What did Augustine “Confess” in his “Confessions”? -- By: A. Craig Troxel

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 15:2 (Fall 1994)
Article: What did Augustine “Confess” in his “Confessions”?
Author: A. Craig Troxel

What did Augustine “Confess” in his “Confessions”?

A. Craig Troxel*


It would be difficult to overestimate the extraordinary spiritual legacy of Augustine. It is extraordinary, in part, because Augustine’s influence has been widely evident centuries and almost two millennia after his death. Bearing testimony to his profound impact is the fact that he has been cited so frequently by some of the brightest lights in the church’s history.1 Even today many journals, study institutes, seminars, and a plethora of monographs and articles are devoted exclusively to the Augustinian heritage. Adolf Harnack was not far amiss when he claimed that Augustine was incomparably the greatest man whom, “between St. Paul the Apostle and Luther the Reformer the Christian Church has possessed.”2 Augustine’s astonishing prolificacy has been responsible for much of his proud heritage. However, the voluminous character of the Augustinian corpus has not been compromised with respect to quality. Perhaps no finer example exists than his Confessions. Long revered and universally recognized as one of the church’s most prized classics in her history, the Confessions has enjoyed a peculiar status among all of Augustine’s writings. But while few would question that this work is worthy of its high esteem, few have agreed on its meaning and purpose. The range of opinions on the Confessions is as diverse as the multitude of its commentators. What was Augustine’s purpose in the Confessions? This question will guide the investigation that follows.

* A. Craig Troxel is a Ph.D. candidate at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

I. The Literary Genre of the Confessions

Fundamental to discovering the purpose of the Confessions is its literary genre. But it is not certain that this is the optimum place to break into the “hermeneutical circle.” For the question of literary genre anticipates the assessment of the substance and content of the work. Thus, methodologically, it is more helpful only to initially list the various options concerning the genre of the Confessions and then after further investigation return to this issue. Only then can a true assessment be made about the literary genre of the Confessions.

There is little disagreement that the Confessions represents somewhat of a literary milestone; the Confessions “has exercised a major influence on the literary tradition of Western Europe.”3 This consensus also extends...

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