The Confessions of Augustine (354-430)

Read Outler’s “Introduction” carefully for the background he provides to Augustine’s life and this work, in particular his description of the importance of the “Platonists” for his intellectual growth and the role his acceptance of Christianity played in his journey.  Be able to find these incidents in the text of Augustine.

The opening lines (Book I, Chapter I, par.1) [note that the method of attribution here is the standard one that uses “book” {Roman numeral}, “chapter” {Roman numeral} and “paragraph” {arabic numeral}] of the Confessions set the tone for the work as a whole.  What, for example, does the first sentence look like to you?  The passage, “thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it rests in thee,” is one of the more famous in Western literature, and it may be taken as a shorthand statement of Augustine’s basic outlook on reality.  What does it mean?

Does the way in which Augustine describes his youthful appreciation of education (Book I, Chapter IX, par. 14-15) provide you with any insight as far as your own intellectual journey is concerned?

How does Augustine describe the impact that the books of the “Platonists” (Book VII, Chapter IX, par. 13-14) had upon him?  Can you identify the Christian text to which Augustine is comparing these texts?

As a result of his reading the texts of the “Platonists,” Augustine has a profound experience (Book VII, Chapter X, par. 16).  How would you try to interpret what he is claiming here?  How does this experience lead him to the insight (Book VII, Chapters XII-XIII, par. 18-19) which would enable him to resolve his concerns over the origin of evil?

Once his intellectual difficulties were resolved by the insights he derived from the works of the “Platonists,” what does Augustine say (Book VIII, Chapter VI, par. 13) still held him back from his complete acceptance of Christianity?  What was the effect on Augustine of the story of Anthony (Book VIII, Chapter VI, par. 14-15) narrated to him by his visitor, Ponticianus?  What was the struggle (Book VIII, Chapter VII, par. 16-18) going on within Augustine at this point in his life?  What do you think of his prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet”? (Book VIII, Chapter VII, par. 17)  What do you think of Augustine’s reflections (Book VIII, Chapters VII-XI, par. 20-25) on what we might call today the “divided self”? 

Augustine portrays the “resolution” to his inner torment in his hearing a child’s sing-song voice which leads him to read a passage from Paul (Book VIII, Chapter XII, par. 29).  What do you think is happening here?  How would you try to make sense of this in light of the selections from Bonaventure or Francis in this section or in light of your own experience of being on an intellectual journey?