Augustine of Hippo began a new era of autobiographical tradition with his work “Confessions” in which he described the detail from his life and preached about him in his own, individual way.
The fact that in the time span of 100 years after “Confessions” was published more autobiographical works were written than in any other century speaks for itself about the influence this work had. Also Jean-Jacques Rousseau named his autobiography “Confessions”.
With his work Augustine expressed his Christian beliefs. The foundations of this work are his apologizing and graces to the God.
Augustine believes that every individual that confesses his sins can be turned from a mortal sinner to perfection that will celebrate God. Confession and repentance will lead each sinner to God. In the end, every sinner is humble and his words are words of grace to his God.
“Confessions” tell a story of a religious life and concerns human's prayer and thanksgiving. The work begins by Augustine's calling for God who is supposed to help him in his writing about his own life.
The foundation of the confessions is his past life about which he preaches while adding some opinions about the possibility of a sinless life.
The work is divided into 13 books.
The first book Augustine dedicated to the first 15 years of his life. From the first book we can see his dedication to some classic authors such as Virgil.
The book is written as a confession. Augustine talks about his sins, even the little unimportant ones. He also felt the need to apologize for preferring playing over studying.
He gave a harsh judgment of the ancient literature because he considered it to be made-up and a bad influence on youth.
In the second book he describes his life from the age of 16. We found out about his passions, sins and a bit outrageous life. He also talks about his studying in Thagaste.
The third book is dedicated to his studying in Carthage. We see life through his student eyes, his adventures, love relationships and his big love for theatre.
He was studying Cicerone at that time and he joined the Manicheans but he criticized it in the book.
The end of the third book talks about his mother's dream. She dreamed of her son turning to Christianity.
His life from when he was 20 to when he was 29 is covered in the fourth book. He got involved with rhetoric and still didn't give much thought to converting.
In the fifth, sixth and seventh book he described his life in Rome and Milan. He studied and listened to bishop Ambrosius, came closer to Christianity and decided to leave the Manichaeism.
The studying of Apostle Paul's work that concerned the Christ's secrets influenced him a lot.
The eight book carried a special significance for Augustine. Right in the middle of the book we can read everything about his conversion to Christianity. One of the most important parts is when he was handed a book and told to take it and read it by a voice.
In the ninth book he described the happiness he felt after the conversion. He also wrote about his mother's death and his trip to Africa.
The tenth book describes his present life, the state of his soul in the moment of the writing. It analyses the human life and arrogance, sensibility and curiosity.
The mentioned book came to life ten years after his conversion in 397 in Hippo.
In the eleventh, tenth and the thirteenth Augustine stops writing about the past and gets involved with the theme of eternity.
The last book finishes in the same tone as the first one. Augustine calls God to thank him for his mercy and kindness.
In all of the books we can find the main characteristics we see in the autobiographies written after this one.
They are: Augustine's childhood without the notion of faith, sins he made in his youth, reading of paganism works, the downfall of his spirit, reminiscence of his former life, notion of time passing by and the problem concerning every religious man.
Augustine also speaks about the symbolic things that had happened during his birth and about the influence of poverty on his life and his relation with his mother and her kindness.
Augustine reveals the motives that made him write his work and we find out that his friends take most of the credit for his writing. Still, he emphasized that the most important motives were inside of him. He wanted to serve as a role model and wanted to describe the ways he came to know faith.
He started his storytelling ten days after his conversion. “Confessions” is a retrospective work because he talk in the first person singular and occasionally, mostly in the last few books, he writes about the present.
Most of the event are told from his present point of view.
The base of the storytelling is his soul's calling for salvation. His narration is also marked with theology and philosophy. He talks to God, thanks him and prays in his monologues. In the end it all looks like a dialogue between a sinner and God.
He described his life because he wanted to make it an example for others in the future. He believed that his life was God's decision and that God is the only one that can allow him to know life at its fullest.
His intellectual growth also had a big influence on his life. He described completely opposite intellectual studies that divided his life into two phases. Ancient writers led him to sin while the Bible helped him know true faith.
This work is specific because we know little about any other character but Augustine who is the writer of his own biography. The work concerns him, his life and his relationship with God and faith.
Augustine every now and then mentions people who were significant for his conversion and faith. His mother Monica is mostly mentioned because she believed a man could be forgiven.