What is the best translation of St. Augustine’s “Confessions”?

What I call: “The biography of Augustine Pope Benedict would have wanted to write.”

On this glorious feast of St. Augustine, allow me to repost an answer to a question I get fairly often and answer off the blog:

QUAERITUR:

What is the best translation of St. Augustine’s Confessions?

It depends a little on who you are and why you are reading this magnificent work.

The Confessions is usually the only work most people are exposed to when it comes to the Doctor of Grace.

The best translation –  for most people –  is probably by Dame Maria Boulding, OSB, who was at Stanbrook Abbey.  She captures the aspect of prayer in The Confessions without, for the most part, sacrificing accuracy of translation in the process.

The Confessions is, of course, an extended prayer.

You can quibble about some of her choices, of course.  All translations limp.  For example, Augustine says in Book X that he was “loved and feared” (amari et timeri – 10.36.59) by his people.  (Get it Your Excellencies? Fathers?) She choose to say “loved and esteemed” (or something woolly like that), which does not get at what Augustine really said.

By the way, I wrote about that “amari et timeri” HERE. I even have a mini PODCAzT with the Latin.

Boulding’s is better – for most people – than Pine-Coffin‘s.  (I am not making up his name.) His translation is good but it is in a style of English many people are no longer used to.  Pinecoffin, however, sometimes hits it out of the park.  For example, when Augustine is talking about his profligate youth in Carthage, P. renders “amans vias meas et non tuas, amans fugitivam libertatem” (3.3.5) as “I loved my own way, not yours, but it was a truant’s freedom that I loved”.  Not precise, but dead on.  “A truant’s freedom”.  Wonderful.

Chadwick‘s… no thanks.

Boulding’s translation is also quite affordable.  The paperback is only $9 and the Kindle version is only $8.  UK Link HERE.

And speaking of The Confessions

GO TO CONFESSION!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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13 Responses to What is the best translation of St. Augustine’s “Confessions”?

  1. timfout says:

    Frank Sheed’s translation is good also.

  2. rdb says:

    I re-read The Confessions this summer, using Sheed’s translation and found it to be very good. I’ve not read Pine-Coffin’s or Boulding’s translations.

  3. Anneliese says:

    I would like to promote another edition of the Confessions. It’s also translated by Sr. Maria but edited by David Meconi, SJ. Fr. Meconi is an Augustinian scholar, Patristic expert, and Oxford educated–not bad for someone from little Paw Paw, MI. He was also a professor of mine at SLU. From him I learned about prayer and the dark night. He’s not your typical Jesuit. I recommend him.

  4. St. Irenaeus says:

    What’s wrong in particular with Chadwick’s translation?

  5. Geoffrey says:

    I have Henry Chadwick’s “new” (1991) translation.

    I also have a 1936 edition published by The Book League of America, with an introduction by Carl van Doren. No mention of an actual translator.

  6. JesusFreak84 says:

    I have the translation published by Barnes & Noble, (but I don’t have it in front of me, so I can’t recall the particulars, and I don’t see it on BN.com currently,) but that translation gave me such a headache I never finished the book =-\

  7. scotus says:

    Is your aversion to the Chadwick translation based on his style or is it based on something else?

  8. I will second the mention above of Frank Sheed.

    It was also the favorite of my Augustine teacher, Peter Brown, who wrote the foreword to the new printing—which includes the later books omitted in the origin version.

  9. Seamus says:

    I too am curious as to the problem with the Chadwick translation.

  10. Hans says:

    The name Pine-Coffin came about in the late 18th century when there was a certain Mr. Pine whose wife was a Coffin, and she became the heir to the magnificent Portledge Manor near Bideford in Devonshire. Portledge was held by the Coffin (or Coffyn), and Pine-Coffin, family from Norman times until it was sold to pay the taxes in the late 1990s. I don’t recall if the name change was necessary for the inheritance, or if it was to keep the connection. In the parish church of St. Andrew’s in nearby Alwington (once part of the estate), the there are three panels that list the rectors of the church and the associated patrons from 1276 to modern times, almost all of whom were Coffins or Pine-Coffins.

  11. Hans says:

    That is to say, the patrons were Coffins, etc.

  12. Taylor says:

    I’d throw a new contender in the mix, and recommend Sarah Ruden’s translation. Chadwick’s translation is what I used in graduate school, but Boulding’s is the more pleasurable read. I find Ruden’s to walk the line between the two (and she makes clear her translation goals clear in the foreward).

    I will have to see how she translate the section mentioned above…hopefully with “fear”!

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