Confessions

Purpose

Confessions was not only meant to encourage conversion, but it offered guidelines for how to convert. Saint Augustine extrapolates from his own experiences to fit others' journeys. Augustine recognizes that God has always protected and guided him. This is reflected in the structure of the work. Augustine begins each book within Confessions with a prayer to God. For example, both books VIII and IX begin with "you have broken the chains that bound me; I will sacrifice in your honor."[13] Because Augustine begins each book with a prayer, Albert C. Outler, a Professor of Theology at Southern Methodist University, argues that Confessions is a "pilgrimage of grace [...] [a] retrac[ing] [of] the crucial turnings of the way by which [Augustine] had come. And since he was sure that it was God’s grace that had been his prime mover in that way, it was a spontaneous expression of his heart that cast his self-recollection into the form of a sustained prayer to God." [14] Not only does Confessions glorify God but it also suggests God’s help in Augustine’s path to redemption.

Written after the legalization of Christianity, Confessions dated from an era where martyrdom was no longer a threat to most Christians as was the case two centuries earlier. Instead, a Christian’s struggles were usually internal. Augustine clearly presents his struggle with worldly desires such as lust. Augustine’s conversion was quickly followed by his ordination as a priest in AD 391 and then appointment as bishop in AD 395. Such rapid ascension certainly raised criticism of Augustine. Confessions was written between AD 397–398, suggesting self-justification as a possible motivation for the work. With the words "I wish to act in truth, making my confession both in my heart before you and in this book before the many who will read it" in Book X Chapter 1,[15] Augustine both confesses his sins and glorifies God through humility in His grace, the two meanings that define "confessions," [16] in order to reconcile his imperfections not only to his critics but also to God.


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