Tag Archives: Augustine

Reading the Confessions: Tips for late starters

Contemporary icon of St. Augustine*

On Friday, October 27, the Library Book Club launches its 15th season with a discussion of the Confessions of Saint Augustine. For readers who have not yet begun the book, do not despair! There is still time to read or listen to enough to be ready for the discussion. Here are a few points of encouragement:

  • The first nine books of the work, in which Augustine tells the story of his life from early childhood through his baptism and the passing of his mother, are highly understandable and enjoyable for first-time readers.
  • Listening to the audio version is perfectly fine. Augustine’s initial intended audience was his flock in Hippo, most of which would have experienced the work by listening.
  • Of all ancient books that have come down to us, perhaps none tell a story and describe a world that seems so familiar as the The Confessions provides a vivid portrait of 4th century life in North Africa and Italy. Far more importantly, it tells the story of Augustine’s inner life – his struggle to free himself from the torments of lust, ambition, and membership in a cult until his complete conversion and surrender to Christ, when “my heart was virtually flooded with a light of relief and certitude, and all the darkness of my hesitation scattered away.”
  • There is an abundance of excellent scholarly lectures available on YouTube. One of the best is by Ryan Reeves, Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Many historians regard the Confessions as second only to the Pauline letters in its impact on what would become the established theology of the Church. From the time of its publication in 400 it has also made life-changing impacts on countless readers.

In 2018, Joshua Katz, a renowned Princeton professor, at the lowest point of his life, turned to The Confessions. Katz’s reading of the Confessions, assisted by his 93-year-old future grandmother-in-law, marked the start of his own journey from a self-described “godless classicist” with a ruined professional and personal life, to a new life and family in Christ. His account of sin and redemption is as unsparing on himself as Augustine’s and is well worth reading.1     

If you plan to attend the discussion in person, registration is preferred but not required. For online participation, however, registration is necessary so we can email you the Teams link. Click here to register for both.

1Katz, Joshua T. “My Confessions.” First Things (New York, N.Y.), 2021, 1–5. My Confessions by Joshua T. Katz | Articles | First Things

*Image credit: https://diocesan.com/product/staugustine-a-eng-af/

Book Discussion: The Confessions of St. Augustine

In the introduction to her analysis of Shakespeare’s plays, scholar Marjorie Garber writes that “what is often described as the timelessness of Shakespeare…is perhaps better understood as an uncanny timeliness, a capacity to speak directly to circumstances the playwright could not have anticipated or foreseen.”1

Of all the ancient authors whose works have come down to us, perhaps none fits this description so well as Augustine. His Confessions depict a civilization and personages that seem immediately recognizable to us. From his religiously indifferent father to, to his pious mother not above prioritizing ambition for her son over Biblical teaching, to Augustine himself, a brilliant intellectual torn between lust and spiritual yearning, we feel that at, at various times in our lives, we have known modern equivalents of Augustine and his parents.

In the Confessions, written in his early 40s, Augustine tells us the story of his life from boyhood to his conversion at age 31. Readers interested in ancient history will find a vivid picture of life in the North African provinces during the final decades of the Roman Empire. Far more important, however, is Augustine’s examination of the spiritual meaning behind even seemingly insignificant events, such as the famous theft of pears from a neighbor’s tree by a mischievous boy Augustine and his fellow miscreants. Above all, and the explanation for its continuous impact on Christian readers since its publication in 400, the Confessions illustrates, through Augustine’s own life, the truth of the author’s words to God near the beginning of the book: “In yourself you rouse us, giving us delight in glorifying you, because you made us with yourself as our goal, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”2

On Friday, October 27 at noon, the Library Book Club begins its fifteenth season with a discussion of this essential work for all Christians. It is not necessary to complete the book to participate, and both Audible and Hoopla have free audiobook options for listening. For the complete schedule and link to register for in-person or video participation, see the Library Book Club homepage.

1Marjorie B. Garber, Shakespeare after All. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004), 3.  

2Augustine, Confessions, trans. Sarah Ruden (New York: Modern Library, 2017), 3.