Confessions by Augustine, translated by Garry Wills: a beautiful rendering of a humble man's prayer
WENT BACK to my old habits and bought a new book I spotted at my favorite second hand bookstore: Confessions by Augustine, in the new translation by Garry Willis. I could not resist buying it. My favorite college professor, Dr. Carlos Aureus, recommended it in my freshman year as an English major. I started reading it in 2009, in the translation by John K. Ryan.
Since then Confessions has been one of my favorite books of all time. The book is a celebration of a sinner's newfound personal relationship with God. It is a literary masterpiece in itself, adored and quoted even by non-believers.
I go back to it to whet my appetite for God's Word. Augustine quotes Scripture again and again—he has committed the Word into memory, and it shows in his writing. I read portions of the book when I find myself struggling with sins I thought I had long forgotten or overcome, for Confessions is a very honest prayer, painting the picture of a sinful man and his real struggles with sin and his search for Truth and Joy—God Himself. It is a very personal book, for it allows the reader to see in inner workings of the mind, the sinful humanity of even the most reverent saint.
Reading Confessions in the Wills translation was a lot like watching a favorite black-and-white film in technicolor: it gave me a different perspective altogether. It felt weird initially. My favorite statement, "Our hearts are restless until They find rest in Thee" is translated as "Our heart is unstable until stabilized in you." Uhm, that doesn't sound so poetic. I was prepared to be disappointed, but two paragraphs after that I was engaged in it completely. The Wills translation is excellent in that it is more accessible, like a modern English novel. I love it.
Consider the following passage (Confessions I: 1a and 2):
At the time of my young manhood, when I burned to be engorged with vile things, I boldly foisoned into ramifying and umbrageous loves, while my inner shapeliness was withering—I was decomposing before your eyes while in men's eyes I was pleasing myself and 'trying to please them.'
Where did I find any satisfaction then but in loving and being loved? But I did not observe the line where mind meets mind. Instead of affection's landmarks drawn in light, earth-murks drowned in lust—and my erupting sexuality—breathed mephitic vapors over the boundary, to cloud and bind my heart in clouds and fog, erasing the difference between love's quietness and drivenness of dark impulse . . . You, the joy I was so slow to hear, said nothing as I ranged farther out from you—I, loftily downfallen, actively paralyzed, sowing arid and ever more arid sadnesses.
Augustine, in later pages, would later on narrate how he came to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and how that had changed him. His is the story of every true Christian—a life bought by the blood of the Lamb, made to be salt and light in this dark and sinful world. He just had the words to articulate his story beautifully.