Fourth and last volume (after Saint Augustine’s Sin, 2003, etc.) of classicist/historian Wills’s translation of Augustine’s Confessions, a key document of the early church.
Did Augustine really all of a sudden cast off paganism and sin suddenly and come to embrace Christianity in that Milanese garden way back in a.d. 386? According to the Confessions, he did: He and friend Alypius were entertaining a visitor who filled their heads with tales about St. Anthony and the Christian ascetics, suddenly Augustine felt overwhelmed by his failure to take up the rigors of the faith, not least of them celibacy. Tormented, he repaired to the garden—gardens being the site of many important happenings in the life of Jesus and his followers—and looked into his soul: “So sick was I, so tortured,” he writes, “as I reviled myself more bitterly than ever, churning and chafing in my chains, held more loosely now, but still held.” Hearing a voice telling him to read, Augustine adds, he turned the Bible to Romans 13, with its quite explicit instructions to give up the usual sins: “Clothe yourself in Jesus Christ the Lord, leaving no further allowance for fleshly desires.” Et voilà!: a future saint was born. Well, says Wills, it’s a powerful story, but a story all the same: Augustine had already converted, and there probably was not much suddenness to be had except as suited the needs of the narrative, which demands its own road to Damascus. “The pull,” he writes, “came from the fact that he was not simply accepting Christianity but aspiring to be a Christian philosopher,” later adding that the Confessions are better read as a work of theology rather than as an autobiography per se, “a larger testimony that celebrates the word of God more than the life of Augustine.”
Elegant and well annotated: of considerable interest to students of the church fathers and doctors.