The confessions of Augustine is one of the first auto-biographies written in the history of the Western world. It runs the course of his infancy all the way to his conversion to Christ in his later life. While it does flow chronologically for the most part, with important people and places along the way, it is different than simply telling a personal story, in that he spends a lot of time writing out words of worship and adoration with his musings over philosophical issues. It was as if he were writing primarily to God, but then back to his audience every so often along the way, and vice versa.
While there is much debate as to why he wrote this work, it is very clear that his aim was to glory in the God who saved him, despite the lifestyle he sought after for so long. He cried out, “Why so late in your coming, O my Joy? You continued to be silent while I, arrogant, dejected, restless, and sick of it all, kept straying farther and farther from you, and more and more into the sandy oil of a deep, inner anguish.” (Book II, Ch. 23) He lived a licentious way of life, filled with drunkenness and concubines. He poured his life into self pleasure and multiple philosophies (i.e. Manicheanism and Neo-Platonism), thinking there he would find true happiness. But needless to say, the pleasures of the world cannot compare to the riches of the joys of the eternal Father, and it was for that he wrote out the story of his life. He was no longer bound by shame, but the God who saved Him. The work of the Confessions was that of worship. It told of his life, but pointed to the God who gave it to him.
Throughout the book, he is continually transparent over his flaws and personal sins. From his lust, his anguish, and all the way down to stealing pears for no apparent reason other than the joy of stealing (Book 2, Ch. 4). It was his way of unashamedly exposing himself to let the light of the gospel shine all the more brightly in his life’s story.
Though, he had much doubt, due to his philosophical pursuits (the academics of the time, much like ours, thought it impossible to know anything for certain), he did not allow that to stop his desire of understanding Christianity. He had a false understanding of what Christianity was, so he was initially turned off, mainly because he thought it was unintelligent to be a Christian, until he met Ambrose, who was a very powerful preacher of that time, and his presuppositions were broken. While he was not immediately changed, God used encounters with people like that as stepping stones toward Himself, and it was major figures in his life like Ambrose, and primarily his unwavering mother influence, who showed him the love of Jesus. Later he received a vision or experience where God told him through a little girls voice to take up the Bible and read. He decided to open it up to the first place he could place his finger, and it fell on Romans 13:13,14. Though a strange verse to bring about someone’s conversion, God sovereignly changed his heart by those few words, which attacked the core idol that kept his heart from Christ.
The writing style of Augustine was much richer than I had imagined. He was very real about his life, and did not attempt to hide who he was to his readers. Though, I did have issue with a few things. Augustine has been known to be amazingly protestant and catholic at the exact same time (none of us is perfect :-P). While he handles Scripture in a very solid way most of the time, he allegorizes a lot later on in the book. While none of the allegories cross into heresy, it does make you wonder where he got it. His platonic bent also peaks it’s head out into the open at times, but like I said, none of us has kink free armor. It will be interesting to see what minor areas of theology or philosophy were just dead wrong in my own life. We look back and can see the flaws in others, but it is harder to see them in our own lives. May God continue to open our eyes to the present and future in light of the past!