Augustine’s Confessions


Augustine’s Confessions: A Model for Conversion?

Above is the title page from the 1631 edition of the Confessions – note the flying cherubs/children who direct a stream of speech towards Augustine, ‘take up and read, take up and read’. In the bottom left hand corner is a Bible open at the passage from Paul to the Romans (13: 13-14) which brought about Augustine’s conversion.

Augustine writes the Confessions at the end of the fourth century AD, eleven years after his conversion in Milan, when he is Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. In many respects it was designed to refute the accusation that he was still a Manichee (a member of a sect who followed the teachings of Mani).

The conversion stories of Victorinus, Ponticianus, and Paul (mentioned briefly in relation to his change of name from Saul to Paul following his conversion) precede Augustine hearing the disembodied words ‘tolle, lege, tolle, lege’ (‘take up and read, take up and read’) in a garden in Milan. He picks up the book of the apostle Paul ‘opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit’. After reading the following passage, ‘All shadows of doubt were dispelled’:

‘Not in riots or in drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.’ (Rom. 13:13-14) Continue reading

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News from Italy: The Italian Convert

From Naples to York (by way of Geneva): The Life of Galeazzo Caracciolo by Niccolò Balbani

This extraordinarily popular conversion narrative tells the story of an Italian nobleman, a member of Charles V’s court and nephew to Pope Paul IV, who abandoned Italy and the Catholic Church after absorbing the evangelical teachings of Juan de Valdés and Peter Martyr Vermigli in his native Naples.   He died in Geneva, stripped of his titles, wealth, and estates, and married to a Frenchwoman after his wife and children refused to follow him across the Alps.

Originally written by Niccolò Balbani and published in Geneva after Caracciolo’s death, the text was translated into Latin by Theodore Beza and then into English by William Crashaw (a Yorkshire clergyman and father of the religious poet and Catholic convert Richard). Translations into French and German were also made, but by far the most popular version was Crashaw’s which was printed in 1608, 1612, 1635, 1662, 1668 and 1677.  The story was disseminated even further through its inclusion in Jacques Auguste de Thou’s History of His Own Times, a book popular across the European ‘Republic of Letters.’

The 1668 edition below contains a series of entertaining woodcuts – spot the Jesuit with bags of gold! Continue reading