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I fell away from thee, O my God, and in my youth I wandered too far from thee, my true support. And I became to myself a wasteland.

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Two, Chapter 10 (Pages 30)
The Confessions of St. Augustine (Dover Thrift Editions): St. Augustine,  Outler, Albert Cook: 0800759424665: Amazon.com: Books
Buy The Confessions of Saint Augustine on Amazon (AFFILIATE LINK)

Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Today I present another Christian book review for The Christian Book Corner.

Today’s book is The Confessions of Saint Augustine by Augustine of Hippo. In this case the Dover Thrift Editions version. If you follow my blog you know lately I’ve been writing a lot of topics inspired by this excellent book.

If you’re familiar at all with the Confessions, you might now be wondering: “What the hell?? He’s going to review the Confessions?? Who does he think he is??” Well, yes and no I’m going to review it. As for who I think I am, I’m a Christian with a mind and opinions of my own. And I’m blessed with the freedom to speak those opinions.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine is one of the most important texts in Christianity. It was written between the years 397-400. Through this and his other writings, Augustine played a major role in shaping European Christianity. His writings led the church from the early Christian era into the medieval era and beyond. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, after the Apostles, Augustine was the next-most important writer who shaped the development of Christianity.

The really interesting thing about Confessions is it’s an incredibly personal book. But I’ll get to that in my review.

So how could I dare to “review” such a classic, well-known, and important book in the history of Christianity?? Well, in many ways this review, like my previous review of the Wisdom of Solomon, is meant to introduce this fundamental Christian text to Readers who don’t know it. Because many Christians today don’t know about Confessions or who Augustine was, even if their church doctrine is heavily inspired by him (which is likely).

Many Christians don’t know The Confessions of Saint Augustine, but all Christians should. It’s that important. So hopefully my latest post for The Christian Book Corner introduces new readers to this fundamental Christian writing which had a massive impact on our Faith.

What’s in the Book

This Dover Thrift Editions version begins with an introduction by Albert C. Outler. It explains the historical significance of Augustine and his impact on Christianity. It’s a good intro. Then, this edition reprints three notes Augustine wrote about Confessions later in life. Augustine called some of these ‘retractions,’ but they’re more like minor edits and clarifications he wanted to make years later. Still, it’s nice to know what the author thought about his own book and what readers should know.

Anyway, let’s get into the book. Consisting of thirteen books, The Confessions of Saint Augustine is divided into two distinct sections.

Books One through Nine trace the course of Augustine’s life and God’s grace in it, even when he was living in sin. This is more than an autobiography, because he also writes on other theology topics. But yes, it is autobiographical. It’s the story of his life, how he lived in sin, far from God. And how God pulled Augustine back to Him, over time. A classic story that still happens to this day.

Augustine is very honest about himself as he recounts his life of sin with remorse. In his mind, his sins start all the way back in early childhood.

I fell away from thee, O my God, and in my youth I wandered too far from thee, my true support. And I became to myself a wasteland.

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Two, Chapter 10 (Pages 30)

From there he writes about his life as a young man, and how he got into the kinds of trouble young men often get into. He started fornicating, for one thing. But he also got into other kinds of antics. In one story that was significant to him, he remembers stealing pears from a field along with his friends. He didn’t need those pears for food, he says, and he and his friends ended up tossing the pears all over the place. So what made him join in on this?? It was all just for the sin of it, that’s it.

What profit did I, a wretched one, receive from those things which, when I remember them now, cause me shame—above all, from that theft, which I loved only for the theft’s sake? And, as the theft itself was nothing, I was all the more wretched in that I loved it so. […]
[…] But since the pleasure I got was not from the pears, it was in the crime itself, enhanced by the companionship of my fellow sinners.

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Two, Chapter 8 (Pages 28-29)

Doing something wrong, just to enjoy the sin of it. A classic story—I know we all have a story like this. But not everyone has the courage to write about it so openly, like Augustine does.

Moving on, Augustine gets to the main sin of his life: His involvement with the Manichean Gnostics. A false religion more properly known as Manichaeism. This now-dead religion began in the 3rd century AD with a Persian (Iranian) prophet named Mani. If you’re interested, you can check out this Wikipedia article on Manichaeism (let it be the start of your research on them, not the end).

I won’t get into the details of Manichean beliefs—Confessions does a much better job of that—but I’ll only say it was a false religion started by a false prophet claiming unique revelations no one else had. Mani said the teachings of Jesus were incomplete and set himself up as the final prophet with the only complete knowledge. He even said the Holy Spirit dwelt in him on a different, special level that made Mani a divinity. So he claimed to be a God, in other words.

This was a heretical sect. They can’t be considered Christian at all—but they didn’t see themselves like that anyway.

Anyway, his time in Manichaeism is what Augustine considers his worst sin ever. He confesses over and over his blasphemies against God and the heretical things he believed. It’s clear that he’s truly sorry over this. After getting out of Manichaeism he would continue in other sins—for example, he was addicted to fornication and had not one, but two mistresses out of wedlock, one of whom gave him a son. He also got into astrology at one point. But even still, Augustine saw Manichaeism as the worst of his sins and devoted many pages about it.

After experiencing the truth, he was very remorseful for believing this false religion. But he uses his confession of his time in Manichaeism to show the little ways God’s grace was still with him then. All the ways God was helping him and leading him (slowly) toward Jesus. Even when Augustine was at his worst, practicing this false religion, God was always with him.
And that’s the most important message of Confessions. This is so much more than a guy remembering all his past sins. Over the course of this tale, he shows how God’s Providence was always at work in his life, saving Augustine from worse sins and drawing him back to God over time.

In the case of Manichaeism, God showed Augustine the flaws in the logic of what this religion taught. He recalls a time when he questioned a high-ranking teacher in that religion, only to find out the teacher didn’t know much himself. Augustine knew he had more education and knowledge than this revered Manichean teacher, who was called Faustus.

I had been looking forward with unbounded eagerness to the arrival of this Faustus. For all the other members of the sect that I happened to meet, when they were unable to answer the questions I raised, always referred me to his coming. They promised that, in discussion with him, these and even greater difficulties […] would be quite easily and amply cleared away.
As soon as I found an opportunity for this, and gained his [Faustus’] ear […] I laid before him some of my doubts. I discovered at once that he knew nothing of the liberal arts except grammar, and that only in an ordinary way.

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Five, Chapter 6 (Pages 70-72)

This encounter with Faustus was the final straw for Augustine, since his God-given intellect had already made him doubt Manichaeism before this. But now the falsehood and error of this sect was exposed in all its ugliness. Augustine knew God had allowed him to meet Faustus so he could question him and see this for himself. It was another of the many little ways God was helping him while he was lost. It led him to say:

My heart and my memory are laid open before thee [God], who wast even then guiding me by the secret impulse of thy providence and was setting my shameful errors before my face so that I might see and hate them.

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Five, Chapter 6 (Page 72)

This is the theme of Books One through Nine, the first part of Confessions. Covering every sin from theft to fornication to heresy and back to fornication again (and again), Augustine gives his own testimony of being Saved by God’s Grace. A story of God reaching down into the “depths of his sin” and pulling him back up and out of there. He looks back all the way to childhood, and points out all the little ways God’s Providence was at work the whole time. Which ended with Augustine converting to Christianity and surrendering to God for real.

God never abandoned him, like God never abandons us either. This first section of the book is such a great read because it’s a story we can all relate to as sinners who’ve been Saved. Our own stories are much like Augustine’s, actually. It’s somehow comforting to know that such a great Spiritual man also struggled with sin to this extent. His story is an inspiration to us all, and we must note what he teaches about how God works on sinners and uses Providence.

But the second section of the confessions consists of Books Ten through Thirteen. This section has a completely different tone and flow, and this section is what I’ll talk about in my “criticism” of the book.

Wow … Didn’t See that Coming

Again, how can I dare to “criticize” anything about such an important book like this?? Well I can’t really criticize it, but what I can do is be honest and tell you what I didn’t like. This is my opinion after reading the book, and you can take it or leave it. This second section, Books Ten through Thirteen, was the low point of the book for me.

In this section Augustine goes in-depth explaining some of his theology. Since Augustine was such an influence on Christianity, this material might be more “important” than the first section. But I must be honest and say this section was dry and confusing compared to the first part.

The first part was autobiographical**, and easy to read because it was a relatable story about his life. It was a good story. But this second section isn’t relatable, isn’t personal, and isn’t simple. It’s not easy to follow along with the book from this point on.

**But it’s more than a mere autobiography.

We go from a personal story to a high-level discussion of dense, complex philosophical topics. What is memory?? What is time?? Things like that. The change is so drastic, and so sudden.

As for why this happens, it’s so Augustine can write in detail his understanding of things like the Eternity of God, for example. We can’t really understand the Eternity of God. But if we seek to understand it a little bit, first we need to understand what time is. And we need to understand how we humans experience it, then imagine how God would experience it. Then maybe we can understand some little tiny aspect of the Eternity of God.

Well, as you can imagine the tone of this section is completely different from the first.

It’s not an easy read, at this point. In this second section it’s now something we must read closely, like a dense textbook for an exam at school. It’s an abrupt change from the first part. While the second section is valuable and we must read it for its insights, it’s not a pleasant read like the first part. Be ready for a tough read once you reach Book Ten.

But of course, pleasure is not the reason we would read a book like Confessions anyway. We read books like this to learn, and to grow in Christ on our Christian Walk.

Growth isn’t easy; it challenges us. This second section of Confessions is a challenge, but one worth taking on. It has a lot to say about the goodness of God and our part in His creation. Plenty of insights that should get us thinking about God, man, and the relation between us. So if our goal is to get closer to God—and as Christians, that must be our goal—then this is the exact kind of material we need to read, no matter how tough it is.

The Final Word

Should you read The Confessions of Saint Augustine??

It’s easy to answer that question. All Christians should read Confessions—it’s a definite recommend. Augustine of Hippo was one of the biggest influences on modern Christianity itself. We need to at least be familiar with his story and his ideas.

Lucky for us then that Confessions exists. Out of all Augustine’s writings, this one is the most accessible and easy to read. At least the first part of it, that is. But the story is so relatable and compelling that it makes up for any difficulty we have reading the second section. As for that second section, we should view reading it as a Spiritual exercise. Part of our education in Christianity. Growth isn’t easy.

But if Spiritual growth as a Christian is our goal, The Confessions of Saint Augustine is the exact kind of book we need. Again: Augustine was one of the most important influences on modern Christianity. Every Christian should at least know something about his ideas. And this classic Christian writing, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, is an excellent way for new readers to get introduced to Augustine and what he taught. I say there’s no better place to start with Augustine than Confessions.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine

by Augustine of Hippo. Dover Publications, Inc., 2003.

Buy The Confessions of Saint Augustine on Amazon (This is an affiliate link. I receive a small commission if you buy through this link.)


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Until next time, be strong and do good!

Your new best friend in Christ,

99:9

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