Three Reasons for Augustine's Confessions
Quotes from Confessions
Admission, affirmation and declaration
Augustine’s Confessions is more than a simple acknowledgement of his past transgressions. It is a comprehensive autobiography that serves as an admission, an affirmation, and a declaration of his ultimate faith while outlining the progression of his understanding of God. All three purposes for writing the book – the admission of sins, the affirmation of faith, and the declaration of salvation – have a different religious role, but they all synonymously reflect Augustine’s title Confessions.
The admission of sin is important in Augustine’s Christian faith. Every book within Confessions includes an admission of sin and his plea for forgiveness. Taking these confessions at surface value, a reader finds it easy to conclude that Augustine’s book is simply full of a lifetime of wrong-doing. Writing about his iniquities gives Augustine the opportunity to ask God for forgiveness, thus keeping him in favor with the Lord and securing a nice eternity for him.
Looking a little deeper, the reader can see the book as Augustine’s affirmation of faith. The book is presented chronologically, but it is written with the benefit of hindsight. It was not a journal written as Augustine grew; it was written as a reflection on his life and his pursuit of knowledge and enlightenment. Through this structure, the reader easily observes the progression of the development of Augustine’s faith. Through these phases, the reader is able to grasp his affirmation, or declaration, of faith.
The purpose that is easy to overlook is Augustine’s declaration of salvation. While it is not presented as forthright as the other two purposes, it is arguably the most important reason for Augustine’s book. Throughout the book, Augustine confesses his insatiable physical lust and his inability to control it. Still, he continues to seek the thing missing from his life that will fulfill him and release him from his oppressive desire. He strives for wholeness through devotion to the Manichee and is disappointed to find their religious myths. He is then drawn to the Academics, but finds no solace there. Augustine views Ambrose as a brilliant, respectable theologian, but sees that the man is too busy for his questions. Finally, as Chapter 1 of Book XIII explains, Augustine approaches Simplicianus, Ambrose’s teacher, for advice.
In his story relating the conversion of a famous orator named Victorinus, Simplicianus explains that inner conversion is only part of the salvation process; public declaration of faith through baptism is also important. (8.2) Victorinus was given the option to be baptized in private, but chose to do so publicly. This public declaration of his faith freed Victorinus of his oppression, humbled him in the eyes of the congregation and of the Lord. Such a public declaration of faith meant putting vanity aside. No longer trying to hide his sin, Victorinus’ heart was opened and ready to receive the full salvation offered by God.
Even though Augustine followed Victorinus’ example and was baptized, his Confessions serves as an extension of this type of public declaration of faith. Perhaps he simply did not want to be viewed as a follower of the Manichee any longer. The book does reflect his disdain for the order and would certainly dissolve any lingering ideas that he was involved with that sect. It seems, however, that Augustine’s writing of Confessions was more than a proud attempt to save his reputation. The importance of Victorinus’ story cannot be overlooked. In addition to making his own public declaration of faith, Augustine – a man who turned to reading to find answers (Book 7, Chapter 21) – left a book behind that might help others find a similar path. Like the story of Victorinus led Augustine to public declaration and thus freedom to receive God wholly, perhaps his book could do the same for future readers. While readers today cannot unmistakably pinpoint the motivation behind Augustine’s Confessions, the three purposes of admission, affirmation, and declaration are firmly recorded in the work.
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Augustine, trans. Matthew, Tobie. The Confessions of St.Augustine. London: Burns and Oates, 1954.