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The Confessions Paperback – December 29, 1998
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Augustine's Confessions is arguably the first, and unequivocally the most influential, religious autobiography in the Christian tradition. Augustine (who was a hard-core hedonist before his sudden conversion) writes about faith with the reckless abandon of a lover; his descriptions of friendship are so beautiful they'll bring tears to your eyes; and his tributes to his mother, Monica, cast eternally fresh light on the unofficial authority of women in the early Church. --Michael Joseph Gross
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Latin
Top Customer Reviews
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!
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.