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The Confessions: Saint Augustine of Hippo (Ignatius Critical Editions)
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St. Augustine, The Confessions > About Translations

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Kerstin | 1319 comments Mod
I couldn’t find out how many translations into English of The Confessions are in print today. And the editions in circulation are even more copious. There are older translations available in the public domain (free on kindle, Project Gutenberg, etc.), and I saw a PDF from a university. Some even have the original Latin parallel to the English. So getting a copy of the text should be easy, the question is, which translation to use? It makes a huge difference in making the text accessible to the reader. St. Augustine is such a pivotal figure to Christianity and thinking about this aspect is worthwhile depending on how important it is to you to get the most out of it.

I happen to have two translations before me, the Albert Cook Outler published by Dover Thrift Editions, and the R.S. Pine-Coffin published by Penguin Classics. What struck me right from the start, and really disappointed me, is that the Penguin version has very little footnotes beyond Bible verses. Usually Penguin is very good helping the reader understand the context of the work, though I must admit I’ve seen heavy modern-day slanting and projecting as well. The language is easy to follow, yet I get the sense it really is a “secular” translation. For as much as this is possible with The Confessions.

The Outler translation retains much more of Augustine’s reverence and awe before God, there are more footnotes, but the language with its “thee’s” and “thou’s” for all the biblical passages is a bit more cumbersome and distractive and it doesn’t always flow smoothly into the rest of the narrative. Maybe this is because English is not my native language, but then my husband only rolled his eyes when I pondered all of this out loud over breakfast.

Folks like Peter Kreeft like the Frank Sheed translation. The sample I read didn’t seem so different to me from the Outler, but again, I may not detect the nuances as a native speaker would. And from what I saw it was by far the most expensive.

I find the Ignatius Press Critical Editions version translated by Sr. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., very attractive. There are copious footnotes, plus coming from a Catholic publisher my hope is these will be unencumbered by any modern secular slant. And from the sample I read the language flows beautifully. So this will be the one I will be reading as soon as I receive my copy in the mail.

These are my impressions, which are admittedly subjective, and most definitely not comprehensive. By any means, feel free choose; either use what you have on hand and/or what you are comfortable with. Also, the various translations are available from multiple publishers with quite a range of pricing.

May the Holy Spirit guide you to the version right for you.

Manny (virmarl) | 3648 comments Mod
Well the Holy Spirit has already picked mine. I just have to find the one I already own. No idea which translation. When I find it I'll let you know. May the Holy Spirit guide me in finding it. ;)

Manny (virmarl) | 3648 comments Mod
Well, the Holy Spirit did indeed guide me, as well as with a prayer to St. Anthony. I found my copy in the very last of all possible places.

My edition is translated bt Philip Burton. It's the Everyman's Library edition. It has an introduction by Robin Lane Fox, an appendix by the translator which amounts to an eleven page essay on his translation, contains footnotes, and a chronology of Augustine's life and times. A very fine edition.

I wouldn't get hung up on the translation though. Any translation should convey St. Augustine's autobiography.

Kerstin | 1319 comments Mod

Well no, I didn't mean for anyone to go overboard. Though I have been in the situation before where the translation of a book made a huge difference to me between struggling and easy comprehension.

Here is a story for you: The first time I read Tom Sawyer in German translation was when I was about 10. I loved the book so much I read it many times in my youth. Later, after I married and came to the US I wanted to read it in the original English. That didn't work at all! All the slang I wasn't familiar with, I couldn't make out anything and abandoned the effort. :)

Joseph | 145 comments I have to read The Confessions for my Patristics course in a month or so, so I'll be chiming in late on the discussion for the most part, but my professor wants us to read the Henry Chadwick translation. My personal copy is a slightly newer translation by Maria Boulding, O.S.B which I've read once before. Sr Boulding's translation is highly acclaimed and is pretty easy to get a hold of if you don't have a copy already.

Manny (virmarl) | 3648 comments Mod
After reading the first few pages of the introduction, I wish I had a more Catholic oriented edition. Robin Lane Fox, whoever he is, almost seems to apologize for endorsing a religious book to whoever his secular essay is directed.

Hmm, Robin Lane Fox has a Wikipedia entry.

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