Ep.130: Book Review: The Confessions of St. Augustine.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Today we look at The Confessions of St. Augustine, which is his autobiographical memoir, written about 397 A.D., not long after his appointment as Bishop of Hippo, North Africa. In the book, Augustine recounts his life and wanderings from boyhood through age 33 when he became a Christian. 

The book is a prayer–Augustine’s extended, passionate, poetic communication to God. With remarkable insight and eloquence, he prays the story of his life and his searching, letting the reader eavesdrop on his personal relationship with God.

The book is also Augustine’s confession in several senses. First, he confesses the sins of life–theft, intellectual pride, lust, self-promotion. He also confesses, or discloses, who he is: an intellectual wanderer, a searcher for truth and God, a wayward son, a sensitive and introspective soul. Augustine also confesses his faith in God. For example, he says to God, 

How tortuous were my paths! . . . Toss and turn as we may, now on our back, now side, now belly–our bed is hard at every point, for you alone are our rest. But lo! Here you are; you rescue us from our wretched meanderings and establish us on your way; you say to us, “Run: I will carry you, I will lead you and I will bring you home” (St. Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Sr. Maria Boulding (New York: New City Press, 1997) VI, 16, 26, paraphrased).

I own two copies of The Confessions. The first is Edward Pusey’s 1838 translation, reprinted in 1909 in a Harvard Classics edition (St. Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Edward B. Pusey in The Harvard Classics (New York: The Collier Press, 1909). Since Augustine was schooled in rhetoric and oratory, Pusey’s masterful use of King James English communicates some of the beauty of the original. Alas, the English language has moved on: King James and Shakespeare sound archaic to modern ears. So I recently acquired one of the best modern translations, Maria Boulding’s 1997 version (Boulding).

Here are some of my favorite quotes and stories from The Confessions

Augustine’s most famous quote is from the first paragraph of the book, where he prays: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you” (Pusey, I, 1, 1, paraphrased). 

At age 28, Augustine left North Africa for Rome. His mother, Monica, pleaded with him to stay and prayed to God that he would not go. But Augustine deceived her, departing stealthily at night, leaving her as he says, “mad with grief, filling God’s ears with complaints and groans” (Boulding, V, 15, paraphrased). Augustine sees God’s goodness in this unhappy parting: God denied Monica’s request, in order to answer her prayer. It was in Rome and Milan that Augustine came to faith.

Augustine tells a striking story of his associate Alypius, whose friends dragged him unwillingly to the colosseum in rome. Alypius said to them, “You may drag my body into that place, but you cannot direct my mind and my eyes to the show. I will be present there, and yet be absent” (Boulding, VI, 8, 13, paraphrased). Alypius covered his eyes and disciplined his mind, but at a critical moment in the fight there was a huge roar from the crowd. Overwhelmed with curiosity, Alypius looked up and saw the blood and the brutality and the fallen gladiator. That one look began a deep addiction to the blood sports, that lasted until God delivered him. Violent and addictive shows are not the brainchild of our modern civilization–the only improvement we have made is delivering it right into our homes. 

Of people who read his Confessions, Augustine says, “What then have I to do with men, that they should hear my confessions–a race, curious to know the lives of others, slothful to amend their own?” (Pusey, X, 3, paraphrased). He’s still right today. We are curious about the lives of celebrities, but slow to correct our own faults. 

That’s The Confessions of Augustine. Not an easy read, but well worth the time and effort. 

Let’s pray with Augustine:

O God, the house of my soul is too small for you to enter: make it more spacious by your coming. It lies in ruins: rebuild it. Some things are here which will offend you. . . who will clean my house? To whom but you can I cry, Cleanse me of my hidden sins, O Lord, and for those incurred through others pardon your servant (Boulding, I,6, paraphrased). 


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.