St. Augustine’s Confessions Changed Me

By Ilana Blattner
Stained glass depiction of St. Augustine of Hippo, presently displayed at the Lightner Museum

When it comes to inspiring Catholic literature, the first work that comes to my mind is Saint Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions. There are few books or essays that have challenged the way I think and evaluate my relationship with God as much as this one, and I feel it is an essential read for anyone who wishes to do the same.

Originally written in Latin between 397 and 400 A.D, Augustine’s Confessions tells the tale of his debauched lifestyle and gradual conversion. It is also the first autobiography ever written. The breadth of Augustine’s humanity is what stands out most in the work. He writes candidly and beautifully about his human experience and the struggles against his own will.

Augustine believed that humans are not bad, just wounded, and in need of help from God. There are desires that are hard to control. Augustine was himself a sex addict for an extensive period of time. As such, Augustine’s problem was that he knew the right thing to do (not having sex all the time), but he could not do it. At one point, he even wrote that, when praying to God for help, he cried “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!”

This fear of not being able to do the right thing, of not being good enough, is a problem everyone faces, which makes Augustin more relatable as an author. Augustine had an intense fear of God when going through his conversion, and this fear stemmed from anxiety about whether he would be able to measure up an be a worthy Christian. He wrote, “I was attracted to the Way, which is our Savior himself, but the narrowness of the path daunted me and I still could not walk in it.” He didn’t know how to reach out to God because, in his mind, he was unworthy of doing so and just kept screwing up.

Eventually, Augustine realized that he doesn’t need to be perfect in order to reach out to God. This is because God reaches out to him through Jesus and through the scriptures. Jesus came to Augustine through his friends, who were also converting, and through St. Paul’s letter to the Romans; he realized on his own that what he used to do, he cannot do anymore. He found peace rather than pain in this, and he clung to these words of St. Paul from Romans 14: “Make room for the person who is weak in faith.”

Friends know your faults and weaknesses and still, love you. This is what Augustine came to believe about God. He wrote, “Your words were now firmly implanted in my heart of hearts, and I was besieged by you on every side.” He didn’t have to be perfect for God to reach out to him. He merely had to let God reach out. It ultimately changed his life, and reading Confessions and thinking about faith in this way changed mine too.