A New Series on Augustine's "Confessions"

In the introduction to a forthcoming series on Saint Augustine's "Confessions," Fr. Jon Jordan explains why every experience with a Great Book is fresh and meaningful in a new way.
Feb 14, 2020

In a room full of thirteen-year-olds, I shared that my daughter and I had recently finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and that it had now become my favorite book in the series. (Full disclosure: every time I finish a Narnia book again, that book runs the risk of becoming my favorite book in the series...)

“This was my first time to read the book …”, I began to share, only to be interrupted. 

”What?,” they shouted in immediate disgust, “How have you never read Voyage of the Dawn Treader? How did you get this job? That was our summer reading in 5th grade...“

“Calm down. You didn’t let me finish. This was my first time to read the book with a six-year-old sitting next to me.”

That doesn’t count.

Classical Christian educators know the value of re-reading great books. Not only do we often do so year-after-year with new groups of students, but many of us have found that reading Narnia before we have children is very different from reading it after we have them, producing two very different encounters with Aslan. We know something that most Logic students don’t: reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with your own six-year-old daughter is like reading the book for the first time.

I found myself in a similar situation the past month or so having recently decided to read a few paragraphs of Augustine’s Confessions every morning. 

As a teacher and administrator in a Classical Christian school, I find myself thinking regularly about our mission and pedagogical practices. Reading through the confessions this time around I was struck by how much St. Augustine offers those us of who are tasked with developing and implementing a classical education in a Christian context.

Early on his Confessions, St. Augustine recounts his own “classical” education. With the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom of humility, the prolific Bishop of Hippo shares the good, the bad, and the ugly of his schooling.

Much of what he shares has to do with his own failures as a student. He was, after all, “so small a boy but so great a sinner.” But he is also quite critical of the curriculum and the pedagogy under which he was trained, even referring to it as the “torrent from hell.” If you, a classical educator, are hoping to read in Augustine a case for studying the classics you may find yourself disappointed at first. In speaking of those who have continued to teach the “classics” in his own day, Augustine asks “how long will you continue to roll the sons of Eve into that vast and terrible sea in which even those who mount the cross scarcely escape drowning?”

Fortunately, this is not all St. Augustine has to offer. In Cicero, for example, St. Augustine first sought and embraced “not this or that philosophical school, but Wisdom itself.” And through that seeking and embracing of Wisdom, Augustine would eventually seek and embrace God. 

Sprinkled throughout Book One, we find several reflections about how his studies could have been redeemed if the pedagogy and the instructors were baptized, so to speak. Many of these reflections are precisely what the Classical Christian movement is trying to regain, and I have found them to be immensely encouraging and practical.

Over the next several posts, I will be sharing some of those gleanings here. None of them are revolutionary, and for those who have been around the classical Christian educational block for at least a few years, none of these will be new. 

But they have served as helpful reminders, critiques, and, on some days, motivation to continue to do the slow, difficult work of helping to form the next generation of Christians. I share them here in hopes that they will be helpful to you, too.

Jon Jordan

Jon Jordan

Fr. Jon Jordan is the Campus Administrator of Coram Deo Academy’s Dallas Campus, and serves as a Priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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