Search Menu


St. Augustine


Book I

page 1 of 3

Book I

Book I

Book I

The first book of the Confessions is devoted primarily to an analysis of Augustine's life as a child, from his infancy (which he cannot recall and must reconstruct) up through his days as a schoolboy in Thagaste (in Eastern Algeria). Wasting no time in getting to the philosophical content of his autobiography, Augustine's account of his early years leads him to reflect on human origin, will and desire, language, and memory.

[I.1-3] Augustine begins each Book of the Confessions with a prayer in praise of God, but Book I has a particularly extensive invocation. The first question raised in this invocation concerns how one can seek God without yet knowing what he is. In other words, how can we look for something if we don't know exactly what we're looking for? The imperfect answer, at least for now, is simply to have faith--if we seek God at all, he will reveal himself to us.

[I.4-6] Nonetheless, Augustine launches immediately into a highly rhetorical (and relatively brief) discussion of God's attributes. Asking God to "come into me," Augustine then questions what that phrase could possibly mean when addressed to God. The heart of this dilemma, which will turn out later to be one of the final stumbling blocks to Augustine's conversion (see Books VI and VII), is that God seems both to transcend everything and to be within everything. In either case, it doesn't make precise sense to ask him to "come into" Augustine.

God cannot be contained by what he created, so he can't "come to" Augustine in any literal sense. At the same time, God is the necessary condition for the existence of anything, so he's "within" Augustine already (so again it makes no sense to ask him to "come into me"). Further, God is not "in" everything in amounts or proportions--small pieces of the world don't have any less of God than big ones.

Having hurriedly discredited the idea of God as any sort of bounded, mobile, or divisible being, Augustine sums up for now with a deeply Neoplatonic statement on the question of "where" God is: "In filling all things, you fill them all with the whole of yourself."

Augustine then rephrases his question about God's nature, asking "who are you then, my God?" This rather direct approach generates a litany of metaphors concerning God, taken partly from scripture and partly from Augustine's own considerations. Examples include: "most high...deeply hidden yet most intimately are wrathful and remain pay off debts, though owing nothing to anyone...." This list is rhetorical rather than analytic, and develops no coherent argument about God--it just introduces the mysteries of the subject.

More Help

Previous Next

by hhd618, August 26, 2012

The book was in old English and asked so many questions about god and toward god, which could not be answered. It's meaningless to write Book 1 because he only praised the god rather than the ordinary people who gave him knowledge to write and learn. Without human beings, how could he get over all this obstacles on his way communicating toward god. He is nothing special, and he cannot be too complacent saying that he knows too much about the god.


5 out of 122 people found this helpful

Maybe not...

by Kneish, October 16, 2012

Well, being that his view is theocentric, perhaps Augustine sees the human beings as God's helpers. Meaning that if it weren't for God the human being wouldn't have been present at all. So them being present in his life was more of an effort on God's part than it actually was for those who helped. Yes, it wouldnt hurt to give the helpers some acknowledgement for the roles they played, but to Augustine they were probably smaller parts to a greater plan the God orchestrated. Therefore, God actually would deserve the ultimate praise.


16 out of 17 people found this helpful

As far as Plato and the Meno go...

by IAcceptChaos, October 23, 2013

This SparkNote is wrong. Plato didn't really believe that "learning is a kind of remembering, in which the soul rediscovers a truth it knew before birth." This is a dialectical approach that Socrates uses on Meno to disprove the famous "Meno's Paradox," in which Meno asks Socrates "How will you look for virtue if you do not know what it is? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing you did not know?" I can't believe that SparkNotes would let inaccurate information like this be part of the foundation for another text.


5 out of 14 people found this helpful

See all 7 readers' notes   →