I can be so lazy about writing book reviews! I do have a book review category (to the right) if you want to explore a variety of past book reviews – primarily Christian non-fiction. In a past post, I mentioned my embarrassment about not heaving read certain Christian classics. Despite being an avid reader, certain classics have evaded me. Not a hard problem to resolve – read them! For example, I finally read Pilgrim’s Progress, and actually read it twice in the last couple years.
Another book long on my to-read list is The Confessions of St. Augustine, generally considered the greatest spiritual autobiography of all time. I finished reading this several days ago. I’m assuming most will have at least a basic idea of who Augustine was – feel free to google him.
It was a worthwhile read, and after years of hearing quotes or references to incidents in Confessions, it was enlightening to finally read these things in the original source. It is a different type of book, as Augustine literally shares his confessions – of sin, of his struggle to believe, of his struggle to live the Christian life, and many philosophical or theological thoughts. The book is immersed in Scripture, as Augustine often incorporated Bible verses or phrases into his thoughts. My edition gave endnote references of the Scripture verses being referred to. I found this to be an apologetic for the accuracy of our biblical text over time. Even if all the early manuscripts of the Bible were somehow lost, we could piece the New Testament back together from all the early church writers who quoted and interacted with the Scripture.
The book is indirectly autobiographical. As he shares his confessions you learn about different incidents in his life and of the individuals (friends, his mother) that were significant to him. You are reminded of some of the heresies or false religious teachings of this time period, as Augustine got pulled into manichaeism for 9 years. Are you concerned for a friend or relative that struggles to believe Christianity for philosophical reasons or has gotten pulled into an odd religious group? Take heart, and keep praying for them. Augustine’s mother never gave up hope that her son would become a Christian. Not only did he become a Christian, he became the bishop of Hippo and one of the most important church fathers in western Christianity!
On the very first page is this well-known quote from Augustine in reference to God: “…You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Another well-known statement from Augustine is “Grant what you command, and command what you will.” It is actually used multiple times in Confessions.
Another amusing quotation from Augustine that I’d heard before was: “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet!” Augustine struggled with lust, and after that statement he says “For I feared that you would hear me quickly, and that quickly you would heal me of that disease of lust, which I wished to have satisfied rather than extinguished.” – I appreciate Augustine’s honesty, and I think we can relate – whatever our personal sin struggle may be.
Augustine emphasizes a realistic view of self – honesty about our sin and weakness is imperative. He frequently emphasizes God’s mercy: “One hope, one trust, one firm promise – your mercy” or “My one hope is your exceeding great mercy.” I appreciated this:
“Therefore, when we confess to you our miseries and your mercies upon us, we lay bare before you our condition, so that you may set us wholly free. For you have begun to do this, so that we may cease to be wretched in ourselves and become happy in you.”
Confessions is divided into 13 books with chapters. I’ll admit I appreciated the earlier books more, and found the last couple in particular to be a bit heavy and philosophical reading. Overall, I recommend Confessions. You could always skip the last couple books if they prove too much.
I’ll close with this quote about Jesus and the importance of the hypostatic union – that Jesus was the unique God-man, fully God and fully man. It is from book 10, chapter 42:
“But the mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5) must have something like to God and something like to man, lest being in both things like to men, he should be far from God, or being in both ways like to God, he should be far from men, and so not be a mediator.”