St. Augustine's Confessions

Course No. 6627
Taught By Multiple Professors
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Course No. 6627
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Course Overview

In St. Augustine's Confessions , Professors William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman lead a chapter-by-chapter—or, in Augustine's terms, "book-by-book"—analysis of one of history's most significant literary works. Written in the 4th century C.E., the Confessions is an opportunity to explore, in one book, questions that have been addressed in many books—by the likes of Plato, Cicero, Freud, and Einstein—for more than a millennium.

How should parents raise children, and how should schools educate children? Why are we attracted to things that are forbidden, and how do we develop addictions? What is time? What is memory and what can it tell us? How can we understand God, or the nature of evil? How should we interpret scripture? What is true friendship? How should we deal with the death of a loved one? Augustine addresses each of these issues, and many more, in a way that few thinkers have been able to equal.

The Confessions has had a staggering influence on Western civilization. It provided the framework through which the Judeo-Christian world accepted the thinking of Plato and other classical pagan philosophers. It served as the blueprint for Dante's Divine Comedy and inspired Martin Luther.

This course is designed to enable you to understand the Confessions as Augustine intended. In the early lectures, your professors cover such necessary background information as Roman history and Christian controversies during Augustine's time, and look at such other works by Augustine as City of God and Teaching Christianity.

An added benefit of the course is that it covers all 13 books of the Confessions: the nine in which Augustine narrates the story of his life leading to his Christian conversion, and the four in which he meditates on time, memory, and scripture interpretation. Due to time constraints, most college-level courses cover only the first nine.

Stories that Are as Powerful as any in World Literature

Most of the lectures focus on Augustine's narrative of the events and decisions that led him to change his life radically by converting to Christianity. This aspect of the Confessions has made it not only a great book but a beloved book—one that has earned the reputation, over the centuries, of being able to change lives.

Augustine's pre-Christian life is in many ways familiar to today's reader. He was a stellar student, and a successful professional: a teacher of rhetoric, the equivalent of a law professor today. He was not someone who seemed headed for sainthood: He had a preoccupation with sex, and he had a mistress with whom he had a child.

But such facts only make Augustine a more human and credible narrator. He asks questions of his life that we are likely to ask of ours. How did my childhood influence me? Why was I raised the way I was raised, and taught what I was taught? He examines meaningful events in his life that have stayed with him over the years, and are likely to stay with anyone: childhood mischief, the turbulence of adolescence, the death of a close friend.

However, Augustine's conclusions about these often commonplace events are always profound. Professors Cook and Herzman assert that there is "almost nothing in the world's literature that is more powerful than some of the stories that Augustine tells," including his stealing of some pears as an adolescent, the death of his beloved mother Monica, and the moment when St. Paul's Letter to the Romans finally convinces him to convert.

Augustine's soul-searching meditations on his own life teach a lesson that readers have taken to heart ever since. Our lives and experiences are never really ordinary. Instead, they are always an opportunity to gain insight into our psychology and morality, and to become wiser and better people.

One of History's Greatest Thinkers and Writers

Your professors note that one reason it is fun to read the Confessions is to see how sophisticated and intelligent Augustine is in so many areas. He was not only a saint but also one of history's greatest theologians, philosophers, scripture experts, psychologists (long before the profession existed), and writers. This is an extraordinary opportunity to appreciate the writing and thinking of a man who:

  • Resolved the fundamental question of "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" Augustine saw that such pagan classical thinkers as Cicero, Plato, and the neo-Platonists could be compatible with, and even enrich, Christian theology. In fact, the Confessions opens with a Platonic concept—permanence versus impermanence—and Augustine's discussion of time was likely influenced by Plato's creation story, the Timaeus.
  • Helped originate the notion that the Bible should be read beyond its literal meaning. He was less interested in the story of Genesis as a factual account than in how it symbolized the relationship between God and humans. To him, a phrase such as "Be fruitful and multiply" was not limited to having children, but could also mean contributing intellectually and spiritually to the world.
  • Established himself as a far-ranging and remarkably prescient thinker. He drew conclusions about human nature from watching his own child; he believed that personality was determined early in life through imitation and the formation of habits; and he debunked astrology.
  • Was so influential that even his casual opinions could change history. Because he simply mentioned that he wasn't very good at Greek, and that he didn't learn as much from Aristotle as from other philosophers, the teaching of both was de-emphasized in the Western world for the next 1,000 years.

Two Superb Teachers

Professors Cook and Herzman bring an exceptional level of scholarship and experience to the study of one of history's deepest and most multilayered books. With their combined specialties and subspecialties, they are able to examine the Confessions as a historical work, a theological work, and a work of literature.

As importantly, their presentation highlights the Confessions as a book that is as contemporary today as it was 1,500 years ago. They approach it as a highly relevant and personally enriching work, one that can help you discover what is truly meaningful in your life.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Augustine and the Confessions
    Lecture 1 introduces the course plan: a close reading of Augustine's Confessions in the contexts of his time and ours. Why are we still reading the Confessions in the 21st century, and how should we read the text in translation? The professors explain what translation they are using for this course, and why. x
  • 2
    Augustine and the World of Classical Antiquity
    Knowing the political, social, and cultural contexts of the Late Roman Empire is important because Augustine assumes his readers have this knowledge. It is also important to know that during Augustine's time, the relationship of Christianity to the state was undergoing extraordinary changes. x
  • 3
    The Corpus of Augustine's Writings
    To place the Confessions in context, we need to become acquainted with Augustine's other works. In addition to the major works On Christian Teaching (Christian doctrine) and The City of God, we will survey the scope of his writings, which total 48 volumes. x
  • 4
    Form and Genre
    The Confessions is a rich narrative, one that is not easy to characterize. One unusual element is that the entire work is a prayer to God. In addition, the first nine books are a narrative of Augustine's life, but the last four are not. This lecture examines these elements to show we are not dealing with autobiography in the modern sense. x
  • 5
    Book I—Sin and Confession
    The first book of the Confessions begins with a general introduction and then turns to Augustine's infancy and childhood. We can see how Augustine will "Christianize" elements of classical thought. He also describes the restlessness of the human spirit, and he ponders the stability of the moral order. x
  • 6
    Book I—Augustine's Childhood
    Augustine condemns himself as a sinner even as a 1-day-old baby. His portrayal of himself as a pupil in a "pagan" school, and with his family, is not of a bright kid—how we would probably view him—but of one who was selfish and miseducated. For Augustine, his youth is not a matter of outgrowing habits but of habituation to sin. x
  • 7
    Book II—Augustine Grows Up
    In Book II, Augustine explains how his parents dealt with him growing into a man. Combining the first part of Book II with what Augustine tells us about his schooling in Book I, we can conclude that teenage Augustine's sinfulness has actually been furthered by his teachers and parents because they are determined that he become rich and famous. x
  • 8
    Book II—Stealing Pears: So What?
    The longest narration of an event from Augustine's youth is of a minor incident when he was 16. With friends, he stole some pears from a neighbor's tree. To Augustine, this incident shows him to be another Adam—unwilling to obey laws and trying to declare a kind of freedom from society and from God. x
  • 9
    Book III—The Journey Begins
    In Book III, Augustine comes to Carthage "where the din of scandalous love affairs raged cauldronlike around me." But balanced against his lustful impulses is the beginning of his search for truth. At 18, a book by Cicero begins to turn Augustine's attention to the highest endeavors. x
  • 10
    Book IV—The Problem of Friendship
    While Augustine was engaged in studies and a carefree life, a dear friend died. Augustine became severely depressed. By the time he writes the Confessions, he realizes he was mourning not for his friend but for his own loss. Augustine realizes both the goodness of friendship and how it can become another manifestation of selfishness. x
  • 11
    Book V—From Carthage to Rome
    Augustine moves from North Africa to Italy, first Rome and then Milan. Two powerful encounters define Augustine's journey. He finds the Manichee bishop Faustus to be superficial. But in Milan, Augustine finds the Christian bishop, Ambrose, to be a brilliant and substantive speaker. This leads Augustine to give Christianity another look. x
  • 12
    Book VI—A New Look at Christianity
    While taking a fresh look at the Bible and Christianity, Augustine changes his mind about faith: it is necessary, he decides, because no one has sufficient knowledge. Augustine also "interrupts" the narrative to mention a new friend, Alypius, who has gone astray with a love of gladiatorial violence while in Rome. x
  • 13
    Book VII—Neo-Platonism and Truth
    Augustine becomes convinced of Christianity's truth through an amazing paradox: by reading pagan philosophers. Because he makes the case for the necessity of pagan learning, this book is an important chapter in the history of Christianity and in Western intellectual history. x
  • 14
    Book VII—Faith and Reason
    Augustine's reading of the Platonist philosophers brings him to conclusions about the nature of evil and the goodness of creation. The end of the book is a powerful meditation on the limits of reason, the necessity for faith, and the relationship between faith and reason. x
  • 15
    Book VIII—Converging Conversions
    Book VIII presents one of the most important moments in the Confessions: Augustine's conversion. By focusing on the conversion stories in this book, from Paul to Antony of the Desert to Victorinus, this lecture shows how Augustine prepares the reader to understand his conversion and, to a great extent, the Christianization of the Roman Empire. x
  • 16
    Book VIII—"Pick It Up and Read"
    This lecture begins with a close look at Augustine's description of his addiction to sex: as chains of lust that bind his will. We then examine Augustine's dramatic description of his conversion. This scene has an important post-Augustinian afterlife, as a model for subsequent Christian conversions, and for such writers as Dante. x
  • 17
    Book IX—The New Man
    Augustine's baptism marks the end of his conversion story, and the end of the biographical part of the Confessions. But he must decide what to do with his life now that he is a Christian. We discuss his new "career choice"—a life of leisure and contemplation—both in itself and in terms of his later life as a bishop. We also follow Augustine's accounts of the deaths of several friends, and that of his son. x
  • 18
    Book IX—The Death of Monica
    This lecture focuses on one of the most famous sections in the Confessions. To prepare the scene of his mother's death, Augustine tells the story of her life. His description sheds light on late antiquity, especially in terms of domestic life. Augustine's meditation with his mother before her death is widely considered one of the great examples of Christian mysticism. x
  • 19
    Book X—Augustine the Bishop
    In Book X, Augustine leaves the past to reflect on his present. He tells us his flock should know who its bishop is. He presents himself as one who is still struggling, still subject to temptations. Thus this book provides a powerful interpretation of conversion as a continual struggle. x
  • 20
    Book X—Augustine on Memory
    Having just finished an account of his past in the first nine books, Augustine's discussion of memory is a logical next step. Augustine sees memory as a mystery and explores some of its paradoxes: for example, that we are in some ways able to remember forgetfulness. He uses this discussion as part of a larger quest for God. x
  • 21
    Book XI—Augustine on Time
    Augustine's exploration of the nature of time in Book XI is a fascinating exercise. He notes the difficulty of it in this famous line: "What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone, I do not know." He sees the paradox of talking about time while remaining in time, a paradox similar to using the mind to discuss the mind. Augustine must talk about time in order to justify his time-bound autobiographical account, and because it leads to a discussion of eternity and God. x
  • 22
    Book XII—Augustine on Biblical Interpretation
    As someone whose conversion depended on learning to read texts correctly, especially the Bible, Augustine ends the Confessions with a demonstration of the fruits of that conversion. He begins an explication of the Book of Genesis, a key text because it deals with the nature of time and the nature of God. Augustine's approach to Scripture is open to symbolic meanings and multiple interpretations. x
  • 23
    Book XIII—Augustine on Creation
    In this concluding book, Augustine continues his interpretation of the opening passages of Genesis. Once again, he argues for a sophisticated understanding of Creation. He gives an important explication of the command to "increase and multiply." We end the lecture by discussing how the text continues to engage us in the 21st century. Augustine has much to say to a culture that is sometimes satisfied with easy answers. x
  • 24
    The Confessions Through the Ages
    Great thinkers have made use of Augustine's reflection on his life, and we focus on two of the most important: Dante and Martin Luther. In the 21st century, people want a way to reflect on their lives and to find meaning that is often hidden in masses of detail. There is no better guide than the Confessions. x

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Your professors

William R. Cook Ronald B. Herzman

Professor 1 of 2

William R. Cook, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Geneseo

Professor 2 of 2

Ronald B. Herzman, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Geneseo
Dr. William R. Cook is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1970. He earned his bachelor's degree cum laude from Wabash College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa there. He was then awarded Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Lehman fellowships to study medieval history at Cornell University, where he earned his Ph.D. Professor Cook teaches courses...
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Dr. Ronald B. Herzman is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1969. He graduated with honors from Manhattan College and earned his master's degree and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Delaware. Dr. Herzman's teaching interests include Dante, Chaucer, Francis of Assisi, Shakespeare, the Bible, and Arthurian literature. He has...
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St. Augustine's Confessions is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 76.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Saint-Augustine! Oops! I neglected to provide a review for this course after I completed viewing it late last year. Ironically, I was left with great admiration for both Saint Augustine and Saint Monica at that time. Saint Augustine’s personal reflections on his life and his views of Christianity and spirituality left an indelible and positive impression on me after the lectures. As my memory recalls, the instructors’ give-and-take dialogue was complementary and inspired multi-faceted thinking of the book and its author. Almost one year later, I’m still a true follower of this remarkable saint, and this course inspired me!
Date published: 2019-09-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting I have only just started this course (it is rather long) but I like the teaching format. The professors toss the comments back and forth very well. It is more interesting than I thought it would be. I had liked Professor Cook in his Cathedrals course so I thought I would try this one and I'm glad that I did.
Date published: 2019-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative This is a very informative course taught by two knowledgeable professors. I've taken many Great Courses, but this is the first time that I've seen one with two professors teaching at the same time (I've seen a couple where lecturers take turns teaching different lessons). The format worked very well, and I think it made the subject matter more interesting to watch them play off of each other. St. Augustine is one of the most influential thinkers and writers in history, and this course does an excellent job both explaining St. Augustine's most famous book and explaining the impact on later philosophers and writers.
Date published: 2018-12-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not impressed The instructors were enthusiastic and seemed to know the subject, however the problem with this course for me was that the instructors delivery and seemingly random thoughts about the topics made it very difficult to listen to and distracting. I expected this to be a course about learning the content and meaning of Augustine’s writings however that was overshadowed by several tangent thoughts by the instructors. They switched back and forth with their thoughts and the delivery by one of the instructors was abrasive. I think that their enthusiasm was very evident and believe that they know the topic well, however for me they strayed away from the main topic too far and as a result I would sometimes forget what the topic was. This course would be useful for someone looking to learn what some instructors think about Augustine’s writings rather than the writings themselves. For me it missed the mark.
Date published: 2018-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very helpful and informative I had started reading Augustine's Confessions, but felt like I was wandering in the wilderness. I had a few commentaries to help, Christian History Magazines as well. Then I saw this in the sale brochure. I've been doing the lectures as I read the book (read a chapter quickly, watch the video and then reread.). I'm getting so much more out of the book and can't wait to do City of God course next. The lectures provide insight comparing the time period he was writing about, as well as what lay ahead. Insight into the culture of the time is very helpful as well. The professors often say things like "Augustine will come back to this" or "This will be very important to Augustine" which aids me in watching for those keys as I read on. I've never done a course where two professors did team teaching. This has been fun as they build on each other's comments.
Date published: 2018-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy Listening I really enjoyed the tag team approach with this topic. It did take some getting use to, but it was worth the wait.
Date published: 2018-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable Two instructors make for an unusual course teaching, but wow, most enjoyable and keep your attention active. Well done.
Date published: 2018-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview of St. Augustine's Confessions I was very pleased with the content and delivery of the information in this class.
Date published: 2018-05-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Help Me Break My TGC Habit—But not Yet This is the second course I’ve taken from the team of Professors Cook and Herzman (or Ron and Bob as they call each other), the other being “Francis of Assisi” I did not find the audio course baout Francis to be difficult to understand, but I did spend a bit of mental effort in identifying which Professor was talking when. I took this one in video format and did not have to go to that trouble. Plus, I was visually entertained by the wild (to me) color and pattern combinations of suits, shirts and ties chosen by Professor Cook. For me the tag team approach worked well. It was clear that the two men had often done this and were very comfortable in playing off one another. And it was interesting to have a viewpoint of an historian and a professor of English bring their own expertise to St. Augustine and the Confessions. However they almost seemed too much in accord with each other. The course might be enlivened if they had an occasional disagreement. Also this course might have been a bit less secular if it had been given by (for example) Luke Timothy Johnson or more theological if presented by Bart Ehrman, but I was pleased with the approach taken by the two lecturers. Although I knew a fair amount about the life of Augustine, this course gave me much more, especially about his boyhood and early life. I loved the inclusion of his boyish pranks and more seriously his conclusions about his early friends and friendship. For me I would have liked a bit more information on his mistress(es) and his treatment of them, especially the one who bore him a son. This lack is well balanced by the inclusion of quite a bit of background on his mother, Monica, but lacking in a bit more detail as to his relationship with women in general and his thoughts about them. On the other hand this is a course about one book and not a general biography of Augustine, and I should be pleased with the bio information presented. Certainly this course is good enough to prompt me to get the “City of God” course, especially as I have only read excerpts of that work. Recommended, but perhaps not for those who wish a course concentrating on theology.
Date published: 2018-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Instructors are great The teachers are very inciteful! The content is easily understandable.
Date published: 2018-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from St Augustine - a real person Knowing that St. Augustine played an important role in the history of the Christian Church, I was seeking more insight into who he was, when he lived, what was the environment that helped him form his thinking, and what exactly did he espouse and why. Professors Cook and Herzman did a great job of answering these questions by getting us into the mind of St. Augustine and seeing things the way he was seeing them and being affected by them. I thought the presentations were humanly and spiritually insightful as well as being academically insightful. Thanks for an enlightening and uplifting course on this Church Father.
Date published: 2017-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from St. Augustine's Confessions Great overview of Confessions. It gave great insights into the work.
Date published: 2017-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Augustine in more than cameo With two professors chiming in on Augustine's Confessions and, within it, the author's spiritual struggles, you will listen and feel gently brought up into the most refined and enduring spirituality in a world of dramatic, personal tensions that are fundamentally like our own--in this world where both you and me and the professors and Augustine have been told to be "in it but not of it." It is a joy and a help to follow the climb of Augustine into the heights of spirituality with such thoughtful and knowledgeable guides.
Date published: 2017-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Confessions - Very good overview While not a fan of dual presenters, these two pull it off fine. On occasion one professor will make a point in support of the other professor that is too redundant and a listener may be tempted to say, "ok I got it-move on", But overall very good at a review level. Appropriately informal and did appreciate the personal examples/stores to illustrate points.
Date published: 2017-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hope for all of us I just got to listen to this on a long trip and I am very glad I did. St. Augustine, who I had known about as an icon of the Church, was, like St. Peter and many other saints, a man of human appetites who overcame his limitations and found a way to be holy. This give me hope that, even at my advanced age, I can find salvation. Young people, take this course!
Date published: 2017-09-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not as good as their Dante lectures I really loved these guys' Dante course, which opens up a fairly difficult text, so I have to say this is a bit of a disappointment. There isn't too much here you couldn't get just from reading the Confessions, so that's what I'd recommend. On the other hand these guys really are old pros at lecturing. Instead I'd recommend Cary's lectures on Augustine and Mathewes' lectures on The City of God.
Date published: 2017-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fitting I enjoy learning from Professors Cook and Herzman. I don't like to drive without them on board. I listen to them over and over and I often pick up on something new that I didn't catch before.This is my second course with these Professors, they are the salt of the earth.
Date published: 2017-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and entertaiining I studied history at the university and Augustine was covered very briefly and I heard of his Confessions but never really read or studied them which made this course appealing. This was my first encounter with team teaching and I loved it. Professors Cook and Herzman took a subject that could potentially be somewhat boring and really made it come alive. It is obvious that they have taught together for many years as they played off each without missing a step. While examining the Books of the Confessions, they utilized situations in the present that I could relate to in sometime a humorous manners. Both are extremely knowledgeable in their subject areas, history and literature, which adds unique perspectives. I also found it interesting about their teaching experience with undergraduates and their perceptions of the Confessions. Overall they made this material as relevant today as it was over1600 years ago. I have had a renewed interest in European history from about 300 CE through the 1500's CE. I highly recommend this course for persons who are familiar with the Confessions and those who are not. I look forward to taking another course with these professors.
Date published: 2017-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Literary and Historical Treatment This was a solid introduction to the Confessions. I listened to Philip Cary's shorter series on Augustine, and I thought that these episodes were a nice sequel that went into greater, specific depth. This is the first set of episodes that I have listened to in which there were two professors. They had their choreography down pretty good. I don't mean that they were dancing, but they were smooth in taking turns during their presentation. These episodes gave me a good historical grounding in the context in which Augustine wrote as well as a good summary of the key parts of the Confessions. The treatment of the philosophical books at the end of the Confessions wasn't, in my judgment, as strong as the earlier stuff, but it was still competently presented. I was satisfied, although I still think Augustine was a little hard on himself for all the sex and the pear theft, but that's just my opinion, which is probably wrong.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Like a choreographed dance These two professors take their subject seriously while having fun. The are very respectful of the subtext. This is the first time my wife has been drawn in to one of the courses. We enter into post lecture discussions.
Date published: 2017-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Full of information The presenters do quite well in telling us about the history of the time and other things about what Augustine was living among. It takes a few lectures before they actually get into the books and I am just now at that point.
Date published: 2017-03-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from St Augustine's Confessions Not only the presentation gave an evaluation base on theology but also the practical personal advantage of sitting to read the book. Many times I have looked at this book decided not to proceed with the endeavor of reading it. I know that I can benefit to read/study this book for my personal spiritual growth.
Date published: 2016-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good buy I am a man of 72 years old, borned in a catholic country and studied in U.S.A. Religion always has been an important issue in my life. I always had an special interest why San Agustin had been chosen as a doctor of the church and also, a saint. after been a man of no religion, lived with a woman , had a child and other earthly pleasures in his youth. what makes this man change his life completly and becoming a bishop. Well , this is the course you have to listen. This man studied the thinking of his time , Plato and scriptures and by reasoning step by step changes his life. not easy but real struggle of life and faith.
Date published: 2016-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoying it all The content is excellent and made very accessible by the back-and-forth between the instructors. Both have an easy way of relating this ancient work to the current day.
Date published: 2016-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative about Augustine and human nature. This course was an overview of St. Augustine's work "Confessions" which turned out to be an overview of the book and a commentary at the same time. The lecture is delivered by two professors who take turns speaking back and forth throughout each lecture. Most of the time this delivery flowed well. There are many occasions however, where the same thing is repeated because each professor can't help stating their opinion in their own way. I bought this course because I like to listen while I am driving or exercising. So I was hoping to learn all about "Confessions" without having to read it. I wish there was more about the actual book in the lectures; more of the narrative, and less commentary. I think the professors, at times, assume the listener has read the book so they leave out details and parts of the narrative story. Overall I really liked most of the lectures. I was very interested in Augustine's story, but found the best part to be the frequent reminders of how human nature and the human experience are so similar now despite the passing of over 1,600 years.
Date published: 2016-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Companion to the "Confessions" Profs. Cook and Herzman made Augustine's text shine in my hands as I read it along with them. The well-paced lectures are clear and illuminate even the most difficult parts of the 'Confessions,' such as Augustine's ideas about time. I had previously enjoyed Profs. Cook's and Herzman's lectures on Dante. Dr. Cook and Dr. Herzman are a great team and the two complement one another well. If you enjoy theology, or if you have an interest in autobiography, these lectures will prove worthwhile.
Date published: 2015-03-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great introduction This is a wonderful review of the Confessions by two excellent teachers. Even being already familiar with this work, I have learned important things, and would recommend this course. I am hoping the Great Courses pick up more courses like this one, spending much time on a single work of great value.
Date published: 2015-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Take and read...while you listen As other reviewers have pointed out, this course would probably work best for those who are reading the Confessions at the same time. I took this course to “fill in a blank” in my college reading, as I have done with the Iliad, Aeneid, etc. But it was slow going, and didn’t keep my interest kindled. I already knew a fair amount about Augustine’s theology via Luther and Calvin, but I only had a sketchy idea about his life. The professors DID provide that information, but I think it could have been done more economically. Twenty-four lectures was a big investment of my time. I took the audio version of the course. This was my first “tag team” teaching experience from TGC. The profs clearly know each other and the topic very well, but I have to confess that neither one of them has what we might call a “radio voice.” Dr. Herzman’s voice in particular would be best taken in small doses. I would only recommend this to students who are truly interested in delving into Augustine; it is not for the casual listener. In sum, I would recommend you follow the advice Augustine once received: “Take and read” while you listen.
Date published: 2014-05-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Try Phillip Cary First I give these 24 lectures on Augustine's Confessions a rating of three stars, which means that I think the course is below average for a TLC/TGC course--a high standard--but is nonetheless worth listening to. This advice is subject to two caveats. First, before bothering with this course you should listen to Phillip Cary's extraordinary (5 star) 12 lecture course on Augustine: Philosopher and Saint, which is simply at a another level in terms of understanding Augustine. Second, these lectures are not particularly good at summarizing the Confessions but rather provide literary commentary that will be most relevant if you read the book while listening to the lectures. (In this regard, the lecturers helpfully suggest the excellent recent translation by Maria Boulding.) The lectures are presented by a professor of history (Cook) and a professor of English (Hertzman), both of whom contribute to each lecture. In contrast to some other joint TLC/TGC lectures, the tag-team approach here works fairly well. The lecturers do have an annoying tendency to compliment each other and to contrast each new point to the point just made by the other. But their contributions usually fit together into a coherent lecture rather than a series of separate soundbites, so on balance the presentation works fairly well. On the other hand, neither lecturer has any expertise, or apparent interest, in theology, philosophy, or intellectual history. So their aim is merely to appreciate the Confessions as literature, providing some useful historical background but showing no real interest in Augustine's intellectual journey as such. Ironically, they do point out at the start that the Confessions is not an autobiography in the modern sense, focused on people and events, but is rather an intellectual and spiritual autobiography--but they then focus on people and events rather than on Augustine's intellectual and spiritual development. (They would probably claim that they do focus on Augustine's spiritual development, at least, but this is only because they view that development as simply a matter of Augustine's moving towards and finally choosing biblical Christianity over generic 'paganism'. They don't so much reject Augustine's Christian Platonism as never examine it.) These lectures provide only the most cursory explanation of Manichaenism, which was Augustine's faith for a decade, or of Platonism which triggered his intellectual conversion. In discussing the critical book 7 of the Confessions, they focus almost entirely on Augustine's references to the Incarnation and Atonement, the elements of Christian faith that (writing years later as a bishop) Augustine says he did not find in the books of the Platonists, rather than on the doctrine of the Trinity that he says he did find there and that clearly overwhelmed him at the time. If the lecturers have read Augustine's classic On the Trinity then there is no hint of it here. In connection with Augustine's conversion experience in book 8, when he heard the words 'Take it up and read', the lecturers state several times that their students sometimes ask whether another observer (another person in the room, say, or a tape recorder) would have heard the same words--but that these students are 'asking the wrong question'. Yet this is a perfectly reasonable question, which should provide an opportunity to discuss the theological doctrine of primary and secondary causes to which Augustine subscribed--with the conclusion being that Augustine almost certainly did not believe that another observer would have heard the particular words that he heard. The lecturers, however, are interested only in the literary aspects of the Confessions, so this is a 'wrong question'. Regarding books 10-13 of the Confessions (in which Augustine moves from autobiography to a philosophical discussion of memory, time, heaven and earth, and creation), the lecturers note that they don't usually teach these books, and regarding book 11 on time--widely considered seminal for Western philosophy--Professor Cook states that it sounds to him like a late night college bull session and he just doesn't get it. He should perhaps listen to Sean Carroll's TGC lectures on the physics of time which discuss and largely adopt Augustine's view in the context of modern physics. More generally, he should listen to Professor Cary's extraordinary lectures on Augustine. But philosophical issues just don't seem to interest either of these lecturers--which is a problem for a lecture series on Augustine, the most philosophical of the Church Fathers. The above substantive complaints would have led me to a four star rating, ie average for a TLC/TGC course but not at the extraordinary level of professors such as Cary, Cahoone, Castor, Daileader, Harl, Kors, McInerney, or Vandiver. But I ended up with three stars for two more reasons. First, these 24 lectures are too long for the content. The last five lectures are pointless, and in many others, particularly later in the course, you sometimes get the sense that the lecturers are just filling time. With better focus this could have been a good 12 lecture course rather than a mediocre 24 lecture course. Second, while the lecturers spend a lot of time teasing out the implications of Augustine's narrative, they don't do a particularly good job of summarizing the Confessions for someone who hasn't read it. For better or worse, this is one of the reasons that people listen to TTC/TGC lectures. (Contrast, for example, any of Professor Vandiver's excellent TTC/TGC lectures on Homer, Virgil, Herodotus, etc.--which concisely summarize the texts before providing extraordinary insights about them.) These lectures, however, seem to be designed for college students who, unlike TTC/TGC customers, are actually expected to do the reading. So I ended up with three stars rather than four. In summary, this course is worth it, but only after you have listened to Phillip Cary's much better course on Augustine and only if you plan to read the book at the same time.
Date published: 2013-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much better appreciation of Augustine This was an incredibly comprehensive view of Augustine. Although it didn't go into his other works, I was absolutely amazed at the organization and presentation of the material that was presented. The team teaching of the material is almost flawless as well. I better understand why so many refer back to Augustine for rigor and clarity of thought. Augustine is a religious figure, but this introduces you to so much more.
Date published: 2013-07-28
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