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One of the great works of Western literature, from perhaps the most important thinker of Christian antiquity, in a revolutionary new translation by one of today’s leading classicists

Sarah Ruden’s fresh, dynamic translation of Confessions brings us closer to Augustine’s intent than any previous version. It puts a glaring spotlight on the life of one individual to show how all lives have meaning that is universal and eternal.

In this intensely personal narrative, Augustine tells the story of his sinful youth and his conversion to Christianity. He describes his ascent from a humble farm in North Africa to a prestigious post in the Roman Imperial capital of Milan, his struggle against his own overpowering sexuality, his renunciation of secular ambition and marriage, and the recovery of the faith his mother had taught him during his earliest years. Augustine’s concerns are often strikingly contemporary, and the confessional mode he invented can be seen everywhere in writing today. 

Grounded in her command of Latin as it was written and spoken in the ancient world, Sarah Ruden’s translation is a bold departure from its predecessors—and the most historically accurate translation ever. Stylistically beautiful, with no concessions made to suit later theology and ritual, Ruden’s rendition will give readers a startling and illuminating new perspective on one of the central texts of Christianity.

Praise for Confessions

“[Ruden] has clearly thought deeply about what Augustine was trying to say.”The Wall Street Journal

“A translation of [Augustine’s] masterwork that does justice both to him and to his God . . . Repeated small acts of attention to the humble, human roots of Augustine’s imagery of his relations to God enable Ruden to convey a living sense of the Being before Whom we find him transfixed in prayer: ‘Silent, long-suffering and with so much mercy in your heart.’”The New York Review of Books

“Delightfully readable . . . In this lively translation filled with vivid, personal prose, Ruden introduces readers to a saint whom many will realize they only thought they knew. . . . Approaching her subject with deep religious and historical knowledge, [Ruden] chooses to translate Augustine as a performative, engaging storyteller rather than a systematic theologian.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Ruden’s translation makes Augustine’s ancient text accessible to a new generation of readers with a real taste of the original Latin.”Library Journal

“[Ruden’s] record as a translator of ancient texts . . . clearly establishes her considerable talent.”Christianity Today

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Confessions

Book 1

1. You are mighty, Master, and to be praised with a powerful voice: great is your goodness, and of your wisdom there can be no reckoning. Yet to praise you is the desire of a human being, who is some part of what you created; a human hauling his deathliness in a circle, hauling in a circle the evidence of his sin, and the evidence that you stand against the arrogant.

But still a mortal, a given portion of your creation, longs to extol you. In yourself you rouse us, giving us delight in glorifying you, because you made us with yourself as our goal, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

Grant me, Master, to know and understand whether a person ought first to call on you or to praise you; and which of the following is first, to know you or to call on you? But who invokes you without knowing you? In his ignorance, he might call on the wrong thing. Or instead, are you invoked in order to be known? But how will people invoke a being in whom they don’t believe already? And how will they believe without a preacher?

But those who search for God will praise him, since by seeking him they will find him, and by finding him they will praise him. Let me search for you, Master, even while calling on you, and while believing in you, let me call on you. The faith you gave me—­which you breathed into me through your son’s human life and through the service your preacher performed—­calls on you, Master.

2. So how will I call on my God, my God and my Master, since inevitably calling on him is calling him into myself? But what place is there in me to come into for my God—­for God to come into me—­the God who made heaven and earth? Is it as if, God my Master, there is anything in me that could hold you? Could in fact the sky and the earth, which you created, and in which you created me, hold you? Or, because without you whatever is would not be, does it come about that whatever is holds you? Since, therefore, I also exist, why do I beg that you come into me, when I wouldn’t exist in the first place unless you were in me? I am not now in hell, and yet you are there, too, because if I go down into hell, there you are.

To sum up, I would not exist, my God, I would not exist at all, unless you existed in me. Or is it rather that I would not exist unless I existed in you, from whom, through whom, in whom, everything exists? That’s it, Master, that’s it. To what place can I call you, if I am in you? And from what place can you come into me? Where would it be, outside heaven and earth, that I could withdraw, so that God could come into me there—­the God who said, “Heaven and earth are filled with me”?

3. So then do the sky and the earth hold you, since you fill them? Or do you fill them, with some left over, since they don’t hold you? And where do you pour back what remains of you after you’ve filled earth and sky? Or do you not need to be held within anything—­you who contain everything, since the things you fill, you fill by containing them? The vessels that are full of you don’t make you stationary, because you don’t spill out even though they break. And when you spill out over us, you don’t lie inert on the ground but instead lift us up. You don’t scatter in all directions but instead gather us together. But the everything that you fill, you fill with all your being. Or, because everything that exists can’t hold the whole of you, does everything contain a part of you, with everything containing the same part at the same time? Do single things hold single parts of you, and larger things larger parts, and smaller things smaller parts? Then is some part of you larger, and some part smaller? Or are you everywhere whole, and can no thing hold the whole of you?

4. Then what are you, my God? What are you, I ask, except God the Master? Who is a master except—­the Master? Or who is a god except our God? The highest, the most excellent, the most powerful, all-­powerful beyond all-­powerful, most merciful and most just, most remote and most present, most beautiful and most powerful, unmoving but ungraspable, unchangeable but changing everything, never new, never old, but making all things new while leading the arrogant into decrepitude, though they are unaware of it. You are always active and always at rest, gathering in but not in need, carrying and filling and protecting, creating and nurturing and bringing to fulfillment, searching though you lack nothing. You love, but you do not burn with love, you are jealous yet carefree, you repent but you do not grieve, you are angry yet serene, you change your works but you do not change your plan, you take back what you find but have never lost. You are never poor, but you rejoice in what you gain, never greedy, but you exact interest; more is paid to you than owed, but the result is that you owe us. Yet who has anything that doesn’t belong to you? You pay your debts though you owe no one, you remit your debts but lose nothing. And what have we said now, my God, my life, my holy sweetness, or what does anyone ever say in speaking of you? But woe to those who are silent about you; however garrulous they are in general, they are mute about what counts.

5. Who will grant me repose in you? Who will grant your arrival in my heart and the drunkenness that comes from you, making me forget the evils that are mine and embrace the single good that belongs to me, which is you?

Have pity on me and let me speak. What am I to you, in myself, that you command love for yourself from me?—­but unless I give it to you, you inveigh against me and menace immense miseries. Is my misery a petty thing if I don’t love you? Pitiful me, in that case!

Tell me, in the name of your mercies, you, Master, who are my God, what you are to me. Say to my soul, “I myself am your rescue.” Say it in such a way that I hear it. Here before you are the ears with which my heart hears, Master. Open them and say to my soul, “I myself am your rescue.” I will run after the sound of your voice and lay hold of you. Do not hide your face from me. Let me die, to keep me from dying, and let me see your face.

6. My soul’s house is too meager for you to visit; enlarge it. It is falling down; rebuild it. Inside it are things that would disgust you to see: I confess this, and I know it. But who’s going to clean it? Or rather, to whom else am I going to shout, “Clean away from me, Master, the hidden things that are my own, and spare your slave from the hidden things coming from others!”?

I believe, and because I believe, Master, I speak; you know it, Master. Didn’t I openly divulge to you my offenses, my God, confronting myself, and didn’t you acquit my heart’s guilt? I won’t contest the matter in court with you, who are the truth, and I don’t want to mislead my own mind and let my wrongdoing commit perjury against itself. So I won’t contest the matter with you in court, because if you, Master, are witness to my wrongdoings—­who can make that stand up?

7. But nevertheless allow me to speak in the face of your mercy. I am dust and ashes, but nevertheless let me speak; because here is your mercy—­and not a human being who will only make fun of me—­to which I am speaking. Maybe you too make fun of me, but you will turn around and pity me.

What is it, after all, that I want to say, Master, except that I don’t know where I came from to this place, into this—­do I call it a deathly life or a living death? I don’t know. But taking me in their arms to rear up as their own were the solaces of your mercies—­as I heard from the parents of my body, the man from whom and the woman in whom you shaped me in the realm of time; I myself don’t remember, naturally.

Yes, the comforts of human milk took me under their care, but it wasn’t my mother or my nurses who filled their own breasts; you yourself gave me, through them, the nourishment of infancy, according to your dispensation; you gave me your riches, which you’ve allocated clear down to the lowest place in the universe. You gave me the gift of not wanting more than you gave me, and to those who nursed me, you gave the desire to give to me what you gave to them. They wanted, through the feelings you ordained, to give to me what overflowed in them, coming from you. Their good was my good coming from them, because it wasn’t actually from them, but only through them.

All good things, in fact, are from you, God, and from my God is my full deliverance. I became aware of this later, when you shouted at me through these very things you bestow inside me and outside me. But at first, back then, I knew enough to suckle, and to find satisfaction with pleasures, and to cry at physical annoyances—­and I knew nothing else.

8. Later I started to smile as well, first while I was sleeping, and then wakefully. People have told me this about myself, and I believe it, since this is what we see babies in general doing; I myself certainly don’t remember doing it.

- About the author -

Saint Augustine was one of those towering figures who so dominated his age that the age itself bears his name. The Age of Augustine was a time of transition, and Augustine was a genius of such stature that, according to Christopher Dawson, "he was, to a far greater degree than any emperor or general or barbarian warlord, a maker of history and a builder of the bridge which was to lead him from the old world to the new."  He was the ablest religious thinker and controversialist at a period when theological controversy reached a level of intellectual refinement never achieved before or since. He was a tireless preacher and he wrote 118 treatises, including the most famous spiritual autobiography of all time, The Confessions. Of all these works, the one most prized by Augustine was his City of God, a veritable encyclopedia of information on the lives, thoughts and aspirations of ancient and early Christian man.

More from Augustine




— Published by Modern Library —