Part Three: The Value of Augustine’s “Confessions” for Christian Apologetics


Fra Angelico’s “Conversion of St. Augustine”

“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you.”

“Now I had read many works of the philosophers and retained a great deal in my memory, and … What the philosophers taught seemed to me the more probable, though their power was limited to making judgment of this world and they could not pierce through to its Lord.”[1]  Augustine writes this as he looked back on the process of trying to find God in philosophy. Yet the wiser convert could see the pride at the heart of his search.  He writes, “The proud cannot find You, not even if they have skill beyond the natural to number the stars and the grains of sand, and measure out the places of the constellations and plot the courses of the planets.”[2] He laments that it was the pride of the intellect and vainglory of learning. He writes that “surely a man is unhappy even if he knows all these things but does not know You; and that man is happy who knows You even though he knows nothing of them.”[3]

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Part Two: The Value of Augustine’s “Confessions” for Christian Apologetics


Philosophical and Psychological Road Blocks

In his Confessions, Augustine knits together the intellectual and emotional seamlessly.  Philosophy involves arguments, yes, but the true lover of wisdom will not merely contemplate, but apply the deliverances of truth to his life. Conversion for Augustine is not only an act of the intellect, but it is psychological, involving the will and emotions as well as the mind. Through him we see that the reasoning faculty can be blinded by one’s psychological state, God’s truth being darkened in proportion to one’s sin. Augustine writes that God opposes the proud and he allows this truth to be on full display as he recounts his conversion narrative.

The process of resolving one’s intellectual reservations about Christianity often involves a disentangling of legitimate conceptual difficulties with its truths from volitional resistance to its ethics. The two are tightly woven together in human nature, complex as it is. The Christian Augustine expertly utilizes Scripture, the penetrating sword that divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow in order to separate these strands.[1] In this way, he is able to cast his glance back over his life and see his motives more clearly from within the context of biblical wisdom.  “Man is a great deep, Lord,” he writes. “You number his very hairs and they are not lost in Your sight: but the hairs of his head are easier to number than his affections and the movements of his heart.”[2] G.K. Chesterton wrote that “one may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.”[3] Augustine shows us that without God’s gentle grace, no one would be saved, no one would come to God, for who can fully penetrate the mysteries of the self?

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Part One: The Value of Augustine’s “Confessions” for Christian Apologetics


Bishop Augustine of Hippo by Antonello da Messina

“Truly my soul finds rest in God …”

“Grant me, O Lord, to know which is the soul’s first movement toward Thee,” Augustine writes in the opening lines of what is widely acknowledged as the Western world’s preeminent autobiography.[1]  “What goal are you making for wandering around and about by ways so hard and laborious?” Augustine asks. [2]  Penned in the form of a conversation with God that brings to mind the Psalms of David, Augustine’s Confessions are the recollections of an intelligent and passionately sensitive mind as it considers its search for God in the midst of earthly distractions.  The goal is rest.  “Rest is not where you seek it,” Augustine writes, for “You seek happiness of life in the land of death, and it is not there.”[3]

Written between 397-398 A.D., one might think that such a conversion narrative would have little of value to offer the modern world. What would a fourth-century bishop in a Roman province in the northern part of Africa have to say to our twenty-first century world filled with the fruits of modern science?

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