The tenth book of Augustine’s Confessions has in time become one of my favorites, though I am fully aware that it is where many new readers put down the text. Confessions 10 is where the narrative retelling of Augustine’s own story shifts into an exploration of his own memory and desire. If he were confessing his past to God in the prior nine books, this tenth one takes a deep look into Augustine’s present. It does so with a beautiful ascent, an honest descent, and ends with an image of Christ and the Eucharist.

Augustine ascends through the created order and within his own consciousness in the most extraordinary of spiritual exercises. There at the heart of his own memory, he gives hope to all of us in that he has flashes of the sweetness of God’s presence, though he is never able to stay connected to it. The human intellect is a very powerful means of contemplating the divine, but our “selves” are unstable, and we have to come to grips with the things that we seek and desire here below.

Augustine descends through the loves that he experiences in his embodied life. The loves we have for possessions, pleasures, and interior pride are not in themselves bad—for Scripture testifies to the goodness of their creation. But these loves, while able to point us to God, often distance us from both God and neighbor. Some excess of material accrual, bodily pleasure, or need for self-satisfaction isolates us, renders us stuck in ourselves.

Both Augustine’s ascent through his own mind and his descent through his human desires do not give him any sense of stability. In fact, finding God in the present has become even more difficult than moments in his past. He hasn’t ceased to be a sinner and still needs to be healed. He even contemplates running away from it all and going out to live in solitude. This brings him to the end of the book—a short and humble paragraph toward which the magnificent prior exercises were tending all along. He reaches Christ in the Eucharist:

“See, then, Lord: I cast my care upon you that I may live, and I will contemplate the wonders you have revealed. You know how foolish and weak I am: teach me and heal me. Your only Son, in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge has redeemed me by his blood. Let not the proud disparage me, for I am mindful of my ransom. I eat it, I drink it, I dispense it to others and as a poor man I long to be filled with it among those who are fed and feasted. And then do those who seek him praise the Lord.” (Conf. 10.43.70)

It is a profoundly humble vision of Augustine united with the congregation around him as the body of Christ. Most of the rest of the book had to do with what Augustine could accomplish by means of his own mind (memory) and loves (desires). But at the end of the book, it is Augustine who needs Christ to come to him, to teach him and to heal him, to give him the ransom which he eats and drinks in eucharistic communion. To the best of his ability, he had sought out Christ, but ultimately in humility he finds that the greatest miracle was the opposite.

Augustine’s closing vision of book 10 is of communion. He, a poor man, receives sacramental body and blood with those who are fed and feasted. While the book is primarily about Augustine’s self, here he shows that he is a self only with others. Brilliantly, he returns to the first paragraph of the Confessions, but with a change. At the outset, he claimed that those who seek him will praise the Lord. Now, with Christ in the midst of the Church, the tense of the verb has become present. Those who seek him do praise the Lord. What Augustine hoped to find had, in Christ, come to him.