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Augustine's Conversion, by Gozzoli
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Week 5. Augustinus: Confessiones

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Augustine's Confessions is a remarkable piece of writing by one of the most influential and important "fathers" of the Christian Church in the West. You will learn something about Augustine's biography this week, while reading his own account of his conversion to Christianity. But first, you might ask yourself why Augustine would choose to write a book about himself? What was Augustine trying to achieve by telling the story of his life? James O'Donnell, who has published a critical edition of the Confessions online, makes these very interesting observations in his Preface:

Augustine believes that human beings are opaque to themselves no less than to others. We are not who we think we are. One of the things Augustine had to confess was that he was and had been himself sharply different from who he thought he was. Not only was this true of his wastrel youth (to hear him tell it), but it remained true at the time of confessing - he did not know to what temptation he might next submit. [...] Even the self is known, and a fortiori other people are known, only through knowing God. So Augustine appears before us winning self-knowledge as a consequence of knowledge of God; but his God he searches for and finds only in his own mind.

In some ways, then, Augustine's Confessions fulfills some of what you might expect from a biography (he narrates the events of his life, his education and professional career), but at the same time the story is focused on this intense process of self-discovery which, for Augustine, was absolutely connected to his desire to become a Christian, an event which, he tells us, took place in a garden, under a fig tree, in the month of September in the year 386.



Modern Languages 4970 / MRS 4903: Medieval Latin. Spring 2003 Online Course at the University of Oklahoma. Visit for more info.
Laura Gibbs, University of Oklahoma - Information Technology © 2003. Last updated: December 29, 2002 7:12 PM