The Catholic University of America

Jared Ortiz Defense

Final Examination of Jared Ortiz

For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 10:00 a.m., Caldwell Room 125



Tarmo Toom, Ph.D.


Creation in Saint Augustine’s Confessions

With the exception of the Bible, perhaps no work has received as many and as various interpretations as Augustine’s Confessions.  Yet, despite the plethora of studies from a variety of disciplines, Annemaré Kotzé (2004) could still recently observe that while the Confessions is “Augustine’s most read work . . . it is arguably one of the least understood pieces of ancient literature.”  Indeed, a work which on Augustine’s own account was written to “stir up the human intellect and affections into God” (retr. 2.6.1) has often been reduced to “an ‘autobiography’ of a sinful, guilt-ridden soul” (Crosson, 1989).  Though most agree that the Confessions is important, there seems to be little consensus about what it means, what holds it together, or how one should approach reading it.

This dissertation approaches the Confessions with what is, arguably, most important to Augustine: creation.  Following St. Paul, Augustine thinks that creation is a revelation (cf. Rom. 1:20); it is that which reveals the truth about God and the world.  For Augustine, creation is not one doctrine or theme among others, but is the foundational context for all doctrines and all themes.  By systematically expounding Augustine’s understanding of creation, this dissertation draws out how the narrative of Augustine’s life can be understood as a “coming to terms” with creation which establishes a “new context,” a transformation of living and thinking in light of his keen awareness of the gratuitous gift of existence.  Moreover, creation, for Augustine, is dynamically ordered toward the Church, toward the deified destiny which the Body of Christ both is and brings about.  Thus, the Confessions itself can be understood as Augustine’s prayer of praise in thanksgiving for the unmerited gift of creation (and re-creation).  It is his self-gift back to God—importantly, one of his first acts as bishop—which turns out to be a kind of Eucharistic offering intended to take up and bring about the same in his readers.  The dissertation concludes by arguing that Augustine’s rich understanding of creation can account for the often despaired of meaning, structure, and unity of the Confessions.