‘Late Have I Loved You’:
An Introduction to St Augustine’s Confessions
Structure of talk
- Augustine’s life (up to conversion)
- Augustine and our post-Christian contemporaries
- The Confessions: style, structure, content
- Augustine’s conversion (Confessions V-IX)
- Questions for discussion
- You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised (Ps 47:2), great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable (Ps 146:5). Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being bearing his mortality with him (2 Cor 4:10), carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that you resist the proud (1 Pet 5:5). Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you (Confessions I.i.1).
- People are moved to wonder by mountain peaks, by vast waves of the sea, by broad waterfalls on rivers, by the all-embracing extent of the ocean, by the revolutions of the stars But they are uninterested in themselves (Confessions X.viii.15).
- Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours (Confessions X.xxvii.38).
- I was led to Ambrose by you, unaware that through him I might be led to you. That man of God received me like a father and expressed pleasure at my coming with a kindness most fitting in a bishop. I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me (Confessions V.xiii.23).
- It is one thing to catch a glimpse from a wooded summit of the homeland of peace and not to find the way to it, but vainly to attempt the journey along an impracticable route surrounded by the ambushes and assaults of fugitive deserters with their chief, the lion and the dragon (Ps 90:13). It is another thing to hold on to the way that leads there, defended by the protection of the heavenly emperor (Confessions VII.xxi.27).
- Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:13-14).
- I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled (Confessions VIII.xii.29).
Augustine, Confessions, tr. H. Chadwick, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1991
Prof Paul Freedman, ‘The Confessions of Augustine’, YaleCourses YouTube channel
Augustine's ‘Confessions’ (In Our Time), BBC Podcasts YouTube channel
Brown, P., Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (2nd edition), Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000
Lane Fox, R., Augustine: Conversions and Confessions, London, Penguin, 2015
Augnet (very useable online resource on St Augustine): augnet.org/en/life-of-augustine/