Augustine’s Confessions opens and is an opening upon the vastness of God, a vastness that somehow is contained in even while it contains our inwardness. Augustine’s opening paragraphs vault toward God and are the vault of the book’s lexicon: Thou (Lord, God), I, pray, praise, power, wisdom, man, creation, desire, nature, death, sin, witness, pride, satisfaction, restlessness, rest, know, understand, believe, preach, seek, find, call, faith, gift. The book opens in search and closes in rest. It moves, like Plotinus’ Enneads, simultaneously inward and upward. Plato’s dialogues end in aporia, wholly stymied by Socrates; Augustine’s confessions begin in aporia, absolutely humbled before God. Augustine is born early in the book. But his later new birth, at its center, represents the book’s true autoboiographical beginning.
The inwardness of the book fascinates me. Has anyone so opened himself to himself? Who has more searchingly charted the interior? Who before him knew that prayer was the proper vessel for such exploring? Confessions is The Art of Travel Inward.
I directed myself to myself and to myself I said, “You, who are you?” And I responded, “A human being.”
What am I, then, my God? What nature am I? My life is many and various and violently without measure.
Augustine will know who and what he is. He will know himself as person and as nature. What he will know he can ask provisionally of himself but must ask ultimately of God (since being a person is in some sense a function of being a human being, and the provenance of our being a human being is God).
Montaigne writes, “I do not portray being. I portray passing.” What he portrays is a passing being. Augustine wants to portray that too; but only against the backdrop of a unpassing being, with whom there is no shadow of turning.