A few years ago, I started reading St. Augustine’s Confessions and just put it down because it wasn’t the right time. A few months ago, I picked it back up and the experience has been much different. The voice of it just grabbed me this time. I’m interested in tracking down some different translations as well.
Part of the book is an autobiography of Augustine’s life of sin, his time with the Manicheans (a religious group that in my brief reading sounds a little bit Zoroastrian and a little bit Buddhist, but had certain relationships to Christianity as well), his conversion, and his relationship to his mother, Saint Monica. Another part is Augustine’s exploration of metaphysical concepts like the nature of God. He also attempts to understand how we know what we know (I particularly like his exploration of memory), and how perception works. This part reads strongly like Aristotle or was at least influenced by him, with some Plato mixed in. I feel like Descartes borrowed from, or at least was influenced by, Augustine, especially in terms of the cogito argument and Descartes’s method of using doubt as a starting point. Having looked at the descriptions of the chapters in the table of contents, the book ends with an exegesis of the beginning of Genesis. I don’t know if that was supposed to continue, was lost, or just never finished.
Below is Book X, Chapter 27, which I found beautiful. The obvious reading is religious, but I think the sentiment could be extended to whatever gives us strength in this world. Love. Art. Music.
“I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for you outside myself and, disfigured as I was, I fell upon the lovely things of your creation. You were with me, but I was not with you. The beautiful things of this world kept me far from you and yet, if they had not been in you, they would have had no being at all. You called me; you cried aloud to me; you broke my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me; you put my blindness to flight. You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odor. I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am inflamed with love of your peace.”