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The Confessions of St. Augustine (English Edition) Formato Kindle
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|Formato Kindle, 7 apr 2009||
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This one is a very good translation, especially for the modern reader. It conveys the immediacy and vividness of a text written more than 1500 years ago. One feels almost as a voyeur peeping into the private confession of a man to his God. The honesty and unembarrassed disclosure of his sins, and fruitless search for worldly wisdom, is something we can personally identify with, even today. It is amazing how vivid the description of life in late 4th century is in this Confessions. What a wonderful way to approach History, places like Carthage, Rome or Milan, thru the eyes of a skilled and intelligent man who pours his heart on these pages for us to benefit from.
St. Augustine's life, however distant in time, is filled with events, desires, and troubles, as common today as in the year 400. We can identify fully with him, and in his longing and weakness we can see our own soul portrayed. He talks about his childhood, his family, his studies and his lifelong pursuit of wisdom and truth, specially since the age of 19. We get immersed in the daily life of people in the 4th Century under the Roman Empire, their daily worries, their intellectual debates, their religious confrontations. We see the social conditions of all classes of people, from the wealthy and idle to the slaves who fight in the Circus. We see people living, talking, traveling, dreaming, and going about their business as if we were present with them. No wonder this book is an authentic classic, one that I should have read long ago.
There are many reasons to read this book. Those interested in History are certainly going to find plenty of information from eye-witness perspective; those who like to read personal memories and autobiographies won't have it easy to find a better one. For those interested in the history of religion and Catholicism, this is a must, a landmark in Christian literature. Whatever you are looking for, this book is certainly one that will satisfy your intellectual curiosity as well as fill you spiritually.
One thing to bear in mind is that the Confessions are not addressed to us, readers, that is why certain things about the author's behavior seem inexplicable: certain things that would seem to us to merit more explaining, being only mentioned briefly (his behavior toward the woman he had a child with, for example), while other issues are given a lot more space. Of course the Lord knew his heart well, but still, one is intrigued at this man.
Two points of interest are worth mentioning here. The first is Augustine's mother, St. Monica. Throughout the book, Monica is an omnipresent figure in Augustine's life. She is a tireless Christian, and she does many things to try and bring Augustine into the faith. She prays incessantly, has visions and dreams from God that promise Augustine's conversion, and she follows her son everywhere he goes. Augustine gives much praise to his mother, but it's important to remember that he was writing this account after his conversion. At the time, Augustine must have been sick to death of some of her antics. He actually lied to her so he could sneak off to Rome without her, although she was soon on a boat so she could catch up with him. I also felt sorry for his father, Patricius. Dad wasn't really into the Christian thing, so Monica put on the pants in the family. Augustine even says that Monica made God the 'true' father in their house.
A second point of interest is Augustine's actual conversion. He seems to go through two of them in quick succession. The first is an intellectual conversion, as Augustine uses the texts of Neo-Platonic authors to prove to himself the fallacy of the Manichean theology. It seems the Manicheans believed in a Christ figure that was not fully divine, as well as the idea that God was a substance. Augustine shows how substance can be corrupted, making this idea totally incompatible with the idea of a perfect God. After all, if a substance can be corrupted, how can it be perfect? After the intellectual conversion, Augustine still can't totally believe because he can't give up the fleshly sin of lust with women. This second conversion finally comes about in the famous 'pick it up and read' incident in the garden. Augustine, wracked by his sins and on the verge of some type of mental collapse over his anguish, hears a child's voice singing, 'Pick it up and read.' Seeing this as a sign from God, he picks up Paul's Epistles and reads the first thing he sees in the book. He reads a passage about the evils of fleshly vice and his conversion is complete.
After this conversion, the rest of the book veers off on a tangent. Augustine examines the concept of time, in great detail, and writes an incredibly dense exegesis on the first parts of the book of Genesis. This section, with the exception of his discourse on time, isn't nearly as interesting as the account of his life and the fundamental changes he goes through as he tries to find the true way to live life. I do suspect that thousands have converted after reading this book because it speaks to every human on a fundamental level. The above description I've given doesn't even begin to cover the amount of information in this book. The Confessions is both beautiful and thought provoking and I would recommend it to anyone.
I do have a word of warning for those who are considering giving this one a shot. Avoid, like the plague, the John Ryan translation. It is wordy, dense, and not at all clear. Read this Penguin version, written by Mr. Pine-Coffin (great name, huh?). It is a clear and concise translation. It's one thing to struggle with ideas in a book, but why should we have to struggle with the syntax? Go forth and read, young man!
Most undergraduates in the liberal arts encounter the book at some point; all seminarians do (or should!). Many adults find (or rediscover) the book later, after school. For many in these categories, there are concepts, narrative strands and historical data new and unusual for them. However, Augustine's 'Confessions' is still generally more accessible in many ways that truly classical pieces; it has interior description as well as external reporting that we are familiar with in modern writing.
The 'Confessions' shows Augustine's personality well - he was a passionate person, but his focus wavered for much of his life until finally settling upon Christianity and the Neoplatonic synthesis with this faith. Even while remaining a passionate Christian and rejecting the sort of dualism present in the Manichee teachings, he varied between various positions within these systems. Augustine's varied thought reaches through many denominational and scholarly paradigms.
The 'Confessions' are divided into thirteen chapters, termed 'Books' - the first ten of the books are autobiographical, with Augustine describing both events in his life as well as his philosophical and religious wanderings during the course of his life. The text is somewhat difficult to take at times, as this is writing with a purpose, as indeed most autobiographies are. The purpose here at times seems to be to paint Augustine in the worst possible light (the worse his condition, the better his conversion/salvation ends up being); at other times, one gets a sense (as one might get when reading the Pauline epistles) that there is some significant degree of ego at work here (Paul boasts of being among the better students, and so does Augustine, etc.).
Augustine also uses his Confessions as a tract against the Manichean system - once a faithful adherent, Augustine later rejects the Manichean beliefs as heretical; however, one cannot get past the idea that Augustine retained certain of their intellectual aspects in his own constructions even while denouncing them in his official life story.
The whole of the conversion turns on two primary books - Book Seven, his conversion to the Neoplatonic view of the world, including the metaphysics and the ethics that come along with this system; and Book 8, which describes his conversion to Christianity proper. This is where perhaps the most famous directive, 'Tolle! Lege!' ('Take and read!') comes from - Augustine heard a voice, and he picked up the nearest book, which happened to be a portion of the Pauline epistles, arguing against the undisciplined lifestyle Augustine lived. Scholars continue to debate whether Augustine's conversion to Christianity was more profound or more important than his conversion to Neoplatonism; in any event, Christianity interpreted through a Platonic framework became the norm for centuries, and remains a strong current within the Christian world view; Protestant reformers as they went back to the 'original bible' in distinction from the Catholic interpretations of the day also went back to the 'original Augustine' for much of their theology.
The final three books are Augustine's dealing with the creation of the world via narrative stories in Genesis 1 exegetically and hermeneutically. This is very different from what is done in modern biblical scholarship, but is significant in many respects, not the least of which as it gives a model of the way Augustine dealt with biblical texts; given Augustine's towering presence over the development of Western Christianity in both Catholic and Protestant strands, understanding his methods and interpretative framework can lead to significant insights into the ideas of medieval and later church figures.
This is a book that will be of interest to novice readers of Augustine as well as scholars, to students, clergy and laypersons, and anyone else who might have an historical, literary, philosophical, theological or other interest in Augustine - something for everyone, perhaps?
This particular edition is an abridgement, drawing in crucial elements in a new translation of the text. It probably consists of only about one-tenth of the overall text of the Confessions, pulling out significant stories and passages rather than preserving the entirety of the narrative strand. It is a good primer, but be advised that it is not the complete text. It does have a nice feel and design to it, and makes a good gift book.
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