Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reading Augustine's Confessions

I am reading The Confessions of Saint Augustine following Christopher Esget's Advent reading schedule and am finding this to be an extremely profitable exercise.  Christopher is also posting thoughts on each reading which I have found to be very helpful.  Visit his blog (Esgetology) and look for post titles beginning with "Advent Reading".  He has highlighted a few recurring themes that have helped me to follow the progression of thought in the Confessions.

As I have been reading the Confessions, a few technical issues have come to mind that I'd like to share with you.

First of all, is his name to be pronouned aw-GUHSS-tuhn or AW-guhss-teen?  My understanding is that the former pronunciation is preferred when referring to St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo.  However, I still find myself  floundering back and forth between both pronunciations during conversations; and, honestly, this has no bearing on how one reads the Confessions.  But, a great exercise to pair with reading is conversation, and I have already had a handful of profitable conversations with regard to what I have read in the Confessions.

Which Translation Should I Use?
As I began reading, I used a circa 1880's edition and carefully handled it resisting the urge to mark up the text.  I knew that this wouldn't cut it for long for two primary reasons: 1) I read better when I am free to mark up the text and take notes, and 2) I found E. B. Pusey's prose to be somewhat difficult to follow without a lot of re-reading.  This lead to a quick perusal of a handful of translation options.  Christopher Esget mentioned that he has enjoyed Henry Chadwick's translation in the Oxford World Classics Series.  He later mentioned purchasing Maria Boulding's translation to be read on a Kindle. About the same time, Tony Reinke posted a simple translation comparison and recommended Boulding's translation on account of her excellent prose.

Having done my own comparison of seven English translations and narrowing my options down to the one's available for the Kindle, I settled on John K. Ryan's translation.  My reasons were as follows: 1) I recently purchased a Kindle Fire and desired to find a Kindle edition of the Confessions, 2) I wanted a modern edition that I could recommend to anyone regardless of their reading level, and 3) Hoping to use this translation in a small group study, I desired a translation that incorporated chapter headings to help us track our way through discussing this book more effectively.  I found that Ryan has improved upon the chapter headings which I found to be very useful in Pusey's edition.  There is much to praise Boulding's translation work (it is beautifully dynamic), however I decided upon Ryan's translation and have been very happy with it.

Recommended Translations
Confessions, (Oxford World's Classics) translated by Henry Chadwick (2009)
Confessions, translated by Maria Boulding (Paperback, Hardcover, Pocket Size)
The Confessions of Saint Augustine: translated with an introduction and notes, John K. Ryan. (New York: Image Book [Doubleday], 1960. (Kindle Edition, Paperback)
The Confessions of Saint Augustine, translated by E. B. Pusey (Logos Bible Software, 1996).  For a very affordable price, you can add this classic translation to your Logos library.

Working With the Original
For those who would like to access a Latin edition, I recommend The Confessions of Augustine: An Electronic Edition, text and commentary copyright (c) 1992 James J. O'Donnell.

Study Guides
Finally, I received one response with a recommendation of a study guide for the Confessions and I found another.
  1. A Reader's Companion to Augustine's Confessions, edited by Kim Paffenroth and Robert P. Kennedy (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003).  In this volume, thirteen authors have been collected to write on each of the thirteen books.
  2. Jason Byassee, Reading Augustine: A Guide to the Confessions, (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006). A quick perusal of this volume reveals that it is concise, readable, and well-documented with footnotes; including questions for reflection, a glossary, and a select bibliography. 104 pages. (Kindle Edition, Paperback)