Cover image for Saint Augustine's sin
Saint Augustine's sin
Augustine, of Hippo, Saint, 354-430.
Uniform Title:
Confessiones. Liber 2. English
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, [2003]

Physical Description:
xv, 103 pages; 20 cm.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BR65.A6 E54 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
BR65.A6 E54 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
BR65.A6 E54 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Biography

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According to Pulitzer Prize winner Garry Wills, most readers of Augustine interpret his meditation on sin in the Confessionesas an indication of his obsession with sex. But as Wills suggests in his discussion of book two of Augustine's influential work, sexual transgression is not Augustine's main focus as he reflects on the nature of human sinfulness. Instead, Augustine seeks to understand man's power to transgress-how it is that good creatures can choose evil deeds. He describes his own shame after participating in a minor theft as a teenager and interprets this act-and all other acts of sin-in light of the three founding sins of the Bible: the fallen angels' rebellion, the temptation of Adam, and Cain's fratricide. With a brilliant introduction and notes throughout, this is a rewarding interpretation of a seminal work translated with new vividness and authority.

Author Notes

Garry Wills, 1934 - Garry Wills was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1934. Wills received a B.A. from St. Louis University in 1957, an M.A. from Xavier University of Cincinnati in 1958, an M.A. (1959) and a Ph.D. (1961) in classics from Yale. Wills was a junior fellow of the Center for Hellenic Studies from 1961-62, an associate professor of classics and adjunct professor of humanities at Johns Hopkins University from 1962-80.

Wills was the first Washington Irving Professor of Modern American History and Literature at Union College, and was also a Regents Professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, Silliman Seminarist at Yale, Christian Gauss Lecturer at Princeton, W.W. Cook Lecturer at the University of Michigan Law School, Hubert Humphrey Seminarist at Macalester College, Welch Professor of American Studies at Notre Dame University and Henry R. Luce Professor of American Culture and Public Policy at Northwestern University (1980-88). Wills is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and his articles appear frequently in The New York Review of Books.

Wills is the author of "Lincoln at Gettysburg," which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1993 and the NEH Presidential Medal, "John Wayne's America," "A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government" and "The Kennedy Imprisonment." Other awards received by Wills include the National Book Critics Award, the Merle Curti Award of the organization of American Historians, the Wilbur Cross Medal from Yale Graduate School, the Harold Washington Book Award and the Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting, which was for writing and narrating the 1988 "Frontline" documentary "The Candidates."

(Bowker Author Biography) Garry Wills is a Pulitzer-prize winning historian and cultural critic. A former professor of Greek at Yale University, his many books include Lincoln at Gettysburg, Reagan's America, Witches and Jesuits, and a biography of Saint Augustine. He lives in Evanston, Indiana.

(Publisher Provided) Garry Wills is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and The New York Review of Books. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The shortest to date of Wills' translations of and commentaries on the still-formidable fifth-century Father of the Church exerts perhaps the strongest pull on contemporary readers. Its topic is sin, which since the early twentieth century has meant sex to the libido-besotted Western mind, at least. Indeed, Augustine is commonly thought to have equated sin and sex. But, Wills says, Augustine drew no such equation in his most important works, Confessiones (the principal subject of Wills' attention) and The City of God, whose passages on the three most elemental sins Wills translates and discusses in this book's fourth part. Rather, Augustine located his own most heinous offense in participating with his teenage buddies in the theft of some pears, an act that he believed reprised Adam's sin of preferring solidarity with another person to his obedient, primary relationship with God. Wills' exegesis, bolstered by citations of Augustine's other cogitations on sin and the two other greatest sins--the angels' of revolution and Cain's of resentment against God--is bracingly convincing. --Ray Olson Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his third volume of translations from "Saint Augustine's Confessions," Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Wills again questions whether this document is really about sexual debauchery. It has long been believed that these "Confessions," written in mid-life by Augustine of Hippo, were really coded admissions of Augustine's sexual excesses. ("Augustine + sin = sex," writes Wills. "That is the equation most people begin with when they first think of Augustine's Testimony.") This grates on Wills, who believes that such a superficial assumption makes it impossible to understand Augustine's deeper concerns about sinning, such as why we willfully turn against God. Yes, Augustine did have a mistress and yes, they did conceive and raise a son together out of wedlock-but this was all within the boundaries of social norms in his era (354-430). In fact, Wills says Augustine wasn't highly concerned by his sexual transgressions, since he considered sins of the flesh less disturbing than sins of the spirit. What really haunted Augustine was the time he joined some hooligans in stealing pears from an orchard-an impulsive but willful act against God. Although many historians assume this to be a cryptic account of sexual corruption, Wills believes it to be one of Augustine's most profound discussions of intentional sin. Wills's introduction takes up almost a third of this slender volume, but it's just as strong as his translation. He admires Augustine's fiery language and has done his best to make the saint's words accessible while maintaining their original depth and vibrancy. (Nov. 10) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In his Confessions, St. Augustine wasn't obsessed with sex, argues Wills; he was concerned with our ability to choose evil. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Key to Brief Citationsp. xiii
Forewordp. xv
Part I. Introductionp. 1
1. Adam's Sinp. 7
2. Book Two, Organizing Principlesp. 19
3. Translating Book Twop. 26
Part II. The Testimony, Book Twop. 31
I. Sexual Offensesp. 33
II. Pear Theftp. 45
Part III. Commentaryp. 61
Part IV. Appendixes: Augustine's Theology of Sinp. 71
I. The Angels' Sinp. 75
II. Adam's Sinp. 86
III. Cain's Sinp. 93