Searching for God

St Augustine reveals a great depth of discovery and a desire for more answers in Confessions, writes Pat Codd, OSA

Augustine’s Testimony, as suggested by Garry Wills in his biography of Augustine, might be a more appropriate title for this book. Augustine is involved in a conversation with God. He recalls his childhood, his youthful waywardness and his search for truth which began after he had read Cicero’s book Hortensius. He recounts his own misery and God’s mercy in his quest, in language that is very beautiful – even poetic at times.

Augustine had a wonderful mastery of language which gave him a great facility in expressing himself. He tells how it was with divine help that the obstacles preventing his acceptance of the Catholic Faith were overcome. He shows extraordinary candour as he lays out everything about himself before God and in the sight of other people.

His humanity and the richness of his personality surface through his disclosures and he entrusts his credibility to the charity of his readers. [Conf. X: 3. 3]


He was already a bishop when he wrote Confessions. One would think he might be reticent and embarrassed in speaking publicly about the personal details he discloses – and he a bishop wielding authority, engaging in controversy and defending very important issues in the Church. But, far from causing him embarrassment, his recollection was accompanied by gratitude for God’s mercy: “How can I repay the Lord for my being able to recall these things, without my soul being afraid? I will love you, Lord, and give you thanks. For you have forgiven me my great sins and the evil that I have not done I attribute also to your grace.” [Conf. II: 7.15]

Augustine was never a pagan in the ordinary sense. As a child, his mother, Monica, had taught him about Jesus Christ: “By your mercy, Lord, this name my little heart sucked in at my mother’s breast, the name of your Son, my Saviour. Deep down it had remained with me.” [Conf. III: 4. 8]

He had learnt to pray and he seems never to have doubted the existence of God. But, in the custom of the time, he had not been baptised as a child. The incident in the garden, which led to his baptism, was the result of his long search for truth.

It records his intellectual assent to the Catholic faith, brought about by his newly-acquired trust in the assistance of Jesus Christ in enabling his will to accept the challenge to live according to its moral code. 

In Confessions, Augustine chooses certain incidents and interprets them to show God’s intervention in his life. He even points out how God brought good out of actions which would normally not be seen to be good. Looking back after his conversion, he could see the hand of God at work in them. 

The use of questioning is most significant in how Augustine continues his quest. It’s how he searches for answers to satisfy his intellectual appetite.


One question leads to another; his desire for a final, satisfying answer grows as his search progresses. One just can’t help but be struck by the variety of questions on every page: why is this so? How is this so? What’s God doing here?  What am I missing? Augustine never lets go; each answer raises another question.

His search led him to question himself about himself. His command of language gave him the ability to record clearly the progress of the knowledge gained from his questioning.

In simple language he reveals a great depth of discovery and a desire for more answers.

Augustine developed a valuable self-awareness and recognised a desire or longing within himself for something. He concludes that we humans are made with a longing built into us – but a longing for what?

Once again he began reading St Paul’s letters and gradually he felt sure he knew what he must do to gain inner peace and rest; but the will to do that  escaped his grasp. That difficulty had brought about a great tension within him. He was distraught and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was then that the incident in the garden took place. [Conf. VIII: 12. 28, 29, 30].

There is a marvellous testimony of discovery in the answers to that questing recorded in Confessions. Augustine becomes aware that we, human beings, have an openness to God, a potency for God, an exigency for God. It’s a need, a longing, which God has put into us. It is something that is sacramental, a channel of grace for us.  How are we made?

Not self-sufficient and then required to form some sort of an extrinsic relationship with God. Our relationship with God isn’t just something tacked onto us. No, the reality is very different!

When Augustine, this extremely talented and most affectionate man, embraced Christianity, divine grace transformed his nature and personality, enabling him to put those qualities and his genius at the service of the Church. Grace had enhanced his nature and redirected his search.


The brilliant intellect continued to engage in the never-ending quest for truth and wisdom. Now he relies on God’s love to enlighten him further and give him the immense trusting faith and love needed to know God better and to share that knowledge and love with others.

The verse of Scripture that best encourages such a relationship is from St John’s first Epistle: “We know and rely on the love God has for us.” (1 Jn. 4:16)

Augustine’s great discovery and his testimony is that we are made for God and our restlessness will only be eased when we rest in union with God in the hereafter.  He states it beautifully and precisely in Confessions: “Lord, you stir in us the desire to praise you. Our delight is to praise you. For you have so made us that we long for you and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” [Conf. I.1.1]

The feast of St Augustine is kept on August 28 each year.