I’ve been rounding the bend on Augustine’s Confessions – I just hit Book XI – and I’ve been struck by several things, which I will comment on in a brief and somewhat fragmented way.
– I will need to reread this book, probably more than once. Augustine was an astonishingly deep, rich thinker, steeped in Scripture, and responsive to the influences of his time. The insights that can be gleaned from his pre-modern tradition and worldview alone make anything he has written worth going through more than once. But in addition to that, he’s just a fine, sharp, righteous theologian and philosopher who is worth listening to on any subject on which he opened his mouth. I know there’s a lot in the Confessions that has whizzed over my head so far, so I look forward to the chance to engage in a more careful reading in the future.
– Augustine was definitely more sacramental than a lot of evangelicals today. It would be a stretch to say that his doctrine of the sacraments sprang fully-formed from the Council of Trent, but he definitely seemed to believe in baptismal regeneration and the real presence in the Eucharist, at least in some sense. This doesn’t inspire me to drift toward Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. However, it does make me, as a Reformed Protestant, think that a deeper study of the sacraments might be in order, as well as a reconsideration of what views of the sacraments are acceptably Protestant and evangelical.
– It is striking to read the writings of a Christian from seventeen hundred years ago and find so many of the same issues that believers discuss today. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is a reassuring and strong reminder of my connection to the most ancient Church traditions. Idolatry, the affections, worship, distractions, difficulties in prayer, temptation, justification, sanctification, the Scriptures, the Church, the sacraments, the Psalms, grief, lust, friendship, chastity, marriage, and a number of other issues make pointed appearances in the Confessions. I was particularly struck by the end of Book X, which seemed to be structured similarly to Romans 7-8: Augustine starts by lamenting his struggles with sin and temptation, and concludes the section with allusions to Romans 8 and his hope for righteousness in Christ.
– I may have more to say about this book anon. Ironically, another book I’ve started recently is a biography of Jacques Derrida, who was influenced deeply by Augustine (for better or worse, I will have to see). I may have something to say about that book, too, since this will be my first engagement with Derridian deconstructionism in any depth.