In tempora dissilui : time, memory, and narration in Augustine's Confessions




Patterson, James Francis

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation examines the narrative of Augustine's Confessions in light of his conception of memory and time. It responds to two long-standing scholarly debates about the work. The first of these concerns the historicity of Augustine's autobiography in Books 1-9, for Augustine's version of events is not always consistent with the historical record. The second concerns what the last four non-historical books (Books 10-13) have to do with this autobiography. The first chapter argues that the story of the Confessions is about the present author as he narrates the content of his mind. Thus, it shows how all thirteen books may be considered equally autobiographical. The second chapter proposes that Augustine judges the veracity of his stories according to his memory of events, since he does not believe that he has access to the events themselves as they once unfolded in time. Due to his unequivocal condemnation of lying and deceit in De mendacio and elsewhere, he must have considered his story in the Confessions to be true from this perspective. The third chapter explains how Augustine's view of memory allows his story to be considered true even when it diverges from the historical record. Memory is imperfect, and Augustine believes that memories, too, have agency in recollection. Thus, the historical innacuracies in Augustine's story may in fact be understood as evidence of the veracity of the account as he recalls it rather than as evidence against the story's historicity. The fourth chapter explores Augustine's proposal that time is a distentio animi, or a fragmented swelling of the mind. Augustine believes that the mind may find respite in an activity called intentio through which one may experience eternity while the body still participates in time. The conclusion suggests that confession was for Augustine a means by which one could practice intentio. Thus, the Confessions is a story about the author/narrator as he progresses through his present, from the presence of his past in Books 1-9 to the presence of God in Books 10-13.




LCSH Subject Headings