Scholars generally accept that the idea of autobiography begins with the letters of Saint Paul in the New Testament. However, Augustine in his Confessions takes this idea and expands it into an entire genre that critically inquires what it means to be a person. In other words, he explores the idea of the self until he discovers personal subjectivity. As Augustine constructs a view of God that would come to dominate Western thinking, he also creates a new concept of individual identity: the idea of the self. This identity is achieved through a twofold process: self-presentation, which leads to self-realization.

Augustine creates a literary character out of the self and places it in a narrative text so that it becomes part of the grand allegory of redemption. In Confessions, Augustine plays the lead role in the story of his own life. By telling this tale he transforms himself into a metaphor of the struggle of both body and soul to find happiness, which exists only in God’s love. He reads his life as an allegory to arrive at a larger truth.

All autobiography needs an audience, and Augustine’s audience is not his readers, but God. This is an interesting, and highly informative, process: Augustine transforms himself into a literary character to present himself to God. By doing so, Augustine juxtaposes eternity with the transient, the all-powerful with the weak, and the Creator with the created. This union may seem unequal, but Augustine presents it to teach a very pertinent lesson: only in the presence of the Omnipotent and the Omniscient can the self attain happiness and completeness. Confessions is a work of prayer and repentance as well as praise.