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Augustine Translations

Even though Augustine Week only produced a handful of posts, I’m still furiously reading all things Augustine. So far I’ve been quite impressed with the New City Press editions of Augustine’s works. Sadly they haven’t done The City of God yet, but the Cambridge University Press edition seems pretty good to me.

But, as a total dilettante at Augustine scholarship, I find myself wanting to ask the question: what translations of Augustine do people find to be the best? And why?


  1. I assign Chadwick’s translation of the Confessions (from Oxford), and still use Bettenson’s translation of City of God (Penguin), mainly because of inertia, though I think it’s decent.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  2. Hill wrote:

    I second the Chadwick translation of the Confessions. Robert Wilken was also quite high on it when I took his course on Augustine.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  3. dave wrote:

    My tutor at Oxford assigned the Chadwick Confessions, and I think also the Bettenson City of God, but I’m not sure. I read the Bettenson City of God before term, but we never got around to it.

    I have something from him (my tutor) on translations of Augustine. I’ll have to dig it up.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  4. Andrew wrote:

    I much prefer the “Vintage Spiritual Classics (Random House)” edition of Confessions (same translation as the NCP edition) because the cover so much more durable compared to the NCP edition. All the other Augustine I have (except for The City of God) is NCP: The Trinity & On Christian Belief.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 4:54 am | Permalink
  5. The New City Press translations can sometimes feel just a tad hokey, though I appreciate what they’re trying to do. But I think their “colloquial” approach is right on the mark when it comes to the Letters and Sermons. Sadly not many folks, especially not many philosophers, read the Letters or Sermons, so we get stunted versions of Augustine as if he were an analytic philosopher. I’m eternally grateful to Bob Dodaro for teaching me to read Augustine through his pastoral self that’s seen in the Letters and Sermons.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Where would you recommend people start reading the Letters and Sermons?

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 9:03 am | Permalink
  7. Doug Harink wrote:

    This past year I used the NCP translation of Confessions, which is quite good (Rowan Williams gives it a glowing blurb). Still, when I read the translation of the famous line from the first paragraph (you know the one), I just about quit on the spot: “…because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet [inquietum est] until it rests [requiescat] in you.” “unquiet”!—literal, but hokey, compared to, “our heart is restless until it rests in thee.” (OK, I like the KJV too…)

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  8. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    My mean passive aggressive Mennonite self says, do the literal translation: maybe people will stop reading him!

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  9. I wouldn’t be able to suggest any particular portal into them. I think Dodaro includes some Letters with the “Political Writings” volume in the Cambridge series, which would be a good start. As for Sermons, I just get in the habit of dipping into the index when I’m thinking of different themes and spending some time there.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  10. Yes! I think that’s why I could just never stomach the Boulding translation.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  11. Evan wrote:

    This was my sense as well with regard to de Trin, and it’s why I’d prefer the CUA translation.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  12. Dave Belcher wrote:

    Well, that’s not even really the literal translation though! “Quietus” or “quiesco” actually means resting or reposing more so than “quiet”…so “unquiet” is quite a poor translation. This is not at all to mention that Augustine is quite aware of the close etymological relationship between “quiesco” (inquietum being a negative relation of quiesco) and “requiesco,” which basically mean the same thing. So “inquietum” is simply a negative relation of “requiescat”…the old translation is much more accurate in this instance!

    And in that case, I find many of the NCP translations to be attempting a bit too much to offer us a “twenty-first century” translation of Augustine. It can actually be kind of hard to make Latin sound all that modern anyway…so, if you can find translations that avoid the older Anglicized word-forms (thou, whence, art, etc.) I’d just stick with the established translations.

    De Trin., take the Fathers of the Church translation;
    De doctr. Christ., take the Oxford Classics;
    Confessions, take the Penguin (though I really like Chadwick too);

    My two (or three) cents.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 3:41 pm | Permalink
  13. Dave Belcher wrote:

    But, I would take into consideration that many of the older translations use the Latin editions from Migne’s Patrologia Latina, which are on the whole not very reliable. Translations should typically work from out of the Corpus Christianorum editions (which are critical Latin editions).

    I have been trying to read Augustine from the Latin for the past year or so (no matter how successfully!), which means I’m not exactly sure which ET texts to recommend, but I think sticking with Corp. Christ. translations is a good guideline.

    Friday, September 11, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  14. Andy wrote:

    I really do think Hill’s de trinitate in the NCP series is brilliant, and his notes are really useful. But Green in the Oxford Classics of the de doctrina is basically unavoidable. He’s the king (having put together a critical edition himself – there are actually surprisingly many translations of this short work). Dyson’s translation of de civitate dei is definitely an improvement on Bettenson to my mind.
    As to the Confessions, Sheed is definitely worth a look. Having said that, Carol Harrison commented to me whilst I started reading the Latin during my MA that “Augustine writes like Henry Chadwick”. And she had a point.
    As to the sermons, there are specific sermons on specific topics, so you could try that: just go to the secondary literature (on baptism, say) and get the relevant sermons there. Otherwise, the ennarrationes are a big inspiration for Augustine’s aesthetic spirituality (cf. Carol Harrison’s book and Rowan Williams’ chapter in Wound of Knowledge).
    Another tip from Carol: if you want to read some Latin, get the Sources Chrétiennes versions, so you won’t be as tempted to look at the translation! They’re also great critical editions.
    I found the Hacker translations interesting (e.g. de magistro, but as has been mentioned, they do give the impression he was an analytic philosopher…

    Saturday, September 12, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  15. Andy Rowell wrote:

    Just found out Paul Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School, is blogging:

    Here is his post with the syllabus for his Fall 2009 course on Augustine:


    Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

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