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.