Admirers of the Confessions include Petrarch and Pascal, the poets George Herbert and John Donne, the mystical Teresa of Avila, the Catholic convert and thinker John Henry Newman, and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.  Petrarch was given a copy by a friar in 1337 and kept it as his constant companion.  He even considered writing confessions of his own.  In 1347, he began writing his Secretum, in which a fictional “Augustine” reproaches a fictional sinner, who is modeled on Petrarch himself.  He ends by rebuking him for “love for a woman” and “glory,” two of the main temptations which Augustine had confronted.  There is a greater depth in Wittgenstein’s engagement with the book.  He first met it in 1919 through a fellow Austrian prisoner of war in Italy.  He alludes fourteen times to Augustine and the Confessions in his subsequent writings and uses a quotation from them as the preface to his Philosophical Observations.  He considered the Confessions to be, perhaps, “the most serious book ever written.”  There is an affinity of temperament between Augustine and Wittgenstein’s own paradoxical questioning of accepted opinion and his belief that, in order to understand, “the edifice of your pride has to be dismantled.  And that is terribly hard work.”

From: Augustine: Conversions to Confessions by Robin Lane Fox (New York: Basic Books, 2015), p. 11.


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