St. Augustine takes us beyond his conversion in The Confessions. He writes to God here, as we might have understood from the book’s title, but it’s worth mentioning because some might have thought he was confessing to the reader. But, while he writes to God, he also writes to the reader considering we’re sitting and reading the text, most likely comparing his life to our’s as books labeled “Biography” are likely to have us do.
Without the initial interest in the “character”, we probably won’t be interested in the story of the person’s life, or a piece of the person’s life being analyzed deeply. So, with great interest, I picked up St. Augustine’s The Confessions.
With great praise and many quotations taken from Scripture, Augustine writes as a new man, which is what he considers himself to be at the time of the writing. He considers himself a new man through and under the workings of God and prayer from his mother, who was a devout Christian prior to Augustine’s conversion. In the book, he credits her prayers for his conversion to be the source of said conversion. “Great is your strength and of your wisdom there is no counting (Ps. 147.5 [Ps. 146.5]).” This is the second sentence of Book One. The first sentence is also taken from the Bible. So, with this we have Augustine pronouncing, through other text’s words, his devotion to God. We have, very early on, no doubts as to what generally Augustine is up to with the book, but the specifics won’t come until later, if at all. The book doesn’t exactly wander as much as it covers much ground of the thinking man. The text seems like a lightly edited version of his thought process as things occurred to him and he makes deductions.
Please don’t gather the idea that the book is nothing but quotations from the Bible being used for his benefit. The book’s made up of many such quotations, but they are meant to be the glue holding his thoughts together and not the redundant space filler that some might expect from my above assertion.
With his conversion comes a “mighty squall of wind” and from this we gather that his conversion made him a more compassionate and emotional person, whereas before he lived to be a thinker and not a feeler. He writes, “But when my meditation had dredged the hidden depths of my being and heaped up in the sight of my heart all the unhappiness I had known, immediately there arose a mighty squall of wind, bearing with it a mighty storm of tears.”
Conversion was a long time coming for Augustine; he wouldn’t convert until his thirties after difficult illness and an established persona and writer of books in the legal world of rhetoric. He credits his mother’s prayers for his conversion, coupled with his own unhappiness as the above quotation would indicate. His father was a pagan (baptized on his deathbed) who passed away when Augustine was only in his teens, so his mother is given almost direct influence on his eventual conversion, having kept it in the family. Without question, Augustine shows his introspective self here, perhaps better than anywhere else we’re likely to find it. He seems to admit that without his spirituality and his acceptance of that spirituality, he was nothing but despondent. It wasn’t until he turned within by the practice of meditation that he succumbed to the overwhelming cry of something wrong in his life. He, in fact, refers to his spiritual side as “the hidden depths”, making us believe that his conversion wasn’t exactly miraculous, but had been there all along and had been merely clouded over by his positions in the world. So few who achieve success in the worldly way come to an admittance like Augustine does here that, to me, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear someone intelligently decry the act of defending guilty parties in the court room. Without a doubt, Augustine regrets passing along his knowledge in the field of rhetoric.
This is a great read but bear in mind the fact that this is firstly a story of family and the influence of parenthood.