Book Summary and Analysis: Confessions
Born in 354 in Thagaste, St. Augustine was born to a Christian mother and a pagan father. Augustine was always interested in learning and knowledge, and it was this desire to learn that led to him becoming a teacher and eventually teaching in Carthage, Rome and Milan.1 However it was not just secular knowledge Augustine was seeking, rather Augustine was also searching for the right to faith to believe in, and though he started off as a believer in Manichee theosophy, he eventually converted to Christianity. St. Augustine’s novel Confessions is more than a man revealing his thoughts and confessions; it is a record of a man’s journey to discover his faith. This work illustrates the internal struggle some face when finding themselves and most importantly, it demonstrated how Christianity appealed to so many groups of people, regardless of previous beliefs, gender, or social status, and gained such a massive following.
Book IV of Confessions discusses Augustine’s early career of teaching rhetoric, as well as describing the death of one of Augustine’s good friends. Augustine describes his life in this section as a period of time in which his life was “one of being seduced and seducing, being deceived and deceiving in a variety of desires,” referring to his current interests and what he was actually pursuing at the time. More specifically, he was referring to the fact that he was a teaching a liberal subject to students (rhetoric) while believing in a “false” religion behind closed doors, relishing in the attention and popularity he and he students received from their rhetoric mastery all while wanting to purge themselves of their prideful and sinful behaviors.2 Another regret that Augustine reveals in this section is that he maintained such a long relationship with his concubine who was also the mother of his child. He notes that: She was not my partner in what is called a lawful marriage. I had found her in my state of wandering desire and lack of prudence. With her I learnt by direct experience how wide a difference there is between the partnership of marriage entered into for the sake of having a family and the mutual consent of those who love is a matter of physical sex, and for whom the birth of a child is contrary to their intention.3
This passage indicates that Augustine realized that his relationship with this woman was wrong, but admits he found it in a state of mind in which he was lost, and was unable to control his desires for sex, and thus continued the relationship. Augustine moves on to describe how when he was teaching in Thagaste he had developed very close relationship with a man he had grown up with as a kid. Unfortunately his friend passed away at the moment in which Augustine started to become very close with him. “It had been sweet to me beyond all the sweetnesses of life that I had experienced,” is how Augustine describes his experiences with his friend, indicating how truly important this man was in his life.4 However an interesting point is when Augustine points out that when his friend was ill, a baptism had been preformed on the friend without his conscious approval, and once the friend realized what was performed on him, he was appalled and asked Augustine to not discuss these kinds of matters to him ever again. Augustine didn’t seem to understand why he would feel this way and decided to wait until his friend was healthy again to discuss his religious viewpoints. However this time never came as his friend became ill with a fever once more and ended up passing away. This section illustrates the power Christianity has over people because looking back Augustine realizes the importance of his friend’s baptism and hints that the baptism was what made him regain strength and health for a few days which indicates how strong Augustine believed Christianity to truly be. After his friend’s death, Augustine became severely depressed, as he now described...
Cited: St. Augustine. Confessions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
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