The Confessions is one continued and coherent prayer, a profound profession of faith, and a plea for more, ever more wisdom, ever more love. It is artistic in its whole conception, in its parts and their arrangement down to the merest sentence. It is closer to the Gothic cathedrals that would grace Europe eight hundred years later than to anything that you or I might write about ourselves and our lives. —- Anthony Esolen
Anthony Esolen understands the importance of art and beauty. If you visit his Substack, it is populated full of musings, poems, literary work, music, and film reviews. So it was not surprising, when partnering with Tan Publishing, the masterpiece from St. Augustine of Hippo was done with aesthetical justice. This heirloom-quality edition not only stands out on one’s bookshelf, but while staying as close as possible to the literal translation, it reads for the everyday man. Esolen did a wonderful job avoiding English archaisms and breaking up long sentences into 2-3 sentences, making it much more palatable to a modern reader. This was a herculean effort by Esolen as “Augustine was trained up in the art of rhetoric, and he taught young men how best to choose their words, arrange their material, and craft their sentences so as to be most persuasive in courts of law, and though he looks upon his former line of work with disgust, knowing the immoral uses to which the art would often be put, he was still the rhetor, and he aimed to persuade.”¹
Of all the autobiographies ever written by mere mortals, Confessions by Saint Augustine of Hippo is the greatest. In this masterpiece, you will find a doctor of the Church longing for the true Doctor of the soul, Christ. Taking us from Augustine’s roots in Africa to his encounters with his spiritual father Saint Ambrose in Milan, from his battle against his concupiscence to his famed conversion, Confessions is itself a veritable pilgrimage to the threshold of the new Jerusalem. Indeed, its end is not biography but a breathtaking meditation on time and memory, on the human soul and the material world, and on the creative and redemptive power of God himself.
In Dr. Anthony Esolen’s new translation, the esteemed translator and author seeks to retain and reveal the figurative by hewing as closely as possible to the literal, both in the significance of individual words and in the manner of the author’s expression. Confessions is a work of literary art, “one of the most stupendous ever wrought,” he says, immensely rich in insights, and intricate in its returning, again and again, to the questions of a soul in search of truth and of answers ready to be found, if we will only seek, and ask, and knock.
Confessions is like no other book you will ever read. According to Dr. Esolen, “The Confessions is one continued and coherent prayer, a profound profession of faith, and a plea for more, ever more wisdom, ever more love. It is artistic in its whole conception, in its parts and their arrangement down to the merest sentence. It is closer to the Gothic cathedrals that would grace Europe eight hundred years later than to anything that you or I might write about ourselves and our lives.”
In Confessions, the reader does more than encounter Augustine, the boy, the promising youth, the sinner, the teacher, the intellectual wanderer, the hesitant catechumen, and the Christian man set free at last. Through this book, the reader enters into his own spiritual journey, as we cry out to the living God in the depths of our hearts, “Let me know you, O Lord, who know me; let me know you even as I am known.”
¹Translator’s Note, vii, Confessions Saint Augustine of Hippo