chapter  7
21 Pages


The Confessions is built on the armature of an evolving yet consistent theology. By the time Augustine came to write it, the main lines of his thought on contemplation and human transcendence were already in place, even if tentatively so. Some central notions had formed within the crucible of his conversion experiences, and these contemporaneous interpretations provided the foundation for the subsequent reflections that characterize the finished work. The Confessions is thus the expression both of Augustine’s account of Christian contemplation and of the autobiographical context in which it emerged. The theory and the events are deeply bound together. Those ideas that frame the personal narrative give it notional shape, but seem transposed into a more personal key in that very process

The Confessions offers its readers a sharply drawn portrait of contemplation. It is a momentary act of transcendence, when the soul is lifted up by God’s grace and freed from the confines of bodily existence in space and time. And it is a brief occasion of access to the self ’s potential place in the heavenly world, to which it may hope to journey. There the soul may enjoy unmediated contact with God. But all that is only momentary and fleeting, crashing to an end in an instant, as the soul’s embodiment floods back upon it and its mortal condition reasserts itself. Moreover, the soul realizes that there is no heavenly future guaranteed by this glimpse into eternity, for it ends so abruptly precisely because the soul is fallen, an exile lost from this transcendent home, powerless to effect its own ascension. Contemplation does not yield surety of salvation; it does not complete a safe passage to eternity for the soul. It only describes the depth of the soul’s fall and gives clarity to its hopes.