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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



A Companion to the Confessions of St. Augustine by John M. Quinn (Peter Lang) provides a useful commentary keyed to the classic text itself that stears a middle course between popular exposition and scholarly mineutia to offer the thinking and pious reader useful exegisis in this classic work. Spirituality is undoubtedly one main reason why the Confessions has enjoyed, scholars show, an enduring, indeed a perennial appeal throughout sixteen centuries, from the High Middle Ages to the Renaissance and the sixteenth-century Spanish mystics and Bossuet in the seventeenth century, then with a literary accent in the nineteenth century, with interest still unflagging throughout the twentieth century and into the present as well. Yet it does not diminish the devotional motif to also focus on an exegesis that probes key issues, historical and theological in each section. A Companion to the Confessions of St. Augustine modestly attempts to furnish an analysis of the major issues in the text.

Certainly other works address various problems in the Confessions, but none has recently ventured a roughly point-by-point commentary on all chapters. Hence the title: a Companion, an intellectual partner enabling one to make headway through the underbrush as well as the more open pathways of Augustine's masterpiece. Quinn has managed ably to offer relevant context and critical insights into the masterpiece, helping the reader to find a more self-reflexive means to engage the spiritual as well as the intellectual and human adventure of the Confessions.

A work at the foundations of Western Christianity we thought deserves a look a the available editions and translations. Our favorite reader's edition is in THE WORKS OF SAINT AUGUSTINE: A translation for the 21st Century, sponsored by the Augustinian Heritage Institute. For a general account of this series see AUGUSTINE.


A translation for the 21st Century



by Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

introduction translation and notes by Maria Boulding, O.S. B.

edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A.

New City Press

416 pages, notes, index of scripture, index

$29.95, cloth, 1-56548-083-X

$19.95, paper, 1-56548-084-8

Series: 1-56548-055-4

Maria Boulding's translation is gender inclusive as was Augustine's Latin and she has taken note of James J. O'Donnell masterful work of scholarship on the CONFESSIONS. Boulding's translation uniquely highlights the poetic elements embodied in Augustine's prose. She also is sensitive to the devotional and theological nuances of the saint’s reflections. This popular translation of Augustine's is our perferred translation for the general reader.

The first part of Augustine's life (to 391), as recorded in his CONFESSIONS can be seen as a series of attempts to reconcile his Christian faith with his classical culture. His mother, Saint Monica, had reared him as a Christian. Although her religion did not hold an important place in his early life, Christianity never totally lost its grip upon him. As a student in Carthage, he encountered the classical ideal of philosophy's search for truth and was fired with enthusiasm for the philosophic life. Unable to give up Christianity altogether, however, he adopted Manichaeism, a Christian heresy, claiming to provide a rational Christianity on the basis of a purified text of Scripture. Nine years later, his association with the Manichees ended in disillusionment; and it was in a religiously detached state that Augustine arrived in Milan. There he discovered, through a chance reading of some books of neoplatonism, a form of late antique philosophy that in general seemed compatible with Christian belief. At the same time, he found that he was at last able to give up the ambitions for public success that had previously prevented him from embracing the philosophic life. The result was the dramatic conversion that led Augustine to devote his life to the pursuit of truth, which he now identified with Christianity. With a small group of friends, he returned to North Africa and, in Thagaste, established a religious community dedicated to the intellectual quest for God.

CONFESSIONS was also written as an apology for the many pagans Augustine left behind. It is in fact an extended poetic passionate intimate prayer that has captivated those who have heard it for the past 16 centuries. He was probably 43 when he began this endeavor and had been a baptized Catholic for ten years a priest for six and a bishop for only two. His pre-baptismal life raised questions in the community. Was his conversion genuine? This new translation masterfully captures his experience of God which speaks to us across time with little need of transpositions. Augustine's penitent description of his struggle to escape from pride and the attraction of worldly pursuits make his autobiography a classic of the literature of conversion. It is one of the materpieces of self-consciousness.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was a devout reader of the CONFESSIONS. It was often his only reading. Its devout style and lively inquiry probably shaped the analytic and linguistic thought of philosopher than has readily been admitted in studies of Wittgenstein's work.

By far the greatest interpretative commentary upon the CONFESSIONS is the masterful three volume work of James J. O'Donnell, published in 1992. This masterful work of scholarship has in many ways made earlier translations inaccurate and suspect. His close readings of the text and its problems provides a new starting point for all future Augustinain studies, especially for the confessions.


Introduction and Text, Volume 1

Commentary on Books 1-7, Volume 2

Commentary on Books 8-13 Indexes,Volume 3

by Augustine

edited with introduction, notes, and commentary by James J. O'Donnell

Clarendon Press (Oxford University Press)

$85.00, volume 1, hardcover, 0-19-814378-8

$115.00 volume 2, hardcover 0-19-814074-6

$110.00 volume 3, hardcover 0-19-814075-4

Another important and useful translation that should not be missed is


by St. Augustine

translated with an introduction by Henry Chadwick

Oxford University Press

311 pages, notes, index

$32.50, cloth, 0-19-281779-5

World’s Classics

$7.95, paper, 0-19-281774-4

Chadwick's work is central and standred. It seems very attuned to the historical nuances of Augustine's master work.


by Augustine, St. Augustine

translated by John Kenneth Ryan

Image Books

$7.95, paper, 0-385-02955-1

This 1960 translation by the philosopher John Kenneth Ryan offers a solid, flowing translation that is especially careful to have the saint understood theologically and philosophically. Reliable and readable.


Books I-XIII

by Augustine,

translated by F.J. Sheed

revised by Peter Robert Lamont Brown

Hackett Pub Co

$29.95, hardcover, 0-87220-187-2

$6.95, paper, 0-87220-186-4

Alasdair MacIntyre, Duke University: "Saint Augustine's Latin presents notable difficulties for translators. And even good English translations have usually dated badly. Frank Sheed's, which I first read merely fifty years ago, shows no signs of dating. It captures Augustine's extraordinary combination of precise statement and poetic evocation as does no other." A definite value.

Scholarly editions of the text include the still workable piece from Loeb.


by Augustine

translated by W. Watts (1631)

Loeb Classical Library: No. 26-27

Harvard University Press

$18.95, each, cloth, 2 volumes, Latin/English on facing pages

Series No. 26, volume 1: BOOKS I-VIII, 480 pages, index


Series No. 27, volume 2: BOOKS IX-XIII, 488 pages, index


This classic 1631 translation is now available in volume one only. It is more historic than accurate, providing little idiomatic flow for the contemporary reader, but it does stay close to the Latin. The CONFESSION, written between 397 and 401, and first translated into English in 1620, is Saint Augustine's account of his spiritual journey from paganism through Manichaeism to Christianity. It is composed of 13 books. The first 10 are about the author's prodigal youth in Tagaste, North Africa, his studies of classical writers in Carthage and Rome, and his experiences as a teacher of rhetoric in Milan, where in 387 he was baptized a Christian by its bishop, St. Ambrose. The last 3 books are meditations on the Bible, especially on the Book of Genesis. Considered one of the greatest Christian classics of Augustine was written with the conviction that God wanted him to make this admission. Recently the volume two has been updated with a soild contemporary translation by Robert J. O'Connell whose recent Images of Conversion in St. Augustine's Confessions (Fordham University Press) offers a close reading of the central psychological movements of the saint's conviction in Christianity.


Books I-IV (Text in Latin; Commentary in English)

by Augustine

Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics

Imperial Library

Cambridge University Press

$59.95, hardcover, 0-521-49734-5

This work offers a text for those learning the Latin of the saint. It provides useful notes for the scholar, especially when common resources fail to inform.


Soundings in St. Augustines Imagination by Robert J. O'Connell.

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