One of my favorite books is titled “The Confessions of Saint Augustine.” The word “Confessions” speaks to his articulation of things he believes to be true. Over the years, I come back to this work many times. It continues to serve up spiritual and intellectual refreshment.
During this last journey through it, I asked myself, “Why do I keep coming back to this book?” In answering that question, I’ve come up with a few things that commend this volume. Maybe I could tempt you (the reader) to read this work yourself. Or, you could try the audio version as well. See christianaudio.com.
Let’s speak first to the honesty we see in the “Confessions”. There is a conspicuous lack of pretense in his thinking. I’ve read at different times the biographies of great people. Reading them can be difficult because the author’s praises for the individual make him/her seem unreal. One gets the impression they “always do the right thing”! Augustine does not spare himself in the telling of his story.
Here is one example of his honesty. He explores an unfortunate event in his youth (pg. 24). He, along with some friends, stole pears from a nearby tree. He was compelled to this act by “distaste for well-doing, and a lustiness of iniquity.” He adds, “Nor did I desire to enjoy what I pilfered, but the theft and sin itself.”
He dedicated a book to a man he didn’t know. Why? He writes, “…confidently confess I unto Thee that I loved him more because of the love of those who praised him, than for the very things for which they praised him?” His adulations of this man were based on others’ infatuations.
He discusses his own propensity to lust. He does not spare himself but takes responsibility for his perversions. This was a besetting sin to him.
We note these confessions by Augustine because in them the reader beholds a calming honesty. When someone bends truth for personal gain all manner of alternate realities come knocking. And, dishonesty is the precursor of treachery.
This gentle, even disarming honesty draws me. If a man can be honest about his own shortcomings it seems to me that he is more likely to be trustworthy.
Augustine also exhibits a winsome childlike faith in God. One of his best-known lines comes from the first page, “…and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” In the first book of the confessions (there are 13) he talks to God in the first person.
His conversation is simple, filled with limitations and submission to the Father. His dependence upon God comes through his confessions. I’m reminded of the Psalm that says, “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.”
He also paints a lovely portrait of his mother, Monica. She prayed him into the kingdom. From childhood she testified to God’s goodness. Often, she admonished him to believe but tied down with lust and worldly appetites he could not respond.
On one occasion, she appealed to a local bishop to speak to her son he wisely declined. At the time Augustine was tied up in a heresy. The bishop did say, “Go on your way, and God bless you, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should be lost.” He was right.
The majority of the work focuses on his story. His conversation experience takes a while but eventually he submits to Jesus. It is like he is shepherded slowly but surely to the cross. After his conversion experience he discusses a number of things. It is not my purpose to discuss these other topics.
The tone of the book is sweet, honest, and submitted. One cannot help but enjoy the lack of pretense.