Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 10 Sections 1 12 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 10, Sections 1–12 (Memory) | Summary



Augustine opens Book 10 by analyzing his motives for confession. He confesses to God when he is bad because he is disgusted with himself, and when he is good he confesses to praise God for his goodness. With regard to other people hearing his confession, Augustine says it cheers good people to hear about how sinners previously did bad deeds and now are free of them. Since Augustine urges readers to love God in other people, he is also giving his readers an opportunity to love God in himself. They are able to do so when he does something worthy in God's eyes—and to deplore his actions when they are deplorable. He sees his audience as fellow pilgrims on the journey. He acknowledges there are things about himself he does not know, and he will confess both what he knows God has shed light on as well as what remains in the darkness. Augustine then tries to describe what he loves when he is loving God, and is reduced to using paradoxical metaphors. He now turns to himself in an effort to reach God, to "mount to him." In mounting "by stages" toward him who made him, he will enter the field of memory, which is not merely what he remembers, but rather a kind of storehouse of consciousness that transcends space and time.


Beginning in Book 10, Augustine shifts gears and moves into exegesis (interpretation of scripture) and apologetics (reasoned arguments justifying religious doctrines). This is because the deeper purpose of writing his story is to convert people to Catholicism. Book 10 tackles the role of memory in accessing spiritual states. Augustine bridges the personal story of the previous nine books with the philosophy in Book 10, using these introductory sections that resume praise of God while also explaining the purpose of his text, to confess his sins, to testify to the goodness of God and his saving grace, and to provide himself as an object lesson to fellow pilgrims. To understand himself even further, he will delve into memory because memory is the ground upon which personhood stands: Augustine (and any person) is, in one sense, the sum of his own memories. More so, he is the story he tells himself about what his memories mean. But what exactly is memory, and what is time? Augustine wants to delve into those subjects.

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