The Confessions of St. Aurelius Augustine
In thirteen books
You are great, O Lord, and greatly praiseworthy: great is Your strength and Your wisdom is beyond numeration.
Man wishes to praise You, a part of Your creation, showing forth his mortality, divulging the testimony of his sin, the testimony that You oppose the proud.
Yet nonetheless, man, a part of Your creation, desires to praise You.
You excite man that he may desire to praise You, for You have made us for You and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.
Allow me, O Lord, to know and understand whether first to call You or to praise You, whether first to know You or call upon You. Yet who, not knowing You, calls You? For he who does not know You can invoke another in Your place. Can it be that You are invoked, that You may be known? How then shall they call on Him, in whom they do not believe? Or how shall they believe without preaching? They shall praise the Lord who seek Him. For seeking, they shall come to him and coming to Him, they shall praise Him.
Let me seek You, Lord, calling You, and let me call You believing in You: for You have been preached to us. My faith calls You, Lord, which You have given me, which You have breathed into me through the humanity of Your son, through the ministry of Your preacher.
What are You, my God? What are You, I ask, but the Lord God? Who is Lord before You? Who is God, but our God?
He is the greatest, best, most powerful, omnipotent, most merciful and just, most secret and most known, most beautiful and most strong, stable and incomprehensible, changeable and changing all things, never new and never old, renewing all things; he is always acting and always still, gather but not lacking, bringing, filling up, and protecting, creating and feeding, completing, striving, although he lacks nothing. You love, but not with passion; You are jealous and secure; You repent and do not hurt; You are angry and peaceful; You change all things, but not Your plans; You receive what You find, but You never lost it; You are never poor, but rejoice in gains; You are never greedy, but exact a price. Man overpays You, as You require, but what does he have which is not Yours? You return a debt owed to no one, You pay a debt no one lost. What do we say, my God, my life, my sacred sweetness? Or what does another say, when he speaks of You? Alas, to those keeping silence about You, since the talkative have been dumb.
But still, You permit me to say much about Your mercy, myself being dust and ashes still You permit me to speak, for behold it is Your mercy, not man my mocker, to which I speak. Maybe You ridicule me, and You shall pity me when You turn to me. Indeed, what is it that I wish to ask, Lord, except what I do not know, whence have I come here, into that I call mortal life or living death? I do not know. The consolations of Your mercy support me, as I have heard from the parents of my flesh, from the one of whom and the other in whom You formed me in time: for I do not remember.
Behold, the consolations of human milk received me, neither my mother nor my nurses filled their own breasts, but You gave me the nourishment of an infant through them according to Your arrangement and riches, allotted to the foundations of the world. For You allowed me to refuse anything more than what You gave me, and by feeding me, to make me desire what You gave them: for they were willing to give to me because of that foreordained affection, wherewith they did abound from You. For good for them was my good from them, which was not from them, but through them: obviously, all good is from You, O God, and from my God is my whole salvation. I noted this later, when You were calling to me through these very things, which You grant inwardly and externally. For then I learned to suck and relax in pleasure, and to weep at the offenses of my flesh—nothing greater.
Later I began to laugh, first while sleeping, then while awake. Thus, it is indicated of me concerning myself and I believed it since we see other infants: for I do not remember these actions. Behold, I understood little by little, where I was, and I wished to reveal my desires to them, through whom they might be satisfied, and I was not able, for my will was within, they were without and not by any sense of theirs did they enter my mind. Thus, I threw about my limbs and cries, the signs like my will, the few signs I was able, and the kind of signs I was able: for they were not representative of the truth. When it did not comply with me either because I was not understood or desired harm, I became angry with my elders, not being subject to me, and with children, not serving me, and I punished myself on them by weeping. I have learned infants are thus–which I was able to learn–unknowing infants revealed to me that I was such an infant more than the nurses knowing me were.
Did I not come proceeding from infancy to this place in childhood? Or rather, did it come to me and follow infancy? Nor did it depart, by whom did it leave? Nevertheless, it was not already. For I was not an infant, who does not speak, but I was already a speaking boy. I remember this, whence I was taught to speak, I realized later. Indeed, the elders did not teach me, exposing words to me in any fixed order of instruction, as letters at little while later, but by own mind, which You gave me, my God, when by groans and various cries and various motions of my limbs, I wished to relate the sensations of my heart, that it would obey my will. I was not well able to put forth neither everything that I wished nor everything to which I willed. I grasped with my memory when they called a certain thing and when according the voice they moved an object to them: I saw and I remembered that this thing which was called by them that sound which they uttered whenever they wished to indicate this thing. That they meant this was revealed by the movement of the body just as by the natural signs of all men, which are created by the face, the movement of the eyes and other parts of the body indicating through act and the sound of the expression, the affections of the mind in questioning, thinking, rejecting, and fleeing from dangers. Little by little I gathered words thus placed in their places for various meanings and the words of which things were signs frequently having been heard, my mouth accustomed to these signs, through these words I made known my desires.
So with those, among whom I was, I communicated signs for declaring my desires, and I, the shrill one, entered the boisterous society of human life, depending on the reputation of my parents and the assent of great men.
God, my God, what miseries and afflictions I found there, because it was proposed rightly for me, a boy, to live, to obey the advisers, so that I may flourish in this world and excel in the loquacious arts for the honor of men and for the false riches by fawning! Then I was given to a school, that I might learn literature, in which what was useful I, the wretched one, was ignorant. Still, if I was lazy in learning, I was beaten. Indeed, this was praised by the elders, and the many before us on the road had prepared a painful journey, through which we were forced to travel, by much effort and sorrow as befits the sons of Adam.
However, what were the causes, why did I hate Greek, into which I was immersed as a boy? Indeed even now this has not been known enough for me. For I earnestly loved Latin, not what was of the first master, but that which they who are called grammarians taught. For those first elements, in which they taught to read, to write, and to count, I had no lesser oppressive and painful aspect than all the Greek letters. Yet whence comes this, except from sin and the vanity of life, since I was flesh, a spirit walking and not returning. For certainly those first writings were better, because those first letters were more fixed, writings which came to me and was born and I had it, that I may read, if I find something written, and I myself may write, if I wish, how those readings, in which I was forced to remember the countless wanderings of Aeneas, my own forgotten: and to mourn Dido’s death, since she killed herself for the sake of love, nevertheless with my very self dying apart from You in these thing. God, my life, I most miserably bore it with dry eyes.
For what is more miserable than a wretch not lamenting his very self and weeping for the death of Dido, which happened by loving Aeneas, but not weeping for his death, which happened by not loving you, God, the light of my heart and the bread of the interior mouth of my soil, and the virtue impregnating my mind and the inner depths of my reasoning? I did not love you, and I fornicated apart from you, and I resounded everywhere with fornication: Hooray! Hooray! For the friendship of this world is fornication from you; hooray, hooray was said, that it shames if a man is not thus. I did not lament these things, but I lamented Dido, killed and striving for the end with a sword, myself following the lowest things of your creation, you forgotten, earth going to earth; if I was forbidden to read it, I was pained, because I was not reading what pained. In such a madness, those books were supposed more distinguished and fruitful than those by which I learned to read and to write.
Now let my God declare to my soul, and let your truth declare to me: it is not thus, it is not thus; that earlier teaching is absolutely better. For behold, I am more willing to forget the wanderings of Aeneas and all such sorts than to read and write. While moreover, veils hang over the thresholds of the grammatical schools; yet those veils do not indicate more honor from secrecy than a protection from error. F They man not cry out against me, whom already I do not fear, while I confess to You what my soul wishes, my God, and I acquiesce in the condemnation of my evil ways, since I love your good ways; may not the sellers of grammar, rather the buyers, cry out against me, because if I asking should place before them whether it is true that the poet says Aeneas came to Carthage at some time, the unlearned shall respond that they do not know, the learned, however, shall also deny that there is a right answer. Moreover, if I should ask in what letters is written the name “Aeneas,” all these men, who learned these things, respond to me a right answer following that pact and agreement whereby men confirm among themselves such signs. Likewise if I should ask which one of these things, reading and writing or those poetic fictions, anyone could forget with greater detriment to this life, who would see what he would respond who has not entirely forgotten himself?
Therefore, I continually sinned as a boy, when I placed those insanities before these more useful things because of love, rather I hated the latter things, I loved the former things. Truly “one and one are two, two and two are four” was already an insufferable ditty to me, and the sweetest spectacle of emptiness was a wooden horse filled with soldiers, the burning of Troy, and the very ghost of Creusa.
I wish to recall my foul deeds accomplished and the fleshy corruptions of my soul, not because I love them, but because I love You, my God. I do it for the love of Your love, recalling my most worthless life in the bitterness of my reflection, that You may sweeten me, You the sweetness not deceptive, lucky and secure, a sweetness gathering me from moral confusion, in which piece by piece I had fallen, I vanished into many things as long as I turned away from You. Indeed, I burned to get my fill of evil pleasures in my adolescence and I dared to grow wild in various dark passions, my beauty withered away and I decayed in the presence of Your eyes delighting in myself and desiring to delight the eyes of men.
What was it that delighted me, if not to love and be loved? Yet the mean from soul to soul, within which is the luminous boundary of friendship, was not held, rather clouds were breathed out from the murky desires of the heart and the bubbling spring of adolescence, and they confused and obscured my heart, so that the serenity of love was not distinguished from the darkness of lust. The two boiled in confusion, destroyed my unstable age on the dangerous precipice of lust, and immersed it in the abyss of infamy
Your anger had weighed down upon me, and I did not know. I had become deaf through the clanking of the chain of my morality, the penalty for the pride of my mind, and I was going far from You, and You permitted me; You threw me out and gave me free rein, I wasted away and boiled over by my fornication, and You were silent.
O my late rejoicing! You were silent then, and I was again going far from You into many places, into many sterile causes of sorrow through arrogant degradation and restless weariness.
Yet I, the wretched one, burned, following the violence of my dissolute nature, abandoned by You. I broke all You laws and did not escape Your punishments: for who of mortal men could? For You were always mercifully present, though raging, and sprinkling all my illicit pleasures with a terribly bitter discontent, that thus I might seek to be without discontent and, when I was able to do this, I might not find anything before You, O Lord, before You, who commands suffering, who strikes, that You may heal, who kills us, lest we perish by You.
Where was I and how far was I exiled from the delights of You house in the sixteenth year of the age of my life, when the madness of licentious lust took power over me, through the infamy of men (illicit things, though, through Your laws) and I gave myself entirely to it? For it was not the care of my parents to save me, being ruined, through marriage, but the only care was that I learn to give a speech in the best manner and to persuade with words.
Indeed, in that very year, my studies were interrupted, during the time in which the expenses of the rather long distance from Carthage prepared me to return from Madaura, the neighboring city in which I had already began to live for the sake of learning literature and oratorical grace, because of an ambition greater than the ability of my father, a citizen of Thegaste, a man of very modest means.
To whom do I say these things? Not to You, my God: yet I say these things before You to my own kind, to mankind—in however small a part it can be included in these words of mine. Why do I write this? Clearly in order that everyone and I may read these words and we may ponder out of what depths it must cry to You. What is nearer to Your ears, if a heart is confessing and life is from faith?
For who then does not lift up that man with praise, my father, because he spent on his son beyond his fortune, even whatever was necessary for studies by traveling? For there was no such concern among the many rich citizens for their children, while at the same time, my father was not concerned as to how I grew concerning You or how I was chaste, provided that I was cultured or rather uncultured, away from Your care, O God, who is the one, true, and good lord of Your field, my heart.
Yet introduced to leisure during that sixteenth year because of domestic necessity, I began to be at rest from all classes with my parents, the briars of lust overthrew my head, and nothing was holding back my hands.
Alas for me! Did I dare to say that You were silent, my God, when I went so far from You? Were You then thus silent to me? Whose words were they, if not Yours through my mother, Your faith, which You sang in my ears? Nor did anything thence descend into my heart, that I might contemplate it. Indeed, she wished, and I remembered that I had been warned in private with great solicitude, lest I fornicate and especially lest I commit adultery with the wife of another.
These warnings seemed effeminate to me, to obey which I should have blushed. Yet they were Your warnings, and I did not know and I thought that You were silent, and she spoke, through whom You were not silent to me, and in her You were despised by me, by me, Your son, the son of Your handmaiden, Your servant. But I did not know and I went headlong into total blindness, so that I was ashamed of my small faults among those of my peers, because I heard them discussing their own shameful acts, and the more bragging there was, the greater was the shameful deed, and it was pleasing to act not alone in lust, truly too it was rewarded with praise. What is worthy of censure if not vice? I did not find fault, I became rather vicious, and when was there not at hand a crime by which, committed, I might equal my depraved companions, I pretended I had done what I had not done, lest I seem more low, in which I was innocent, and lest I be considered more common, in which I was more chaste.
Your law certainly inflicts punishment, O Lord, the law written in the hearts of men, which iniquity the law does not even erase: for what thief endures a crime calmly? Not even the wealthiest man permits a theft forced by scarcity. I desired to commit a crime and I did nothing forced by necessity except by the scarcity and loathing of justice and the superfluity of iniquity. For I plundered it, which overflowed to me and was of much better quality, and I did not wish to delight in the fruit, which I approached for theft, but by that a theft and a sin committed.
There was a pear-tree near our vineyard, laden with fruit, without an inviting appearance or taste. We, most wicked Young men, advanced at the dead of night to pick them, and carry them away, until we had prolonged the game like a plague in the areas, and we carried the mighty burdens thence, not to our feasting, but rather for throwing to the pigs, even if thence we had eaten something, while nevertheless what was pleasing in itself was done by us, to whom it was not permitted.
Which enjoyment did I, the wretched one, have then in these things, which I now recollect, ashamed, certainly in that crime, in which I loved that evil deed, nothing else, when both the crime itself was nothing and by it I was so wretched? Still, I did not do that alone—so I remember my feelings then—I did not do that thing alone at all. Therefore, I loved then also the gathering of them with whom I did those things. Therefore, I did not love another thing by any means more than theft; more correctly, it is nothing indeed, because also the band is nothing.
Why is the thing true? Who is it, who teaches me, except he who illumines my heart and clears its shadows? What is it which comes to me in my mind, to ask, to examine, and to consider that if then I loved that fruit, which I had stolen, and desired to enjoy, if this were enough, furthermore I alone could commit that iniquity, by which I reached my enjoyment, and I did not enflame the itch of my lust by association with guilty minds? Yet since there was no pleasure in those fruits to me, it was in the very crime, which the company of those sinning with me committed.
Among those wreckers, though at an immature age, I became acquainted with books of eloquence, in which I desired to excel for a damnable and vain end, for the joy of human praise, and presently in the ordinary course of study, I had come to a book that Cicero, whose language almost everyone admires, but not the heart. Yet that book contained his exhortation to philosophy, and is called Hortensius.
Truly, that book changed my mind, O Lord, and it changed my petitions and vows to You, it created my other desires. Suddenly every vain hope became vile to me and I desired everlasting wisdom with an unbelievable yearning of the heart, and I decided to rise, that I might return to You. Indeed I did not use that book for sharpening my tongue—which book I seemed to purchase with my mother’s funds, since I spent the nineteenth year of my life with my father dead two years before—not therefore for sharpening my tongue did I use that book, and it had impressed on me not its style but what it was saying.
How I burned, my God, how I burned to fly from earthly things back to You, and I did not know what You were doing with me! For wisdom is with You. However, the love of wisdom has the Greek name of philosophy, in which love that book enflamed me. They who are corrupting me through philosophy, their errors colored and disguised with a great, alluring, and honest name, and almost everyone else, who was of those and earlier times, are condemned and revealed in that book, and there is the salutary admonition of Your spirit manifested through Your good and pious servant: Beware, lest anyone deceive You through philosophy and vain deceit, following the tradition of men, following the origin of this world and not following Christ, because in Him lives every fullness of divinity corporeally.
As You, the light of my heart know, I was delighted at that time, because these apostolic words were not yet known to me. Still I delighted by this alone in those exhortations, because I was excited by that discussion, set afire, and I burned such that I loved , sought , pursued, held and embraced strongly, not that school or the other school, but wisdom herself, whatever she might be. This thing alone broke me in glowing ardor, because the name of Christ was not there, since Your mercy following this name, O Lord, this name of my savior, Your Son, in Whom my tender heart had piously drunk of very milk of my mother and deeply retained; whatever had been made without this name, however learned, polished, and true, did not seize me.
Therefore, I decided to direct my thoughts to sacred scripture, and I decided to see how they were. Behold, I see a thing not disclosed to the proud nor revealed to boys, but lowly to entrance and lofty to progress, covered in mysteries, and I was not such, that I could enter into that and incline my neck to its progress. For I speak not now as I felt then, when I directed myself to that Scripture, on the contrary, it seemed undignified to me, which I compared to the dignity of Tully. For my swollen head fled this kind of thing and my brilliancy did not penetrate its interior. Yet, these books were truly this way, which increase with children, but I refused to be a child and I seemed swollen with great pride in myself.
And I was not yet groaning in prayer, that You might come to me, but my spirit was eager to seek and restless to examine, and I supposed Ambrose himself happy according to the world, whom so many powerful men so honored; his great celibacy seemed laborious to me. What hope he bore, what struggles he had against the temptations of his very excellence, or what solace in adversities, and his hidden mouth, which was in his heart, how it chewed upon the savory delight of Your bread, and I had not known to guess it nor had I experienced it.
He did not know my passions and the pitfall of my attempt. For I was unable to ask of him what I wished, as I wished, since I was kept away from his hearing and his mouth by the clusters of busy men, whose weaknesses he served: when he was not with them, which was a very small amount of time, he was restoring the body with necessary sustenance or restoring the soul with reading.
Yet when he read, the eyes were led across the page and the heart probed the sense, but his voice and tongue was quiet. Often, when we were present—for who was not forbidden to enter, rather it was the custom that anyone coming to him be announced—we saw him thus reading silently and never otherwise, sitting in long-lasting silence (for who dares to be a burden to one so intent?) we left and we inferred that in the little time which he received for refreshing his mind, freed from the noise of other responsibilities, he did not wish to be distracted by other employments and possibly avoid them, lest if that author whom he was reading should state something unclear, and it be necessary to explain or discuss some other difficult questions to an attentive and perplexed listener, and having spent too much time on such a task, he would read fewer volumes than he wished, although it was more likely that he read silently to save his voice, which was made hoarse for him most readily. Still, for whatever reason he did it, that man certainly did it for a good reason.
But certainly, no opportunity for asking was given me, which I desired so greatly concerning Your sacred mouthpiece, his heart, unless it was something brief. However, this deep anxiety of mine strongly sought him at leisure, into whom they might be poured, and they did not ever find him. When indeed every Sunday I heard him rightly preaching the word of truth among the people, he proved to me more and more that it was possible to unravel every adroit knot of calumny, which those deceivers fastened to us against the divine books.
I also rejoiced, because the old writings of the law and the prophets were related to me reading not in that light, where previously they seemed absurd, since I criticized Your saints for holding them; truly, however, they did not thus hold them. I, joyful heard Ambrose often saying in his popular sermons, as though he were most urgently commending a rule: the letter kills, but the spirit gives life, when he lifted the veil of mystery and revealed spiritually those words, which seemed literally to teach perversity, not saying that which offended me, he taught them, although whether they were true, I did not know at the time. I was holding my heart from every assent, fearing the precipice and I was more killed by the suspense. For I wished that I was as certain of these things which I did not see, as I was as certain that seven and three are ten. I was not so insane that I thought that not even this even could be known, but certainly I wished to be sure about everything else, whether corporeal things which were not before my senses, or spiritual things, concerning which I was unable to ponder except corporeally.
I could be healed through believing, so the purified sharpness of my mind might be directed in a particular manner into Your truth, remaining forever and lacking nothing; but as it usually happens, the man experienced in goodness fears to entrust himself to the bad doctor, thus was the state of the health of my soul, which certainly could be cured through believing and, lest it believe falsehood, it refused to be worried, resisting Your hands, You who have constructed the medicine of faith and scattered it upon the sicknesses of the world, and bestowed so much efficacy on those.
Nebridius also, who had left his country near Carthage and had left Carthage, where he was most frequently, from his family farm, having left home and a mother not following him, he came for no other reason to Milan, except that he might live with me in the most ardent pursuit of truth and wisdom, he, ardent investigator after the beautiful life and the most keen examiner of difficult questions, equally sighed and doubted. The mouths of three needy men were both exhaling their want among themselves and waiting for You, that You might give them food in due season. In all bitterness, which in accordance with Your mercy followed our secular acts, darkness opposed us seeking why we experienced these things, and we, moaning, were dejected, and we said: “How long will this be?” We frequently said this, and saying this we did not abandon these pursuits because a certain thing did not show itself, which we grasped in those things left behind.
Anxiously reflecting, I was greatly amazed at how long a time it was since my nineteenth year, when I began to boil with an eagerness for wisdom; disposing me, having found this, to reject all the vain desires, false hopes, and deceitful follies. Behold, I already bore the thirtieth year in that filth, hesitating in my desire for delight in the present circumstances fleeing and destroying me, while I said: “Tomorrow I shall discover it; behold, it will be made manifest, and I shall understand; behold, Faustus shall come and explain everything…”
When I said this and those winds buffeted and pushed my heart here and there, time passed, and I delayed to be converted to the Lord and I deferred living in You from day to day and I did not defer dying to myself: loving the blessed life, I feared that in its proper place and fleeing from it, I sought it. For I thought that I would be exceedingly wretched, if I was deprived of a woman’s embraces, and I did not anticipate the medicine of Your mercy for healing this very infirmity, for I had not experienced Your mercy, and I thought that continence was in one’s own powers, which I did not feel that I possessed, since I was so foolish that I did not know, as it is written that “no one can be continent, unless You gave it.” Certainly, You would have given it, if I should have badgered Your ears with internal groans and casted my concern to You with solid faith.
I shall narrate and admit to Your name, Lord, my Helper and my Redeemer, how You removed me from fetters of lust, by which tightest bond I was held, and from the servitude of secular troubles.
I was acting with the usual growing anxiety, and daily did I sigh to You, I was frequenting Your church, however much time was free from these troubles, under which burden I groaned. Alypius was free from legal work after his third accession, anticipating to whom he might sell counsel again, as I was selling the skill of speaking, whether by this skill he might be able to be supported by teaching. Nebridius, however, had yield to our friendship, that he might teach as an assistant to Verecundus, a most intimate friend of ours, a Milanese citizen and grammarian vehemently desiring and demanding upon our friendship help from our faithful number, for which he was in great need. Therefore, a desire for reward from it did not attract Nebridius—for he was able to derive greater, if he wished, from literature—but he, the mildest and dearest friend, through his good nature refused to despise our petition. However, he performed that duty most prudently, taking care lest he become known to great men according to the course of this world, by these measures avoiding all disquietude of the soul, which he wished to have free and at leisure for as many hours as he could, for seeking something concerning wisdom, by reading or listening.
Consequently on a certain day—I do not recall the cause by which Nebridius was absent—behold a certain Ponticianus came to our house, to Alypius and myself, a fellow citizen, insofar as he was an African, serving highly at Court, I did not know what he wished of us. He stopped, that we might converse. By chance, above the gaming table, which was before us, he saw a book: he got it, opened it, and found the Apostle Paul, unexpectedly and certainly; for he had thought something of books, the profession of which wore me down. Then smiling at me and considering me in a congratulating manner, he was amazed, because he had suddenly discovered these words, and these words alone, before my eyes. He was obviously a faithful Christian and was often to You, our God, prostrated at church in frequent long prayers. With whom, when I had revealed that I devoted the greatest care to those scriptures, a conversation began, narrating the very tale concerning Antony the Egyptian monk, whose name shone excellently among Your servants, but escaped us until this hour. When that man discovered this, he stopped at this part of his discussion, introducing so great a man to the ignorant ones and wondering at our very ignorance. Hearing Your most manifest wondrous works in right faith and the catholic church, we were amazed at such a recent memory, and so near to our time. We were all amazed; we, because they were great, and he, because they were new to us.
Thenceforth, the discussion of this was passed onto the congregations of monasteries, the customs of Your sweet order, and the fruitful wastelands of the desert, of which we knew nothing. There was a monastery at Milan under the care of Ambrose filled by the good brothers beyond the walls, and we had not known. He persisted and was speaking until now, and we, attentive, were silent. When it happened, I do not know, as he said that he and three other companions—certainly at Trier, when the Emperor was captivated by the afternoon games—had left to walk into the gardens near the walls and there, as they walked, one separated with him and the other two likewise separated and parted in a different direction; the other wanderers came upon a certain cottage, where certain poor servants of Your spirit, of which kind is the kingdom of heaven, dwelt and there they discovered a book, in which was written the life of Antony. Which book one of them began to read, and to be amazed, aroused, and he planned while reading to take up such an excellent life and having abandoned worldly office, to serve You. However, there were among them, those whom they call “special agents.” Immediately filled with the love of holiness and sober prudence, angry with himself, he turned his eyes to his friend and said to him: “Tell me, I beg You, what are we striving to attain by all our efforts? What are we seeking? For whose cause do we serve? Can our hope be greater in court than that we might be friends of the Emperor? And there, what is not fragile and full of peril? Through how many dangers is it sought to even greater dangers? How long thither shall it be? However, if I wish, I can be a friend of God now.
He said this and returned his eyes to the page, confused by the new life coming forth: he read and was changed within, where You looked; his mind was freed from the world, as shortly it was seen. On the other hand while he read, the turbulence of his heart turned about, sometimes he groaned, he separated and determined the better things, and said to his friend as if already Yours: “I have already broken myself from those our hopes, and have decided to serve God, and I shall begin this from this hour, in this place. If it grieves You to imitate me, do not oppose me.” That man answered that he would remain an associate for such a reward and for such business. Both men built a tower at the appropriate cost of abandoning all their things and serving You.
Then Ponticianus and the man with him walked through the other parts of the garden, seeking them, they found them in that place, and discovering them, they prompted them to return, because the day had been declining. But, their plea and proposition having been told—in whatever manner the desire rose in such excellent men and was strengthened—they sought lest they be a nuisance to them, if they refused to join themselves to them. Ponticianus and his fellow changed nothing from before, still lamented themselves, as he said, and piously rejoiced in them and committed themselves to their prayers, and they returned to the palace trailing their hearts on the earth. However, those men remained in the hut, fastening their heart to heaven.
Both men had fiancées: which after they heard this, also consecrated their virginity to You.
Ponticianus narrated these things. However, during his words, O Lord, You turned me about to my very self, turning from behind my back, where I had put myself, while I refused to pay close attention to myself, and You placed me before my face, that I might see how shameful I was, how deformed and vile, defiled and ulcerous. I saw myself, and I shrunk from myself, and there was not a place whither I might flee from myself. If I tried to avert the appearance from myself, that man was narrating what he narrated, and You again placed myself opposite me, and You thrust me into Your sight, that I might discover my iniquity and I hated it. I had known this, but I had ignored, restrained, and forgotten it.
Then truly, the more I was loving those two men, as I heard a beneficial change, which gave themselves entirely to You for healing, the more I was hating my detestable self compared to them, because many of my years had disappeared with me—perhaps twenty years—since from the nineteenth year of my life by reading the Hortensius of Cicero, I had been excited to the pursuit of wisdom, and having condemned earthly happiness, I postponed that I might have leisure to investigate wisdom, of which not the finding, but the seeking alone ought to have been preferred to finding the treasures of a king and nation and instantly overflowing the pleasures of the body. I, such a wretched Young man, wretched in the beginning of my adolescence, also sought chastity from You and I said: “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.” For I feared lest You heard me swiftly and You swiftly healed me from the sickness of concupiscence, which I preferred more to satisfy than to destroy. I came through the crooked ways from the superstitious sacrilege, indeed not fixed in it, but as if preferring it to other things, which I sought not piously, but I attacked inimically.
Therefore, I had pretended that I, having put off secular hope, delayed from day to day to follow only You because a certain other thing did not appear to me, to which I might direct my zeal. The day came, when I stood naked and he rebuked my conscience in me: “Where is the voice? Truly You said that You refused to abandon the load of vanity on account of the uncertain truth. Behold, it is certain, and still those things press You, and with freer shoulders they shall receive wings, who thus did not waste in seeking nor contemplate these things for ten years or more.”
I considered these things within and I was violently dismayed by a terrible shame, while Ponticianus was speaking such wonderful things. With the conversation and the occasion by which he came terminated, he left, and I went to myself. What did I not say in myself? With what blows of thoughts did I beat my soul, that it might support me, attempting to follow You? It struggled, it refused, and it did not explain itself. All the arguments were consumed and overcome: the soul remained in silent fear and dreaded to be held back as if death from the flow of custom, by which it melted into death.
Then, in that great dispute of my inner self, which I had boldly incited with my spirit in our apartment, in my heart, just as disturbed in my expression as in my heart, I came upon Alypius, and exclaimed: “What are we enduring? What is this, which You have heard? The ignorant rise and snatch heaven, when behold we with our heartless doctrines wallow in flesh and blood! Can it be that because they have went before, it shames us to follow, or does it not shame us even to follow?” I do not know in what manner I spoke, and my passion snatched me from him, while he was silent, staring astonished at me, for I did not speak as usual. The forehead, cheeks, eyes, complexion, and the manner of the words spoken which I displayed greatly bespoke my mind.
There was a certain little garden at our inn, which we used as we used the whole house: for the host, the master of the house, did not dwell there. Thither the confusion of my heart took me, where no one impeded the ardent quarrel which I undertook with myself, until it should end in which way You knew, but I did not: yet I was healthily insane and dying in a living manner, knowing what I was of evil and ignorant as to what I would be of good in a little while.
Therefore, I withdrew into the garden and Alypius followed me, for my secret was not, when he was near. Or rather when did he thus abandon my weakened self?
We sat as far as we could from the house. I groaned in the riotous spirit, resenting the indignity, because I did not enter into an agreement and a pact with You, my God, into which all my bones said I must enter and has risen with praises to heaven. It does not go there by ships, chariots, or walking, even as far from the house in that place where I was, where we were sitting. For not only to go, but also to arrive there was nothing other than to wish to go, but to wish bravely and honestly, not to twist and toss this partially wounded will, a struggling will, a part advancing and the other falling back.
Thus I grew sick and tormented, accusing myself by habit most stridently, twisting and turning myself in my chains, until I severed them all, from which small bonds I was presently held. Yet, I was still held. You pursued me in my hiding, O Lord, redoubling the strict merciful blows of fear and shame, lest I again delay and not sever that very bond, small and of small means, which remained, and it both grow again and fetter me more strongly.
For I said within myself: “Behold, it happens now, now it happens,” and with the word I was already moving towards decision. I already nearly did, and I did not, still I did not fall back into the former ways, but I stood very near and I waited. Again I tried, and by a little I was not quite there, not quite by a little, I was already grasping it and holding it: I was not there, neither grasping it nor holding it, hesitating to die to death and live to life, and the worse that had long grown in me was stronger in me than the better, so unaccustomed to me, and the nearer that point in time, at which I was to be something else, approached, the greater terror it instilled; yet it did not strike me back and it did not divert me, but it suspended me.
The trifles of trifles and vanities of vanities held me back, my old friends both shook my fleshy raiment and murmured: “Are you leaving us?” and “From this very moment, will we not go with you forevermore into eternity,” and “From this very moment, this and that will not be permitted for you forevermore into eternity.” What things were they suggesting in that which I called “this and that,” what things were they suggesting, my God? Which things avert your mercy from the soul of your servant! What humiliations they suggested, what vices! I heard them already less than half, not as though openly contradicting me by opposing me to my face, but as though murmuring behind my back, and I withdrew from them criticizing as if by stealth, that I might rest. Still they held up my lazy self from being torn away and shaken from them, from jumping across where I was called, while impetuous custom called to me: “Will you be able to live without these things?”
Yet most tepidly did it say this. For the chaste dignity of continence was uncovered on that part, in which I had directed my face and whither I trembled to cross, a dignity serene and not dissolutely cheerful, honestly alluring, so I might come and not doubt, and extending a tender hand filled with a multitude of good examples for supporting and embracing me. There were so many boys and girls, there were numerous youth, every stage of life, both severe widows, and aged virgins, and in all was continence herself, not at all sterile, but the fruitful mother of the children of joys from You, O Lord, her Spouse.
She smiled upon me with encouraging derision, as if she said: “Can you not do what these men and women do? Truly, can it be that those men and women are able to act in themselves, and not in the Lord their God? Their Lord God gave me to them. Why do you stand on yourself and not stand? Throw down yourself to him and do not fear; he will not slip away, so you fail; throw down yourself secure, He will remove and heal you.” I blushed exceedingly, because I still heard the murmurs of those trifles, and I waiting about, loitering. Again that friend, just as if she spoke, said: “Turn a deaf ear to those your foul members upon the earth, that they might be mortified. They speak delights to you, but not as the law of the Lord your God.” This dispute in my heart was entirely myself against myself. Alypius, all the while near to my side, awaited the end of my unfamiliar disturbance silently.
When truly the noble consideration drew from the hidden depths of my soul and amassed my entire misery in sight of my heart, a mighty storm rose bearing a vast shower of tears. That I might pour forth the whole tempest with its sounds, I rose from Alypius—solitude suggested itself to me as more fit for the business of weeping—and I withdrew more remotely than that his present circumstances could be burdensome to me.
I was thus there, and he knew: for I do not know what, I suppose I had spoken, in which speaking, the sound of my voice appeared already teeming with tears, and so I had risen. Therefore, he remained where we were sitting, greatly astounded. I prostrated myself under a certain fig tree (I do not know where) and I shook off the straps of weeping, and rivers rushed from my eyes, an acceptable sacrifice to You, not indeed with these words, but with this intense meaning I said to You: “But You, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord, will you be angry in design? Do not be mindful of our former iniquities.” For I thought that I was held by them. I cast forth the miserable cries: “How long, how long, shall I say ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow?’ Why not now? Why is the end of my indecency not at this hour?”
I said this and I wept with the bitterest contrition of my heart. Then behold, I heard a voice in the vicinity of the house with the singing tone of one saying and repeating—whether a boy or a girl, I do not know—”Take up, read; take up, read.” Immediately, with a changed expression, I, most eager, began to think whether boys in any kind of playing were accustomed to sing in such a manner, and it did not happen at all anywhere that I heard, and with a repressed attack of weeping I rose, interpreting that it was nothing more than a divine order to me, that I might open the book and read the first chapter which I found. For I had heard of Antony, that he had an admonition from a reading of the Gospel, at which perchance he had been present, just as if what was read was said to him: “Go, sell everything which you have, give it to the poor and you will have a treasure in heaven; then, come, follow me,” and that by such a prophecy he was immediately converted to you.
There, I returned to that place where Alypius sat, aroused: for there I had placed a book of the Apostle, when I had risen thence. I grabbed it, I opened it and I read the chapter in silence, where first my eyes had fallen: “not in carousing and drunkenness, not in fornication and buggery, not in contention and rivalry, but clothe yourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ and make not a provision for the flesh in concupiscence.” Further I did not wish to read, and further was not necessary. Immediately, as though with the end of this sentence, a light as if of security poured into my heart, all the darkness of doubt scattered.
Then having interposed either a finger or I do not know other sign, I closed the book and already with a tranquil expression betrayed my whole experience to Alypius. But he indicated what happened in himself—because I did not know. He sought to see what I had read: I revealed it, and he also observed more than I had read. I did not know what followed. However, it continued: “however, truly take the infirm in faith.” He applied this to himself, and he told me. Yet he was strengthened by such an admonition, and without any unruly delay he took to himself an agreement and proposition good and most agreeable to his character, in which from me he did differ very much for the better for a very long time.
Thereupon we advanced to my mother, we proclaimed: she rejoiced. We told her how it came to pass: she rejoiced and triumphed; she blessed You, Who are mighty to act further than we desire or understand, because she saw You had granted her far more than she was accustomed to ask with wretched and doleful groans. For you converted me to you, so I did not seek a wife nor any hope of this secular age, standing in this rule of faith, in which faith you had shown me to her twelve years earlier, and you converted her sorrow into a more fertile joy than she had desired, more dear and spotless than she sought from grandchildren of my flesh.