Lent Reading Group – Augustine’s “Confessions”

Hosted by: St Michael's Lectures - Oliver Nicholson

For 5 Wednesdays in Lent at St Michael’s Church you have a chance to get up close and personal with St Augustine of Hippo in a Reading Group guided by historian Oliver Nicholson, recently retired from over 30years’ teaching at the University of Minnesota.

Wednesdays March 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th and April 5th at 7.00 – 8.15 pm.

The Confessions of St Augustine (354-429 AD) is one of the most honest autobiographies ever written. They recount the spiritual journey of a relentlessly clever young man. At the age of 19 he conceived a passion for Wisdom and promptly espoused the exotic (and illegal) practices of the Manichees. Abandoning them he entered a period of total Scepticism, before discovering at the age of 31 (in AD 386), pretty much simultaneously, an intelligent Christianity and the philosophy of the Neoplatonists, a serious cosmology married to a distinctive ethics.

Honest autobiography can be pretty tedious. Augustine’s Confessions holds our attention partly because of the wealth of incidental detail it provides. Much of what historians of the Later Roman Empire know about Late Antique education, for instance, comes from Augustine.

Second, and more serious, the Confessions are something more than the journal of a soul. They are an exploration of God’s relationship with His entire Creation – the closing two books (XII-XIII) are an exegesis of the opening verses of Genesis. In the autobiographical books (I-IX), which we shall read this Lent, Augustine traces an individual’s relations with God, using the ups and downs of the one he knows most about – himself. This is autobiography which is not self-centred but God-centred.

The third reason to read the Confessions is that (like Kipling’s Elephant’s Child) Augustine was full of ‘satiable curiosity. It shows in little things – why pay good money to go to the theatre to be made to cry? It shows too in the fundamental question which underlies the Confessions. Book One begins by asking God which comes first, to know Him (scire), to praise Him (laudare) or to call upon Him (invocare). The newly-converted Augustine of 386 would have had no hesitation in saying ‘to know God’. Writing ten years later he was not so sure, Augustine was constantly moving forward – it is one of the things which makes him a good companion.

You can make his acquaintance in company with others in a reading group this Lent.

Arrangements are being made to have the translation of Henry Chadwick: (Oxford World’s Classics, 1991) for sale – or you can download a pdf of the translation of A.C. Oulter by clicking on Texts and Translations at http://faculty.georgetown.edu/jod/augustine/

All are welcome for as few or as many sessions as you wish to attend. See you there.

Entirely optional, but you may also like to attend “Stations of the Cross” prayed each Wednesday at 6.00-6.40pm.

Poster for Lent Reading Group


St Michael and All Angels’ Church, Dinham Road, Mount Dinham, Exeter, EX4 4EB