Reading Guide to Augustine, Confessions

Book 1 Book 2 Book 3 Book 4 Book 5 Book 6 Book 7 Book 8 Book 9 Book 10

Tips for reading: Make sure you read the introduction. Augustine's autobiography is, in part, an intellectual one, so you need to be aware of matters like Ciceronian rhetoric, Manichean religion, and Neo-platonic philosophy. Keep in mind that Augustine's work is both a form of prayer addressed to God and a testimony addressed to others. As you read, you will need two methods: 1) a sense of story and 2) a sense of poetry. Read for the narrative flow of the events. Yet when you encounter passages that seem more like prayers, read for the poetry of the ideas. You might even consider praying along with him. Some of Augustine's prayers have provided moments of worship for many readers. Also stay aware of how Augustine weaves in scripture to his narrative.

NOTE: We will be using the Roman numeral book and section numbers; these are not always the same as the medieval paragraph numbers in parentheses.


  • Augustine
  • Monica
  • Alypius
  • Ambrose
  • Mani
  • Plotinus
  • Adeodatus
  • Cicero

1.1: What is the significance of Augustine's prayer, "You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you"?

1.4: What is God like in this section? Try to summarize.

1.6: Note how and why Augustine praises God for his early childhood.

1.9 (cf. 1.14): Note what Augustine's view of corporeal punishment in schools is.

1.13-14: Note Augustine's view of reading Virgil and Homer. You will need this for a journal question.

Terence: (190-159 BC) The Roman playwright Publius Terentius Afer was author of popular Latin comedies that adapted older Greek plots for the Roman stage. Most of his plays were tragi-comedies with well-built, but slow-moving, plots.

1.18-19: Note why, according to Augustine, rhetorical skill is not enough.

1.20: Note what things a child has to be grateful for.

2.3: Explain why Augustine's father and mother have differing reactions to their son's growing lusts.

2.4 (cf. 2.6-2.8): Explain why Augustine steals the pears. Why does the "act have nothing lovely about it"? (2.6)

2.8-9: Describe Augustine's "partners in sin." Why did they steal together?

3.2 (cf. 3.6): Why does Augustine consider his experience of the theater destructive? Do you agree? Contrast this with his view of other literature.

3.3: Note who the Wreckers are.

Cicero: (103-43 BC) Cicero is the most famous Latin orator of classical antiquity. His most famous work Of Oratory influenced generation after generation of rhetorical teachers and thinkers in the West.

3.4-3.5: Explain how Cicero influenced Augustine in his love of wisdom and distrust of scripture.

3.11: Describe Monica's dream concerning her son.

4.3: Note why Augustine gives up astrology.

4.4-7: What is the significance of how Augustine describes his grief at the loss of a close friend?

4.12: Explain why we should love the things of this world in God and not apart from Him.

4.14: Note why Augustine admires the orator Hierius.

4:15-16: Contrast Augustine's work on aesthetics and his education in logic and rhetoric (e.g. Aristotle's Categories) with his need to know the true source of beauty and rationality.

5.2: Explain (according to Augustine) why the wicked do not know God.

5.3-5: Note how the Manichean doctrines of the stars compare to the astronomy of Augustine's time.

5.5: Note why according to Augustine there is a relationship between sceintific knowledge and salvation.

5.6-7: Describe Augustine's disappointed respect for Faustus. How does this help release him from the Manichean religion?

5.8-9: Note why Augustine moves to Rome and how Monica reacts.

5.10-11: Note the beliefs of the Manicheans that Augustine still finds convincing.

5.12-13: Explain what prompts Augustine to apply for the appointment in Milan.

5.13: Explain why Augustine is first attracted to Ambrose.

6.2: Note why Monica gives up taking memorial meals to saints' shrines.

6.3: Explain Ambrose's practice of reading.

6.4-5: Note Augustine's growing belief in Christianity and the Bible.

6.6: Explain why Augustine envies the beggar.

6.7-11: Note how Alypius is pulled into the gladiatorial games, is cleared of the charge of thievery, and is attracted to a life of celibacy.

Book 7 is Optional

Epicurus: (342-270 BC) Epicurus founded a school of philosophy based on the pleasure principle. He believed that the goal of life was to achieve the highest pleasure possible since God did not exist nor was there an afterlife. Intellectual and ethical pleasures are the highest in Epicurus' view.

7.1-2: Note why Augustine is tempted to believe that God is a material substance.

7.3-5: Note what kinds of questions concerning the origin of evil Augustine struggles with.

7.6: Note how Firninus' story of the two births convinces Augustine that astrology is false.

Plotinus: (204-270 AD) The founder of neo-platonism borrowed a number of ideas from Plato. For Plotinus, God is the One, the impersonal Absolute Unity that transcends all duality, material limitations, or intellectual distinctions. The One is Nous or mind, which orders the universe.

7.9-11: Explain what aspects of scripture Augustine found in the Platonists and which he did not.

7.12-13, 15-16: What is the significance of what Augustine learned about the grandeur of the physical world?

7.18: Why does Augustine describe Christ as "your Word, eternal truth"?

7.19: Note Augustine's and Alypius' early views of Christ.

Apollinarianism: A heresy begun by Apollinarius the Younger (300-392 AD) which held that Christ as the divine Logos dwelled in the body of the man Jesus, but that the two were not strictly synonymous,. Apollinarius believed that the human soul would have to be sinful; thus, he denied the true humanity of Christ.

8.2, 8.5: Note why Simplicianus tells Augustine the story of Victorinus' conversion.

8.5: Explain how Augustine describes the war within himself to convert to Christianity.

8.6: Note what decision Antony makes concerning the Christian life.

8.7 -8.12: Note the stages in Augustine's decision.

9.2: Note why Augustine decides to quit his job at the autumn holidays.

9.4: Describe Augustine's reaction to reading scripture.

9.6: Note Augustine's view of Adeodatus' intelligence.

Arianism: A heresy begun by Arius between 318 and 323 AD. Arianism holds that Christ is not truly God but a created Being (the Logos) whom God the Father created before the world began, a kind of superpowerful but finite expression of God.

9.7: Note the miracles that took place in Milan.

9.8-9: Note the events in Monica's life and character.

9.12: What is the significance of Augustine's not weeping for Monica at first? What prompts him finally to do so?

Book 10 is Optional

10.1-3: Explain what purpose Augustine's work serves for God, for himself, and for others.

10.4: Note who, according to Augustine, is a "true brother."

SKIP sections seven through twenty-one which discuss Augustine's theory of memory.

10.27-29: Note how Augustine describes his love for God's true beauty and charity.

10.30-34: How do Augustine's different senses tempt him? When is beauty in sight and sound acceptable for him?

10.35: When is curiosity misplaced?

10.36: Why does Augustine pray, "Let it be for your sake that we are loved"?

10.40: Why is God the Truth a safe haven for one's mind?

10.43: Why is Christ the Mediator an example of the Father's great love for humans?



"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding