Synopses & Reviews
"God is our home but many of us have strayed from our native land.
The venerable authors of these Spiritual Classics are expert guides--
may we follow their directions home." --Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Writing in the last years of the fourth century a.d., Saint Augustine of Hippo created what is at once the first true autobiography in Western literature and among the most sophisticated yet accessible theological arguments in the history of Christianity. With extraordinary candor and psychological acumen, Augustine recounts his passage from a life of sensuality, Manichaean superstition, and empty careerism to a genuine spiritual awakening, and he articulates views on marriage, morality, and faith that have shaped our discourse ever since. The Confessions allows us to appreciate both the startling modernity of Augustine's insights and the imperishable poetry of his voice. With a new Preface by MacArthur Fellow Patricia Hampl,
author of Virgin Time and A Romantic Education.
In the annals of spirituality, certain books stand out both for their historical importance and for their continued relevance. The Vintage Spiritual Classics series offers the greatest of these works in authoritative new editions, with specially commissioned essays by noted contemporary commentators. Filled with eloquence and fresh insight, encouragement and solace, Vintage Spiritual Classics are incomparable resources for all readers who seek a more substantive understanding of mankind's relation to the divine.
Writing in the last years of the fourth century A.D., St. Augustine of Hippo created what is at once the first true autobiography in Western literature and among the most sophisticated yet accessible theological arguments in the history of Christianity.
About the Author
Robin Lane Fox
is Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and the author of Pagans and Christians
and Alexander the Great.
Philip Burton teaches at the School of Greek, Latin and Ancient History at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Reading Group Guide
"God is our home but many of us have strayed from our native land. The venerable authors of these Spiritual Classics are expert guides--may we follow their directions home."--Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The Vintage Spiritual Classics present the testimony of writers across the centuries who have pondered the mysterious ways, unfathomable mercies, and deep consolations afforded by God to those who call upon Him from out of the depths of their lives. These writers are our companions, even our champions, in a common effort to discern the meaning of God in personal experience.
The questions, discussion topics, and background information that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of the six works that make up the first series in Vintage Spiritual Classics. We hope they will provide you with a variety of ways of thinking and talking about these ancient and important texts.
We offer this word about the act of reading these spiritual classics. From the very earliest accounts of monastic practice--dating back to the fourth century--it is evident that a form of reading called lectio divina ("divine" or "spiritual" reading) was essential to any deliberate spiritual life. This kind of reading is quite different from that of scanning a text for useful facts and bits of information, or advancing along an exciting plot line to a climax in the action. It is, rather, a meditative approach, by which the reader seeks to taste and savor the beauty and truth of every phrase and passage. There are four steps in lectio divina: first, to read, next to meditate, then to rest in the sense of God's nearness, and, ultimately, to resolve to govern one's actions in the light of new understanding. This kind of reading is itself an act of prayer. And, indeed, it is in prayer that God manifests His Presence to us.
1. What is Augustine's conception of the self? If you have read other autobiographies, can you remember a self-examination written with such acute awareness and observation of both external and internal conditions? How is Augustine's intelligence particularly suited to the writing of both self-analysis and philosophy? What is Augustine's understanding of the role of God in forming self and soul?
2. What are the turning points in Augustine's conversion? How does he characterize his early theft of pears from the orchard? His relationship with his mistress and his child? Why is it so difficult for him to leave carnal desire behind? How important are the voice of the child singing "Take it and read" and the inspiration to pick up the Scriptures at that moment?
3. Many moments in Confessions are striking in their sheer dramatic or literary power. Which passages or event do you find most moving, and why?
4. Could Confessions have been written today? Does our culture support such serious, intensive, analysis of the self and the meaning of life? Or have psychotherapy and such phenomena taken the place of self-motivated searching like that engaged in by Augustine? What role does reading play in Augustine's search?
5. Thomas Merton has commented on the role of spirituality in helping us to come into contact with our "deep selves." How important is the search for God in Augustine's establishment of his true self? Do you think he would have achieved any sense of peace or satisfaction with his life had he not ultimately taken the path he did? How would you characterize the difference between a "deep self" and a "false self"?
6. What are the stages Augustine goes through in his effort to understand the nature of evil? What do you think of his final definition of evil as the absence of good? How do people become evil? Do you think evil has changed since Augustine's time, or is the nature of human evil a constant throughout history?