The Confessions, Agustin

I started to read Agustin Confessions in July. It took me six months to read it, and I’m glad I took it slowly.

I won’t try to give a complete analysis of the book, or get into deep theological questions. My purpose is to give a simple review of how the book related to me as a christian and reader.

First I’d like to comment on the translation of the book. I read it in Spanish, translated from the Latin into Spanish. I had tried to read this book in English, but the translation was older, and though possibly very beautiful, it was more difficult to me. The translation then worked, and the first books inside the book, the ones that dealt with his life as a sinner, up to his conversion, were on the overall easy to follow. I enjoyed his candor, and I related to many of his conversations and prayers to our Lord, giving Him sovereignty, praising Him, and showing a contrite heart after unmasking his rebellious or prideful attitude in life.

Agustin was a Gnostic and he proceeds to tell us about the false doctrines he held to, and how he learned about God’s word, which led to his conversion. We come to an intimate part in the book where he talks about how his life changed, and that ends with the passing away of his mother. After, there comes the chapters that are epistemological (?) and theological too, where Agustin talks about our faculties, and how we learn and how we know about the world, and God. The last part that gives the book its title, consists of his confessions. This last part is devoted to explain how it is we sin with our different senses, and what it means to him the pride of life and the lust of the eyes.

While I benefited much from Agustin honest thoughts, his life, and his exposition of what he understood to be the christian life, and a true christian attitude, something changed in me while reading the book. I read Surprised by Hope in the middle of reading The Confessions. In Surprised by Hope, the author explains and debunks Gnosticism, and that platonic dualism (flesh and soul) that most of us take for granted since it’s come to be part of how we understand christianity. Respectfully, I’d like to end saying that while I totally exhort any and all to read this book, I know I don’t hold all Agustin’s beliefs as true. While I have no quarrels with talking about the mind, the soul, the flesh, or our intellect, our spiritual life, our bodily functions, etc. (classifying and making distinctions is always useful), ultimately I do disagree with Agustin’s portrayal of the senses, and his take on the christian life, on what is sinful and what’s noble. I believe that, having lived a very worldly life initially, he swung the pendulum to the opposite direction, resulting in a completely suspicious view of anything that relates to our senses. Again, I don’t mean there’s no conflict, (Paul tells us so), all I say it’s that I see a big chasm, a Platonic view of the body that I don’t share.

The very disagreements make this book even more important. Reading The Confessions will help you understand the origin of much of what we nowadays hold in our common storage of what we understand by sin, flesh, soul, senses, and the spiritual life. And I cannot thank him enough for allowing me to meet him, for being so honest, and for inciting me to love the Lord, to make introspection, and to strive to be more humble and a better christian.

17 thoughts on “The Confessions, Agustin

  1. Today is Augustine’s birthday 🙂 When I first read The Confessions I didn’t like it. I thought he was too pessimistic and intellectual. I was a teenager at the time. Last year I reread The Confessions and it blew me away. It was surprisingly relatable in parts and a wonderful meditation on human desire. And Monica is just great.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow, is it? Neat coincidence! I too am very glad to have read it! Nice summarizing, “wonderful meditation on human desire”. (I too think his mom was a very loving person.)


  2. Wonderfully said, Silvia! It is so important to be able to step back at look at the assumptions we’ve made without even realizing it, isn’t it? That is one of the reasons slow reading of works from other eras is so important, I think–a time to take our frog-selves out of the kettle and see what else exists.

    I am still reading this (occasionally) and am only halfway through. But I am already thinking I would also like to read City of God. Maybe next year (or the next, or the next…).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Sherry. It’s good to read slowly, to enjoy, and to try to take a step back. I loved how you put it! 🙂 The christian classics are so for a reason!


  3. This is one of the most important books I ever read! It was recommended while I was in high school, and I read it again for a seminar in college, and it always comes up one way or another! He is the patron of my diocese and so the words he heard at the time of his conversion “Tolle, lege” [Take and read] are on our diocesan crest, and I was able to preach on his feast last August. His mother, St. Monica is buried just a short walk from where I live now, and so when I visit her tomb, I remember her words, “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.” (Confessions, IX.11)

    In general, I think critiques on Augustine’s approach to the world and creation are exaggerated, but he does write from a unique spot. I am hoping to eventually read through his works on marriage, since I think his teaching is more balanced than what people often attribute to him.

    Great to hear your thoughts!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry to interfere, but I think you’re right about Augustine’s view of marriage. A number of recent studies on Augustine have demonstrated that his views on marriage were actually quite moderate in comparison to his contemporaries. On The Good of Marriage is supposed to be far more reasonable than Jerome’s inflammatory Against Jovinian (a near condemnation of marriage)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s not interfering at all, Fariba. I find that piece of information most interesting. I’m glad you both pointed that out, (since there’s not specific teachings on marriage in The Confessions, only a short mention of his married friend that made me laugh a bit as a married woman myself, ha ha ha.)

        I also take Maximilian’s word on the exaggerated critiques of his approach to the world and creation. It’ll pain me to hear and read many critiques before having the pleasure of reading the original text. But I guess many are interested to the point of writing counter arguments, right? (In this area, I’m a simple reader, my life, my readings, and my interests have not taken me too deep into this waters, 🙂 )

        My critique was a tiny unimportant one, -not aimed at diminishing Agustine’s importance in the least, it was a mention of how familiar yet strange the confessions last part sounded to me, in regards to the senses. These type of disagreements are inconsequential in the context of this great author and his works, they only matter to me, ha ha ha. I’ll also hate for others to stop at reading my own issues with some parts of the book, and never to explore and have the pleasure to read this book (and others by him.) First and foremost, I’d love for others to read this jewel.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. You know more then than me. I liked hearing that I came to those same conclusions by myself, LOL. But I hope Maximilian (who is on a different side of things), never stops visiting, chatting, and bringing his ideas to the table here at our blogs!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I have been greatly enjoying your blog and the discussions they start! And as for disagreement, I can’t mind much when it is thoughtful. I have a copy of Rebecca West’s biography of Augustine. Though I love her writing, I think she gets him completely wrong, and yet I still pull out that book every often and look through her observations. How I wish she had written on Jerome instead!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol, that cracked me up and left me very curious about Jerome. What a guy he seems to be, so opinionated, -grin, I am sure he’s a character worth meeting.


  4. The best Augustine biography ever is also one of my favorite biographies of all time: Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown. It was one of my favorite books of 2016. I sincerely want to meet Peter Brown before he passes. Truly a spectacular scholar

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for adding this book to your blog! I’ve been wanting to read it but have been hesitant. Maybe I’ll add it to next year’s list. My kids and I just finished reading a short biography of Augustin and loved reading about his conversion.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Silvia, it took me a year to read Confessions. “I believe that, having lived a very worldly life initially, he swung the pendulum to the opposite direction, resulting in a completely suspicious view of anything that relates to our senses.” I can relate to this in some ways as that was my experience when I first became a Christian & it’s taken me many years to find the balance.

    Liked by 1 person

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