Augustine's Confessions



St. Augustine of Hippo, Africa [354-430].  His thought is foundation of Western Latin Christianity.  He will influence St. Thomas Aquinas, the only other medieval writer who will begin to approach his influence on Western thought.

Assignment:  Read the first ten books of  Augustine's Confessions; see the outline that I have included to help you get a sense of the structure of the work and the issues involved. Note the book and paragraph correlations from my notes as you read the text.  Augustine needs to be decoded!  For class, post a short paragraph answering one of the following questions, or make up your own question.  We will be discussing your collective works in class.   Finally, although you choose to write on one question, be aware of how your thought on this issue reflects the whole of Augustine’s thought.            

N.B.:  Remember, your most fundamental task is make the leap of "cultural translation" with medieval sources.  Get beneath Augustine's language and figure out what he is saying in human terms. How we would express his problems in twenty-first century language?  To this end, it is often helpful to translate what he considers problems of the "spirit" into what we would consider problems of the "psyche."  Good luck and have fun.         


1.  How would you explain Augustine’s conversion?  What internal psychological and external social pressures were involved?  What, in fact, does conversion mean socially and psychologically?


·         What is attractive to Augustine about Roman society?  What is repellant, and why? 

·         What is the attraction of Christianity?  Why does conversion at first seems a difficult?

·         Pay careful attention to Augustine's relation to his mother and to his father.  How does he feel about each, and what does each represent to him?


2. Note the theme of disgust, satiety, restlessness and the loathing Augustine has for change.  Augustine speaks of the soul being “scattered” or “dispensed” in the world -- this soul is on a pilgrimage in a foreign land and longs to return to the homeland/fatherland.  How would you express such malaise?  What is its cause?   What are Augustine's expectations – what should life be like?  Why?



3.  What is God to Augustine?  What about Augustine's definition of God seems relative to the historical context?  (Appreciate that definitions of God are not absolute, but reflect the society and personality of the people involved.)   Why is the Manichaean definition of God so attractive to him; but why, ultimately, is it so very wrong?


4. What does Augustine mean by sin? 

·         What are the sins of babies, and why are the sins of babies so significant?

·         Why is the theft of some pears by some naughty school boys such a big "existential moment" for Augustine?  (Book 2.)

·         Why is the Manichaean view is sin so appealing to Augustine?


5.    What role does sexuality play in Augustine's life?  Why is it so dangerous?  Why does he pray, "O, Lord, give me chastity and continence---but not yet?


6.  How does the death of his friend affect him?  What insights does it give him about life?  (Book 4.)

How fundamental a concern is death?  Do you think that we today have the same concern?


7.  For Augustine, the idea of grace is crucial and will be revisited again and again in the Middle Ages.  What does grace mean?  Does one have free will in an Augustinian system?


8.  After his conversion (especially as seen in book ten) how is a Christian supposed to react toward the world, toward others, toward himself and God in the fourth century?