St. Augustine is one of the most prominent Christian writers and philosophers of all times. His works, written in a transitional period between the early Christianity and the Christian thought of the Middle Ages, create, so to say, a bridge between these two eras, combining the knowledge of the past with the ideas of the future. In his Confessions, one of the most significant works of his, St. Augustine makes it his mission to glorify God and point to people’s numerous sins and erroneous ways, using the story of his own life as an example and basis for his reflections.
It can be said that the main subject and purpose of the Confessions is to point to God’s greatness and omnipotence. St. Augustine starts his work with lengthy praise to God, and recurrently returns to this subject throughout the work. God is the creator of all being. He can not be comprehended by human mind. However, God’s way is the only true meaning that can be found in human life. St. Augustine constantly addresses God with series of questions, showing how little people can understand him. However, this should not and can not hinder God’s love and our love to God. St. Augustine tells us of the long way he has gone before grasping this truth.
Another topic, contrasting to the first one, is that of human sin. People are sinful by nature and from their first moments in this world they already carry the sin in them. St. Augustine repents of all the sins he has committed throughout his life starting from those he can’t even remember, which were committed when he was an infant and which, in his belief led to the later and greater sins of his youth. The monstrosity of human sin is so great that people can commit the sin just for the sake of the act itself and find pleasure in doing it. Such was the case of St. Augustine stealing some pears which he didn’t need together with his friends (book II). Throughout the narrative, the author demonstrates how wrong can be the ways of people, how even such seemingly innocent things as friendship, love and education can end in sin. He discusses the numerous temptations of the worldly life and confesses to such sins as pride and search for glory. He shows how the inability to understand God’s truth can hurt us, for example, by making us unable to accept the death of someone we love, etc. (book IV). Finally, he comes to understanding that everything worldly is vanity.
Combining the two above-mentioned topics leads to the third one, which is, in a way, a synthesis of the first two. It is the subject of the importance of serving God. According to St. Augustine, this is the only right way a person can undertake. He emphasizes the necessity to study the Bible for getting closer to God.
Being written more than fifteen centuries ago, the Confessions remain relevant today in the modern world. For a Christian or just for any reader today they represent a story of moral and spiritual quest, of searching for the answers to many important questions, which are still being asked by many people, the main one being that about the meaning of life. This writing serves the purpose of reminding people of what is really valuable and what is not. In it the vain values of the material world are contrasted to those of the eternal life and salvation of the soul. The contrast is truly striking. Telling his personal story, St. Augustine speaks to everyone’s heart, he discusses feelings which are known to most people and are easy to relate to.
- St. Augustine. Confessions. F.J. Sheed. Hackett Publishing. 2007.