Saint Augustine was one of the most influential figures in the early Christian church. His writings helped spread understanding of the then-young faith, and his views on guilt and redemption shape Christian ethics to this day. But he is perhaps best known for his prayer: ďLord, give me chastity, but not yet.Ē
Augustineís Confessions support his reputation as early Christianityís most devout conflicted soul. From the first chapter he provides a running catalogue of his sins from birth, stopping often to thank God for his improved status and beg for further mercy. These sins often seem trivial; a child stealing apples seems less bound for hell and more bound for a good talking-to. But Augustine weighs all his sins, carnal or spiritual, as equal affronts to God, seeing in every transgression an echo of the first fall. Itís this emphasis on original sin, combined with Augustineís explorations of holy grace and human frailty, that make his Confessions more than an archaic Jerry Springer show.
Itís hard to say how important Augustineís work can be in any modern readerís understanding of their own faith. Anyone not already a Christian is unlikely to be swayed by this journal of personal failure and spiritual abasement, and Christians are now surrounded by books on how to interpret the Bible and relate to God. But Augustine is still crucial to understanding how Christianity became what it is today. Under the layers of elaboration, itís still an entertaining look at life 1500 years ago, and a thoughtful response to questions of faith today.