Is there Theology in this Book?

This review essay discusses three recent books on, and two new translations of, Augustine’s Confessions. Long appreciated for its stylistic beauty and existential profundity, the Confessions has recently become a resource for creative philosophical reflection in both the analytic and continental traditions. However, there has not been a recent theological treatment of the Confessions, a curious lacuna considering Augustine’s importance for the history of Christian doctrine. This review probes three recent works – Paul Rigby’s The Theology of Augustine’s Confessions, Gareth Matthews’ edited collection Augustine’s Confessions: Philosophy in Autobiography, and David van Dusen’s The Space of Time: A Sensualist Interpretation of Time in Augustine, Confessions X to XII – for how they in turn attempt to address, avoid, and reject the theological subject matter within the text. In each of them, a reader can discern an effort to translate Augustine’s language into a contemporary idiom that strays from traditional doctrinal location. Two new English Q2 translations by Carolyn J.-B. Hammond and Sarah Ruden demonstrate that conveying the theology within the Confessions is a challenge even at the granular level of textual translation. This review concludes by considering how this theological lacuna might be filled, considering the complexity of Augustine’s language, argument, and self-presentation that has made this text more than simply another work of theology.