St. Augustine's Confessions

Course No. 6627
Taught By Multiple Professors
Share This Course
4.5 out of 5
75 Reviews
73% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 6627
Sale
Streaming Included Free

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.

Hide Full Description
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

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 104-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 104-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Timeline

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

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...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor
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...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor

Reviews

St. Augustine's Confessions is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 76.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cook and Herzman love their subject! I read St. Augustine's Confessions 10+ years ago, and I did not connect with it very deeply. I believe that the course will help greatly in understanding the historic and literary contexts. Cook and Herzman obviously prepared their lectures together and complement each other's insights into the text. After the first one or two lectures, they figured out how to cue each other much as they might in a regular classroom, and did not hesitate to add a footnote to their prepared material. They obviously love their subject.
Date published: 2020-08-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Rather Average I found this course to be OK, but not that great. It seemed aimed at roughly a high school level. Too often, simple points are belabored at length with rather silly examples. I now have a better understanding of what The Confessions is all about, but the course was a bit of a boring struggle to get through.
Date published: 2020-07-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Confessions de-mystified Actually, St Augustin's Confessions is not an easy book to read, especially if you're not well-versed in theology. What the Great Courses did for me was slowly 'un-pack' the book, and enriched my experience of reading it considerably, making me aware of issues/themes that otherwise wouldn't have occurred to me.
Date published: 2020-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Professors Lead the Way My goal this year was to read The Confessions. I bought this course to help me on this journey and all indications were that Professors Cook and Herzman would make it worthwhile. They did! My husband and I began reading 2-3 chapters a week in anticipation of 2 lectures every weekend. This began at the beginning of Lent. This course worked well for us in our studies despite the Covid lockdowns and church closings et al. We couldn't stop ourselves. This has enhanced my daily scripture readings. And by coincidence (?) we had the Maria Boulding translation. This was the one recommended and used in the teaching.
Date published: 2020-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from My Confession I hoped to learn more about St. Augustine’s thoughts on the major questions that the professors posed at the beginning of the course and felt that they dwelt too much in how and why he wrote his Confessions. The final lecture was an attempt to do that, but did not satisfy me.
Date published: 2020-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Presentation This presentation did an outstanding job of making the confessions relatable to the modern world. The professors provided the right level of context as to what was happening in North Africa and Italy during Augustine's life time. This course works best in conjunction with reading the Boulding translation of the confessions. My wife and I thought the interactions of the two professors added to the freshness of the presentation.
Date published: 2020-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good supplement to reading I thought it was useful while reading the Confessions to hear some summary and commentary, the lecturers are knowledgable. I didn't particularly care for the style of switching back and forth every few sentences, it would have been better if they each prepared a half of a lecture.
Date published: 2020-01-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from VERY INFORMATIVE STILL VIEWINNG WITH GREAT PLEASURE HOPE TO SHARE WITH FRIENDS
Date published: 2019-11-19
  • y_2020, m_11, d_25, h_17
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.12
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_6, tr_70
  • loc_en_US, sid_6627, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 37.99ms
  • REVIEWS, PRODUCT

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought

Buy together as a Set
and
Save Up To $11.00
Choose a Set Format
$61.90
$39.90
$88.90