06 November, 2002

Analysis of Augustine’s Confessions

The following is an assigned essay which was completed for a grade. Unfortunately, some formatting has been lost in the transition to LJ.

Author: Eric J. Herboso
Class: THL 101.03 (Western Religious Heritage)
Professor: William Harmless, SJ; Dept. of Theology
Assignment: Analysis of Augustine’s Confessions

Confessions VIII.i.1 (Chadwick, p.133), Rearranged In Verse:
My God,
in my thanksgiving
I want to recall
and confess your mercies over me.
Let my bones be penetrated by your love (Ps. 85:13)
and say, ‘Lord who is like you?’ (Ps. 34:10).
‘You have broken my chains, I will sacrifice to you the sacrifice of praise’ (Ps. 115:16-17).
I will tell how you broke them.
Let all who adore you say when they hear these things:
‘Blessed is the Lord in heaven and in earth; great and wonderful is his name’ (Ps. 71:18-19; 134:6).

Your words stuck fast in my heart
and on all sides I was defended by you.
Of your eternal life I was certain,
though I saw it ‘in an enigma and as if in a mirror’ (1 Cor. 13:12).
All doubt had been taken from me
that there is indestructible substance
from which comes all substance.
My desire was not to be more certain of you
but to be more stable in you.
But in my temporal life
everything was in a state of uncertainty,
and my heart needed to be purified
from the old leaven (1 Cor. 5:7 f.).

I was attracted to the way,
the Saviour himself,
but was still reluctant to go along its narrow paths.
And you put into my heart,
and it seemed good in my sight (Ps. 18:15),
that I should visit Simplicianus.

It was evident to me
that he was a good servant of yours;
your grace shone in him.
I had also heard that from his youth
he had lived a life dedicated to you.
By this time
he had become an old man,
and after a long life of saintly zeal in pursuing your way
he appeared to me a man of much experience and much learning.
So indeed he was.

Accordingly, I wanted to consult with him
about my troubles,
so that he could propose a method
fitted for someone in my disturbed condition,
whereby I could learn
to walk in your way.

Confessions VIII.i.1 (Chadwick, p. 133), Analysis:

Throughout the ages, Augustine’s Confessions has served as a classic in western theological literature. It has been translated into many languages and is applauded even today by a mix of divergent cultures and religions as having more meaning than most other texts from its period. Augustine wrote as a Christian of today might; his ideas were not only revolutionary, but also important even in today’s world.

In his book, Augustine praised his God, and wrote of the way in which he personally came to believe in his religion. He included numerous arguments for his beliefs, and he stressed not only the reasoning behind why he believed what he did, but also the circumstances of his life (and the lives of others) after he had gained that belief.

One particular passage from Augustine’s Confessions stands out as particularly relevant: VIII.i.1. In it, Augustine relays in the past tense of how he felt immediately after his conversion (Augustine calls it ‘stability’, not ‘certainty’) to Christianity. He talks of how happy he was that finally he had found God, and how he had proceeded next. Simplicianos, the bishop of Milan, is the man he chose to talk to first. Augustine remarked upon his reasoning for choosing Simplicianos, saying that the bishop was a “good servant” of God, and thus worthy of Augustine’s attention. Later in the narrative, when Augustine actually talks to Simplicianos, he hears the story of Victorinus, which is an oft quoted section of Confessions. It is the story of a convert that reminds Augustine very much of his own self, and he finds the story to be extremely significant, especially when compared to the story of his own conversion. This is because both Victorinus and Augustine were aware of the many contradictions in the Christian faith, and they only converted once they understood that these ‘contradictions’ were not truly contradictions, since the meaning of them was not ever meant to be taken literally, but figuratively.

In this way, the thoughts of Augustine coincide with current thinkers. Of course, this is not the only parallelism with today’s notions, but it is the crux of relevancy within the aforementioned cited passage. One could argue that Augustine was ahead of his time, but the truth is that Augustine has pretty much defined our time. It is his masterpiece, Confessions, that has made this world what it is today.

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