Yesterday my grandma offered to take me to a bookstore. She being almost 90 years old, this was not a smart plan. Although I love books, I can easily spend hours researching before I actually make a final selection. Well, the independent bookstore we went to was definitely more homey than say Borders, but it had a similarly narrow selection of books on the early church. All I could find were overly broad books such as The Complete Guide to Early Christianity and academic marginalities like Lost Christianities.
After scouring the history and religion sections for a while, I realized my grandmother
wouldn’t last much longer waiting for me to pick. Spending ten frantic minutes groping around for something to compete with my mini-library of ancient history books at home, crawling around on my knees to view the bottom shelves, I stopped at an author of merit. There was indeed one early Christian writer that seemed to have made it into this 21st century musty bookstore store: St. Augustine of Hippo. In fact, it looked like he even earned himself two books. Well, although City of God is a classic piece about the hopeful anticipation of the next life in the wake of the crumbling Roman Empire and a profound theological masterpiece, it was simply too long. From my calculations, the book itself weighed about 5 lbs. and had so many pages the binding couldn’t hold it together. However, next to it was a much slimmer book (only about 350 pages this time).
It was called The Confessions. Neither esoteric treatise nor cumbersome tome, Confessions was a heartfelt, honest autobiography composed as an extended prayer to God. It was the work of a repentant sinner, an exhausted bishop, and an academic who did not know all the answers. Intrigued, I began to read of a man whose spiritual struggles reflected those of my own. Augustine desired to know and love God much more deeply than he had in his past. He intertwined throughout every page the same scriptures I’ve read for my whole life. During his youth, he embraced the same stories of Virgil and Homer that I enjoyed in my college years. Oh, and he prayed the same prayers I sometimes pray:
“The house of my soul is too small for you to enter: make it more spacious by your coming. It lies in ruins: rebuild it. Some things are to be found there that will offend your gaze; I confess this to be so and know it well. But who will clean my house? To whom but you can I cry, Cleanse me of my hidden sins, O Lord”
Book 1, Chapter 6, verse 22
As I read his book further, I hope to share with you my small insights into a regular yet extraordinary Christian born sixteen centuries before us.