211. Confessions by Saint Augustine (397 AD)

Plot: Augustine confesses to God both his sins before embracing Christianity and his thoughts, anguishes and joys since his conversion. My version was an old Penguin Black Classic, translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin (what an unfortunate name!) (ISBN 014044114X)

My thoughts:   Perhaps the world’s first autobiography, Confessions is 90% praise of God, addressed to God but acknowledged that is to be read by men and women – in fact it would make excellent sermon material even today. Between all the praise, joy and anguish as Augustine finds his way to the Lord are some very thoughtful passages on original sin, the nature of God and evil, education (better in a free spirit of curiosity than under fear and compulsion), and friendship (Augustine muses over stealing tasteless pears from his neighbour with his friends, not for hunger or malice, but to enjoy doing mischief in the company of others).

But his greatest sins as he looks back at his younger years seem to be lust (he had at least two mistresses and a wife), and pride (in that he  took him years to renounce his earlier belief in Manichaeism, and even longer to accept Christianity despite his mother’s prayers and urging).

Of thirteen books, the first ten deal with his confessions, while the last three discuss the Book of Genesis. I slowly crawled my way through the ten (constant praise to the Lord does not make for riveting reading) before throwing in the towel just hours before New Year’s Eve.

Favourite lines/passages:

“I had my back to the light and my face was turned towards the things which it illuminated, so my eyes …  were themselves in darkness” page 88

“The proud cannot find you, even though by dint of study they have skill to number stars and grains of sand, to measure the tracts of constellations and trace the paths of planets”    page 93

Augustine and his friends come across a drunk beggar, happy and carefree while Augustine is wracked in the throes of indecision and misery bought about by his ambitions.  Even though he recognises the beggar’s happiness is bound to be short-lived, it highlights his own unhappiness

“He had earned his wine by wishing good-day to passersby while I was trying to feed my pride by telling lies”    page 119

Personal rating:  A hard one to rate. A slow and often beautiful read with some gems of careful thought but just too much religious fervour for me. I’d best get used to that in the next 1000 years of literature.   4/10

Also in these years: Between 275 and 350 AD,

  • A plethora of Roman emperors are murdered, often killed off by their own troops
  • The Roman Empire is split administratively in two, with the Eastern half essentially becoming the Byzantine Empire
  • Mongol and Tibetan kingdoms emerge
  • Monasticism arises in Egypt (c.300 AD) and spreads to Western Christendom (c. 340 AD)
  • Roman Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian, providing the Church legitimacy and ending persecution (312 AD)
  • Founding of the cultural Gupta Dynasty in India
  • Constantine reunites the Roman Empire and calls the Council of Nicaea to resolve doctrinal disputes in the Church. He also founds the New Roman capital Constantinople on the site of Byzantium (330 AD)
  • Mexican centre Teolihuacan develops
  • Papal power centred in Rome grows stronger
  • Scots and Picts raid Roman Britain (c. 350 AD)

and most importantly, tea drinking starts in China.

(from The Book of Key Facts, published by Paddington Press, 1978)

As this is the last post for 2018, I wish that the coming year may bring you all much health, happiness, hot sweet tea, and readings of excellence. 

 

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