses his long process from a smart, passionate, and hedonistic scholar to Manichaeism to (at long last) Christianity. The last three books contain the philosophical and theological discussions Augustine’s Confessions is known for—discussions of age-old questions like eternity, the radical evil of humanity, and the integrations of Greek philosophy into Christian theology. Together, these thirteen books work together to make his masterpiece at once endearingly human and relatable as it is brilliant in its theological authority.
Augustine’s discussion of his life, with all the personal details and the ex-post-facto lens, shows us more than anything else the similarity of struggles people in late antiquity and modernity went through. In his second book, Augustine repents of the acts of theft he committed in his adolescent years. He tells a story about how he would go to an orchard with some friends, steal pears, and throw them to pigs, only eating a few of the pears. He confesses this story—a story that has been impressed upon his conscience and memory as a deep, dark secret—to God, writing, “‘What fruit had I’, wretched boy, in these things (Rom. 6:21) which I now blush to recall, above all that theft in which I loved nothing but the theft itself?” (II. viii (16)). He explains that this was not an individual act of crime, but rather an act of foolish adolescent peer pressure:
The theft itself was a nothing, and for that reason I was more the miserable. Yet had I been alone I would not have done it—I remember my state of mind to be thus at the time—alone I would never have done it. Therefore my love in that act was to be associated with the gang in whose company I did it…. my pleasure was not in the pears; it was in the crime itself, done in association with a sinful group. (II. viii (16))
Reading this passage, one realizes that adolescents faced the same peer pressure that they face today. The phenomenon of vandalism is not, it appears, a modern one: “As soon as the words are spoken ‘Let us go and do it’, one is ashamed not to be shameless” (ix (17). Augustine’s own lens of retrospective confession shows us that he felt and confessed his guilt in a way not unfamiliar to modern readers.
Perhaps the most influential theme of Augustine’s autobiography is that of chastity and purity. Throughout the book, Augustine repents over and over again for his licentious years, disgusted at his own deeds. Although Augustine might be seen as a terrible hypocrite—condemning his past sins after he committed them all—one must understand that Augustine is not being holier-than-thou. After all, he is writing to God, and is thus incredibly careful to show his repentance for previous deeds. Augustine believes in the radical depravity of man, but his Confessions is ultimately a book of personal repentance, not a book of condemning others’ sins; without God, all men are equally depraved of good. Because of the personal nature of this book, those who choose to read it and be convicted by it do so at their personal choice to be convicted.
We are given a view of the family dynamic of the ancient world as well. The modern family of parents with differing religions does not appear to be unusual in late antiquity. Augustine, writing about his parents’ desire to educate him, tells us that “Both of them, as I realized, were very ambitious for me: my father because he hardly gave a thought to you at all, and his ambitions for me were concerned with mere vanities; my mother because she thought it would do no harm and would be a help to set me on the way towards you, if I studied the traditional pattern of a literary education. That at least is my conjecture as I try to recall the characters of my parents” (iii (8)). The lack of surprise with which Augustine writes of his parents’ differing religions makes it apparent that such mixed marriages were not uncommon. However, Augustine also shows us the regularity of domestic abuse within late antiquity. Augustine’s father “was exceptional both for his kindness and for his quick temper” (IX. ix (19)), yet Augustine’s mother, Saint Monica, in her piety bore the abuse, knowing “that an angry husband should not be opposed, not merely by anything she did, but even by a word” (IX. ix (19)); after his bout of anger had passed, she would reason with him again. “[M]any wives,” writes Augustine, “married to gentler husbands bore the marks of blows and suffered disfigurements to their faces” (IX. ix (19)). Yet she was so dedicated to her husband “as her lord” that she even rebuked other wives for complaining about their husbands’ abuse. Augustine certainly does not dismiss his father’s behavior as acceptable, but it does seem from his writing that such abuse was common behavior with few consequences.
Although the marital relationships of ancient antiquity differed significantly from the modern dynamics, the process of Augustine’s conversion bares many parallels to contemporary religious conversions. The close involvement of family, the fervent prayer over many years, and the passionate and bright young scholar’s realization and conversion are all familiar motifs that are found in Augustine’s conversion process. While still a Manichaean, Augustine’s mother asked her priest to debate with Augustine in order to convince him to become a Christian. The priest refused, saying that Augustine “was still unready to learn,” still in the pliable conceits of youth. He simply told her to continue to pray for Augustine, whilst assuring her that Augustine would eventually come to realize the truth of Christianity in his reading. Naturally, she was unhappy with such a response from the priest. In any case, this scenario closely reflects the familiar case of the religious parent who worries for her child’s obsession with a certain religion—in Augustine’s case, Manichaeism. The partisan aspect of religious disagreement so widespread within today’s culture is also apparent in Augustine’s writing: “[H]e [the priest] told her [Saint Monica] how he himself as a small boy had been handed over to the Manicheans by his mother, whom they had led astray” (III. xii (21)). Disagreement on interpretation of Saint Monica’s vision about Augustine’s conversion also adds to the realism of Augustine’s account; while Augustine believed that Saint Monica would convert to Manichaeism, Saint Monica interpreted the vision to mean that Augustine would become Christian. Augustine’s conversion from a young rebel to an austere conservative from a series of realizations is reminiscent of the twentieth-century Jesus movement that stemmed largely from the hippie movement. Although Augustine was no hippie—not even an intellectual hippie—he was nonetheless a rebel, and during his conversion he channeled all of his anti-establishmentarian attitude into becoming averse to the common practices of worldly pleasures.
One controversial form of entertainment in late antiquity was the gladiatorial games. Augustine writes vehemently against them in Book VI chapters vii-viii, lamenting the love of the gladiatorial games some of his close friends held. Somehow the games possessed an incredible ability to enliven the bloodlust in a person, and people could become addicted to the games from first sight. Describing a friend who had been resistant to watch a gladiatorial game, Augustine writes: “As soon as he saw the blood, he at once drank in savagery and did not turn away. His eyes were riveted. He imbibed madness. Without any awareness of what was happening to him, he found delight in the murderous contest and was inebriated by bloodthirsty pleasure. He was not now the person who had come in, but just one of the crow which he had joined, and a true member of the group which had brought him” (VI. viii (13)). Roman gladiatorial fights do not exist in the modern world, yet this form of entertainment was a common part of the daily life of many Roman citizens. Augustine’s perspective sheds light both on the widespread access to such entertainment and the controversial nature this entertainment held—not unlike many modern controversial issues that concern libertarian principles—and gives us a great insider’s view of the phenomenon of the Roman gladiatorial fights and its place in society while under the magnifying glass of controversy and going through the transition that led to its extinction.
Writing in the late antiquity, Augustine’s personal autobiography gives us an authentic, honest, open-hearted view of his life. The details Augustine discusses when writing about his struggles as a youth show us that people in late antiquity had many similarities and faced similar challenges as do people in modern times. To be sure, some things have changed: Roman gladiatorial fights are illegal in most countries, and domestic abuse is much less common in first-world countries. Nonetheless, the striking similarities between people in late antiquity and today are revealed by the personal perspective Augustine’s autobiography provides. People may have enjoyed different forms of entertainment at the time, but ultimately the struggles and social forces that propelled people to right and wrong have remained the same.
It's funny because Augustine mentions that one of his initial turnoffs to Christianity was influenced by the difficulty of reading Latin scriptures and the relatively easier to read works by the Manichees . . . plus their books had nicer bindings. My difficulties with this book were likely due to things lost in translation (the binding was fine). The cover is also a Midieval style which I don't really like (painted in the 1200's?) and that made me think of pius, boring, religion. I also thought Augustine should at least have a tan . . . being from Africa.
But the book isn't boring. It is full of emotion and drama and Augustine is an obviously smart dude who as a second career Christian is driven with an insatiable sense of urgency, vulnerability and passion.
I read and enjoyed both Henry Chadwick's and Peter Brown's biographies of Augustine before this, but if I had it to do over I would read this first. Even though this is a translation, it is a good one . . . and the struggle and genuine conversion were powerfully real to me. Here is a guy who finally goes all in for Jesus, then writes it all down as both a prayer and an attempt to "sieze what souls you can to take with you to him." Makes me wonder . . . if I'm not all in . . . what am I waiting for?
Top international reviews
There was a lot of philosophy with less religious talk and it wasn't as enthralling as I expected compared to books by St. Catherine, St. Therese, and St. Faustina.
Overall still interesting book with interesting ideas.
i know ,u should be wondered why on this earth should i read other's confession.
it shows how a man with a fornicated mind has turn to his CREATOR.
saint Augustine shows there is no short cut to salvation(if u ever think about it)rather than to mend toward ur creator for He can bend ur wickedness into what He build.........
every christian must read this book...
remember itz not the creed or deed of ours that helps us on entering eternity of GOD