Teaching The Confessions of St. Augustine Essay

Teaching The Confessions of St. Augustine Essay

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Teaching The Confessions of St. Augustine

ABSTRACT: Augustine's passionate and immensely personal account of his conversion has enthralled readers for centuries. Unfortunately, the passion and personal nature of the writing can stand as a barrier to comprehension, especially when the text is taught at the undergraduate level. Add to this the fact that the work has the character of one long and substained prayer to God, contains many passages that are tediously introspective, and refers to a time and place that are foreign to today's undergraduates, the task of helping students to understand and appreciate the work is daunting, to say the least.

Augustine's very passionate and immensely personal account of his conversion has enthralled readers for centuries. Unfortunately, it is also the very passionate and personal nature of the writing that can stand as a barrier to comprehension, especially when the text is taught at the undergraduate level. Add to this the fact that the work has the character of one long, sustained prayer addressed to God, it contains many passages that are tediously introspective, it refers to a time and place that are foreign to today's undergraduates, and the task of helping students to understand and appreciate the work is, to say the least, daunting.

But the Confessions, like all great literary masterpieces, is ultimately accessible, although special effort may have to be made to make it so for the student. One method of approaching the text that has been very helpful for my students has been to explore the text in terms of theme and pattern. It is this method about which I will speak in this paper. I shall speak first of theme, and return later to pattern.

There is no doubt in Augustine's m...

... middle of paper ...

...on, and the individuals who at every stage helped him to overcome those obstacles. I have further suggested that one theme that comes readily to the fore when the first eight books of the Confessions are analyzed in this way is Augustine's belief that God's work is accomplished in our lives through the agency of others. This approach is used with a primarily undergraduate audience in mind, thus many of Augustine's more subtle psychological and theological teachings from these books are not given emphasis. However, this approach does provide students with a way into the text that is intelligible and manageable. It can only be hoped that in subsequent readings, our students will be able to appreciate some of the other riches that await them therein.


Augustine. The Confessions of St. Augustine. Trans. John K. Ryan. Garden City: Image-Doubleday, 1960.

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