In the Confessions, Saint Augustine of Hippo presents an account of his early life which is both an autobiography and a spiritual reflection. It was written at the end of the fourth century A.D., at a time when conversion to Christianity was no longer politically dangerous. The difficulties of becoming a Christian were now primarily spiritual and intellectual, and Saint Augustine focuses on these struggles in his account of his own conversion.
The purpose of the Confessions is to encourage conversion to Christianity, to refute any objections in the way of conversion, and to guide the reader through the process using Saint Augustine’s own experience. The autobiographical element therefore has a didactic function but also a rhetorical and a literary one. The rhetorical point of the autobiography is to demonstrate that any sinner may be saved. The more sinful Saint Augustine depicts his youth as having been, the more confidence the reader can reasonably have that no one is beyond redemption. The literary function lies in the fact that accounts of sin are much more interesting and varied than accounts of holiness. With this combination of the didactic, the rhetorical, and the literary, Saint Augustine turns autobiography to his Christian purpose. The confessional element then furnishes spiritual guidance to the aspiring convert.