The Confessions, by Saint Augustine
In the Confessions, by Saint Augustine, Augustine addressed himself articulately and passionately to the persistent questions that stirred the minds and hearts of men since time began. The Confessions tells a story in the form of a long conversion with God. Through this conversion to Catholic Christianity, Augustine encounters many aspects of love. These forms of love help guide him towards an ultimate relationship with God. His restless heart finally finds peace and rest in God at the end of The Confessions.
Augustine finds many ways in which he can find peace in God. He is genuinely sorry for having turned away from God, the source of peace and happiness. Augustine is extremely thankful for having been given the opportunity to live with God. Augustine uses love as his gate to God’s grace. Throughout the Confessions, love and wisdom, the desire to love and be loved, and his love for his concubine, are all driving forces for Augustine’s desire to find peace in God. The death of his friend upsets him deeply, but also allows him to pursue God to become a faithful Christian.
Augustine often experiences darkness, blindness, and confusion while attempting to find rest in God, but he knows that when he eventually finds him his restless heart will be saved. Augustine started out in childhood with a restless heart because he had to live in two different worlds. These worlds consisted of that of his mother’s religious faith, and the world of everything else. These two worlds confused and disturbed Augustine as a child. In his mother’s world, talk consisted of Christ the Savior and about the mighty god who helps us specially to go.
So, as you can see, St. Augustine’s Confessions were written during a furor of activity as shepherd of the Catholics in Hippo. St. Augustine at the start of his priesthood and episcopacy seems to have focused very much on countering the Manicheans in his community or abroad in Africa, since he had belonged to the Manichean community for some ten years of his life. Much of those ten years of his life he had spent as a persecutor of Catholics, and it was a big surprise for many African Catholics to see such a person come to life by the grace of God. They would have doubted his sincerity. Another interesting thing in this period is that St.
Augustine began a number of other works devoted to both the monks that he was an abbot over (On Lying, On the work of Monks, Commentary on Galatians, among some letters as well) and the laity whom he was charged with caring for (Homilies on the Sermon on the Mount [not listed], Exposition of the Psalms, works on the Eucharistic fast, works on marriage and virginity, various sermons and letters, etc.).
Near the end of his completion of Confessions St. Augustine begins a series of larger works against the Donatists, but not to be confused or mislead here, St. Augustine had actually been writing letters to Donatist bishops since very near the beginning of his priesthood, trying to convince them to end their schism. It seems that St. Augustine’s attempt at completing his commentary on Genesis might also factor into how Confessions ends with a reflection on God’s work in Creation and on the soul.
However, we can state more reasons for why Confessions was written. Henry Chadwick, a certain scholar of ecclesiastical history, brought to attention the theory that Confessions was written as a way to convince many of the tumultuous ecclesiastic culture of Africa that his conversion was sincere. There is some merit to this theory as well, given that St.
Augustine spent 10 years as a Manichean, much in the same way that St. Paul spent quite some time as a Pharisee hunting down and killing Christians. Looking to the works of St. Augustine you can see that St. Augustine’s earlier works were almost singularly focused on upending the Manicheans, perhaps as part of his desire to separate himself from the sect or more likely as a way of devoting himself to Christ. You can also see from his letters and later works that St. Augustine was working to end the Donatist schism and there is quite some work that he has actually put into this before his completion of Confessions. I suspect that a large push for Confessions was either Catholics who needed an answer to the Donatist jeering that their bishop was a grave sinner (remember the Donatists were in some part legalistic and did not forgive sins easily) or St. Augustine who did not have much credibility from the Donatists who did not know him. I think there are some reasons however to place this reason as a secondary one. There are many, many scholars who find anti-Manichean and anti-Donatist themes and references present in Confessions and it does not surprise me at all that these are present, but one has to remember that St. Augustine was already building some renown as a faithful convert.
By the time he was writing Confessions it had been about ten years since his baptism, but perhaps only one or two years as a known bishop. The African Catholic bishops may have been suspicious but in some respect St. Augustine’s speech at a council, De Fide et Symbolo (On the Faith and the Creed), regarding the orthodoxy of the Nicene Creed, made in 393 AD. The speech was well regarded by the large council of the African bishops.
The African bishops even allowed St. Augustine as a priest to preach in Hippo in light of Valerius’ (the bishop at the time) very broken Latin. And so any pushback from Catholics to write the Confessions is I think unlikely, or indiscernible in modern times. In his On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine gives his interlocutor, Evodius, a ‘proof’ of the existence of God. I don’t think the proof works.
Nevertheless, it merits attention for various reasons. For one thing, it makes clear how Platonistic Augustine’s thinking was. More importantly, perhaps, it forces us to think about what sort of thing God is, or would be. He also proved that evil is a real thing. Whether or not it stands in our way is up to you as he states.
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