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Reading Notes and Questions for Augustine (354-430) 
Confessions (398)

Robert Harris
January 11, 1999


Overview

The Confessions is a spiritual autobiography, cast as a prayer to God, and including introspection and self-analysis, autobiographical narrative, and relentless questioning--all accompanied by a constant sense of awe at the grace and mercy of God upon one who had let such a sinful life. (Page numbers refer to St. Augustine, Confessions, New York: Penguin, 1961.)

Things to Think About as You Read

1. Augustine displays an ever-present consciousness of his mother's constant prayers for him, their long duration, and their ultimate effect on his life.

2. Notice is several places the effect of personal example or modeling for affecting and changing lives.

3. Augustine is intensely interested in Truth, rational explanation, reasoned answers to every question, even (especially?) those involving faith.

4. Be aware of the long road from a directionless, amoral life to that of a great Christian Saint. Saints are not born; they are rebuilt from sinners. One achievement of the book is to show that great Christians are not born certain, confident, and totally spiritual, the way they are when we think about them or perhaps meet them. A great and long struggle was necessary.

Notes and Questions

I.9 (pp. 29-30). Note the power of example for learning and for faith.

I.12-13 (pp. 32-34). What was Augustine's attitude toward learning as a child?

I.14 (p. 35). What does he say about learning by compulsion?

I.16-18 (pp. 36-39). Augustine criticizes traditional education in the classics. Why?

II.3 (p. 46). What kind of peer pressure did Augustine face? How does it compare to peer pressure today?

II.4 (p. 47). What motivated Augustine to steal the pears?

III.1 (p. 55). How does Augustine see the relationship between love and the beloved, between desire and the thing desired?

III.3-4 (pp. 57-59). Describe Augustine's attitude toward his companions, the "Wreckers."

III. 4-6 (pp. 60-62). Characterize Augustine's engagement with Cicero and philosophy and the "Truth."

For the first three books, briefly characterize the role that Augustine sees his mother and God playing in his young life.

IV.3 (pp. 73-74). How does the force of personal example affect Augustine's attraction to astrology?

IV.4-7 (pp. 75-78). How does the death of his friend affect Augustine? What is his spiritual state afterwards?

IV.12 (p. 82). Note the connection between the things of the world, God, and truth.

V.3-8 (pp. 92-101). What is it that leads Augustine to doubt his Manichean beliefs?

V.13 (pp. 107-108). What effect does Bishop Ambrose have on Augustine?

VI.7-10 (pp. 120-126). Briefly sum up the story of Alypius and his lust for the games.

VI.15 (p. 131). Describe Augustine's feelings about sending away his first mistress.

VII.3-16 (pp. 136-150). Summarize Augustine's search for the cause and nature of evil.

VIII.2 (pp. 159-161). Note the effect of example, again, in the story of Victorinus.

VIII.3 (pp. 161-163). Read this section carefully; it is a wonderful passage about the connection between pain and joy.

VIII.6 (pp. 166-168). Note again the power of personal example, this time through the story of the two friends of Ponticianus who read still another personal example, the life of Antony.

VIII.7-8 (pp. 169-172). What is the effect of the story above on Augustine?

VIII.12 (pp. 177-179). What is it that triggers Augustine's conversion?

IX.2 (pp. 182-183). What effect does Augustine's conversion have on his teaching?

IX.4 (p. 189). Note the miraculous toothache. Do you think we are always surprised when God answers prayer? If so, why?

IX.8-12 (pp. 192-203). Augustine describes his mother and his relationship with her, remembering these things upon her death.

X.3 (p. 208). What does Augustine say his purpose in writing is?

X.6-7 (pp. 211-213). The first method of perceiving and approaching God is through the senses.

X.8-25 (pp. 213-230). The second method or step is an introspective look at his memory.

X.30-34 (pp. 233-241). Augustine discusses the temptations surrounding each of the senses. What sins does he connect with each sense discussed in these sections?

X.35 (pp. 241-244). What new kind of temptation does Augustine discuss here?

X.36 (pp. 244-245). What third kind of temptation is mentioned?

X.41-43 (pp. 249-252). Considering his sorry state, Augustine has sought reconciliation with God. How is it accomplished?

(Books XI, XII, and XIII are commentaries and interpretations of the Book of Genesis, including a discussion of time, the distinction between heaven and earth, and an allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1. Since they do not concern Augustine’s personal biography or spiritual growth, they are not included here.)


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Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com