Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 8 Sections 1 14 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 8, Sections 1–14 (Conversion) | Summary



Augustine has fallen in love with God and no longer wishes to pursue worldly ambitions. He seeks out Simplicianus to discuss "the winding paths of his wayward life" and that he has recently read the Platonists (Neoplatonists). Simplicianus is Ambrose's mentor and takes time with Augustine, telling him the conversion story of Victorinus, who translated the texts Augustine has recently read. Victorinus was a highly respected teacher of Roman non-Christians, but he makes a highly visible conversion (he is baptized publicly) to set an example for others.

Upon hearing the story, Augustine is inspired by Victorinus's conviction and humility as well as his willingness to give up his profession as a result of his conversion (since the Emperor Julian forbade Christians from teaching literature and rhetoric). But Augustine holds out, still captive to his "disordered lust" that "springs from a perverted will." He says, "When lust is pandered to, a habit is formed; when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion." A new will had "emerged" in him, however, the will to worship God "disinterestedly," and in his heart the old did battle with the new.


According to religious historian Garry Wills, Simplicianus, who succeeded Ambrose as bishop, provided Augustine with the one-on-one mentorship he needed during the period leading up to his conversion. While Augustine listened to Ambrose's sermons, he had little personal contact with him. Augustine shows throughout The Confessions how his dialogue with other people helps him clarify his own thinking, and Simplicianus provides the spiritual friendship necessary to the saint's process. He recommends to Augustine that he read Paul's letters, and he is the person who introduces him more directly to Christian Neoplatonism. Augustine recognizes that Simplicianus is using Victorinus's story as a strategy to steer him toward conversion, and he is grateful for his efforts.

The saint also references the "winding paths" of his "wayward life," which are examples of two important motifs threaded through his story: the pilgrim on a spiritual quest and the prodigal son, who leads a wayward life until he finds his way home.

Augustine also says a little more about his concupiscence, which leads him down another dead end when he takes a new mistress to satisfy his sexual cravings. When he says he wishes to worship God disinterestedly, he is referring to his desire to let go of his attachments to the world (including sex) so that he can focus on his spirituality. Nonetheless, at this point he is still keeping his options open, including marriage.

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