The personal journey of a man searching for God

Confessions (World's Classics) - Augustine of Hippo, Henry Chadwick

Saint Augustine, at heart, is a theologian, and the problem I find with most theologians is that much of their work tends to be dry and academic, and Saint Augustine is no exception. However in his Confessions we encounter a completely different side, at least in the first nine books. Saint Augustine, one of the theological pillars of the Christian faith, opens up his heart, and his past, for all to see in what could be considered to be one of the world's first autobiographies (or at least the earliest one that we have because others were probably written, it is just that they did not survive the thousand years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the modern age.

Augustine is not the first writer to open up his heart for the world to see because others have done that, in particular King David, as we clearly see from his psalms. Paul the Apostle also gives us glimpses into his personality, and we can also feel the pain and the anguish coming out of his letters. However what Augustine does in his confessions is that he sets aside this book to let the readers know who he is and where he came from. What we also get out of this book is honesty. Augustine is honest about his failings, and he is honest about the life that he used to lead and the struggles that he faced. Yet despite all of this he still comes down to us as one of Christianity's greatest theologians.

When I am speaking about the Confessions I am generally focusing on the first nine books (or chapters if you will). It is here that Augustine takes us on a journey from his birth to the death of his mother, and his intellectual and spiritual development during this time. In a way it seems as if C.S. Lewis followed Augustine's lead when he wrote Surprised by Joy as Augustine also seems to focus on his intellectual development, however, unlike Lewis, he also focuses on his short comings as well. Augustine tells us how, as a child, he was more interested in playing than he was in learning, but it makes us wonder what it was like to be a child in the later Roman Empire. These days it is fine for children to play, and in a way it is encouraged. This was not always the case. However, in our society there is time for play and there is time for learning, and I suspect that what Augustine is writing about is how all he wanted to do as a child was to play as opposed to learning.

One of the confessions that Augustine admits seems to reverberate with numerous people. I remember reading this book at Bible college, and also a couple of years before, and I clearly remember the story about the pear tree. In fact at Bible college this story seemed to stand out to quite a few people in the class. As Augustine tells us, when he was a teenager he and a group of friends go and steal pears from a neighbour's pear tree, but they are not stealing the pears to eat, but rather to throw away. Obviously there is some cultural aspect to this story since this was before the age of the refrigerator meaning that the only way to store fruit was to leave it on the tree, and even then you could only leave them for a period of time before they would become over ripe. In another sense it is just waste, and waste in the sense that this food could have been eaten however it has been destroyed and is now utterly useless (however it also makes me wonder about the enormous amount of waste that comes out of our supermarkets these days).

The last four chapters can easily be ignored because they seem to move away from his personal struggles and into theology. In away it is a complete turn from what came about in the rest of the book. In book 10 Augustine speaks about memory and how he believes memory works, and then moves about to examine other areas of scripture such as the Genesis account. I never realised that this last section even existed until I read the back cover of my edition which says: this edition … consists of books 1-9. The last four books are here omitted since they do not form an integral part of the [auto]biography. Upon discovering that there were four books missing I immediately started trawling the internet looking for a complete copy, and ended up finding one here.