This page will treat his writings at Carthage in the year 380, in Milan, Cassiciacum, Rome and Thagaste, i.e., all his writings before he accepted priesthood.
"Do we know anything save what is beautiful? But what then is beautiful? What is it that allures us and delights us in the things that we love? Unless there was grace and beauty in them they could not possibly draw us to them." (Confessions 4, 13, 20)
Here in his Confessions, which he wrote in 397 when he was 41 years of age and two years a bishop, Augustine recalls the questions that fascinated him when at the age of twenty four years in 380 he had been a teacher of rhetoric at Carthage.
At that time, those thoughts had led to his writing his first publication, a treatise called De Pulchro et Apto, ("On the beautiful and the fitting." Possibly it was little more than the equivalent of a term paper that a student would write.
By the time of the composition of the Confessions, he professed to forgetting how many books it contained (Confessions 4, 13, 20).
By then he had lost his copy of it; some scholars suggest he may previously have destroyed it because later he thought it of insufficient merit to be preserved.
Fortunately, in the Confessions he summarises the book. He says that his aim had been to distinguish between that which is beautiful in itself and that which is beautiful only in relation to another thing.
This was not an effort to speak about God or creation in the Christian tradition, for at that time he believed in a Manichean dualism, i.e., that good and evil were two separate but opposing forces.
The next publication of Augustine is his first one that still exists.
It is Contra Academicos, which he wrote in 386, and followed soon afterwards at Cassiciacum by the Soliloquies (one of his earliest writings) and the other works listed in the paragraphs below.
The Soliloquies was a dialogue between Augustine and his reason. It gives a valuable insight of his state of mind and his progress of thought between the time of his intellectual conversion and his baptism.
The Soliloquies begins as a moral and physical assessment of Augustine as he begins his time of retreat and reflection as Cassiciacum.
It reveals a wondrous balancing of philosophical ideas and quotations from the Bible.
Book 1 of the Soliloquies was probably written late in the year 386, and it was probably a year before Book 2 was written.
Whereas Book 1 sets out the spiritual and philosophical questions that Augustine personally then faced, Book 2 offers some conclusive insights he received in the meantime.
For example, book 2 begins with his famous prayer, noverim me, noverim te ("Lord, let me know myself, and let me know You"). His reason has now led him to see that his love of knowledge is the basis for his love of life, and neither truth nor the human soul will ever die.
In his early post-Cassiciacum writings, De immortalitate animae ("On the Immortality of the Soul") continued this theme, and he may originally have begun this work as Book 3 of the Soliloquies.
(Continued on the next page.)