On Friday, October 18th, I had the joy of attending an interesting lecture given by Rev. Prof. Salvino Caruana OSA on the Confessions of St. Augustine. In this very intriguing lecture, I learned the four characteristics which make up the Confessions as written by the great bishop of Hippo.
To begin with, the Confessions revolve around the fact of portraying the greatness and power of God. In other words, they are confessio laudis. The opening part of Book One is really impressive:
God’s greatness, power and infinite wisdom move Augustine to see the hidden desire of the human being to praise Him. It seems that man cannot not praise God since he is an integral part of his creation. Even if in man there is the tendency to sin, he still wants to praise God. And when he does praise God, he does it because God impels him to do so! What a great demonstration of Augustine’s constant belief and teaching that we do good only because we are guided by God’s grace and nothing more!
The second aspect of the Confessions nature is that in these confessions are, moreover, confessions of sins or confessio peccati. This is clearly alluded to when one is able to recognize the greatness of his guilt before the greatness of the love and mercy of God. (see Psalm 31,5) The fact that Augustine confesses himself as a great sinner, he is at the same time, according to the Scriptures, already acknowledging God’s mercy in his life.
The third aspect that emerges from the Confessions of St. Augustine is that they are a profession of faith, or confessio fidei. This confession of faith comes from Augustine’s confession of his own ignorance as to how to begin to praise God for all He has done in his life.
Finally, the Confessions are themselves a confession or declaration of the weakness of the human will. In other words, they are a confessio infirmitatis. This can be seen particularly in Book Seven wherein Augustine confesses how he was subjugated by the reality of sin.
This swift journey into the four elements that constitute St. Augustine’s Confessions make me realize more that the Confessions are surely not to be read as an autobiography. More than that, they can be read and appreciated as Augustine’s intentional enterprise, within the remit of God’s permissive felt presence, to remember those central events and experiences in which he can now recognize as well as celebrate the mysterious actions of God’s prevenient and provident grace.
As Pope Benedict XVI magnificently explained in his catechesis of Wednesday, January 9th, 2008, the Confessions are an “attention to the spiritual life, to the mystery of the ‘I’, to the mystery of God who is concealed in the ‘I’. [This] is something quite extraordinary, without precedent, and remains for ever, as it were, a spiritual ‘peak.’”
FR MARIO ATTARD OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. Currently, he is one of the six chaplains working at Mater Dei Hospital. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ and hosts radio programmes about the spiritual care of the sick.