St. Augustine of Hippo-Confessions, BOOK I
AUTHOR: Augustine
PUBLISHED ON: March 26, 2003

St. Augustine of Hippo: CONFESSIONS
“New Advent Catholic Supersite”

St. Augustine of Hippo




I. GREAT art Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is
Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no end. And man, being a part
of Thy creation, desires to praise Thee, man, who bears about with
him his mortality, the witness of his sin, even the witness that
Thou “resistest the proud, ” — yet man, this part of Thy creation,
desires to praise Thee. Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee;
for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless
till they find rest in Thee. Lord, teach me to know and understand
which of these should be first, to call on Thee, or to praise Thee;
and likewise to know Thee, or to call upon Thee. But who is there
that calls upon Thee without knowing Thee? For he that knows Thee
not may call upon Thee as other than Thou art. Or perhaps we call on
Thee that we may know Thee. “But how shall they call on Him in whom
they have not believed? or how shall they believe without a
preacher?” And those who seek the Lord shall praise Him. For those
who seek shall find Him, and those who find Him shall praise Him.
Let me seek Thee, Lord, in calling on Thee, and call on Thee in
believing in Thee; for Thou hast been preached unto us. O Lord, my
faith calls on Thee, –that faith which Thou hast imparted to me,
which Thou hast breathed into me through the incarnation of Thy Son,
through the ministry of Thy preacher.’



2. And how shall I call upon my God–my God and my Lord? For when
I call on Him I ask Him to come into me. And what place is there in
me into which my God can come–into which God can come, even He who
made heaven and earth? Is there anything in me, O Lord my God, that
can contain Thee? Do indeed the very heaven and the earth, which
Thou hast made, and in which Thou hast made me,
contain Thee? Or, as nothing could exist without Thee, doth whatever
exists contain Thee? Why, then, do I ask Thee to come into me, since
I indeed exist, and could not exist if Thou wert not in me? Because
I am not yet in hell, though Thou art even there; for “if I go down
into hell Thou art there.’ t I could not therefore exist, could not
exist at all, O my God, unless Thou wert in me. Or should I not
rather say, that I could not exist unless I were in Thee from whom
are all things, by whom are all things, in whom are all things?’
Even so, Lord; even so. Where do I call Thee to, since Thou art in
me, or whence canst Thou come into me? For where outside heaven and
earth can I go that from thence my God may come into me who has
said, I fill heaven and earth”?



3. Since, then, Thou fillest heaven and earth, do they contain
Thee? Or, as they contain Thee not, dost Thou fill them, and yet
there remains something over? And where dost Thou pour forth that
which remaineth of Thee when the heaven and earth are filled? Or,
indeed, is there no need that Thou who containest all things
shouldest be contained of any, since those things which Thou fillest
Thou fillest by containing them? For the vessels which Thou fillest
do not sustain Thee, since should they even be broken Thou wilt not
be poured forth. And when Thou art poured forth on us, Thou art not
cast down, but we are uplifted; nor art Thou dissipated, but we are
drawn together. But, as Thou fillest all things, dost Thou fill them
with Thy whole self, or, as even all things cannot altogether
contain Thee, do they contain a part, and do all at once contain the
same part? Or has each its own proper part–the greater more, the
smaller less? Is, then, one part of Thee greater, another less? Or
is it that Thou art wholly everywhere whilst nothing altogether
contains Thee?



4. What, then, art Thou, O my God–what, I ask, but the Lord God?
For who is Lord but the Lord? or who is God save our God Most
high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most piteous and
most just; most hidden and most near; most beauteous and most
strong, stable, yet contained of none; unchangeable, yet changing
all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet
bringing old age upon the proud and they know it not; always
working, yet ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing;
sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and
developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. Thou lovest, and
burnest not; art jealous, yet free from care; repentest, and hast no
sorrow; art angry, yet serene; changest Thy ways, leaving unchanged
Thy plans; recoverest what Thou findest, having yet never lost; art
never in want, whilst Thou rejoicest in gain; never covetous, though
requiring usury? That Thou mayest owe, more than enough is given to
Thee;s yet who hath anything that is not Thine? Thou payest debts
while owing nothing; and when Thou forgivest debts, losest nothing.
Yet, O my God, my life, my holy joy, what is this that I have said?
And what saith any man when He speaks of Thee? Yet woe to them that
keep silence, seeing that even they who say most are as the dumb?



5. Oh! how shall I find rest in Thee? Who will send Thee into my
heart to inebriate it, s that I may forget my woes, and embrace Thee
my only good? What art Thou to me? Have compassion on me, that I may
speak. What am I to Thee that Thou demandest my love, and unless I
give it Thee art angry, and threatenest me with great sorrows? Is
it, then, a light sorrow not to love Thee? Alas! alas! tell me of
Thy compassion, O Lord my God, what Thou art to me. “Say unto my
soul, I am thy salvation.” So speak that I may hear. Behold, LOrd,
the ears of my heart are before Thee; open Thou them, and “say unto
my soul, I am thy salvation.” When I hear, may I run and lay hold on
Thee. Hide not Thy face from me. Let me die, lest I die, if only I
may see Thy face.

6. Cramped is the dwelling of my soul; do Thou
expand it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is in ruins, restore Thou
it. There is that about it which must offend Thine eyes; I confess
know it, but who will cleanse it? or to whom shall I cry but to
Thee? Cleanse me from my secret sins, x O Lord, and keep Thy servant
from those of other men. I believe, and therefore do I speak; Lord,
Thou knowest.’ Have I not confessed my transgressions unto Thee, O
my God; and Thou hast put away the iniquity of my heart? a I do not
contend in judgment with Thee, who art the Truth; and I would not
deceive myself, lest my iniquity lie against itself.s I do not,
therefore, contend in judgment with Thee, for “if Thou, Lord,
shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”


7. Still suffer me to speak before Thy mercy–me, “dust and
ashes.” Suffer me to speak, for, behold, it is Thy mercy I
address, and not derisive man. Yet perhaps even Thou deridest me;
but when Thou art turned to me Thou wilt have compassion on me. For
what do I wish to say, O Lord my God, but that I know not whence I
came hither into this–shall I call it dying life or living death?
Yet, as I have heard from my parents, from whose substance Thou
didst form me, –for I myself cannot remember it, –Thy merciful
comforts sustained me. Thus it was that the comforts of a woman’s
milk entertained me; for neither my mother nor my nurses filled
their own breasts, but Thou by them didst give me the nourishment of
infancy according to Thy ordinance and that bounty of Thine which
underlieth all things. For Thou didst cause me not to want more than
Thou gavest, and those who nourished me willingly to give me what
Thou gavest them. For they, by an instinctive affection, were
anxious to give me what Thou hadst abundantly supplied. It was, in
truth, good for them that my good should come from them, though,
indeed, it was not from them, but by them; for from Thee, O God, are
all good things, and from my God is all my safety? This is what I
have since discovered, as Thou hast declared Thyself to me by the
blessings both within me and without me which Thou hast bestowed
upon me. For at that time I knew how to suck, to be satisfied when
comfortable, and to cry when in pain–nothing beyond.

8. Afterwards I began to laugh, –at first in sleep, then when
waking. For this I have heard mentioned of myself, and I believe it
(though I cannot remember it), for we see the same in other infants.
And now little by little I realized where I was, and wished to tell
my wishes to those who might satisfy them, but I could not; for my
wants were within me, while they were without, and could not by any
faculty of theirs enter into my soul. So I cast about limbs and
voice, making the few and feeble signs I could, like, though indeed
not much like, unto what I wished; and when I was not
satisfied–either not being understood, or because it would have
been injurious to me–I grew indignant that my eiders were not
subject unto me, and that those on whom I had no claim did not wait
on me, and avenged myself on them by tears. That infants are such I
have been able to learn by watching them; and they, though
unknowing, have better shown me that I was such an one than my
nurses who knew it.

9. And, behold, my infancy died long ago, and I live. But Thou, O
Lord, who ever livest, and in whom nothing dies (since before the
world was, and indeed before all that can be called “before, ” Thou
existest, and art the God and Lord of all Thy creatures; and with
Thee fixedly abide the causes of all unstable things, the unchanging
sources of all things changeable, and the eternal reasons of all
things unreasoning and temporal), tell me, Thy suppliant, O God;
tell, O merciful One, Thy miserable servant — tell me whether my
infancy succeeded another age of mine which had at that time
perished..Was it that which I passed in my mother’s womb? For of
that something has been made known to me, and I have myself seen
women with child. And what, O God, my joy, preceded that life? Was
I, indeed, anywhere, or anybody? For no one can tell me these
things, neither father nor mother, nor the experience of others, nor
my own memory. Dost Thou laugh at me for asking such things, and
command me to praise and confess Thee for what I know?

10. I give thanks to Thee, Lord of heaven and earth, giving
praise to Thee for that my first being and infancy, of which I have
no memory; for Thou hast granted to man that from others he should
come to conclusions as to himself, and that he should believe many
things concerning himself on the authority of feeble women. Even
then I had life and being; and
as my infancy closed I was already seeking for signs by which my
feelings might be made known to others. Whence could such a creature
come but from Thee, O Lord? Or shall any man be skilful enough to
fashion himself)Or is there any other vein by which being and life
runs into us save this, that “Thou, O Lord, hast made us, ” with
whom being and life are one, because Thou Thyself art being and life
in the highest? Thou art the highest, “Thou changest not,” neither
in Thee doth this present day come to an end, though it doth] end in
Thee, since in Thee all such things are; for they would have no way
of passing away unless Thou sustainedst them. And since “Thy years
shall have no end, ” Thy years are an ever present day. And how many
of ours and our fathers’ days have passed through this Thy day, and
received from it their measure and fashion of being, and others yet
to come shall so receive and pass away I “But Thou art the same;”
and all the things of to-morrow and the days yet to come, and all of
yesterday and the days that are past, Thou wilt do to-day, Thou hast
done to-day. What is it to me if any understand not? Let him still
rejoice and say, “What is this?” Let him rejoice even so, and
rather love to discover in failing to discover, than in discovering
not to discover Thee.


11. Hearken, O God! Alas for the sins of men! Man saith this, and
Thou dst compassionate him; for Thou didst create him, but didst not
create the sin that is in him. Who bringeth to my remembrance the
sin of my infancy? For before Thee none is free from sin, not even
the infant which has lived but a day upon the earth. Who bringeth
this to my remembrance? Doth not each little one, in whom I behold
that which I do not remember of myself? In what, then, did I sin? Is
it that I cried for the breast? If I should now so cry, –not indeed
for the breast, but for the food suitable to my years, –I should be
most justly laughed at and rebuked. What I then did de served
rebuke; but as I could not understand those who rebuked me, neither
custom nor reason suffered me to be rebuked. For as we grow we root
out and cast from us such habits. I, have not seen any one who is
wise, when “purging”
anything cast away the good. Or was it good, even for a time,
to strive to get by crying that which, if given, would be
hurtful–to be bitterly indignant that those who were free and its
elders, and those to whom it owed its being, besides many others
wiser than it, who would not give way to the nod of its good
pleasure, were not subject unto it–to endeavour to harm, by
struggling as much as it could, because those commands were not
obeyed which only could have been obeyed to its hurt? Then, in the
weakness of the infant’s limbs, and not in its will, lies its
innocency. I myself have seen and known an infant to be jealous
though it could not speak. It became pale, and cast bitter looks on
its foster-brother. Who is ignorant of this? Mothers and nurses tell
us that they appease these things by I know not what remedies; and
may this be taken for innocence, that when the fountain of milk is
flowing fresh and abundant, one who has need should not be allowed
to share it, though needing that nourishment to sustain life? Yet we
look leniently on these things, not because they are not faults, nor
because the faults are small, but because they will vanish as age
increases. For although you may allow these things now, you could
not bear them with equanimity if found in an older person.

12. Thou, therefore, O Lord my God, who avest life to the infant,
and a frame which, as we see, Thou hast endowed with senses,
compacted with limbs, beautified with form, and, for its general
good and safety, hast introduced all vital energies—Thou
commandest me to [praise Thee for these things, “to give thanks
[unto the Lord, and to sing praise unto Thy name, O Most High;” for
Thou art a God omnipotent and good, though Thou hadst done nought
but these things, which none other can do but Thou, who alone madest
all things, O Thou most fair, who madest all things fair, and
orderest all according to Thy law. This period, then, of my life, O
Lord, of which I have no remembrance, which I believe on the word of
others, and which I guess from other infants, it chagrins me–true
though the guess be–to reckon in this life of mine which I lead in
this world; inasmuch as, in the darkness of my forgetfulness, it is
like to that which I passed in my mother’s womb. But if “I was
shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive
me, ” x where, I pray thee, O my God, where, Lord, or when was I, Thy
servant, innocent? But behold, I pass by that time, for what have I
to do with that, the memories of which I cannot recall?


13. Did I not, then, growing out of the state of infancy, come to
boyhood, or rather did it not come to me, and succeed to infancy?
Nor did my infancy depart (for whither went it?); and yet it did no
longer abide, for I was no longer an infant that could not speak,
but a chattering boy. I remember this, and I afterwards observed how
I first learned to speak, for my elders did not teach me words in
any set method, as they did letters afterwards; but myself, when I
was unable to say all I wished and to whomsoever I desired, by means
of the whimperings and broken utterances and various motions of my
limbs, which I used to enforce my wishes, repeated the sounds in my
memory by the mind, O my God, which Thou gavest me. When they called
anything by name, and moved the body towards it while they spoke, I
saw and gathered that the thing they wished to point out was called
by the name they then uttered; and that they did mean this was made
plain by the motion of the body, even by the natural language Of all
nations expressed by the countenance, glance of the eye, movement of
other members, and by the sound of the voice indicating the
affections of the mind, as it seeks, possesses, rejects, or avoids.
So it was that by frequently hearing words, in duly placed
sentences, I gradually gathered what things they were the signs of;
and having formed my mouth to the utterance of these signs, I
thereby expressed my will? Thus I exchanged with those about me the
signs by which we express our wishes, and advanced deeper into the
stormy fellowship of human life, depending the while on the
authority of parents, and the beck of elders.


14. O my God! what miseries and mockeries did I then experience,
when obedience to my teachers was set before me as proper to my
boyhood, that I might flourish in this world, and distinguish myself
in the science of speech, which should get me honour amongst men,
and deceitful riches! After that I was put to school to get
learning, of which I (worthless as I was) knew not what use there
was; and yet, if slow to learn, I was flogged! For this was deemed
praiseworthy by our forefathers; and many before us, passing the
same course, had appointed beforehand for us these troublesome ways
by which we were compelled to pass, multiplying labour and sorrow
upon the sons of Adam. But we found, O Lord, men praying to Thee,
and we learned from them to conceive of Thee, according to our
ability, to be some Great One, who was able (though not visible to
our senses) to hear and help us. For as a boy I began to pray to
Thee, my “help” and my “refuge,” and in invoking Thee broke the
bands of my tongue, and entreated Thee though little, with I no
little earnestness, that I might not be beaten at school. And when
Thou heardedst me not, giving me not over to folly thereby, my
elders, yea, and my own parents too, who wished me no ill, laughed
at my stripes, my then great and grievous ill.

15. Is there any one, Lord, with so high a spirit, cleaving to Thee
with so strong an affection for even a kind of obtuseness may do
that much–but is there, I say, any one who, by cleaving devoutly to
Thee, is endowed with so great a courage that he can esteem lightly
those racks and hooks, and varied tortures of the same sort, against
which, throughout the whole world, men supplicate Thee with great
fear, deriding those who most bitterly fear them, just as our
parents derided the torments with which our masters punished-us when
we were boys? For we were no less afraid of our pains, nor did we
pray less to Thee to avoid them; and yet we sinned, in writing, or
reading, or reflecting upon our lessons less than was required of
us. For we wanted not, O Lord, memory or capacity, of which, by Thy
will, we possessed enough for our age, –but we delighted only in
play; and we were punished for this by those who were doing the same
things themselves. But the idleness of our elders they call
business, whilst boys who do the like are punished by those same
elders, and yet neither boys nor men find any pity. For will any one
of good sense approve of my being whipped because, as a boy, I
played ball, and so was hindered from learning quickly those lessons
by means of which, as a man, I should play more unbecomingly? And
did he by whom I was beaten do other than this, who, when he was
overcome in any little controversy with a co-tutor, was more
tormented by anger and envy than I when beaten by a playfellow in a
match at ball?


16. And yet I erred, O Lord God, the Creator and Disposer of all
things in Nature, –but of sin the Disposer only, –I erred, O Lord
m.y God, in doing contrary to the wishes of my parents and of those
masters; for this learning which they (no matter for what motive)
wished me to acquire, I might have put to good account afterwards.
For I disobeyed them not because I had chosen a better way, but from
a fondness for play, loving the honour of victory in the matches,
and to have my ears tickled with lying fables, in order that they
might itch the more furiously–the same curiosity beaming more and
more in my eyes for the shows and sports of my elders. Yet those who
give these entertainments are held in such high repute, that almost
all desire the same for their children, whom they are still willing
should be beaten, if so be these same games keep them from the
studies by which they desire them to arrive at being the givers of
them. Look down upon these things, O Lord, I with compassion, and
deliver us who now call! upon Thee; deliver those also who do not
call upon Thee, that they may call upon Thee, and that Thou mayest
deliver them.


17. Even as a boy I had heard of eternal life promised to us
through the humility of the Lord our God condescending to our pride,
and I was signed with the sign of the cross, and was seasoned with
His salt x even from the womb of my mother, who greatly trusted in
Thee. Thou sawest, O Lord, how at one time, while yet a boy, being
suddenly seized with pains in the stomach, and being at the point of
death–Thou sawest, O my God, for even then Thou wast my keeper,
with what emotion of mind and with what faith I solicited from the
piety of my mother, and of Thy Church, the mother of us all, the
baptism of Thy Christ, my Lord and my God. On which, the mother of
my flesh being much troubled, –since she, with a heart pure in Thy
faith, travailed in birth more lovingly for my eternal
salvation, –would, had I not quickly recovered, have without delay
provided for my initiation and washing by Thy life-giving
sacraments, confessing Thee, O Lord Jesus, for the remission of
sins. So my cleansing was deferred, as if I must needs, should I
live, be further polluted; because, indeed, the guilt contracted by
sin would, after baptism, be greater and more perilous. Thus I at
that time believed with my mother and the whole house, except my
father; yet he did not overcome the influence of my mother’s piety
in me so as to prevent my believing in Christ, as he had not yet
believed in Him. For she was desirous that Thou, O my God, shouldst
be my Father rather than he; and in this Thou didst aid her to
overcome her husband, to whom, though the better of the two, she
yielded obedience, because in this she yielded obedience to Thee,
who dost so command.

18. I beseech Thee, my God, I would gladly know, if it be Thy
will, to what end my baptism was then deferred? Was it for my good
that the reins were slackened, as it were, upon ‘me for me to sin?
Or were they not slackened? If not, whence comes it that it is still
dinned into our ears on all sides, “Let him alone, let him act as he
likes, for he is not yet baptized But as regards bodily health, no
one exclaims, “Let him be more seriously wounded, for he is not yet
cured!” How much better, then, had it been for me to have been cured
at once; and then, by my own and my friends’ diligence, my soul’s
restored health had been kept safe in Thy keeping, who gavest it!
Better, in truth. But how numerous and great waves of temptation i
appeared to hang over me after my childhood :These were foreseen by
my mother; and she preferred that the unformed clay should be
exposed to them rather than the image itself.


19. But in this my childhood (which was far less dreaded for me
than youth) I had no love of learning, and hated to be forced to it,
yet i was I forced to it notwithstanding; and this was well done
towards me, but I did not well, if or I would not have learned had I
not been compelled. For no man doth well against his will, even if
that which he doth be well. Neither did they who forced me do well,
the good that was done to me came from Thee, my God. For they
considered not in what way I should employ what they forced me to
learn, unless to satisfy the inordinate desires of a rich beggary
and a shameful glory. But Thou, by whom the very hairs of our heads
are numbered, t didst use for my good the error of all who pressed me
to learn; and my own error in willing not to learn, didst Thou make
use of for my punishment–of which I, being so small a boy and so
great a sinner, was not unworthy. Thus by the instrumentality of
those who did not well didst Thou well for me; and by my own sin
didst Thou justly punish me. For it is even as Thou hast appointed,
that every inordinate affection should bring its own punishment


20. But what was the cause of my dislike of Greek literature,
which I studied from my boyhood, I cannot even now understand. For
the Latin I loved exceedingly–not what our first masters, but what
the grammarians teach; for those primary lessons of reading,
writing, and ciphering, I considered no less of a burden and a
punishment than Greek. Yet whence was this unless from the sin and
vanity of this life? for I was “but flesh, a wind that passeth away
and cometh not again.” ‘ For those primary lessons were better,
assuredly, because more certain; seeing that by their agency I
acquired, and still retain, the power of reading what I find
written, and writing myself what I will; whilst in the others I was
compelled to learn about the wanderings of a certain AEneas,
oblivious of my own, and to weep for Biab dead, because she slew
herself for love; while at the same time I brooked with dry eyes my
wretched self dying far from Thee, in the midst of those things, O
God, my life.

21. For what can be more wretched than the wretch who pities not
himself shedding tears over the death of Dido for love of AEneas,
but shedding no tears over his own death’ in not loving Thee, O God,
light of my heart, and bread of the inner mouth of my soul, and the
power that weddest my mind with my innermost thoughts? I did not
love Thee, and committed fornication against Thee; and those around
me thus sinning cried, “Well done Well done!” For the friendship of
this world ] is fornication against Thee; and “Well done! Well
done!” is cried until one feels ashamed not to be such a man. And
for this I shed no tears, though I wept for Dido, who sought death
at the sword’s point, myself the while seeking the lowest of Thy
creatures–having forsaken Thee—earth tending to the earth; and if
forbidden to read these things, how grieved would I feel that I was
not permitted to read what grieved me. This sort of madness is
considered a more honourable and more fruitful learning than that by
which I learned to read and write.

22. But now, O my God, cry unto my soul; and let Thy Truth say
unto me, “It is not so; it is not so; better much was that first
teaching.” For behold, I would rather forget the wanderings of
AEneas, and all such things, than how to write and read. But it is
true that over the entrance of the grammar school there hangs a
vail; but this is not so much a sign of the majesty of the
mystery, as of a covering for error. Let not them exclaim against me
of whom I am no longer in fear, whilst I confess to Thee, my God,
that which my soul desires, and acquiesce in reprehending my evil
ways, that I may love Thy good ways. Neither let those cry out
against me who buy or sell grammar-learning. For if I ask them
whether it be true, as the poet says, that. AEneas once came to
Carthage, the unlearned will reply that they do not know, the
learned will deny it to be true. But if I ask with what letters the
name. AEneas is written, all who have learnt this will answer truly,
in accordance with the conventional understanding men have arrived
at as to these signs. Again, if I
should ask which, if forgotten, would cause the greatest
inconvenience in our life, reading and writing, or these poetical
fictions, who does not see what every one would answer who had not
entirely forgotten himself? I erred, then, when as a boy I preferred
those vain studies to those more profitable ones, or rather loved
the one and hated the other. “One and one are two, two and two are
four,” this was then in truth a hateful song to me; while the wooden
horse full of armed men, and the burning of Troy, and the “spectral
image” of Creusa were a most pleasant spectacle of vanity.


23. But why, then, did I dislike Greek learning
which was full of like tales? x For Homer also was skilled in
inventing similar stories, and is most sweetly vain, yet was he
disagreeable to me as a boy. I believe Virgil, indeed, would be the
same to Grecian children, if compelled to learn him, as I was Homer.
The difficulty, in truth, the difficulty of learning a foreign
language mingled as it were with gall all the sweetness of those
fabulous Grecian stories. For not a single word of it did I
understand, and to make me do so, they vehemently urged me with
cruel threatenings and punishments. There was a time also when (as
an infant) I knew no Latin; but this I acquired without any fear or
tormenting, by merely taking notice, amid the blandishments of my
nurses, the jests of those who smiled on me, and the sportiveness of
those who toyed with me. I learnt all this, indeed, without being
urged by any pressure of punishment, for my own heart urged me to
bring forth its own conceptions, which I could not do unless by
learning words, not of those who taught me, but of those who talked
to me; into whose ears, also, I brought forth whatever I discerned.
From this it is sufficiently clear that a free curiosity hath more
influence in our learning these things than a necessity full of
fear. But this last restrains the overflowings of that freedom,
through Thy laws, O God, –Thy laws, from the ferule of the
schoolmaster to the trials of the martyr, being. effective to mingle
for us a salutary bitter, calling us back to Thyself from the
pernicious delights which allure us from Thee.


24. Hear my prayer, O Lord; let not my soul faint under Thy
discipline, nor let me faint in confessing unto Thee Thy mercies,
whereby Thou hast saved me from all my most mischievous ways, that
Thou mightest become sweet to me beyond all the seductions which I
used to follow; and that I may love Thee entirely, and grasp Thy
hand with my whole heart, and that Thou mayest deliver me from every
temptation, even unto the end. For lo, O Lord, my King and my God,
for Thy service be whatever useful thing I learnt as a boy–for Thy
service what I speak, and write, and count. For when I learned vain
things, Thou didst grant me Thy discipline; and my sin in taking
delight in those vanities, Thou hast forgiven me. I learned, indeed,
in them many useful words; but these may be learned in things not
vain, and that is the safe way for youths to walk in.



25. But woe unto thee, thou stream of human custom! Who shall
stay thy course? How long shall it be before thou art dried up? How
long wilt thou carry down the sons of Eve into that huge and
formidable ocean, which even they who are embarked on the cross
(lignum) can scarce pass over? Do I not read in thee of Jove the
thunderer and adulterer? And the two verily he could not be; but it
was that, while the fictitious thunder served as a cloak, he might
have warrant to imitate real adultery. Yet which of our gowned
masters can lend a temperate ear to a man of his school who cries
out and says: “These were Homer’s fictions; he transfers things
human to the gods. I could have wished him to transfer divine things
to us.” But it would have been more true had he said: “These are,
indeed, his fictions, but he attributed divine attributes to sinful
men, that crimes might not be accounted crimes, and that whosoever
committed any might appear to imitate the celestial gods and not
abandoned men.”

26. And yet, thou stream of hell, into thee are cast the sons of
men, with rewards for learning these things; and much is made of it
when this is going on in the forum in the sight of laws which grant
a salary over and above the rewards. And thou beatest against thy
rocks and roarest, saying, “Hence words are learnt hence eloquence
is to be attained, most necessary to persuade people to your way of
thinking, and to unfold your opinions.” So, in truth, we should
never have understood these words, “golden shower, ” “bosom,”

“intrigue,” “highest heavens,” and other words written in the
same place, unless Terence had introduced a good-for-nothing youth
upon the stage, setting up Jove as his example of lewdness: “Viewing
a picture, where the tale was drawn, Of Jove’s descending in a
golden shower To Danae’s bosom . . . with a woman to intrigue.”

And see how he excites himself to lust, as if by celestial authority, when he says:

“Great Jove, Who shakes the highest heavens with his thunder, And
I, poor mortal man not do the same! I did it, and with a I my heart
I did it.” Not one whir more easily are the words learnt for this
vileness, but by their means is the vileness perpetrated with more
confidence. I do not blame the words, they being, as it were, choice
and precious vessels, but the wine of error which was drunk in them
to us by inebriated teachers; and unless we drank, we were! beaten,
without liberty of appeal to any sober judge. And yet, O my God, –in
whose presence I can now with security recall this, –did I, unhappy
one, learn these things willingly, and with delight, and for this
was I called a boy of good promise?


27. Bear with me, my God, while I speak a little of those talents
Thou hast bestowed upon me, and on what follies I wasted them. For a
lesson sufficiently disquieting to my soul was given me, in hope of
praise, and fear of shame or stripes, to speak the words of Juno, as
she raged and sorrowed that she could not “Latium bar From all
approaches of the Dardan king, “l which I had heard Juno never
uttered. Yet were we compelled to stray in the footsteps of these
poetic fictions, and to turn that into prose which the poet had said
in verse. And his speaking was most applauded in whom, according to
the reputation of the persons delineated, the passions of anger and
sorrow were most strikingly reproduced, and clothed in the most
suitable language. But what is it to me, O my true Life, my God,
that my declaiming was applauded above that of many who were my
con-temporaries and fellow-students? Behold, is not all this smoke
and wind? Was there nothing else, too, on which I could exercise my
wit and tongue? Thy praise, Lord, Thy praises might have supported
the tendrils of my heart by Thy Scriptures; so had it not been
dragged away by these empty trifles, a shameful prey of the fowls
of the air.

For there is more than one way in which men sacrifice to the
fallen angels.



28. But what matter of surprise is it that I
was thus carried towards vanity, and went forth from Thee, O my God,
when men were proposed to me to imitate, who, should they in
relating any acts of theirs—not in themselves evil –be guilty of
a barbarism or solecism, when censured for it became confounded; but
when they made a full and ornate oration, in well-chosen words,
concerning their own licentiousness, and were applauded for it, they
boasted? Thou seest this, O Lord, and keepest silence,
“long-suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth, ” s as Thou art.
Wilt Thou keep silence for ever? And even now Thou drawest out of i
this vast deep the soul that seeketh Thee and i thirsteth after Thy
delights, whose “heart said unto Thee, ” I have sought Thy face, “Thy
face, Lord, will I seek.” For I was far from Thy face, through my
darkened affections. For it is not by our feet, nor by change of
place, that we either turn from Thee or return to Thee. Or, indeed,
did that younger son look out for horses, or chariots, or ships, or
fly away with visible wings, or journey by the motion of his limbs,
that he might, in a tar country, prodigally waste all that Thou
gavest him when he set out? A kind Father when Thou gavest, and
kinder still when he returned destitute!s So, then, in wanton, that
is to say, in darkened affections, lies distance from Thy face.

29. Behold, O Lord God, and behold patiently, as Thou art wont to
do, how diligently the sons of men observe the conventional rules of
letters and syllables, received from those who spoke prior to them,
and yet neglect the eternal rules of everlasting salvation received
from Thee, insomuch that he who practises or teaches the hereditary
rules of pronunciation, if, contrary to grammatical usage, he should
say, without aspirating the first letter, a human being, will offend
men more than if, in opposition to Thy commandments, he, a human
being, were to hate a human being. As if, indeed, any man should
feel that an enemy could be more destructive to him than that hatred
with which he is excited against him, or that he could destroy more
utterly him whom he persecutes than he destroys his own soul by his
enmity. And of a truth, there is no science of letters more innate
than the writing of conscience–that he is doing unto another what
he himself would not suffer. How mysterious art Thou, who in silence
“dwellest on high,” Thou God, the only great, who by an
unwearied law dealest out the punishment of blindness to illicit
desires! When a man seeking for the reputation of eloquence stands
before a human judge while
a thronging multitude surrounds him, inveighs against his enemy with
the most fierce hatred, he takes most vigilant heed that his tongue
slips not into grammatical error, but takes no heed lest through the
fury of his spirit he cut off a man from his fellow-men.

30. These were the customs in the midst of which I, unhappy boy, was cast, and
on that arena it was that I was more fearful of perpetrating a
barbarism than, having done so, of envying those who had not. These
things I declare and confess unto Thee, my God, for which I was
applauded by them whom I then thought it my Whole duty to please,
for I did not perceive the gulf of infamy wherein I was cast away
from Thine eyes? For in Thine eyes what was more infamous than I was
already, displeasing even those like myself, deceiving with
innumerable lies both tutor, and masters, and parents, from love of
play, a desire to see frivolous spectacles, and a stage-stuck
restlessness, to imitate them? Pilferings I committed from my
parents’ cellar and table, either enslaved by gluttony, or that I
might have something to give to boys who sold me their play, who,
though they sold it, liked it as well as I. In this play, likewise,
I often sought dishonest victories, I myself being conquered by the
vain desire of pre-eminence. And what could I so little endure, or,
if I detected it, censured I so violently, as the very things I did
to others, and, when myself detected I was censured, preferred
rather to quarrel than to yield? Is this the innocence of childhood?
Nay, Lord, nay, Lord; I entreat Thy mercy, O my God. For these same
sins, as we grow older, are transferred from governors and masters,
from nuts, and balls, and sparrows, to magistrates and kings, to
gold, and lands, and slaves, just as the rod is succeeded by more
severe chastisements. It was, then, the stature of childhood that
Thou, O our King, didst approve of as an emblem of humility when
Thou saidst: “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

31. But yet, O Lord, to Thee, most excellent and most good, Thou
Architect and Governor of the universe, thanks had been due unto
Thee, our God, even hadst Thou willed that I should not survive my
boyhood. For I existed even then j I lived, and felt, and was
solicitous about my own well-being, ma trace of that most mysterious
unity from whence I had my being; I kept watch by my inner sense
over the wholeness of my senses, and in these insignificant
pursuits, and also in my thoughts on things insignificant, I learnt
to take pleasure in truth. I was averse to being deceived, I had a
vigorous memory, was provided with the power of speech, was softened
by friendship, shunned sorrow, meanness, ignorance. In such a being
what was not wonderful and praiseworthy? But all these are gifts of
my God; I did not give them to myself; and they are good, and all
these constitute myself. Good, then, is He that made me, and He is
my God; and before Him will I rejoice exceedingly for every good
gift which, as a boy, I had. For in this lay my sin, that not in
Him, but in His creatures–my-self and the rest–I sought for
pleasures, hon-ours, and truths, falling thereby into sorrows,
troubles, and errors. Thanks be to Thee, my joy, my pride, my
confidence, my God–thanks be to Thee for Thy gifts; but preserve
Thou them to me. For thus wilt Thou preserve me; and those things
which Thou hast given me shall be developed and perfected, and I
myself shall be with Thee, for from Thee is my being.

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