“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new” (Conf. 10.27.38). When we quote this famous prayer in Book 10, it feels as if we have at long last reached the summit of the Confessions. Augustine’s pilgrimage, it seems, is completed. There is a sense of arrival, of looking back at the road traveled with satisfaction and completion. We have been with Augustine through his rebellion and wanderings as he traced them for us in Books 1-4. We accompanied him on that fateful voyage in Book 5 where, he told us, a “deep, secret providence was at work” (Conf. 5.8.14). And we have witnessed his encounter with the preaching of Ambrose, his discovery of the vanity of rhetoric (Conf. 6), the exploration of “the books of the Platonists” (Conf. 7), and the surrender in the garden (Conf. 8). The restless heart has at last found its home; the ancient Beauty has been found and now is loved. Or so it seems.

But while the final words of Book 10’s prayer are still hanging in the air, Augustine confesses that what we thought was the pilgrim’s arrival at home was no arrival at all. “When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labor for me, and my life will be alive indeed, because filled with you. But now it is very different” (Conf. 10.28.39). What follows in the rest of Book 10 is a searching inventory of all the ways that Augustine is all too aware that he remains not at home but still on the way. Continence, whom Augustine met at the moment of surrender (Conf. 8.11.27) appears again, not as something he possesses but as the continued object of his prayers: “You command continence: give what you command, and then command whatever you will” (Conf. 10.29.40). What follows next in Book 10 is a kind of prayer of examen built upon the structure of 1 John 2:16. “Quite certainly you command me to refrain from concupiscence of the flesh and concupiscence of the eyes and worldly pride” (Conf. 10.30.41).

The appearance of this Johannine triad of sin and temptation is striking in light of the preceding structure of the Confessions. Scholars like James O’Donnell and Frederick Crosson have persuasively demonstrated how the structure of Books 2-8 follows a kind of chiastic descent into and disentangling from the particular sins of 1 John 2:16. Book 4 catalogues Augustine’s disordered love of praise (“worldly pride”) displayed in his obsequious book dedication to Hierus; correspondingly, Book 6’s encounter with the drunken beggar reveals the absurdity of a life oriented only to garnering praise. Book 3 describes the ways that the theatre and Manichaeism are manifestations of Augustine’s curiositas; the discovery of Neoplatonism in Book 7 leads to the “alternative way of thinking” about God and reality that would free him from the superficial scratching of his intellect. And the descent into the concupiscent desires illustrated in the theft of pears in Book 2 finds its redemptive mirror in Augustine’s surrender of his will’s attachment to carnal desires in Book 8. And at the center is Book 5 and the providential voyage from Carthage to Rome. It’s a remarkable organizing structure. The chiasm is beautiful in its symmetry and in the sense of completion and satisfaction that it provides as it frames Augustine’s life.

And yet the re-appearance of 1 John 2:16 in Book 10 complicates the resolution that Book 8 seemed to provide. The desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life are not in Augustine’s past. He continues to carry them with him into the present, not least the love of worldly praise that continues to dog him in his public ministry as a bishop. The restless heart remains, and so, too, Augustine’s persistent questioning of it. We’ve reached the end of this “autobiography,” and yet here we find Augustine: “Let me try again, and question myself more carefully” (Conf. 10.37.62).

This vision of the Christian life is one of the great gifts of the Confessions. In our weaker moments, we might join Pelagius – for whom Book 10 was the beginning of a vehement disagreement with Augustine – in our frustration with the lack of resolution that Augustine gives us. But what Augustine provides instead is an honest appraisal about our location in the Christian story. We have been made recipients of God’s rich mercy through his providential care for us, our hearts disentangled from the snares that kept us from the desire of our hearts. But we remain on the way, not yet home, still pressing on to the great joy that will one day satisfy us in full. And the presenting of our present wounds to the Great Healer is the way that we may still find safe passage there. “See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy” (Conf. 10.28.39).