There is a widely held opinion among many literary critics and theologians that Saint Augustines “Confessions” is the first autobiographical work in the history of Western European literature. It reflects the main peculiarities of philosophical and theological thought in the Middle Ages.
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The author gives a full account of his infancy, boyhood, adolescence. He describes his quest for God. Saint Augustine recalls his search for high power through Neo-Platonism, Manichaeism, and his rejection of these teachings. This work reflects his conversion to Christianity and his spiritual enlightenment. In this book, Saint Augustine explicitly airs his views about God and the universe. At that moment autobiography as a genre was alien to Western literature.
The question arises as, why the author prefers the form of autobiography. What is the main message that he wants to convey? Probably, autobiography is some kind of example, which proves that every human being can find his or her path to God. Additionally, autobiography has a very complex effect on the reader. It seems that we can see the world through the eyes of the author. The author constantly stresses the fact that in his youth he was a sinner, who was not even aware of his mistakes. Saint Augustine says “mine impiety had divided me against me: and that sin was the more incurable, whereby I did not judge myself a sinner”. The realization of his mistakes resulted in his conversion to Christianity. The author reveals his faith in the form of an autobiography, paying extra attention to his sins and error because he wants to prove that the path to good is very long and arborous. Moreover, throughout the text, Saint Augustine stresses the idea that every sinner can be forgiven. He says “Thou mightest forgive all the rest of my iniquities, and heal all my infirmities, and redeem life from corruption’ (1500). The person must only realize that he or she is far from perfect and that God is the only way to salvation.
Regarding the stylistic peculiarities of this work, we should mention that the author frequently employs the principles of rhetoric, in other words, the art of eloquence. It creates some form of a dialogue between the author and the reader. Saint Augustine employs such a form because it is by far the most expedient way to prove one’s point. In his “Confessions,” Saint Augustine often uses rhetorical questions. Such a stylistic device also reflects his doubts and hesitations. For instance, while discussing the nature of faith, Saint Augustine asks a succession of questions “Grant me, Lord, to know and understand which is first, to call on Thee or to praise Thee? and, again, to know Thee or to call on Thee? for who can call on Thee, not knowing Thee”(1222) Such chain of question practically gives an outline of his work. In addition to that, it proves his argument that it is extremely difficult to find faith in God.
Thus, having analyzed the main peculiarities of Saint Augustines succession, we may conclude that this work reflects has very unique features. First, it is an autobiographical work, which was unheard of at the time the author wrote it. Such a choice is not accidental, because Saint Augustine wanted to make an example of himself. Another peculiarity of this work is the use of rhetoric questions, which advance and support the authors argument.
Sarah N Lawall, Maynard Mack. “The Norton Anthology of World Literature Second Edition Volume C 1500 – 1650”. Norton, 2002.