Newly Translated and Edited by
ALBERT C. OUTLER, Ph.D., D.D.
Professor of Theology
Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University
First published MCMLV
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 55-5021
Printed in the United States of America
This book is in the public domain.
It was scanned from an uncopyrighted edition.
Introduction by Albert C. Outler, Ph.D., D.D.
Augustine's Testimony Concerning the Confessions
In God's searching presence, Augustine undertakes to plumb the depths
of his memory to trace the mysterious pilgrimage of grace which his
life has been--and to praise God for his constant and omnipotent grace.
In a mood of sustained prayer, he recalls what he can of his infancy,
his learning to speak, and his childhood experiences in school. He
concludes with a paean of grateful praise to God.
He concentrates here on his sixteenth year, a year of idleness, lust,
and adolescent mischief. The memory of stealing some pears prompts a
deep probing of the motives and aims of sinful acts. "I became to
myself a wasteland."
The story of his student days in Carthage, his discovery of Cicero's
Hortensius, the enkindling of his philosophical interest, his
infatuation with the Manichean heresy, and his mother's dream which
foretold his eventual return to the true faith and to God.
This is the story of his years among the Manicheans. It includes the
account of his teaching at Tagaste, his taking a mistress, the
attractions of astrology, the poignant loss of a friend which leads to
a searching analysis of grief and transience. He reports on his first
book, De pulchro et apto, and his introduction to Aristotle's
Categories and other books of philosophy and theology, which he
mastered with great ease and little profit.
A year of decision. Faustus comes to Carthage and Augustine is
disenchanted in his hope for solid demonstration of the truth of
Manichean doctrine. He decides to flee from his known troubles at
Carthage to troubles yet unknown at Rome. His experiences at Rome prove
disappointing and he applies for a teaching post at Milan. Here he
meets Ambrose, who confronts him as an impressive witness for Catholic
Christianity and opens out the possibilities of the allegorical
interpretation of Scripture. Augustine decides to become a Christian
Turmoil in the twenties. Monica follows Augustine to Milan and finds
him a catechumen in the Catholic Church. Both admire Ambrose but
Augustine gets no help from him on his personal problems. Ambition
spurs and Alypius and Nebridius join him in a confused quest for the
happy life. Augustine becomes engaged, dismisses his first mistress,
takes another, and continues his fruitless search for truth.
The conversion to Neoplatonism. Augustine traces his growing
disenchantment with the Manichean conceptions of God and evil and the
dawning understanding of God's incorruptibility. But his thought is
still bound by his materialistic notions of reality. He rejects
astrology and turns to the stud of Neoplatonism. There follows an
analysis of the differences between Platonism and Christianity and a
remarkable account of his appropriation of Plotinian wisdom and his
experience of a Plotinian ecstasy. From this, he comes finally to the
diligent study of the Bible, especially the writings of the apostle
Paul. His pilgrimage is drawing toward its goal, as he begins to know
Jesus Christ and to be drawn to him in hesitant faith.
Conversion to Christ. Augustine is deeply impressed by Simplicianus'
story of the conversion to Christ of the famous orator and philosopher,
Marius Victorinus. He is stirred to emulate him, but finds himself
still enchained by his incontinence and preoccupation with worldly
affairs. He is then visited by a court official, Ponticianus, who tells
him and Alypius the stories of the conversion of Anthony and also of
two imperial "secret service agents." These stories throw him into a
violent turmoil, in which his divided will struggles against himself.
He almost succeeds in making the decision for continence, but is still
held back. Finally, a child's song, overheard by chance, sends him to
the Bible; a text from Paul resolves the crisis; the conversion is a
fact. Alypius also makes his decision, and the two inform the rejoicing
The end of the autobiography. Augustine tells of his resigning from his
professorship and of the days at Cassiciacum in preparation for
baptism. He is baptized together with Adeodatus and Alypius. Shortly
thereafter, they start back for Africa. Augustine recalls the ecstasy
he and his mother shared in Ostia and then reports her death and burial
and his grief. The book closes with a moving prayer for the souls of
Monica, Patricius, and all his fellow citizens of the heavenly
From autobiography to self-analysis. Augustine turns from his memories
of the past to the inner mysteries of memory itself. In doing so, he
reviews his motives for these written "confessions," and seeks to chart
the path by which men come to God. But this brings him into the
intricate analysis of memory and its relation to the self and its
powers. This done, he explores the meaning and mode of true prayer. In
conclusion, he undertakes a detailed analysis of appetite and the
temptations to which the flesh and the soul are heirs, and comes
finally to see how necessary and right it was for the Mediator between
God and man to have been the God-Man.
The eternal Creator and the Creation in time. Augustine ties together
his memory of his past life, his present experience, and his ardent
desire to comprehend the mystery of creation. This leads him to the
questions of the mode and time of creation. He ponders the mode of
creation and shows that it was de nihilo and involved no alteration in
the being of God. He then considers the question of the beginning of
the world and time and shows that time and creation are cotemporal. But
what is time? To this Augustine devotes a brilliant analysis of the
subjectivity of time and the relation of all temporal process to the
abiding eternity of God. From this, he prepares to turn to a detailed
interpretation of Gen. 1:1, 2.
The mode of creation and the truth of Scripture. Augustine explores the
relation of the visible and formed matter of heaven and earth to the
prior matrix from which it was formed. This leads to an intricate
analysis of "unformed matter" and the primal "possibility" from which
God created, itself created de nihilo. He finds a reference to this in
the misconstrued Scriptural phrase "the heaven of heavens." Realizing
that his interpretation of Gen. 1:1, 2, is not self-evidently the only
possibility, Augustine turns to an elaborate discussion of the
multiplicity of perspectives in hermeneutics and, in the course of
this, reviews the various possibilities of true interpretation of his
Scripture text. He emphasizes the importance of tolerance where there
are plural options, and confidence where basic Christian faith is
The mysteries and allegories of the days of creation. Augustine
undertakes to interpret Gen. 1:2-31 in a mystical and allegorical
fashion so as to exhibit the profundities of God's power and wisdom and
love. He is also interested in developing his theories of hermeneutics
on his favorite topic: creation. He finds the Trinity in the account of
creation and he ponders the work of the Spirit moving over the waters.
In the firmament he finds the allegory of Holy Scripture and in the dry
land and bitter sea he finds the division between the people of God and
the conspiracy of the unfaithful. He develops the theme of man's being
made in the image and likeness of God. He brings his survey to a climax
and his confessions to an end with a meditation on the goodness of all
creation and the promised rest and blessedness of the eternal Sabbath,
on which God, who is eternal rest, "rested."
[Guide to Early Church Documents]
Translated and edited by ALBERT C. OUTLER, Ph.D., D.D.
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