‘You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness.
You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.
You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you.
I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you.
You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.’
– Augustine of Hippo, Confessions (Book 10.27)
Starting in May, we will be taking an in-depth study into one of the most influential books ever written by one of the greatest and influential minds of the West, Confessions by Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis, otherwise known as Augustine of Hippo (or St. Augustine).
Perhaps you had to read Confessions as a requirement for your classics or liberal arts classes during college, but only spent a couple of sessions on it. Or maybe you read it a long time ago and now want to visit it again and ruminate on Augustine’s thoughts a bit more thoroughly now. Whatever the reason may be, we invite you to join us as we begin a new venture into the heart and mind of a man deeply and passionately committed to his faith and whose thoughts still resonate vibrantly till this day.
Augustine is one of the most influential thinkers who greatly impacted the historical, religious and political understanding of Western civilization. As a central figure in Western thought, Augustine was one of the architects of the early church and Christian faith that survived the barbarian invasions of the fifth century and emerged as the predominant religion of medieval Europe. His thoughts would influence other great thinkers of later generations such as Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Arthur Schopenhauer, Soren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Many Christian doctrines that we are familiar today, such as the doctrines of original sin, salvation by God’s grace alone, free will, predestination, the Trinity, just war theory, and infant baptism have been developed or enhanced by Augustine, and much of his theology has been adopted by both Catholic and Protestant traditions (but not so much for Eastern and Orthodox traditions).
With Confessions you can read it as a work of theology, philosophy, history, psychology, an autobiography, or even as a devotional. Much of what he experiences will resonate with what any believer, let alone person, will go through: his struggles with lust, his drive to make a name for himself in his work and profession, his search for wisdom and truth, and later his yearning to draw closer and closer to God. In any case, his work will engage you both intellectually and spiritually.
The translation I have chosen is published by Penguin Classics with R. S. Pine-Coffin as the translator (first published in 1961). You are free to choose any copy/translation as you wish, but for convenience it would be best to share the same version. (The quote I use in the beginning of this post is from a translation by Henry Chadwick, published by Oxford World’s Classics.) It should be fairly easy to pick up a copy of Confessions in any local or larger bookstore and should be ubiquitous anywhere in the U.S.
I will post up questions to reflect upon and respond to in writing as we go through Confessions and I invite you to engage them and share your thoughts about Augustine’s writings.
If you live in New York City, or close-by, please join us for our bi-weekly live sessions in Manhattan. The days and times of these sessions will be posted right before we start this semester, largely depending on how many people want to participate and how people’s schedules will come about. I am hoping to start sometime around the final two weeks of April.
Even if you cannot join us for the live sessions, please participate in reading along with us, and share your thoughts as we read through Confessions. Raise questions and share your insights wherever you are in the world.
“I believe in order that I may understand.”
– St. Augustine (354 – 430)