Augustine: The Confessions

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Bristol Phoenix, 2005 - History - 104 pages
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Augustine's 'Confessions', written at the close of the fourth century CE, is a highly significant text in the history of European culture. Augustine explains just how and why he came to abandon a successful career and the personal enjoyments of a largely secular existence to follow a life of prayer and study, leading to a true comprehension of God and the Bible. The avowed approach of this introductory book is to 'historicise' - to set Augustine's own experiences of religion, philosophy and Christian faith against the long-standing political, cultural and religious traditions of the classical world. Late antiquity saw the transformation of the classical heritage and its transmission by Christian authors. Augustine's ideas about how texts may be presented and read, how people respond to written and spoken language, find resonance in recent critical theory.The world in which Augustine lived, the structure, style and purpose of the Confessions, and the problems of rhetoric and truth posed by its author's personal search for himself are all scrutinised in this lucid introductory account. The volume also offers a useful guide to further reading.

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I first came across St. Augustine's "Confessions" when I was a freshman in college. It was a monumental experience in terms of both the content of his writing and the freshness and relevance of his writing style. After re-reading them again recently, I am still struck with how contemporary the book feels. Aside from many of its 4th century particularities, the concerns that St. Augustine had and the way he frankly and honestly dealt with them could be lifted from almost any contemporary tell-all autobiography. The biggest exception is the fact that "Confessions" is a quintessentially and irreducibly a religious text, and in an age when religious considerations are largely pushed towards the margins of their life stories, it is refreshing and uplifting to see what would a life look like for someone who took them very seriously and committed himself to reorganizing one's whole life around the idea of serving God wholly and uncompromisingly. "Confessions" is a very accessible text, and for the most part it does not deal with theological and philosophical issues. The exception is the latter part of the book, which are almost exclusively dedicated to those topics. You may want to skip those at the first reading, but I would encourage you to read them nevertheless. Maybe the very inspiring and uplifting story of St. Augustine's conversion to Christianity can lead you into deeper considerations about your faith or the meaning of life in general. I cannot think of a better introduction to those topics than "Confessions," nor of a better guide than St. Augustine. 

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About the author (2005)


Gillian Clark is Professor of Ancient History in the University of Bristol. Her current areas of research include a collaborative commentary on Augustine City of God and in more general terms, Greek and Latin patristics in relation to Graeco-Roman social and intellectual history.

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