by: St. Augustine

Book X

Summary Book X

Book X marks the transition in the Confessions from autobiography to the direct analysis of philosophical and theological issues. It is also noteworthy that the length of the Books begins to increase dramatically here (Book X is more than twice the length of most of the previous Books). Although this is a sudden transition in form and content, Augustine is following an underlying structure. This structure depends mainly on his view (which is not explicitly mentioned in the work) that the story of a soul's return to God is essentially the same as the story of the return to God of creation as a whole. Thus, the last four Books of the Confessions, in their deep vindication of Christianity, focus primarily on details of the world's existence in God rather than Augustine's own ascent to God.

Book X pursues this aim through an analysis of memory, which poses truly mystical problems for Augustine. This topic may seem like a somewhat odd choice to us, and it may help to note that Augustine's sense of the Latin memoria carries overtones of Platonic ideas concerning the life of the soul before birth; Plato argued that learning is really a process of the soul remembering what it already knew and forgot upon taking human form. In any case, Augustine will focus less on this idea than on the idea of memory as unconscious knowledge--a new, inward twist on the Platonic idea.

[X.1-11] Augustine introduces his investigation with an appraisal of his love for God. "When I love [God]," he asks, "what do I love?" It is nothing to do with the five physical senses, but rather with their five spiritual counterparts: metaphorical and intangible versions of God's light, voice, food, odor, and embrace. In other words, Augustine must look inward at his own mind (or soul) to "sense" God.

This is an ability that is not directly possible for inanimate things or beasts. Nonetheless, Augustine argues, they all participate in God because they have their existence only in him. Further, they highlight the wonder of the consciousness of God attainable by humans: "the created order speaks to all, but is understood" only by contrasting it with inner truth.

Yet "sensing" God with his spiritual faculties is not quite direct knowledge of God, and Augustine delves deeper into himself in this attempt to "find" God and know him. Briefly considering the life of the body, which God gives, Augustine rejects it--God is not this, but the "life of life." Moving on, he considers "another power," not that which animates his body but "that by which I enable its senses to perceive." This is the mind, but Augustine is again unsatisfied: even horses, he points out, have this basic form of mind.

[X.12-26] And so "I come to the fields and vast palaces of memory," writes Augustine. He begins his analysis of this most puzzling human faculty with a discussion of what kinds of things the memory holds. Each kind, considered in turn, raises its own (often extremely involuted) philosophical dilemmas.