The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Quotes


Because you have ... drawn us to yourself ... our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

Augustine, Book 1, Sections 1–16

This quotation appears in the first section of Book 1 and announces the most important theme of The Confessions: that human beings belong to God and they cannot be happy until they are united with him again. The problem lies, however, in not knowing how or where to look for God. Augustine embarks on a pilgrimage to find him.


The theft gave us a thrill, and we laughed to think we were outwitting people who had no idea what we were doing.

Augustine, Book 2, Sections 9–18

Augustine refers here to the famous pear theft, in which he and his fellows steal pears—not out of need or desire for the fruit, but just for the thrill of transgressing moral boundaries. This is a sin of perversion, a distortion of the will, and Augustine in retrospect takes it very seriously.


Wisdom resides with you, but love for wisdom is called ... 'philosophy,' and this love it was that the book kindled in me.

Augustine, Book 3, Sections 1–11

Augustine says this about his first exposure to Cicero and the Stoic philosophy. For the ancient Greeks and Romans philosophy was not just intellectual knowledge but a way of thinking and living. The purpose of philosophy is to lead the best possible life.


I was amazed that other mortals went on living when he was dead whom I had loved as though he would never die.

Augustine, Book 4, Sections 1–16

Augustine is grief stricken after his best friend dies in Book 4. This friend is never named, but Augustine is so affected by his death that he cannot stay any longer in his hometown, where everything reminds him of the one who is lost. Augustine moves back to Carthage.


How intensely she loved me: with far more anxious solicitude did she give birth to me in the spirit than ... in the flesh.

Augustine, Book 5, Sections 14–25

Augustine refers to his mother, Monica, in this quote. She is very attached to Augustine and, when he is an adult, follows him to wherever he is living. What she is most concerned about, however, is that he accept Catholicism and finally be baptized. She prays for him constantly and is very upset when he becomes a Manichaean.


So deeply was she engrafted into my heart that it was left torn and wounded and trailing blood.

Augustine, Book 6, Sections 18–26

Augustine says this about his common-law wife, whom he must pension off and send back to her hometown after his mother finds him a suitable young girl for marrying. It was common for men to take a mistress for a time before marrying, but Augustine has remained faithful to this woman for 15 years. When he has to give her up, he is heartbroken.


I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit ... saw the incommutable light far above my spiritual ken, transcending my mind.

Augustine, Book 7, Sections 13–27

This is a description of Augustine's first vision, which he has after reading Neoplatonic philosophy. He successfully attempts their method of contemplation, in which he sees the "light" that made him. He cannot hold on to the vision, however, and is disappointed to realize that although he now loves God, not some "figment of imagination," he cannot continue to enjoy him and is thus swept back down into "carnal habit."


Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet.

Augustine, Book 8, Sections 15–30

Augustine has this thought shortly before he gets a strong sign from God and makes up his mind to be baptized. He is remembering his earlier years, when he was first introduced to Cicero and not ready to embrace celibacy, which is highly recommended for philosophers. Now Augustine wants to commit to celibacy if he converts to Catholicism, which is why he is remembering what he said years before.


Suddenly I heard a voice from a house nearby ... singing over and over again, 'Pick it up and read.'

Augustine, Book 8, Sections 15–30

Augustine hears this in the garden when he is wrestling with the idea of converting to Catholicism. Suddenly he hears a childish voice delivering this "message," almost like a chant, and he picks up the letters of Paul. There he reads a passage that says he should "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" without thinking about gratifying his desires. He takes this as a definitive message from God and immediately decides to go ahead.


They pour themselves out on things which ... are but transient, and lick even the images of these things with their famished imagination.

Augustine, Book 9, Sections 1–22

Augustine has embraced conversion. Now that he is a committed Catholic, he feels even more strongly the futility of chasing worldly pleasures that pass away. He describes doing so as a pouring out of self on something that is but fleeting and then trying to savor the images of those passing pleasures in the famished imagination—famished because the mind needs more substantial food, and famished because any pleasure received always leaves behind a shadow of craving.


We arrived at the summit of our own minds; and this too we transcended to touch that land of never-failing plenty where you pasture Israel.

Augustine, Book 9, Sections 23–37

Augustine is describing the vision he has with his mother in Book 9, after the two of them are discussing what it might be like in heaven after death. As they do so, they simultaneously have a vision of God in which they touch heaven with their minds.


You are the strength of my soul; make your way in and shape it to yourself.

Augustine, Book 10, Sections 1–12

Augustine is addressing God in Book 10, telling him that he has surrendered his ego to his Lord so that God can make him over and make him worthy to be God's beloved, "free from stain or wrinkle."


If ... there was no time before heaven and earth ... how can anyone ask what you were doing then? There was no thing as 'then' when there was no time.

Augustine, Book 11, Sections 14–28

In this quotation Augustine is answering the taunt of the Manichaeans, who want to know what God was doing before he created the manifest world. Augustine says this is a silly question, since God is not subject to time, and there was no time before God created the world. God can be found only in the now.


This heaven's heaven which you made in the beginning is some kind of intellectual creation.

Augustine, Book 12, Sections 1–15

Heaven's heaven is the celestial realm where angels live and those who live a righteous life go to spend eternity contemplating God. Augustine imagines this as a transcendent "place," not subject to time or space.


By this we have received, even on our pilgrim way, the pledge that we are children of the light already.

Augustine, Book 13, Sections 1–15

Augustine is discussing the meaning of the Genesis story, particularly the section where God says, "Let there be light." He connects this light with the "morning," when he will "stand and see my God, who sheds the light of salvation on my face." But he and others on the "pilgrim way" to God already have received the pledge from God that they already belong to him; they have been saved by Jesus. Their salvation will be realized, however, only in the afterlife.

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