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The son of a pagan father and a Christian mother, Saint Augustine spent his early years torn between conflicting faiths and world views. His Confessions, written when he was in his forties, recount how, slowly and painfully, he came to turn away from his youthful ideas and licentious lifestyle, to become instead a staunch advocate of Christianity and one of its most influential thinkers. A remarkably honest and revealing spiritual autobiography, the Confessions also address fundamental issues of Christian doctrine, and many of the prayers and meditations it includes are still an integral part of the practice of Christianity today.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780880291033
Publisher: Sterling Publishing
Publication date: 05/15/1992
Pages: 346
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

St Augustine of Hippo, the great Doctor of the Latin Church, was born at Thagaste in North Africa, in A.D. 354. He was brought up as a Christian but he was soon converted to the Manichean religion. He also came under the influence of Neoplatonism. However, in 387 he renounced all his unorthodox beliefs and was baptised. His surviving works had a great influence on Christian theology and the psychology and political theology of the West.

R.S. Pine-Coffin is a Roman Catholic and was born in 1917.

Read an Excerpt

Book I


Opening prayer and meditation

1, 1. Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise, your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we humans, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you-we who carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. Yet these humans, due part of your creation as they are, still do long to praise you. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

Grant me to know and understand, Lord, which comes first: to call upon you or to praise you? To know you or to call upon you? Must we know you before we can call upon you? Anyone who invokes what is still unknown may be making a mistake. Or should you be invoked first, so that we may then come to know you? But how can people call upon someone in whom they do not yet believe? And how can they believe without a preacher? But scripture tells us that those who seek the Lord will praise him, for as they seek they find him, and on finding him they will praise him. Let me seek you, then, Lord, even while I am calling upon you, and call upon you even as I believe in you; for to us you have indeed been preached. My faith calls upon you, Lord, this faith which is your gift to me, which you have breathed into me through the humanity of your Son and the ministry of your preacher.

2, 2. How shall I call upon my God, my God and my Lord, when by the very act of calling upon him I would be calling him into myself? Is there any place within me into which my God might come? How should the God who made heaven and earth come into me? Is there any room in me for you, Lord, my God? Even heaven and earth, which you have made and in which you have made me-can even they contain you? Since nothing that exists would exist without you, does it follow that whatever exists does in some way contain you? But if this is so, how can I, who am one of these existing things, ask you to come into me, when I would not exist at all unless you were already in me? Not yet am I in hell, after all, but even if I were, you would be there too; for if I descend to the underworld, you are there. No, my God, I would not exist, I would not be at all, were you not in me. Or should I say, rather, that I should not exist if I were not in you, from whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things? Yes, Lord, that is the truth, that is indeed the truth. To what place can I invite you, then, since I am in you? Or where could you come from, in order to come into me? To what place outside heaven and earth could I travel, so that my God could come to me there, the God who said, I fill heaven and earth?

3, 3. So then, if you fill heaven and earth, does that mean that heaven and earth contain you? Or, since clearly they cannot hold you, is there something of you left over when you have filled them? Once heaven and earth are full, where would that remaining part of you overflow? Or perhaps you have no need to be contained by anything, but rather contain everything yourself, because whatever you fill you contain, even as you fill it? The vessels which are full of you do not lend you stability, because even if they break you will not be spilt. And when you pour yourself out over us, you do not lie there spilt but raise us up; you are not scattered, but gather us together. Yet all those things which you fill, you fill with the whole of yourself. Should we suppose, then, that because all things are incapable of containing the whole of you, they hold only a part of you, and all of them the same part? Or does each thing hold a different part, greater things larger parts, and lesser things smaller parts? Does it even make sense to speak of larger or smaller parts of you? Are you not everywhere in your whole being, while there is nothing whatever that can hold you entirely?

4, 4. What are you, then, my God? What are you, I ask, but the Lord God? For who else is lord except the Lord, or who is god if not our God? You are most high, excellent, most powerful, omnipotent, supremely merciful and supremely just, most hidden yet intimately present, infinitely beautiful and infinitely strong, steadfast yet elusive, unchanging yourself though you control the change in all things, never new, never old, renewing all things yet wearing down the proud though they know it not; ever active, ever at rest, gathering while knowing no need, supporting and filling and guarding, creating and nurturing and perfecting, seeking although you lack nothing. You love without frenzy, you are jealous yet secure, you regret without sadness, you grow angry yet remain tranquil, you alter your works but never your plan; you take back what you find although you never lost it; you are never in need yet you rejoice in your gains, never avaricious yet you demand profits. You allow us to pay you more than you demand, and so you become our debtor, yet which of us possesses anything that does not already belong to you? You owe us nothing, yet you pay your debts; you write off our debts to you, yet you lose nothing thereby.

After saying all that, what have we said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What does anyone who speaks of you really say? Yet woe betide those who fail to speak, while the chatterboxes go on saying nothing.

5, 5. Who will grant me to find peace in you? Who will grant me this grace, that you would come into my heart and inebriate it, enabling me to forget the evils that beset me and embrace you, my only good? What are you to me? Have mercy on me, so that I may tell. What indeed am I to you, that you should command me to love you, and grow angry with me if I do not, and threaten me with enormous woes? Is not the failure to love you woe enough in itself? Alas for me! Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so that I can hear it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation. Let me run toward this voice and seize hold of you. Do not hide your face from me: let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed.

6. The house of my soul is too small for you to enter: make it more spacious by your coming. It lies in ruins: rebuild it. Some things are to be found there which will offend your gaze; I confess this to be so and know it well. But who will clean my house? To whom but yourself can I cry, Cleanse me of my hidden sins, O Lord, and for those incurred through others pardon your servant? I believe, and so I will speak You know everything, Lord. Have I not laid my own transgressions bare before you to my own condemnation, my God, and have you not forgiven the wickedness of my heart ? I do not argue my case against you, for you are truth itself; nor do I wish to deceive myself, lest my iniquity be caught in its own lies. No, I do not argue the case with you, because if you, Lord, keep the score of our iniquities, then who, Lord, can bear it?


6, 7. Yet allow me to speak, though I am but dust and ashes, allow me to speak in your merciful presence, for it is to your mercy that I address myself, not to some man who would mock me. Perhaps you too are laughing at me, but still you will turn mercifully toward me, for what is it that I am trying to say, Lord, except that I do not know whence I came into this life that is but a dying, or rather, this dying state that leads to life? I do not know where I came from. But this I know, that I was welcomed by the tender care your mercy provided for me, for so I have been told by the parents who gave me life according to the flesh, those parents through whose begetting and bearing you formed me within time, although I do not remember it myself. The comforts of human milk were waiting for me, but my mother and my nurses did not fill their own breasts; rather you gave me an infant's nourishment through them in accordance with your plan, from the riches deeply hidden in creation. You restrained me from craving more than you provided, and inspired in those who nurtured me the will to give me what you were giving them, for their love for me was patterned on your law, and so they wanted to pass on to me the overflowing gift they received from you. It was a bounty for them, and a bounty for me from them; or, rather, not from them but only through them, for in truth all good things are from you, O God. Everything I need for health and salvation flows from my God. This I learned later as you cried the truth aloud to me through all you give me, both within and without. At that time I knew only how to suck and be deliciously comforted, and how to cry when anything hurt my body, but no more.

8. After this I began to smile, at first only in my sleep and then when I was awake. So I have been told, and I believe it on the strength of what we see other babies doing, for I do not remember doing it myself. Little by little I began to notice where I was, and I would try to make my wishes known to those who might satisfy them; but I was frustrated in this, because my desires were inside me, while other people were outside and could by no effort of understanding enter my mind. So I tossed about and screamed, sending signals meant to indicate what I wanted, those few signs that were the best I could manage, though they did not really express my desires. Often I did not get my way, either because people did not understand or because what I demanded might have harmed me, and then I would throw a tantrum because my elders were not subject to me, nor free people willing to be my slaves; so I would take revenge on them by bursting into tears. I have learned that babies behave like this from those I have been able to watch, and they without knowing it have taught me more surely what I was like myself than did my nurses who knew me well.

9. My infancy has been so long dead now, whereas I am alive. But you, O Lord, are ever living and in you nothing dies, for you exist before the dawn of the ages, before anything that can be called "before"; you are God and Lord of everything that you have created. In you stand firm the causes of all unstable things; in you the unchangeable origins of all changeable things abide; in you live the eternal ideas of all irrational and transient creatures. Tell me, I beg you, tell your miserable suppliant, O merciful God, whether my infancy was itself the sequel to some earlier age, now dead and gone. Was there nothing before it, except the life I lived in my mother's womb? Some information about that has been given me, and I have myself seen pregnant women. But then, my God, my sweetness, what came before that? Was I somewhere else? Was I even someone? I have nobody to tell me: neither father nor mother could enlighten me, nor the experience of others, nor any memory of my own. Are you laughing at me for asking you these questions, and are you perhaps commanding me to praise you and confess to you simply about what I do know?

10. Confess to you I will, Lord of heaven and earth, and praise you for my earliest days and my infancy, which I do not remember. You allow a person to infer by observing others what his own beginnings were like; we can learn much about ourselves even from the reports of womenfolk. Already I had existence and life, and as my unspeaking stage drew to a close I began to look for signs whereby I might communicate my ideas to others. Where could a living creature like this have come from, if not from you, Lord? Are any of us skillful enough to fashion ourselves? Could there be some channel hollowed out from some other source through which existence and life might flow to us, apart from yourself, Lord, who create us? Could we derive existence and life from anywhere other than you, in whom to be and to live are not two different realities, since supreme being and supreme life are one and the same? You are supreme and you do not change, and in you there is no "today" that passes. Yet in you our "today"does pass, inasmuch as all things exist in you, and would have no means even of passing away if you did not contain them. Because your years do not fail, your years are one "Today." How many of our days and our ancestors' days have come and gone in this "Today" of yours, have received from it their manner of being and have existed after their fashion, and how many others will likewise receive theirs, and exist in their own way? Yet you are the self-same: all our tomorrows and beyond, all our yesterdays and further back, you will make in your Today, you have made in your Today.

What does it matter to me, if someone does not understand this? Let such a person rejoice even to ask the question, "What does this mean?" Yes, let him rejoice in that, and choose to find by not finding rather than by finding fail to find you.

Table of Contents

IntroductionBook OneBook TwoBook ThreeBook FourBook FiveBook SixBook SevenBook EightBook NineBook Ten

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"[Wills] renders Augustine's famous and influential text in direct language with all the spirited wordplay and poetic strength intact."
-Los Angeles Times

"[Wills's] translations . . . are meant to bring Augustine straight into our own minds; and they succeed. Well-known passages, over which my eyes have often gazed, spring to life again from Wills's pages."
-Peter Brown, The New York Review of Books

"Augustine flourishes in Wills's hand."
-James Wood

"A masterful synthesis of classical philosophy and scriptural erudition."
-Chicago Tribune

Reading Group Guide

1. What is Augustine's conception of the self? If you have read other autobiographies, can you remember a self-examination written with such acute awareness and observation of both external and internal conditions? How is Augustine's intelligence particularly suited to the writing of both self-analysis and philosophy? What is Augustine's understanding of the role of God in forming self and soul?

2. What are the turning points in Augustine's conversion? How does he characterize his early theft of pears from the orchard? His relationship with his mistress and his child? Why is it so difficult for him to leave carnal desire behind? How important are the voice of the child singing "Take it and read" and the inspiration to pick up the Scriptures at that moment?

3. Many moments in Confessions are striking in their sheer dramatic or literary power. Which passages or event do you find most moving, and why?

4. Could Confessions have been written today? Does our culture support such serious, intensive, analysis of the self and the meaning of life? Or have psychotherapy and such phenomena taken the place of self-motivated searching like that engaged in by Augustine? What role does reading play in Augustine's search?

5. Thomas Merton has commented on the role of spirituality in helping us to come into contact with our "deep selves." How important is the search for God in Augustine's establishment of his true self? Do you think he would have achieved any sense of peace or satisfaction with his life had he not ultimately taken the path he did? How would you characterize the difference between a "deep self" and a "false self"?

6. What are the stages Augustine goes through in his effort to understand the nature of evil? What do you think of his final definition of evil as the absence of good? How do people become evil? Do you think evil has changed since Augustine's time, or is the nature of human evil a constant throughout history?

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The Confessions 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 80 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is by far the best translation I've read. It is vibrant and the wording flows with an excellent rhythm.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm only somewhat more than halfway through the Confessions just yet, but I already find St. Augustine's extremely deep knowledge of God, His Triune nature, His Incarnation, et cetera, are amazing! No other saint that I've heard of can take you so deeply into the mysteries of God, with such simple language! Now, there are times where he gets more philosophical, and one needs to read a paragraph several times in order to understand exactly what he's getting at, but that is rare. For the most part, St. Augustine's story of how he went from sinner to saint is a truly amazing story- not even so much that it's amazing in itself, but that the way it will move one towards God is certainly amazing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very readable and good translation. Vessey's introduction is informative and helpful in appreciating Augustine's work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent Read, great gift
Dr_Rob More than 1 year ago
I wish more Christians would read this autobiography by Augustine of Hippo, which is actually an ongoing prayer to God about his life and conversion. His honesty in describing himself to God is a good example for contemporary Christians. I especially liked this translation, too, because it brought out the humanity of the author, avoiding archaic language that could make Augustine appear formally religious and distant from human experiences. Augustine, who was from North Africa and of Berber ancestry, is one of the most profound theologians in Christian history. HIs writings have had great influence on Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians. I consider him to be one of the most profound theologians in the Reformed branch of Christianity.
Borg-mx5 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
St. Augustine is one of the most significant authors of the early Roman Catholic Church. This autobiography is stunning in its frankness and its passion. Augustine of Hippo documents his transition from childhood to adulthood; also his path from Paganism to Christianity. He is not a perfect human being, he is seeking something profound, but is also admittedly weak and tempted by pride and pleasure. While many books have been written after, none before had been written like it.
StephenBarkley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The peril with reading classics is my insufficiency to write a proper review. As with The Imitation and Revelations of Divine Love, you'll have to be content with my amateurish reflections instead.When I first sat down to begin Book One of The Confessions, I was prepared for a war. I figured if I could get through five or ten pages, I'd be doing well. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how readable and compelling this spiritual autobiography is. The work is divided into thirteen separate "books", and it's no problem to lose yourself in one book per sitting¿even if you're not trained in history or theology. I'm sure much of this is due to Philip Burton's fine translation.Speaking of the translator, he did the reader a favour by setting all scriptural quotations in italics. Augustine was pickled in scripture¿especially the Psalms. He can't praise God without the Psalmist's phrases springing to his pen. While with some this style could seem cumbersome (little more than parachuting in proof-texts), it's endearing with Augustine. There's no wonder why his name is prefixed with Saint.Augustine's heart was tender. When he sinned, he grieved over it. Not just so-called big sins, either. In one section he delves into his motives for steeling some fruit he didn't even need from a neighbour's tree. It's encouraging to read someone who takes their spiritual life so seriously, and who admits their faults so freely. (Where else on the spiritual best-seller list can you find a chapter entitled, "Farewell My Concubine"?)I have to admit that I was frustrated by the last three chapters. They were a reminder that ancient writers don't follow the same conventions that we moderns do. After ten books of beautiful and gripping autobiography he spent the last three explaining his philosophical and allegorical understanding of Genesis 1. I know his break with Manichean philosophy runs through both biography and commentary but it doesn't make it any less frustrating to read. Even so, endure the last three books. There are still gems to be found.With a work so classic as The Confessions, you can find any number of editions. I choose the cloth-bound Everyman's Edition from Knopf, published in 2001. The binding is solid and the typesetting is elegant. More importantly, the translator was clear and authentic and Robin Lane Fox's substantial introduction helped to put the entire work into perspective.Don't fear the "classic" moniker. This work is a gem any thinking Christian would do well to read.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have read this book several times, both as part of the Basic Program of Liberal Education at the University of Chicago and most recently as one of the monthly selections of a reading group in which I participate. Like all classics it bears rereading and yields new insights each time I read it. But it also is unchanging in ways that struck me when I first read it; for Augustine's Confessions seem almost modern in the telling with a psychological perspective that brings his emotional growth alive across the centuries. From the carnality of his youth to the moment in the Milanese Garden when his perspective changed forever you the story is an earnest and sincere exposition of his personal growth. You do not have to be a Catholic or even a believer to appreciate the impact of events in the life of the young Augustine. His relations with his mother, Monica, are among those that still have impact on the modern reader. This is one of those "Great" books that remind you that true insight into the human condition transcends time and place.
jamguest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked it. One of the more theological books I¿ve read this year and in the past year (shame on me). For what it was it was assuredly brilliant. And I was intrigued to learn of his struggles in the faith. I was particularly challenged in my own spiritual life in my relationships with others. I didn¿t quite finish it because it isn¿t an easy read prose wise. I owe it another go at some point (along with City of God).
sedeara on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well, I'm finished with this book at last!I originally became interested in reading Confessions when I saw a special twelve years ago about the beginnings of Christianity, because I thought "Confessions" sounded like a juicy book. It's really not juicy at all, so it's a good thing I approached it interested in theology and not scandal by the time I finally got around to reading it. This time around, I mainly felt like it was important for me to read firsthand the philosophy that is so much a basis of Catholic thought.Like most books written in the middle ages, St. Augustine's would have benefited from a good editor. There were a lot of times where I felt he repeated himself, which is fine for a spiritual seeker's personal musings, but a bit annoying for an outside reader hundreds of years later. And even though he wrote his Confessions both to strengthen his understanding/relationship with God and to further the same for others, a lot of it really did feel like naval-gazing. Still, I found myself appreciating a LOT of Augustine's theology, such as his insistence that people could come to diverse interpretations of Scripture without any of them being "wrong" (take that, fundamentalists!). Indeed, Augustine's perception of Christianity seems a lot more open than the Catholic Church of today would lead you to believe, although the hierarchy HAS kept his puritan perceptions of sexuality fully intact. Thank God for that.
elfortunawe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago

I began reading this once years ago, but it failed to engage me and I put it aside. When I started again I couldn't understand my previous lack of interest. The work ranges from philosophical speculation to personal memoir, and each kind has it's appeal. I was surprised by how must variety of belief and opinion late antiquity held on so many topics. Some of the debates and issues Augustine describes sound shockingly contemporary, though put in different terms. The passages covering Augustine's personal life can be poignant, especially those concerning death.

The scholarly consensus is that the Confessions was meant to be a preamble to a longer work: a detailed exegesis of the entirety of Christian scripture. The last three books cover the first chapter of Genesis, with careful attention given to an allegorical interpretation of the creation story. This is apparently as far Augustine ever got, thus adding to the long tradition of great, unfinished masterpieces.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A masterful work of antiquity. The spiritual journey of his life in part one: Bk. 1-9; The account on Genesis on the creation Bk. 10-13. A recommended read for History Majors, laymen and for all audiences to understand Catholicism better. It ends with his peace and reconciliation with His God after being wayward his entire life before his conversion and baptism. A seminal and an introspective work gracefully done. His legacy is influential to this day in the Western World.
Jeff_Cann More than 1 year ago
Books 1 through 9 were enjoyable because I could relate to his struggles. I then struggled with Books 10 - 13 as St. Augustine dove into the deep end of philosophy. I did appreciate the additional materials, in particular the introduction definitely helped me understand. Also, there was another reviewer who was apparently offended that this author translated deus into god (lower case). I wanted to point out (from the introduction) that the author was trying to be faithful to the original Latin codex. Unfortunately, codex written in Augustine's time had minimal punctuation and proper nouns were not capitalized consistently like they are these days. Here's the quote from the author in the introduction: "There would be no initial capitals for proper names or other key terms. Not even the words for “god” (deus) and “lord” (dominus) would be capitalized, though they might on occasion be abbreviated."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For clarification, this is a review of the Barnes & Noble Classics Series edition of Confessions by St. Augustine in NOOK Book format, translated by Richard C. Outler and with an introduction by Mark Vessey.  The biggest problem I have with this version is that it uses lower case for God, Lord, and other terms for our creator throughout the book. What was particularly odd about this is that I've seen at least one other printing of Outler's translation that does not omit the conventional use of capital letters for God's name. It is as if the editor was deliberately trying to minimize the importance of God. The editor is entitled to believe what he wishes, but clearly this book was written by someone who believes in and respects the Lord, and who would certainly have used capital letters had he been writing in contemporary English. (Heck, while I don't believe in Zeus, I still capitalize his name, because that's it's conventional to capitalize words used as names. I also noticed the footnotes making a reference to "Augustine's mythology, referring to Christianity. After a few chapters, I decided to find another translation from someone who was so clearly a non-believer, to ensure that the translation, format and footnotes captured the spirit with which St. Augustine wrote.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seghetto More than 1 year ago
If you expect a stuffy book written by a Saint of The Catholic Church then you are reading the wrong book. St. Augustine details his days as a sinner as well as his time among the nicomacheans. He was disillusioned so he found God and the church. Augustine actually goes pretty deep into the psychology behind his worship and his epiphany. This translation was fantastic and I couldn't have imagined any other version.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It seems as though all this version gave me was part way through book 2? Where is the resr?
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