3) Confessions, by St Augustine
The end of my reading project is nigh. I have to admit I skimmed quite a lot of this; eloquent and heartfelt pleas to the Lord are all very well but get a bit samey after a while. Also Augustine’s misogyny is really rather repulsive; by his own admission, he abandons his partner of fifteen years to make a socially convenient marriage (though he keeps custody of his son) – this at the behest of his mother, who is exalted throughout as an exemplar of saintliness.
Having said that, when on form he was a very good writer. His self-consciously funny line about his youthful flings, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet” is one that I have used and adapted for many speeches. I found the passages on memory, and on the nature of time,well-expressed, though I doubt if they actually included any new ideas. Given my own past interests, I was very interested in what he has to say about astrology: his arguments against it are basically sound. Not surprising, in a way, that Augustine was one of the first Christian writers to insist that if science contradicts the words of the Bible, we should not take the Bible literally.
Anyway, I wish (and this is not something I often say of a book) that he had written less about lust and more about philosophy.