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Book 10: Recapitulation of the First Nine Books

Confessions Book 10 memory 200 x 113This page is the tenth entry in the Core Book: Confessions series at Wheaton College. Below you will find an abridged version of Dr. Leland Ryken's commentary on Book 10, from his work titled
Christian Guides to the Classics: Augustine's Confessions.

Summary:

In Book 10, Augustine explores his current thinking about various issues, what he has done in the first nine books of his masterpiece. A quarter of a century after writing the Confessions, Augustine wrote that the first ten books of Confessions —not the first nine books—were about himself, and the final three about Holy Scripture.

Augustine’s meditations lead to the following sequence: an opening prayer to God, as we have come to expect (chapters 1–2); the author’s thoughts on how his confessions can edify his readers (chapters 3–5); a lead-in to the meditation on memory in which Augustine declares that God is the object of love for every person (chapters 6–7); a prolonged meditation on the nature of memory and how to find God in one’s memory (chapters 8–19); meditations on the human quest to find the happy life (chapters 20–27); an analysis and confession of the types of sin that tempt Augustine before and after his conversion (chapters 28–41); and a declaration that the only way the sinful self (which Augustine calls “the wounded heart” at the end of chapter 41) can be reconciled to God is through the mediator, Christ, who was both human and divine (chapters 42–43). View Book 10 as a recapitulation of what has transpired in the first nine books (prayer, longing for God, memory, the search for the happy life, sin, and forgiveness in Christ). Book 10 is structured on a symmetrical principle. There is freestanding preliminary material (prayer and thoughts by the author about his audience) and freestanding concluding material (meditation on Christ as mediator). In the middle is what the visual arts call a triptych—three panels on related subjects placed next to each other (memory, the happy life, a catalog of human sins). We thus have a triptych enclosed within an envelope structure.

Commentary:

The first five chapters of Book 10 are Augustine’s thoughts on the nature of the book he is composing. Augustine makes two main points: (1) To confess as he does in this book is an exercise in truthfulness. Confession is a way of discovering the truth about oneself. (2) Readers will be edified in a twofold way if “they take heart from my good traits, and sigh with sadness at my bad ones.”

The next section (chapters 6–7) is a prelude to the section on memory. In that section Augustine will explore how God can be found in our memory, and in this lead-in unit Augustine provides an even broader context for that exploration by declaring that all creation points to God, who is the object of human longing. We can read the section on memory as an extension of this theme of the God-seeking self.

Memory includes what God has implanted in every person’s mind... 'the happy life we already have in our knowledge, and so we love it...' — Dr. Leland Ryken, PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF ENGLISH

Certain key ideas appear here, including the following: (1) the sheer mystery and multiplicity of memory—the many things that it can do; (2) the possibility of finding God in our memory; (3) the strong link between our memory on the one hand and our mind and self on the other; (4) the ways in which understanding the self can be an avenue toward understanding God.

The unit on memory ends with the motifs of searching and finding, so it is logical that Augustine begins the next section on the happy life by asserting, “How then am I to seek for you, Lord? When I seek for you, my God, my quest is for the happy life” (opening of chapter 20). In keeping with the idea that memory includes what God has implanted in every person’s mind, Augustine asserts such ideas as “the happy life we already have in our knowledge, and so we love it,” and “the desire for happiness . . . is found in everybody.” Augustine also says many further things about “the happy life” in this unit (other translations use the phrase “life of happiness” or “happiness,” but in all cases this is a recurrent word pattern in these chapters).

The final extended unit is a catalog of human sins. Augustine has various organizing schemes in view, such as the sins of the five senses and the threefold arrangement of 1 John 2:16 (“the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life,” ESV).

As we end Book 10, two preceding movements have dominated—the human longing to find God, and the sins that prevent us from attaining it. This results in a dilemma: “Who could be found to reconcile me to you [God]?” This leads to a rapturous meditation on Christ as “a mediator between God and the human race.” The texture of the passage is a mosaic of Bible verses.

The theological category that Augustine covers in his final section is known as Christology—the nature of Christ’s person and work. Augustine emphasizes the simultaneous humanity and deity of Christ, and his great work as mediator between people and God. The discussion incorporates numerous key Christological verses from the Bible.


For Reflection or Discussion:

We can discuss or codify our thoughts on what we carry away from Augustine’s exploration of his various topics.

(1) The edification that can come from confession
(2) God as the object of human longing
(3) The nature of memory and its usefulness in our spiritual life
(4) How to find God in our palace of memory
(5) Our quest to attain the happy life
(6) The sins that entangle us and the benefits that can come when we meditate on
our sinfulness
(7) The salvation that comes from God’s mediator, Christ.

Back to Book 9  |  Forward to Book 11