Study Guide

Confessions Summary

By Saint Augustine

Confessions Summary

Ever wonder why you do the bad things you do? Well, Augustine proved himself to be a freaking pro at answering that question for himself in the Confessions. And, if you pay attention, you might learn something too.

First thing's first: Augustine is born in North Africa, to a Christian mother and a non-Christian father. But the book is really about his journeys as he ages and commits various sins. Sometimes he even sins just for the hell of it. Haha, we're funny.

When Augustine becomes a young man, he goes to Carthage to be educated. There, he joins the Manichees (pronounced man-ih-kees), a religious sect that believes in the separation of good and evil matter. He discovers that he has an aptitude for rhetoric (having read Confessions, we agree), and becomes a literature teacher. But his real job is a Professional Thinker. Through all of this, Augustine's mother is always weeping over his lack of Christian faith.

Next, our man Augustine decides to go to Rome to get away from the riff-raff of Carthage, but he runs into some problems there too. He eventually accepts a position in Milan, where he learns how to talk with his hands. Er, no, he meets the Bishop Ambrose. Ambrose gets Augustine more interested in the Scriptures, since he has been losing steam with the Manichees anyway. And, along with his two friends Alypius and Nebridius, Augustine starts to learn more about Christian belief. Overjoyed by his interest in Christianity, his mother decides to join him in Italy.

But even though Augustine begins to accept Christianity, he still struggles with the notion of giving up all worldly pleasures—especially sex. During one particular existential crisis, in which he really wants to accept God but feels like he just can't live the kind of life that the Scriptures demand, Augustine melodramatically runs out into the garden of the house he's at. There, he hears the voice of a child singing, telling him to pick up the book and read it. Which book, you ask? Well, he picks up the letters of Paul, which are, conveniently, at hand, and flips to a random page. What he reads on that page finally convinces him to convert.

Augustine, along with his friends, is baptized. Not long after, on their way back to Africa, Augustine's mother falls ill and dies. This is where the narrative of Augustine's life ends.

Augustine writes about how he continues to confront sin and temptation, and explains how he has come to interpret some of the more difficult bits of Christian doctrine. The work ends with Augustine thoroughly analyzing the creation story of Genesis 1.