Augustine’s Confessions is a spiritual and literary classic. He began to write it in A.D. 397, ten years after his conversion to Christianity, when he was bishop of Hippo in Roman North Africa, partly to respond to his critics. Books 1–9 are largely autobiographical, while Books 10–13 include meditations on memory, time, and the Book of Genesis.
The book continues to fascinate and inspire readers, both scholars and laypeople, but it is not easy to read. Augustine mixes autobiographical reflections, biographical portraits of others, theological and philosophical arguments, psychological self-analysis, and biblical interpretation, among other things, in a continuous prayer to God. Modern readers who approach the book with contemporary autobiographical models in mind are likely to be confused and frustrated when they start reading it.
As part of a series of “Christian Guides to the Classics,” Leland Ryken has authored a literary introduction to Augustine’s Confessions that helped me prepare to reread the book, which I last read in college. After a brief overview of the book and its author, Ryken analyzes each of the Confessions’ thirteen books under the headings “Summary,” “Commentary,” and “For Reflection and Discussion.”
Ryken’s primary focus is on the literary qualities of the Confessions, so readers wanting a more detailed introduction to its theology and philosophy should look elsewhere. Evangelical readers, whether college students or otherwise, will appreciate Ryken’s positive evaluation of Augustine’s work, even as he criticizes aspects of the great saint’s theology. Readers may also want to check out Ryken’s A Christian Guide to the Classics, which I reviewed here. It provides a helpful introduction to what classics are and why they deserve to be read today.
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