Monday, March 3, 2008

The Confessions of St Augustine (in Modern English)

This is a book review I started a while ago, but never got round to finishing (hence the references to holidays). I still don't consider it finished but its complete enough to get a general idea of what I thought of it. If anything I would add a bit more in its favour, basically expanding on what I do say in this.


I have a confession of my own to make; I bought this book because it was cheap. Actually I think there may have been more to it. I know it is a classic, and hoped it would prove to be a valuable resource to have. The little words saying ‘Modern English Version’ looked ominous to me, along with the fact that it really is a puny little book, that is hardly impressive as it sits on one’s shelf. Sure enough, I opened it to find written: “[This version] omits large sections of the full text of Confessions,” which disgruntled me somewhat, seeing as I don’t like being at the whim of the translators (who are they to decide what the good bits are anyway?). But I had some cash, and the CD I wanted wasn’t there so I bought it.

This is one of those books that I put down at the end and thought: ‘What have I just read?’ This is probably due to a number of factors, not least of which being the fact that I’m on holiday, meaning less sleep, longer sleep-ins and just generally feeling lazier and less inclined to think about what I’m reading. I also blame the translators, and for that matter I point the finger at Augustine himself. I respect them for trying, but really I get the impression that Augustine’s thoughts and musings on life don’t want to be squeezed into our 21st century language. The introduction states that ‘The poetic nature of much of Augustine’s text has been broken out typographically to highlight the literary beauty of the thought.’ In reality I think they only succeeded in making Augustine sound like a rambling old man. In the same way as the KJV, I think if you want to capture something of the literary beauty of this book (which is a large part of it) you’ve gotta go old-school. As for the intellectual content of the book, I suspect the modern English doesn’t make it much easier to understand his ideas. Furthermore, because this is a truncated version, it doesn’t give me any confidence that I’m getting the full version of his arguments. I figure that Augustine is always going to be hard to understand, so a bit more effort to get your head around his complete confessions would be worth it.

The redeeming factor of this book is that Augustine’s life was, in fact, very interesting. To read his musings on life is to be inspired to think about the world in a different light, and find sources for praise in otherwise mundane things.

As my final comment I have only this to say; that if you are prepared to put the effort in to understanding Augustine, you probably won’t regret making a little more effort to work through a more comprehensive version of this work. I will be looking for another version of this book.

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