QUAERITUR: Best translation of St. Augustine’s “Confessions”?

Since today is the also the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, here is an oldie post which some of you found helpful.

From a reader:

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

Thank you for the recommendation on the biography [of St. Augustine by Hollingworth]; I have purchased it at Amazon [UK HERE] through your site. Can you recommend a good translation of the “Confessions” and/or “The City of God”? Kindle is best, hard copy if necessary for a readable modern translation that is faithful to the original.

That is a good question.  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 timeriHERE. 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, hits it out of the park sometimes.  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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Legisperitus says:

    Thanks for reposting this, Father.

    I read Pine-Coffin’s translation years ago and found it deeply affecting, especially during that key moment when Augustine realizes his vocation.

  2. Andreas says:

    Many thanks for this, Father! I have long enjoyed my 1949 Modern Library (Random House) version of “The Confessions”. This edition’s translation by Pusey reflects a lovely literary style akin to that of a much earlier era. To the mind’s ear, it is somewhat Shakespearean, and when spoken it is both regal and musical. The Introduction by the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is a splendid and most informative addition to this volume.

  3. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I think I noted when you posted this before, for the possible convenience of readers, that the Internet Archive has scans of the old Loeb Library edition in two volumes, with the Latin text and William Watts’ 1631 translation on facing pages (catalogued beginning “L 026” and “L 027”).

    I don’t know if I had checked LibriVox.org at that time, for another sort of possible convenience – having it read out loud by a volunteer – but I now see they have both the Pusey translation (read by a (North) American woman) and the Albert Outler translation (read by nine different voices, of men and women of various nationalities: I haven’t ‘sampled’ each one, yet), as well as, the complete Latin text (!), read by a man who impresses my admittedly insufficiently-trained ear as reading Latin very well!

  4. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    My teacher for Ancient Christianity and Byzantine, when I was doing my history doctorate at Univ. of Calif. Berkeley, was Peter Brown.

    He swore by Frank Sheed’s translation. And I have to admit, it is my favorite as well. And it now includes the last three chapters, which the original edition cut (for reasons I never understood). The publisher is Hackett and P. Brown provided the introduction for this new edition.

  5. msc says:

    “Truant’s freedom,” is good but it understates the image in “fugitivam,” which refers to a runaway slave.

  6. Charles E Flynn says:

    Sarah Ruden will have a new translation in 2017, to be published by Random House/Penguin.

  7. scotus says:

    Oh dear. The translation I have is Chadwick’s. Can you please say why you don’t like it.

  8. acardnal says:

    I concur with Fr. Augustine Thompson and his professor above: Frank J. Sheed’s translation.

  9. capchoirgirl says:

    I echo scotus’ question–I have the same one!

  10. Hans says:

    The Pine-Coffins are a cadet branch of the Coffin (sometimes Coffyn) family, beginning in the late 1700s by an act of parliament when a Pine inherited the impressive Coffin manor of Portledge in Devon near the village of Fairy Cross (I kid you not). The Coffins, and later the Pine-Coffins (sometimes Pyne-Coffin), were also patrons of the parish of St. Andrews in nearby Alwington for many centuries, and the Coffins in much of the later 16th century were ‘famous’ recusants. The estate was sold out of the family for tax reasons, after something like 900 years, just in the last two decades (I’d have to look it up).

  11. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Charles E Flynn,

    Interesting! (in principle; I’ve never read any of her translations…) – Penguin proliferates – further: in the US they have Rex Warner’s, in the UK (according to their website cross-referenced with amazon.co.uk) Pine-Coffin’s and Philip Burton’s and some odd little abridgement (apparently of Pine-Coffin’s), translations in print simultaneously already…

  12. Charles E Flynn says:

    Venerator Sti Lot,

    Thank you. I had no idea that Penguin had such an interest in Saint Augustine.

  13. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Still have not yet read Brown or Hollingworth, but I thoroughly enjoyed Frederick van der Meer’s Augustine the Bishop (1961), intended as a sort of complement to the Confessions, taking up where it leaves off, chronologically. (I see a reviewer at amazon notes “the influence of this work is such that the acclaimed author of the classic Augustine of Hippo, cited Van Der Meer frequently and commends him for his vast erudition and understanding of church life in late antique N. Africa.”)

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Charles E Flynn,

    They do seem to! They still have the Henry Bettenson translation of The City of God in print, too – I don’t know what the learned think of it, but it certainly has a handy index…

  15. michael de cupertino says:

    Dear Father, please don’t leave us hanging with regard to your favorite City of God translation :-)

  16. Pingback: CATHOLIC MONDAY EDITION | Big Pulpit

  17. Del Sydebothom says:

    What is the best edition of the *Latin* text currently available?

  18. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Ryan, anyone?

  19. Thomas S says:

    michael de cupertino,

    I enjoy William Babcock’s translation of The City of God, from New City Press (the same publisher as of Sr. Boulding’s translation of The Confessions).

    I’m no Latin scholar, but it’s very readable and understandable. Someone else can comment on its accuracy, but people I trust swear by the NCP series of St. Augustine’s works.

  20. Andrew says:

    Del Sydebothom: (What is the best Latin text available?)

    Brepols Publishers have it, but it is currently sold out.

    You can read the Migne Patrologia Latina on-line at


    Choose no: 32

    A transcription of the same text on-line (easier on the eyes) can be found at http://www.augustinus.it

  21. The Masked Chicken says:

    The Pusey version can be found, for free, in the Harvard Classics. Another version, by Phillip Schaff, part of the 39 volume Church Fathers series, is, also free. Both may be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), here:


    The CCEL is an excellent resource.

    Gerry Wills, a liberal Catholic pundit, has a Penguin translation (I have no idea how good it is).

    There is the translation by Albert Outler, which is available by PDF:


    The Watts translation, from 1631, can be found, here:


    There is the Helms synopsis, at:


    Augustine is claimed by Catholics and Protestants for different reasons, hence the large number of translations (many more that others have mentioned and at least 10 more, I am sure). It is a shame that so many people read Augustine so inconsistently with the Faith, but, alas, they do.

    The Chicken

  22. The Masked Chicken says:

    Of course, you haven’t really heard, The Confessions, until you’ve heard it in the original Klingon.

    Amari et timeri is ‘a ‘ej HajchoHtaHvIS or muSHa’taH je taHvIp, in the present tense. Much more masculine (and frightening).

    The Chicken

  23. scotus says:

    I’m disappointed that Father Z has not given his reason(s) for not liking Chadwick’s translation.

    As far as Boulding’s translation is concerned that link above takes you to the UK Amazon site where the cheapest copy you can get is currently £28.06. However, if you go here:
    you can get a Boulding translation for £7.64.

  24. msc says:

    Del Sydebothom: Andrew is right about the Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina edition (by Verheijen), although anyone using the 1969 revision of Skutella need not feel too out of date. I am also impressed by Hammond’s new Loeb translation, although only the first volume is complete.

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