Do you remember? (Augustine’s Confessions Book X)

Much of Augustine’s Confessions Book X is a meditation on memory. In what becomes his thesis on memory, he says that in memory “I meet myself. I remember what I have done, when and where I did it, and the state of mind at the time.” The line “I meet myself” takes us far beyond what we think of when we think of memory. For us, memory is usually limited to recall. We do not think about how memory transforms or deforms. We do not consider that memory not only influences our presents, it makes our present possible.
Augustine realizes that memory helps us construct the self. Yes, it collects and organizes past information, but it does more than that. It tells us how we felt about the past but also how we now feel about the past, and even what we will feel in the future. It tells us what we think about what we think.
As we consider what it means to be Christian today, we should appeal to God for a good memory. We should be careful about the memories we allow to grow in our minds. We should be careful what we remember, how we remember it, and why. We can undermine our present with a neglect, or misunderstanding, of the past. We can downplay the important and elevate the irrelevant. We can stir emotions and desires or we can destroy them. We can bring conscience to life or we can deaden it.
As Augustine says, “The power of memory is great. It is awe inspiring in its profound and incalculable complexity.” We should consider memory because, for better or worse, it constructs the past and present self.


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