The new book by Dr. Jared Ortiz of the Hope College religion faculty suggests a new approach to St. Augustine’s “Confessions” by framing the famous text within the context of the early Christian saint’s view of creation.
Ortiz’s book “You Made Us for Yourself: Creation in St. Augustine’s ‘Confessions’” was published earlier this year by Fortress Press.
St. Augustine of Hippo wrote the “Confessions” in the fourth century. The saint’s book has 13 chapters, the first nine of which are autobiographical, with an emphasis on his sinfulness in life; the 10th of which reflects philosophically on his present state; and the last three of which focus on the creation story in Genesis. It’s a mix, Ortiz said, that scholars have often struggled to find cohesive.
“These three parts sit uncomfortably together, and their relation has eluded easy explanation,” said Ortiz, an assistant professor of religion who specializes in early Christian theology, especially St. Augustine.
“Every year sees a flood of books and articles on the ‘Confessions,’ the cumulative effect being what one scholar has dubbed ‘boundless research,’” he said. “Though most of these studies 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.”
Ortiz finds coherence in reading the “Confessions” as a theology of creation meant to clarify the relationship between God and human beings. The approach informed the first part of Ortiz’s book’s title, “You Made Us for Yourself,” a quote from Augustine in which, Ortiz said, “he situates our restless heart in the context of God’s creating us as beings ordered toward himself.”
“Creation, I argue, is the light within which Augustine understands his own past experiences, as well as his present state and future hope,” Ortiz said. “What emerges from reading the ‘Confessions’ in this light is a vision of Augustine’s rich understanding of creation as dynamically oriented toward God, of the church as the locus of creation’s transformation into God, and of confession [confession] as the liturgical response which conforms human beings to Christ and takes up all of creation into the church and offers it back to God in a thanksgiving offering of praise.”
Ortiz has been a member of the Hope faculty since 2012, and is the founder and executive director of the St. Benedict Institute, the Catholic spiritual and intellectual center that serves Hope College. He teaches courses on the Incarnation, church history, Catholic Christianity, theological hermeneutics and early Christianity.
He is the author of several scholarly articles and book reviews, and has made numerous presentations at professional meetings. His other publications focused on Augustine include essays in the books “The Confessions: St. Augustine of Hippo” (Ignatius Critical Editions, 2012) and “Called to Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification” (Ignatius Press, 2016).