For the Feast of St. Augustine we recommend The Confessions of St. Augustine. Augustine wrote his confessions in 397 after becoming bishop of Hippo (present day Algeria). Widely seen as the first Western autobiography ever written, The Confessions is a love story, a story of faith seeking understanding, and a story of how God works through human beings in the lives of men. It begins with Augustine’s childhood and ends with his conversion to Christianity.
Augustine’s father was a pagan, and his mother, St. Monica, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, was a Christian. Monica very much wanted her son to know Christ, and join the Church, but Augustine rebelled, and caused his mother a great deal of worry and pain. However, Augustine was a true seeker. He investigated all of the belief systems of his day: Greek and Roman deities, Christian splinter groups like the gnostic Manichaeans, astrology, secular philosophies like Neo-Platonism, skepticism, even trendy religions like the cult of Osiris. Augustine also describes his struggles with promiscuity and sexual sin throughout the book.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new! Late have I loved you.
When Augustine discovers truth in the Neo-Platonists and goes to Milan to study them, he meets Bishop Ambrose and begins to think that the truth he has discovered in Greek philosophy is leading him to the truth of Christianity, but he still struggles with his pride, as he is at once drawn to and repelled by the simplicity of the teachings of Christ.
Augustine is a Doctor of the Church and a hugely important figure in Western history, but because The Confessions is written in the style of a prayer, overflowing with love for God, it can be difficult for a modern reader to approach. Consider reading it with a group. Don’t give up. C.S. Lewis once cautioned that for every new book we read, we should read an old one, “We all need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books . . . People were no clever then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.” What’s more, it is comforting to know that many of our questions were St. Augustine’s questions too: Where is God? How does God work in the world? Why is he hidden? How can finite beings come to understand a God who is infinite? What is the good life? And is grace at work even in our sins and mistakes?
If nothing else, read The Confessions for the language. Augustine, writes, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new! Late have I loved you. And behold, you were within, and I without, and without I sought you. And deformed I ran after those forms of beauty you made. You were with me, I was not with you.”