Beginning Augustine’s Confessions: Book I

My journey through this classic begins with a recommendation from a friend I admire most greatly for her academic demeanour. A few weeks later I head to the bookstore to get myself a copy, for I prefer physical books when it comes to the “serious” reads.

I end up having to pay a little more for it, my membership card being expired.

I head to a library where I might have easily found the book for free, and proceed to take a seat as I rekindle the long-neglected intellectual sector of my mind, as I am tormented by librarian after librarian to put my mask back on.


The book begins with an introduction. My little sister often questions me as to why I read introductions instead of diving straight into the book. I like to think that it gives me context, and perhaps when you pay for a book with your own money, you are more inclined to get the most value out of it.

It begins with an explanation of St. Augustine’s universal appeal to many, attributed to his story of being a terrible sinner who became a great saint. While this is obviously an archetype story that resonates with the redemption stories of many, perhaps it is his struggle with sexual temptation that is more universal and closer to home for most who would find themselves drawn to his writings. As with how we find ourselves drawn to learn from the successes of billionaire entrepreneurs, many would find themselves drawn to St. Augustine in search of hope for their own broken souls.

I have no regrets on my insistence on reading the introduction, for it provided me with some much needed context that a person who merely claims to be an intellectual would lack. Of course, one should not forget that a critical mind is needed in order to benefit from such forewords that are written by men a lot less wise than the actual authors themselves. Nonetheless, there are always objective facts that will assist any reader as myself in comprehending the entirety of the book’s contents.

Something the writer points out that strikes me is his warning that Augustine will tend to over-exaggerate the sinfulness of his past. He explains that he likely does this in an effort to convince his intended audience of the severity of his past broken nature, almost to add a greater contrast to his life before and after his conversion. Don’t we all tend to do this in our desperate attempts to bring Christ to others? “Trust me, I know how it feels, I was way worse than you are right now!”

Perhaps some things never change.

Timeless Institutional Criticism

Speaking of how some things never change, the first book seems to be full of lament and disdain for the education he was brought up with, almost with a similar tune to the current day narrative of how today’s public school system is broken and colleges being scams. It does make me wonder, how people can deal with being a part of the status-quo, knowing that every genius and great figure in history was always the one who went against the current. It truly boggles my mind how the masses are content with mediocrity. As of now, I do not know if this is humility, or a lack of passion.

Only time will tell, as wisdom accompanies it.

This lamenting and criticism is probably the most distinct of the occasional subtle breaks from the introspective yet prayerful tone of the majority of this first book. Though according to the introduction, the entirely of this writing is set in a prayerful mode, so perhaps this will be a recurring theme as he rotates between his prayers and slightly snarky societal critiques.

The innocence of infants

Something he brings depth to which I have never thought about very extensively, was the lack of innocence even in infants. He uses the example of himself, or rather as he says, whatever he has been told about himself as an infant, to demonstrate how the sinful nature of Adam is present even in infants suckling at the breast.

This of course falls in line with Catholic theology and the need for infant baptism, or rather, baptism in general, as a form of spiritual regeneration, being “born again”. As I was reading this, it was apparent that Augustine himself was not baptised as an infant. Obviously, I questioned this as I was reading, and it was only fitting that the very next page turned out to be his own questioning of why he was not baptised as an infant. While I still have not found the answer to this, I will continue to search for it.

A final quote

I will end off with a final quote that I really enjoyed, one of those quotes that one would create a fancy infographic of for instagram in hopes of seeming intellectual and getting some likes and story reshares in the process.

“O God, alone in majesty, high in the silence of heaven, unseen by man! we can see how your unremitting justice punishes unlawful ambition with blindness, for a man who longs for fame as a fine speaker will stand up before a human judge, surrounded by a human audience, taking the greatest care not to say ‘uman’ instead of ‘human’ by a slip of the tongue, and yet the thought that the frenzy in his own mind may condemn a human being to death disturbs him not at all.”

How true. I am probably late to the party, but perhaps some things truly never change.