Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. This is her story. She met Augustine in Carthage when she was seventeen. She was the poor daughter of a mosaic-layer; he was a promising student and heir to a fortune. His brilliance and passion intoxicated her, but his social class would be forever beyond her reach. She became his concubine, and by the time he was forced to leave her, she was thirty years old and the mother of his son. And his Confessions show us that he never forgot her. She was the only woman he ever loved. In a society in which classes rarely mingle on equal terms, and an unwed mother can lose her son to the burgeoning career of her ambitious lover, this anonymous woman was a first-hand witness to Augustine’s anguished spiritual journey from secretive religious cultist to the celebrated Bishop of Hippo. Giving voice to one of history’s most mysterious women, The Confessions of X tells the story of Augustine of Hippo’s nameless lover, their relationshipbefore his famous conversion, and her life after his rise to fame. A tale of womanhood, faith, and class at the end of antiquity, The Confessions of X is more than historical fiction . . . it is a timeless story of love and loss in the shadow of a theological giant.
Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo, follower of Christ, famed theologian, Biblical scholar, and political philosopher once loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. The Confessions of X is her story brought to life by author, Suzanne M. Wolfe.
I hadn’t really had any knowledge of St. Augustine before this book, so before I opened the book I did a search on the internet and learned that at about the age of 19, Augustine began an affair with a young woman in Carthage. Though his mother wanted him to marry a person of his class, the woman remained his lover for over fifteen years and gave birth to his son Adeodatus, who was viewed as extremely intelligent by his contemporaries. Augustine ended his relationship with his lover in order to prepare himself to marry a ten-year-old heiress. (He had to wait for two years because the legal age of marriage was twelve. By the time he was able to marry her, however, he instead decided to become a celibate priest.)
WOW! Now that’s something huh? I felt I had enough history so I began the The Confessions of X. I’m really not a fan of historical fiction, so I was very apprehensive when I received this book. The story is told in the voice of the “concubine” – the lover – and it details her love for St. Augustine before his conversion. While I realize that this type of relationship was common and accepted in the ancient world, in my book (and the good book known as the Bible), this is a sin. I do realize that Augustine was engaged in this relationship before he was a Christian, and God knows I have a laundry list of wrongs that I committed before my accepting Christ as my personal savior, it just isn’t something that I care to read about on a regular basis. Once I realized what this book was about, I was happy to see that it was only 300 or so pages.
The first chapter of the book begins with her as an old woman waiting in the outer courtyard room, in which Augustine is dying in the city of Hippo Regius. As she waits for night to fall, she recounts the story of her life and how she came to meet Augustine and how she became his lover. She goes on to tell about how she bore Augustine his son and what happens to her after he casts her aside.
While The Confessions of X starts out a little slow, once I got into it I was pretty much invested in what happened to the unnamed woman. The story flowed and it was an easy read. I did feel connected and felt the events of the story as I was reading them. The author did a great job of drawing readers in and allowing them to actually feel like they were in the time period imagining how the unnamed woman was feeling back in her times. Be warned, readers are also brought to tears when they are led through the unnamed woman’s fate.
Suzanne M. Wolfe grew up in Manchester, England and read English Literature at Oxford University, where she co-founded the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. She is Writer in Residence at Seattle Pacific University and has taught literature and creative writing there since 2000. Wolfe is the author of Unveiling: A Novel (Paraclete Press, 2004). Twenty five years ago, she and her husband, Gregory Wolfe, co-founded Image, a journal of the arts and faith. They have also co-authored many books on literature and prayer including Books That Build Character: How to Teach Your Child Moral Values Through Stories (with William Kirk Kilpatrick, Simon & Schuster, 1994), and Bless This House: Prayers For Children and Families (Jossey-Bass, 2004). Her essays and blog posts have appeared in Image and other publications. Wolfe is currently working on a series of mystery novels set in Elizabethan London. She and her husband are the parents of four grown children. They live in Richmond Beach, Washington.
I received a paperback copy of this book without cost from the publisher through The Fiction Guild, a Thomas Nelson/Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.