Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book Review: The Confession (2001 Translation) by St. Augustine

The Confessions [Everyman's Library] (2001)
by St. Augustine translated by Philip Burton

Great are you, O Lord, and worthy of high praise. Great is your strength, and of your wisdom there is no counting. Even man is, in his way, a part of your creation, and longs to praise you; every man, who carries in himself his own mortality, that testimony of his sin, that testimony also that you resist the proud; for all that, man is part of your creation, and longs to praise you. You stir us up to take delight in your praise; for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless till it finds its rest in you” (Book 1.1.1). With that, St. Augustine of Hippo begins his confessions.

It is said that Augustine’s Confessions are our most brilliant evidence for the spiritual and intellectual progress of a man in the ancient world. Indeed, this autobiographical work is one of the most read books in the ancient time since it was written in Latin between AD 397 and 400… but not so today (maybe in the theological schools?). The works outline Augustine’s sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity, sex life and immorality, his friendships and godly mother, his inner struggles with the Truth and Meaning of life, God’s hiddenness, mercy and grace. What unique about this book is that it is written as prayers or conversations with God – Augustine is a rhetorician by training – and actually meant to be read out loud.

[The word ‘confessions’ here come from the Hebrew word meaning ‘praise.’ ‘Confession’ can be understood in two ways: with reference to our sins, or as praise to God.”]

Augustine quoted lots of Bible verses especially the Psalms of David, and few pagan writers and works. Philip Burton, translator of this book, done a great job at translating this work and noted from which verses and books Augustine quotes. Confessions is not an easy read, but this Everyman’s Library translation is better than Penguin Classic’s, in my opinion. This book consisting of 13 smaller books (first nine actually autobiographical and the last four are commentary):

Book #1 Our Heart is Restless
Book #2 Sinner Without a Cause
Book #3 The Love of Wisdom
Book #4 Half My Soul
Book #5 The Flight from Carthage
Book #6 Farewell My Concubine
Book #7 Not in Our Stars
Book #8 God’s Civil Servants
Book #9 Monica
Book #10 Remembrance of Things Present
Book #11 ‘In the Beginning…”
Book #12 ‘Heaven and Earth’
Book #13 ‘Let there be Light’

Once I talked with a self-claimed Reformed Christian and asked him, “Have you read St. Augustine?” “Who?” he puzzled. “Okay, do you know who St. Augustine is?”No… who?” “Never mind,” I said. In the area of God’s grace and salvation, the church and sacraments, predestination and freewill, famous Reformers like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards were greatly influence by Augustine. Augustinian Theology influence the Reformation. Either you’re Reformed (or Reformed in theology but doesn’t realized it) or not, read Augustine.

To me, what make Augustine’s story compelling is that it’s our story too. In a world where morality is generally low and lack of spiritual sensitivity, many of us wanted to pursuit God but don’t know where to start. This book can help you. The sovereign grace that he describes in this book is the same sovereign grace that lost and thirsty souls need today.

Oh yeah :)

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