Twenty years teaching the Confessions is a long time. This summer, however, as I take a slower look at Book 1, I see how hasty and spotty my “classroom-ready” reading has been.

Some passages are so well-trod, I pass over them without footprints. In this entry I would like to reconsider just one of them: the beginning of Augustine’s questions in 1.1.1.

Grant me to know and understand, Lord, which comes first: to call upon you or to praise you? To know you or to call upon you? Must we know you before we can call upon you? Anyone who invokes what Anyone who invokes what is still unknown may be making a mistake. Or should you be invoked first, so that we may then come to know you? But how can people call upon someone in whom they do not yet believe? And how can they believe without a preacher? (tr. Boulding)

When I teach this passage, I know from experience that many students will be surprised to find their own perplexities in Augustine. They, too, are worried about making a mistake; they know what it is like to speak words without belief. And they appreciate how Augustine proposes to resolve the impasse by seeking the knowledge that he lacks. Seeking seems non-judgmental, flexible about doctrines, and this apparent openness is attractive to many students as well as their teachers.

In following that track, however, my classes have always neglected a culminating sentence in which Augustine does, in fact, call on God. That can happen because Augustine has already received “this faith which is your gift to me, which you have breathed into me through the humanity of your Son and the ministry of your preacher” (1.1.1).

Augustine is indeed a seeker and invites us to join him on the road, but the road in question is unlikely to be the one that attracts us most easily. It neither flatters our ambition nor inflames our love of loving, lets us live in a magic kingdom, showers us with wealth. It even diverges from the examined life of Socrates, for it means walking by faith, not by sight, though we long for nothing more than to see God face to face.