The Confessions (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 14 Aug 2008
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If the Latin is a "work of high art", so is this translation. (The Times)
About the Author
About the Translator: An expert on the early Church, Henry Chadwick is Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He is the author of such books as Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition and Augustine in the Past Masters series. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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This book, for me, was a very hard read. It is only 300 pages long but took me 7 weeks to finish it. When I have discussed this book with people who have read it, they say they are not surprised that it took that long and that they are surprised that anyone would want to read it for leisure purposes.
St Augustine’s confessions are famous for being his public renunciation of his old pagan ways, his laying open his soul to God. It contains his famous prayer, paraphrased as “Make me good but not yet.” Henry Chadwick more elegantly phrases it “Lord grant me chastity and continence but not yet”. In many ways, modern readers would wonder why Augustine was so hard on himself. He doesn’t seem to be confessing anything that serious, merely for being a typical Roman citizen, enjoying circuses and practising and teaching rhetoric.
The book is more than a mere autobiography of a sinner who has converted to Christianity. It is an account of Saint Augustine’s intellectual and philosophical awakening. He uses the full depth and range of his classical education and applies it to many aspects of theology to exhaustive effect. The book is full of numerous familiar biblical quotations. It is worth remembering that Saint Augustine was writing at a time at which Christianity was not the world faith it has since become. Much of the book is an argument against the Manichee sect of which I was entirely ignorant when I read it.
It is hard to rate this book given its classic status. I did find it hard going at times and often found myself struggling to understand what Augustine was going on about and often found that mental process by which he picked apart subjects quite exhausting to read. However, when I did persist, I found this process enthralling and immensely rewarding. His expounding on the creation and nature of the concept of time was especially fascinating.
So given its classic status and some of Augustine’s insights (many of which remain very contemporary), this is for me a 5 star book and one that I may well wish to revisit.
In this we learn of Augustine's family, his early life, his search for truth and, throughout the book, his teachings on theology. Here we see him move to the gradually larger world, from Tagaste, to Carthage, to Rome, to Milan, where he finally finds Truth. He is then ready to return to his native Africa, his preparation completed for the work which would make him one of the greatest, Christian theologians of all time.
In much of the early book, Augustine tells us of his rejections of God's call. Seeking truth and honors, he searched through many sources and sought out many teachers. He sought wisdom from pagan and Manichean philosophers. His disappointment with the highly touted Manichean bishop, Faustus, whose speech was pleasing but whose answers failed to soothe Augustine's soul, caused him to turn to Catholicism.
Learning from the respected bishop, Ambrose, Augustine came to recognize the truth of Christian, but his slavery to a non-Christian life style long prevented him from following the call of God. This persisted until one day he heard the child's song "Tolle Lege, Tolle, Lege" (the title of my high school newspaper), "Take it and read." Taking this as a divine command to read the first passage of scripture to meet his eyes, he opened the book to the passage, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence." Needing to read no further, his conversion occurred and he was ready for the great work which lay before him.
Throughout much of the book, we are treated to Augustine's teachings on a variety of religious topics. We obtain his guidance on the nature of God, God's relationship with and expectations of man, as well as norms for the interpretation of scripture. This is the book for anyone with an interest in Christian theology or St. Augustine personally. Tolle Lege!
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