Towards Articulating the Unity of Augustine’s Confessiones

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Barry David


This essay argues that the unity of Augustine’s Confessiones is found, as Augustine later remarks in the Retractationes, in his profound notion of confessio. Some commentators maintain that the text lacks a discernible unity; others claim that it has a spiritual unity located in some kind of progressive account of how, by God’s grace, Augustine and/or ‘everyman’ can attain unity with God. The latter commentators characterize the matter in terms of spiritual increase, the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son, or the text’s various triads and trinitarian structures. In this regard, Confessiones is viewed as progressive, universal, and structured by some kind of ‘return to origin’ (exitus-reditus) pattern. This study agrees with the commentators assessments, but finds the ultimate source of the text’s progression, development on the plane of universality, and exitus-reditus patternin the nature of confessio that Augustine introduces and explains at the outset, i.e. in 1.1.1-5.6, and develops and endeavors to validate in the biographical (books 1-10), and exegetical (books 11-13) segments that follow. Confessio, consisting in the person’s enjoying, cultivating, and encouraging spiritual unity with divine goodness, is intrinsically restless, developmental, and dynamic because, led by God, its telos consists in attaining (albeit in an afterlife) complete unity with Him. As such, Confessiones derives its progressive, universal, and exitus-reditus elements from Augustine’sdisposition of confessio. In short, the unity of Confessiones results from the unity of confessio.

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David, B. (2020). Towards Articulating the Unity of Augustine’s Confessiones. Humanities Bulletin, 3(2), 45–76. Retrieved from

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