“To Carthage then I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about mine ears.” So wrote St. Augustine in his Confessions (A.D. 397), a work that brilliantly inaugurated the tradition of autobiography in the West. As the originating model of how the self may be presented in a narrative, it initiated a long tradition of retrospective self-analysis and surprising self-revelation. If Augustine wondered aloud about how he came into “this dying life” and agonized over what his destiny might be, he was disturbingly frank in disclosing his confusions about life’s contingencies and accidents. Then the pattern in his lived experience began to be apparent to him, the enormity of his imperfections came over him, he changed his life, and it provoked the writing. Above all, shame at failure is the hallmark of the confessional form he bequeathed to us; but gratitude at God’s mercy is its presiding emotion.


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