Book Review: The Confessions Of St. Augustine

The Confessions Of St. Augustine, Augustine

If you are looking for evidence of the Hellenizing influence of Augustine of Hippo on the Roman church of the fourth century AD, this book will provide plenty of that evidence, from its straining attempts to see the Trinity in Genesis one to its popularization (and perhaps originality) in arguing that the lack of an “evening” for the Sabbath in the creation account means that there is an everlasting Sabbath that believers can keep whenever they wish (namely the first day, for most nominal Christians) to its praising of the allegorical method of reading scripture and its pointing to the way in which Greek philosophy was supposed to be a preparation for faith [1]. Augustine was not the mastermind of this tendency, but he was certainly a major part in a very dark aspect of Christian history, and this book (especially its last half) makes this point very plain in the way in which Ambrose of Milan appears to be a major part of Augustine’s ability to help with the Hellenization of the Roman Church, a part that has not been sufficiently recognized.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that Augustine’s influence on Christianity was somewhat malign, he himself does not appear to be an evil man. Rather, he appears to be rather humble, conscious of his flaws, devoted to his faith as he understands it, delicate and open at the same time. He manages to puncture any sort of self-righteousness through his wit (“Give me chastity, but not yet!”) and through his honesty about his mistress and his illegitimate child (who is baptized at the same time he is), his love of theft as a child, his slow process to reaching Catholic orthodoxy, the devoted love of his mother and her desire for his spiritual well-being, and even his humble desire not to fight and quarrel with other believers about different ideas of the Creation, which were already current even 1600 years ago. Augustine, for all of his pagan-influenced Hellenistic Christianity, does not appear to be a villainous man, only a man who was skillfully used for his perspective and background by others of his time, and whose influence is largely because his perspective met the desires of a Roman church for greater credibility within the late pagan world of antiquity.

While there are some enjoyable parts of this book in the first half, as this book serves as a foundational autobiography in looking at the childhood and youth and young adulthood of a cultured and serious but clearly flawed man, the book is clearly a great deal more difficult and less rewarding to read in its second half, as the author discusses the mysteries of creation, the incredible human memory, and other matters in very philosophical ways. As an autobiography, this work is self-aware, modest (for its genre), and artfully constructed to place a great deal of symbolic importance on small situations like a happy beggar or a reflection in a garden or a theft of pears from a neighbor’s estate. As a philosophy, this book is immensely ambitious but shows its roots lie more in neoplatonism than in sound biblical exegesis, even if it springs from ignorance rather than any sort of evil design on the part of the author himself. This is a book that it is easier to respect from afar than it is to adore, but its importance as a model for confessional writings (including, it should be admitted, my own) is something that is worthy of appreciation, even if others write with a different spirit than Augustine did.

[1] The “everlasting Sabbath” idea was picked up at Azusa Pacific by some of the leaders of the Worldwide Church of God in the early 1990’s, and was one of the more nonsensical arguments that showed the Hellenization of WCG in an argument that came straight out of this book. It is noteworthy that there are other Catholic thinkers who view philosophy as a way for people to come to a belief in Christ, given their interests in syncretism between biblical faith and Hellenistic thought, see, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, Church of God, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Book Review: The Confessions Of St. Augustine

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Killing Jesus | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: A Missing Link | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Paul: Apostle Of The Heart Set Free | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: The Oregon Trail | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: 25 Books Every Christian Should Read | Edge Induced Cohesion

  6. Pingback: Book Review: Speak, Memory | Edge Induced Cohesion

  7. Pingback: Book Review: Surprised By Joy | Edge Induced Cohesion

  8. Pingback: Book Review: The Corinthian Catastrophe | Edge Induced Cohesion

  9. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: The Early Middle Ages: Part One | Edge Induced Cohesion

  10. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: Augustine: Philosopher And Saint | Edge Induced Cohesion

  11. Pingback: Rushdoony’s Compaint | Edge Induced Cohesion

  12. Pingback: Book Review: Augustine For Armchair Theologians | Edge Induced Cohesion

  13. Pingback: Book Review: Augustine In His Own Words | Edge Induced Cohesion

  14. Pingback: Book Review: Lord, Have Mercy | Edge Induced Cohesion

  15. Rotshak says:

    As much as this is an excellent critic of the book, it remains a critic purely, and not a review and that should be stated thus!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s