The Structure of Confessions

As I continue to listen to Augustine’s Confessions, one of my recurring questions is why Augustine ends the book with a discussion of creation. It seems like a rather random transition, both in terms of content (from personal autobiography to external subjects like creation and time) as well as in terms of tone and method (from intensely spiritual to more detached and speculative). Henry Chadwick’s Augustine: A Very Short Introduction, which I’m reading in relation to my Augustine project, has an interesting answer to this question:

“At first sight, the structure of the Confessions is puzzling. After nine books of autobiography culminating in a deeply touching description of his mother’s death and requiem, it baffles the uninitiated that he goes on to speak of memory, time, and creation. The last four books actually carry the clue to the whole. Augustine understood his own story as a microcosm of the entire story of creation, the fall into the abyss of chaos and formlessness, the ‘conversion’ of the creaturely order to the love of God as it experiences griping pains of homesickness. What the first nine books illustrate in his personal exploration of the experience of the prodigal son is given its cosmic dimension in the concluding parts of the work” (Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 70).

Not sure whether Chadwick is right here. I found his book a frustrating read for reasons similar to why I found Brown’s that way. But I’m interested in Chadwick’s account of how Augustine can seamlessly move from his own story to the story of the entire cosmos. As I continue to wrestle with the problem of natural evil prior to the human fall, I wonder if more account needs to be taken of the purposes of God in the redemption of nature. To what extent is the human experience of redemption analogous to the redemption of all creation? If humankind had never been created, would nature still have been redeemed? By what means? Is it possible that the story of humanity is only chapter in a larger saga of creation, fall, and redemption? These are difficult questions, but I think they must be asked, in light of the larger drama of creation, evil, and redemption in both the angelic and natural realms.

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