The Structure of Confessions

As I continue to listen to Augustine’s Confessions, one of my recurring questions is why Augustine ends the book with a discussion of creation. It seems like a rather random transition, both in terms of content (from personal autobiography to external subjects like creation and time) as well as in terms of tone and method (from intensely spiritual to more detached and speculative). Henry Chadwick’s Augustine: A Very Short Introduction, which I’m reading in relation to my Augustine project, has an interesting answer to this question: “At first sight, the structure of the Confessions is puzzling. After nine books of autobiography…

Brown’s Biography of Augustine (5): Augustine on Pelagianism, the church, and grace and predestination

One final post on Brown’s biography. Brown suggests that Augustine’s verdict against Pelagius was connected to his verdict against his own past – that the vehemence of his own struggles with sin and experience of grace contributed to the vehemence of his opposition to Pelagianism. As he puts it, “the certainty with which he picked out the weaknesses of the idealistic message of Pelagius, is perhaps a symptom of the silent ferocity with which Augustine had continued to criticize his own past” (371). To the extent that this is true, I think it helps direct attention toward the larger context…

Brown’s Biography of Augustine (4): Augustine the Preacher

One of the things that also stands out to me from Brown’s biography is the portrait he paints of Augustine the preacher. What stands out to me about Augustine’s preaching is his sensitivity to his audience. Augustine was a very emotive, feeling man (on a Meyer’s-Brigg scale, I would tentatively guess ENFJ), and he had a great capacity for emotionally connecting with his listeners – for entering into their feelings and thoughts and in turn drawing them into his. Brown writes: “this is the secret of Augustine’s enormous power as a preacher. He will make it his first concern to…

Brown’s Biography of Augustine (3): Augustine on Scripture

Augustine’s approach to Scripture also stood out to me from Brown’s biography. Over the course of his life, Augustine’s attitude towards Scripture changes considerably. When he is a Manichee, the Bible appeared to him as unsophisticated and unworthy of his philosophical intelligence. As he put it looking back in Confessions: “I resolved, therefore, to direct my mind to the Holy Scriptures, that I might see what they were. And behold, I saw something not comprehended by the proud, not disclosed to children, something lowly in the hearing, but sublime in the doing, and veiled in mysteries. Yet I was not…

Brown’s Biography of Augustine (1): Initial Thoughts

A major part of my Augustine project over the past few months has been Peter Brown’s biography, which is generally viewed as the definitive longer, critical biography of Augustine. It was first published in 1967 (when Brown was 32!), but was updated in 1999 with an epilogue exploring new evidence about Augustine’s life and new directions of interpretation in the field of Augustine (so its both stood the test of time and not too out-dated). I had very high expectations of this book, but after a careful read, I have to confess that I do not share the glowing admiration…

Warfield on Augustine (3): The Confessions

For Warfield, The Confessions represents the quintessential Augustine. He defends Augustine from criticisms that The Confessions is too morbid and introspective, arguing that Augustine talks about himself only to direct us to the goodness and grace of God. In his words: “Confessions [is] not a biography of himself, but … a book of edification, or, if you will, a theological treatise. His actual subject is not himself, but the goodness of God; and he introduces his own experience only as the most lively of illustrations of the dealings of God with the human soul as He makes it restless until it finds…