The Most Sincere Autobiography Ever Written

The author of the first and most famous autobiography ever written was born in 354 A.D. in Tagaste, in Numidia, which had long been part Roman Africa.  Augustine himself was likely a mix of Punic (i.e., Carthaginian), Numidian, and perhaps Roman ethnic stock, but we have no accurate image or bust of his likeness that has survived.  He does not appear to have had much of a relationship with his father, but was close to his mother, St. Monica.  She was a devout Christian, a new religion at the time.  It is likely that maternal influence may have played some role in forming the spiritual development of her famous son.

Augustine proved to be good student in rhetoric, philosophy, and Latin.  His Confessions describes with enthusiasm how the reading of Cicero’s work Hortensius (now lost) fired his passion for philosophy.  He would have had to learn Latin as a second language.  Punic, the old Carthaginian language (a Semitic tongue derived from Phoenecian) was still the speech of the common man in his region of North Africa.  He pursued women readily, as any healthy young man would, and describes these experiences in detail.  He also relates in detail his robbery of a pear orchard.  After completing his schooling in Carthage he cohabited with a concubine, who soon bore him a son.  Such was the custom of the time.  Those who know the Roman Church only in its present form would be surprised at how sexually open the early theologians of the early and medieval Church were.

One of the most touching parts of the Confessions is the passage where Augustine recounts his departure for Rome.  In those days, any ambitious youth wanting to make his way in the world would at some point want to visit the Eternal City to polish off his higher education.  His devout mother did not want him to go, afraid that he might die before being baptized.  He pretended to agree with her, but then left secretly, a deception for which he expresses deep remorse:

And so I lied to my mother, and to so good a mother too.  So I got away from her.  For this also you [God] have mercifully forgiven me, preserving me from the ocean’s waters, then full of wickedness, and landing me safely at the water of your Divine Grace.  As soon as I was purged with this, the tears of my mother’s eyes should be dried up, with which she daily watered the ground for my sake in prayer. [V.8]

He arrived in Rome, taught for a year, then moved to Milan for another teaching position.  His mother eventually joined him.  He also eventually replaced his mistress for a young wife, but not before enjoying the affections of another woman.  His intellectual development was volatile:  at various times he flirted with Manicheism and Neoplatonism, but listening to some sermons of Ambrose, combined with his own reading, won him over to Christianity.  In a ceremony with his friend Alypius and his son (from his former mistress) Aeodatus, he was baptized and entered the faith.


From this point Augustine embarked on a remarkable career of teaching, organization, and writing.  It is nothing short of amazing that this man, so instrumental in laying the structural and theological foundations of the early Church, found the time to write so voluminously.  His collected writings fill thousands of pages, in the clearest, simplest, and most lucid Latin prose since Caesar.  Two of his works—his Confessions and his City of God—are among the classics of world literature.

Reading St. Augustine’s Confessions is a deeply personal experience.  Although arguably the most famous autobiography written, it is different from modern autobiographies in that it is a spiritual testament.  One historian called it a “100,000 word act of contrition.”  And it is.  Augustine addresses it directly to God, and it reads like a series of meditations on his past.  What strikes the reader, and impresses him the most, is the utter sincerity of the work.  There is no false modesty, no hedging, no passive-aggressive asides, no attempt to dodge or rationalize.  There is only the heartfelt words of a deeply religious yet accessible and human figure.  It also feels surprisingly contemporary.  Somehow the pure honesty of the work wins us over completely, and we are carried along by the gentle stream of his tender prose:

Let not the proud speak evil of me now.  For that I meditate on the price of my redemption, and do eat and drink, and give to the poor.  And being poor myself, desire to be filled by Him, amongst those that eat, and are satisfied.  And they shall praise the God who seek him.  [X.43]

The overall impression given is that of a pious man trying to help other men through the spiritual wilderness which he had to traverse before finding a belief system that gave him peace.  What is shocking is to remember that this testament was written by Augustine when he was a forty-six year old bishop.  His frank descriptions of his seductions, thefts, wanderings, jealousies, and theological doubts must have seemed incredible to his contemporaries.  Never has a cleric so denuded himself.

Here is a theologian who has stripped himself down before the world, and revealed himself in a way that none had before or has since.  To me, the Confessions has an overtly mystical tone to it, which reminded me of the writings of the medieval Islamic and Judaic mystics.  If you have to read only one religious-themed book, this is the one to read.  The Loeb Classical Library is to release a new translation next month, along with the original Latin text.  Augustine’s Latin is clear and simple, and well within the reach of a student of the language with a few years of study under his belt.  The Penguin edition of the Confessions is also recommended for those desiring a less expensive option.


Augustine’s later years were tempestuous.  The early centuries of the Church were afire with controversies and disputes, as the new faith sought to hammer out its ideology among numerous competing heresies and visions.  Politically, the world was also turbulent.  The Roman Empire was on the wane, and the Church was doing its best to fill the vacuum left by the dwindling authority of the Caesars.  When the Vandals surged through Spain and moved into North Africa, Augustine was still a bishop there, with authority over the region.

As the Vandal invasion progressed and the people began to suffer, he showed his physical courage by ordering other bishops not to abandon their posts, but to stay and take care of the populace.  He led by example, remaining himself at Hippo.  He died during the siege of his city at the age of seventy six.

His influence was immense.  In an age of war, poverty, and rising barbarism, his words and teachings had an appeal that is difficult for us to grasp now.  The classical world was collapsing, and the mood of the times was to turn away from the old gods, the old rationalism, and the old ways, and seek something that would answer the needs and wants of the harried and simple man.  Men had become tired of the pursuits of rationalism, money, and temporal power, and longed for an ethic that would provide certainty and comfort amid the chaos, and a hope for eternal life after a physical death.  No other Church theologian (save Aquinas) has exceeded him in influence.

The new faith promised what the old religions could not: a chance to share in the fountain of grace offered by God’s only son, who sacrificed himself for the redemption of every man.  And no other religion of those turbulent centuries could match Christianity’s profound ethical and moral teachings.  His Confessions is a monument to that ethic, and the voice of the age.  It is the sincerest book ever written.

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54 thoughts on “The Most Sincere Autobiography Ever Written”

  1. Cue in the professional atheists to puff up and lambast everything religious as being devoid of any value.
    Maybe the lesson here is honest self-criticism? I’ve only read excerpts of this work. But you’ll see no rationalizing from Augustine.

  2. I recall hearing a story about Augustine where he insisted on seducing one more woman right before he was baptized. His prayer at the time was, “Give me chastity…but not yet.”

    1. The story sounds apocryphal, but the quote is genuine, and comes straight from Confessions:
      ‘But, wretched youth that I was–supremely wretched even in the very outset of my youth–I had entreated chastity of thee and had prayed, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” For I was afraid lest thou shouldst hear me too soon, and too soon cure me of my disease of lust which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished. And I had wandered through perverse ways of godless superstition–not really sure of it, either, but preferring it to the other, which I did not seek in piety, but opposed in malice.’
      (That experience had a major influence on his theology, as he knew precisely what he was supposed to do, but still was unable to bring himself to do it.)

  3. Imagine a 21st century Catholic priest. I expect that your image of him is less than flattering. He’s probably a smiling beta male who takes orders from clip haired, mean faced old broads in pantsuits, at best.
    But many of the early Church Fathers such as St. Augustine were men. Augustine was instructed and baptized by St. Ambrose, who called out governors and emperors for their sins, men who could have easily have had him killed. Later Christian saints literally shaped the world: Benedict, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Pope St. Pius V, and many more. What’s more impressive is that those men did not set out to change the world, but themselves first of all.
    Whether you’re Catholic, Christian, pagan, or atheist, the lives of the saints make good reading for any man.

        1. Pope Julius was a warrior pope. A badass. Military leader of the Papal states armies. Also hired (and tolerated ) Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel….Read or see “The Agony and the Ecstasy ” by Irving Stone….

    1. The Jesuits are the most “alpha” of the religious orders…aka “God’s Marines”…

    2. Only the parish priests and the administrators deal with the penguins, church ladies and assorted freemartins that prefer pantsuits. There is a large minority of clergy who devote their lives to scholarly works, farming, science (genetics, theoretical physics and cellular biology are still heavily threaded with monks and other religious), medicine and teaching. Those are the folks you don’t hear about and don’t see unless you’ve got a family member in there. My brother’s an MD/P.hD and Franciscan friar. No BS, he lives in a monastery, wears the brown bathrobe and commutes to a hospital 3 days a week for his research job.

  4. The thing that comes across most, other than the religious nature of the work, is the sheer amount of study and thought that Augustine went through. Here is a man of substance who spent years educating himself, and not in some disinterested way- this guy was fully invested in what he was learning, and went through several stages of intellectual upheaval before arriving at final philosophical and religious conclusion. More than anything else, the guy’s life was a constant development of the self and a constant striving towards the truth. He also got a lot of poon along the way, so he was really Red Pill as fuck.
    I look at our current generation of shallow, feminized metrosexuals and I despair. Spiritual growth and personal development for these faggots mostly involves having some fellow retard click “Like” on their latest selfie. Bunch of fucking hair dressers.

    1. NOT TRUE…our generation had Ted Haggard and his “confessions” were a little different

  5. “Those who know the Roman Church only in its present form would be surprised at how sexually open the early theologians of the early and medieval Church were.”
    I wouldn’t say that the early Church was more “sexually open”- it’s been pretty consistent, standards-wise, when it come to chastity/sexuality (remember, its teachings are derived from Judaism- it didn’t just make stuff up). I think that the difference is that men of Augustine’s time were very strong in their sins- and strong in their redemption. Once converted, their passion for vice became, as in Augustine’s case, a passion for virtue, which they were not afraid to vocalize and teach to others.
    Today, there is a lukewarm attitude towards sin- if you want to do it, eh, fine, whatever, it’s your business. If I want to do something different, I can’t tell you to do the same, because that would be INTOLERANT and PREJUDICED OMG- how DARE I press my opinion on you, etc, etc. The Church is having a Renaissance of sorts in combating this indifference/cultural oppression of strong opinions, but it has a way to go.
    As a side note, many, many, many of the early, middle, and late Christian saints were great sinners before their conversions. Augustine is not alone in having a past which formedd him into something greater. Take St. Mary of Egypt (huge seductress/prostitute turned hermit) or St. Vladimir (Prince of Kiev, human sacrificer, master of a massive harem, who turned away from it all and converted his people)- sometimes the greatest sinners can become the greatest saints. There’s hope for all of us, haha.

    1. It’s basic alchemy: one must be burned and forged in the crucible of life in order to be transmuted into a better form.

    2. As it relates to “sexual openness,” I would say that there was only one way to make relations between men and women work back then, and that was marriage, but marriage unlike what we are burdened with today. In those days, the man was the king of his home, and so the incentive for marrying a woman and remaining monogamous with her for life was that you had the natural role as the patriarch, and not the bumbling dope our society has envisioned for us.
      King Solomon had a massive harem, by the way. Yahweh blessed him with it. So there are instances when it is good to take down tons of women.

      1. Actually, Solomon’s massive harem was a factor in the decline of Israel. cf. 1 Kings 11

        1. Couldn’t it be argued that the more relevant factor was his harem’s devotion to other gods, and their being foreign, rather than the harem’s existence itself?
          In some cases, the law stated it was an obligation to take on a second wife, such as when your brother died and he had not produced a male heir. And to pull out and waste your seed, as Onan did, was wrong not because it could be considered masturbation, but because he did not impregnate his brother’s wife, according to the law.

        2. No one is obligated to take on 700 wives, though. And it was clearly an issue for Solomon.

  6. Augustine relates that he saw through the charlatanry of a Manichean apologist named Faustus, despite Faustus’ reputation.

    That eagerness, therefore, with which I had so long awaited this man, was in truth delighted with his action and feeling in a disputation, and with the fluent and apt words with which he clothed his ideas. I was delighted, therefore, and I joined with others–and even exceeded them–in exalting and praising him. Yet it was a source of annoyance to me that, in his lecture room, I was not allowed to introduce and raise any of those questions that troubled me, in a familiar exchange of discussion with him. As soon as I found an opportunity for this, and gained his ear at a time when it was not inconvenient for him to enter into a discussion with me and my friends, I laid before him some of my doubts. I discovered at once that he knew nothing of the liberal arts except grammar, and that only in an ordinary way. He had, however, read some of Tully’s orations, a very few books of Seneca, and some of the poets, and such few books of his own sect as were written in good Latin. With this meager learning and his daily practice in speaking, he had acquired a sort of eloquence which proved the more delightful and enticing because it was under the direction of a ready wit and a sort of native grace. Was this not even as I now recall it, O Lord my God, Judge of my conscience? My heart and my memory are laid open before thee, who wast even then guiding me by the secret impulse of thy providence and wast setting my shameful errors before my face so that I might see and hate them.
    For as soon as it became plain to me that Faustus was ignorant in those arts in which I had believed him eminent, I began to despair of his being able to clarify and explain all these perplexities that troubled me–though I realized that such ignorance need not have affected the authenticity of his piety, if he had not been a Manichean. For their books are full of long fables about the sky and the stars, the sun and the moon; and I had ceased to believe him able to show me in any satisfactory fashion what I so ardently desired: whether the explanations contained in the Manichean books were better or at least as good as the mathematical explanations I had read elsewhere. But when I proposed that these subjects should be considered and discussed, he quite modestly did not dare to undertake the task, for he was aware that he had no knowledge of these things and was not ashamed to confess it. For he was not one of those talkative people–from whom I had endured so much–who undertook to teach me what I wanted to know, and then said nothing. Faustus had a heart which, if not right toward thee, was at least not altogether false toward himself; for he was not ignorant of his own ignorance, and he did not choose to be entangled in a controversy from which he could not draw back or retire gracefully. For this I liked him all the more. For the modesty of an ingenious mind is a finer thing than the acquisition of that knowledge I desired; and this I found to be his attitude toward all abstruse and difficult questions.

    Apart from Faustus’ humility about his own ignorance, he shows that the psychology of the men who go into the religion hustle hasn’t changed much over the past fifteen centuries.

    1. Faustus comes off much better than Augustine in their debates. If Augustine “defeated” him, as some Church authorities say, it was because Augustine was the better ecclesiastical politician, not because he was a better theologian – or a better man.

  7. I genuinely love that the previous article is “Stop Being Such A Fucking Faggot” and this one is about The Confessions of St. Augustine. Very different but both useful in their own ways.

    1. I just love the way “we are carried along by the gentle stream of loftboy’s tender prose”. Although “Stop Being Such A Fucking Faggot” is probably more St Jerome than St Augustine

  8. Excellent review. Professional level writing.
    When is your book coming, Quintus? It is overdue.

  9. It was also Augustine whose theory of language – “we point at things and give them names” etc – held sway until structuralism & Wittgenstein et al. tore him down (with some reason). It was all downhill from there on though.

  10. Have always quailed at the thought of reading the confessions from beginning to end – he seems like a good writer, but its still quite heavy. Its also seems like a strange mode of auto-biography (even if it is the first real example) – maybe a proper reading will correct me on this, but it seems augustine simply rejects his raunchy past as ‘sinful’. Bit too black and white for me, unless I’ve misunderstood it. Ought one not seek to transcend ones past rather than simply casting it out as though it were evil. If Augustine is a model for us then perhaps that’s an issue for those of who would like to notch up the life experiences before getting canonised.

    1. You won’t find the “Confessions” intimidating at all. It is very accessible. I think the right way to view it is that is the first definitive expression of the medieval mind.
      It is very devout, and at times reads like an extended prayer. But we have to remember–constantly–that the age in which he was living was an age of turbulence and chaos. Men of ability were looking for some comprehensive theory of life to guide them, and it seemed that Christianity had more to offer than the old religion or the mystery cults of the Near East.
      I would agree with you that the early Christians had too much of a hang-up about sex and chastity. But this may have been an understandable reaction to the sexual license and corruptions of the Romans and Near Eastern peoples that were prevalent at the time.
      It was what it had to be, to deal with the social problems of the age.

      1. I definitely intend to read it. I am continually surprised at how often Augustine comes up in other debates as a foundational source. I’ve come across him in the context of narrative (autobiography as you point out), time (as a function of the mind) and language (as representation) but as such I still have a somewhat fragmented picture of his work, so I would like to read the whole thing.
        I also didn’t know he had been a manichean / gnostic. I know he rejected this but in a sense if he did so the way he rejects that past as sinful does seem quite manichean, in the sense of a dualism that renders
        worldly things as evil. I won’t pre-judge though – the impression I have so far is that he never becomes an other-worldly figure even if he does undergo a spiritual transformation.

  11. QC –Check out Julian the Apostate the successor to the first Christian emperor Constatine the Great. He tried to revive Hellenism in the Byzantine/Roman empire. A philosopher king compared to Marcus Aurelius. Was a great general who fended off the barbarian hordes in Germany ( Gauls et al…)and conquered much of Persia..
    Gore Vidal’s “Julian” is very good…

    1. Fluffy B: I know a bit about Julian. Was a great emperor, but unfortunately was fighting a losing battle against the religious trends of the times.
      It’s a sad fact that many of the Byzantine emperors were capable and efficient rulers, but are almost unknown in the West today. I think of Basil the Great especially. They kept the Islamic armies out of Europe for many centuries.

      1. Gore Vidal’s book is very pro Julian which is predictable given Vidal’s hatred of Christianity . Julian’s military prowess was entirely self taught. He is beloved by the Jews as he allowed them back in Jerusalem and to be autonomous….

        1. Cyrus the Great also allowed the Jews return to their homelands but like Julian he doesn’t get much credit for this because it was a part of history where Jews weren’t victimized but every person in every corner of the world has to know that Jews were always victims so they are not brought up or glorified like Julius Caesar, Alexander, or Napoleon

  12. Manichaeism makes more sense and explains better than almost all religions that have existed…maybe that’s why it ceased to exist. I never understood St.Augustine rejection of Manichaeism but his manliness and profound intellect is one of the greatest in history of mankind

  13. Quintus Curtius is my favorite manosphere writer, with Athlone not far behind.
    Great insights.

  14. Interesting how many centuries later, St. Augustine’s work can still resonate more profoundly in the human soul than most of the modern works today. Thanks for this excellent article.

  15. Fantastic write up Quintus, you’ve inspired me to pick up this work and read it over the weekend. While I’m quite familiar with most canonical Western literature I haven’t yet made it around to Augustine, so this should be quite a treat.

      1. more articles like this perhaps one on CS Lewis – who wrote
        If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But, of course, when people say, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,” they may mean “the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.” If they mean that, I think they are wrong. I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.

      2. This is a book I return to again & again throughout life.
        Another excellent, though very different, autobiography I’d recommend is Iceberg Slim’s “Pimp.” While written in 1969 and set in 1920s-40s, this is one of the great red-pill guidebooks of all time.

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