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About this page Source. Translated by J. Edited by Philip Schaff. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

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  1. Truckers: The First Book of the Nomes (The Bromeliad Trilogy).
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The Confessions of Saint Augustine

But I did not read Augustine's Confessions in its entirety until recently. My reading of this classic was long overdue. All classics yield their treasures more fully if someone with experience takes us under wing and serves as a tour guide, but this is more crucial with Augustine's Confessions than with most other classics.

I believe that Augustine's masterpiece is a largely unread book because people approach it with the wrong expectations, quickly become frustrated, and leave the book unfinished. The Confessions is usually classified as an autobiography, and this inaccurate labeling is the root of most readers' difficulty. Augustine's masterpiece is autobiographical , but it is not an autobiography.

In its structure, it resembles entries in a personal journal more than an autobiography. This is not to deny that the book has features that make it like an autobiography. For example, it is a first-person account of Augustine's life. Moreover, in its overall organization the material is arranged according to the chronology of Augustine's life from infancy to the age of thirty-three with his famous conversion coming at age thirty-two. But autobiographies are a narrative of events, and if we go to Augustine's book expecting a narrative flow, we will be thwarted at every turn.

Additionally, much of the Confessions does not deal with Augustine's life at all. Although the genre of memoir is rarely applied to the Confessions , it is the right label.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine

A memoir is a collection of remembrances accompanied by analysis. It is much more selective and piecemeal than an autobiography, being gleanings from a life that are brought together and analyzed by the author later in life. A memoir is how the author remembers and understands his or her life, while an autobiography is a documentary history that assembles the facts of a life.

The Confessions is primarily a retrospective analysis and assessment of what was happening to the author at various points in his life. The format is heavily reflective, with paragraphs often resembling entries in a journal. In the process, Augustine tells the history of his heart and soul. He began to write the book a decade after the last events that he records, perhaps to allay fears about a famous sinner having become Bishop of Hippo. Calling the Confessions a memoir is only the start of identifying the Confessions.

The thing that makes Augustine's masterpiece simultaneously difficult and exciting is its mixed-genre format. I find it helpful to remind myself that Old Testament prophetic books like Isaiah and Jeremiah are also mixed-genre books, as are the Gospels.

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The starting point for negotiating a mixed-genre book which literary scholars also call an encyclopedic form is to regard it as a mosaic of diverse parts. We can also look upon such books as anthologies of separate genres and selections. If we know from the start that the book will be a kaleidoscopic collection of diverse genres instead of a smooth-flowing narrative, we will not be frustrated and will find the variety entertaining even though the Confessions is a book that we go to in the first place for edification.

I have no desire to excise the story aspect from the book. No wonder he was the champion of "Sola Gratia" and had such an influence on both Luther and Calvin. In my opinion he is the most influential person in church history outside of the Apostle Paul, and next to the Bible I would put a copy of Confessions on any "desert island" book list!

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Worst thing you'll read all millennium: Confessions of Saint Augustine - Quarter to Three

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