St. Augustine of Hippo: Confessions BOOK VI
AUTHOR: Augustine
PUBLISHED ON: March 27, 2003

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

St. Augustine of Hippo




I. O Thou, my hope from my youth, where weft Thou to me, and
whither hadst Thou gone? For in truth, hadst Thou not created me,
and made a difference between me and the beasts of the field and
fowls of the air? Thou hadst made me wiser than they, yet did I
wander about in dark and slippery places, and sought Thee abroad out
of myself, and found not the God of my heart;’ and had entered the
depths of the sea, and distrusted and despaired finding out the
truth. By this time my mother, made strong by her piety, had come to
me, following me over sea and land, in all perils feeling secure in
Thee. For in the dangers of the sea she comforted the very sailors
(to whom the inexperienced passengers, when alarmed, were wont
rather to go for comfort), assuring them of a safe arrival, because
she had been so assured by: Thee in a vision. She found me in
grievous i danger, through despair of ever finding truth. But when I
had disclosed to her that I was now no longer a Manichaean, though
not yet a Catholic Christian, she did not leap for joy as at what
was unexpected; although she was now reassured as to that part of my
misery for which she had mourned me as one dead, but who would be
raised to Thee, carrying me forth upon the bier of her thoughts,
that Thou mightest say unto the widow’s son, “Young man, I say unto
Thee, arise,” and he should revive, and begin to speak, and Thou
shouldest deliver him to his mother? Her heart, then, was not
agitated with any violent exultation, when she had heard that to be
already in so great a part accomplished which she daily, with tears,
entreated of Thee might be done,–that though I had not yet grasped
the truth, I was rescued from falsehood. Yea, rather, for that she
was fully confident that Thou, who hadst promised the whole, wouldst
give the rest, most calmly, and with a breast full of confidence,
she replied to me, “She believed in Christ, that before she departed
this life, she would see me a Catholic believer.” And thus much
said she to me; but to Thee, O Fountain of mercies, poured she out
more frequent prayers and tears, that Thou wouldest hasten Thy aid,
and enlighten my darkness; and she hurried all the more assiduously
to the church, and hung upon the words of Ambrose, praying for the
fountain of water that springeth up into everlasting life. For she
loved that man as an angel of God, because she knew that it was by
him that I had been brought, for the present, to that perplexing
state of agitation’ I was now in, through which she was fully
persuaded that I should pass from
sickness unto health, after an excess, as it were. of a sharper fit,
which doctors term the “crisis.”


2. When, therefore, my mother had at one time–as was her custom
in Africa brought to the oratories built in the memory of the
saints certain cakes, and bread, and wine, and was forbidden by the
door-keeper, so soon as she learnt that it was the bishop who had
forbidden it, she so piously and obediently acceded to it, that I
myself marvelled how readily she could bring herself to accuse her
own custom, rather than question his prohibition. For wine-bibbing
did not take possession of her spirit, nor did the love of wine
stimulate her to hatred of the truth, as it doth too many, both male
and female, who nauseate at a song of sobriety, as men well drunk at
a draught of water. But she, when she had brought her basket with
the festive meats, of which she would taste herself first and give
the rest away, would never allow herself more than one little cup of
wine, diluted according to her own temperate palate, which, out of
courtesy, she would taste. And if there were many oratories of
departed saints that ought to be honoured in the same Way, she still
carried round with her the selfsame cup, to be used every’ where;
and this, which was not only very much watered, but was also very
tepid with carrying about, she would distribute by small sips to
those around; for she sought their devotion, not pleasure. As soon,
therefore, as she found this custom to be forbidden by that famous
preacher and most pious prelate, even to those who would use it with
moderation, lest thereby an occasion of excess might be given to
such as were drunken, and because these, so to say, festivals in
honour of the dead were very. like unto the superstition of the
Gentiles, she most willingly abstained from it. And in lieu of a
basket filled with fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to
the oratories of the martyrs a heart full of more purified
petitions, and to give all that she could to the poor; that so the
communion of the Lord’s body might be rightly celebrated there,
where, after the example of His passion, the martyrs had been
sacrificed and crowned. But yet it seems to me, O Lord my God, and
thus my heart thinks of it in thy sight, that my mother perhaps
would not so easily have given way to the relinquishment of this
custom had it been forbidden by another whom she loved not as
Ambrose, whom, out of regard for my salvation, she loved most
dearly; and he loved her truly, on account of her most religious
conversation, whereby, in good works so “fervent m spirit,” s she
frequented the church; so that he would often, when he saw me, burst
forth into her praises, congratulating me that I had such a
mother–little knowing what a son she had in me, who was in doubt as
to all these things,
and did not imagine the way of life could be found out.


3. Nor did I now groan in my prayers that Thou wouldest help me;
but my mind was wholly intent on knowledge, and eager to dispute.
And Ambrose himself I esteemed a happy man, as the world’ counted
happiness, in that such great personages held him in honour; only
his celibacy appeared to me a painful thing. But what hope he
cherished, what struggles he had against the temptations that beset
his very excellences, what solace in adversities, and what savoury
joys Thy bread possessed for the hidden mouth of his heart when
ruminating on it, I could neither conjecture, nor had I
experienced. Nor did he know my embarrassments, nor the pit of my
danger. For I could not request of him what I wished as I wished, in
that I was debarred from hearing and speaking to him by crowds of
busy people, whose infirmities he devoted himself to. With whom when
he was not engaged (which was but a little time), he either was
refreshing his body with necessary sustenance, or his mind with
reading. But while reading, his eyes glanced over the pages, and his
heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent.
Ofttimes, when we had come (for no one was forbidden to enter, nor
was it his custom that the arrival of those who came should be
announced to him), we saw him thus reading to himself, and never
otherwise; and, having long sat in silence (for who durst interrupt
one so intent?), we were fain to depart, inferring that in the
little time he secured for the recruiting of his mind, free from the
clamour of other men’s business, he was unwilling to be taken off.
And perchance he was fearful lest, if the author he studied should
express aught vaguely, some doubtful and attentive hearer should ask
him to expound it, or to discuss some of the more abstruse
questions, as that, his time. being thus occupied, he could not turn
over as many volumes as he wished; at-though the preservation of his
voice, which was very easily weakened, might be the truer reason for
his reading to himself. But whatever was his motive in so doing,
doubtless in such a man was a good one.

4. But verily no opportunity could I find of ascertaining what I
desired from that Thy so holy oracle, his breast, unless the thing
might be entered into briefly. But those surgings in me required to
find him at full leisure, that I might pour them out to him, but
never were they able to find him so; and I heard him, indeed, every
Lord’s day, “rightly dividing the word of truth” among the people;
and I was all the more convinced that all those knots of crafty
calumnies, which those deceivers of ours had knit against the divine
books, could be unravelled. But so soon as I understood, withal,
that man made “after the image of Him that created him” was not so
understood by Thy spiritual sons (whom of the Catholic mother Thou
hadst begotten again through grace), as though they believed and
imagined Thee to be bounded by human form,–although what was the
nature of a spiritual substance I had not the faintest or dimmest
suspicion,–yet rejoicing, I blushed that for so many years I had
barked, not against the Catholic faith, but against the fables of
carnal imaginations. For I had been both impious and rash in this,
that what I
ought inquiring to have learnt, I had pronounced on condemning. For
Thou, O
most high and most near, most secret, yet most present, who hast not
limbs some larger some smaller, but art wholly everywhere, and
nowhere in space, nor art Thou of such corporeal form, yet hast Thou
created man after Thine own image, and, behold, from head to foot is
he confined by space.


5. As, then, I knew not how this image of Thine should subsist, I
should have knocked and propounded the doubt how it was to be
believed, and not have insultingly opposed it, as if it were
believed. Anxiety, therefore, as to what to retain as certain, did
all the more sharply gnaw into my soul, the more shame I felt that,
having been so long deluded and de
ceived by the promise of certainties, I had, with puerile error and
petulance, prated of so many uncertainties as if they were
certainties. For! that they were falsehoods became apparent to me
afterwards. However, I was certain that they were uncertain, and
that I had formerly held them as certain when with a blind
contentiousness I accused Thy Catholic Church, which though I had
not yet discovered to teach truly, yet not to teach that of which I
had so vehemently accused her. In this manner was I confounded and
converted, and I rejoiced, O my God, that the one Church, the body
of Thine only Son (wherein the name of Christ had been set upon me
when an infant), did not appreciate these infantile trifles, nor
maintained, in her sound doctrine, any tenet that would confine
Thee, the Creator of all, in space–though ever so great and wide,
yet bounded on all sides by the restraints of a human form.

6. I rejoiced also that the old Scriptures of the law and the
prophets were laid before me, to be perused, not now with that eye
to which’ they seemed most absurd before, when I censured Thy holy
ones for so thinking, whereas in truth they thought not so; and with
delight I heard Ambrose, in his sermons to the people, oftentimes
most diligently recommend this text as a rule,–” The letter
killeth, but the Spirit giveth life;” t whilst, drawing aside the
mystic veil, he spiritually hid open that which, accepted according
to the “letter,” seemed to teach perverse doctrines–teaching herein
nothing that offended me, though he taught such things as I knew not
as yet whether they were true. For all this time I restrained my
heart from assenting to anything, fearing tot fall headlong; but by
hanging in suspense I was the worse killed. For my desire was to be
as well assured of those things that I
saw not, as I was that seven and three are ten. For I was not so
insane as to believe that this could not be comprehended; but I
desired to have other things as clear as this, whether corporeal
things, which were not present to my senses, or spiritual, whereof I
knew not how to conceive except corporeally. And by believing I
might have been cured, that so the sight of my soul being cleared?
it might in some way be directed towards Thy truth, which abideth
always, and faileth in naught. But as it happens that he who has
tried a bad physician fears to trust himself with a good one, so was
it with the health of my soul, which could not be healed but by
believing, and, lest it should believe falsehoods, refused to be
cured–resisting Thy hands, who hast prepared for us the
medica-merits of faith, and hast applied them to the maladies of the
whole world, and hast bestowed upon them so great authority.


7. From this, however, being led to prefer the Catholic doctrine,
I felt that it was with more moderation and honesty that it
commanded things to be believed that were not demonstrated

  (whether it was that they could be demonstrated, but not to any
one, or could not be demonstrated at all), than was the method of
the Manichaeans, where our credulity was mocked by audacious promise
of knowledge, and then so many most fabulous and absurd things were
forced upon belief because they were not capable of demonstration.t
After that, O Lord, Thou, by little and little, with most gentle and
most merciful hand, drawing and calming my heart, didst persuade
taking into consideration what a multiplicity of things which I had
never seen, nor was present when they were enacted, like so many of
the! things in secular history, and so many accounts of places and
cities which I had not seen; so many of friends, so many of
physicians, so many now of these men, now of those, which unless we
should believe, we should do nothing at all in this life; lastly,
with how unalterable an assurance I believed of what parents I was
born, which it would have been impossible for me to know otherwise
than by hearsay,–taking into consideration all this, Thou
persuadest me that not they who believed Thy books (which, with so
great authority, Thou hast established among nearly all nations),
but those who believed them not were to be blamed; and that those
men were not to be listened unto who should say to me, “How dost
thou know that those Scriptures were imparted unto mankind by the
Spirit of the one true and most true God?”

For it was the same thing that was most of all to be believed,
since no wranglings of blasphemous questions, whereof I had read so
many amongst the self-contradicting philosophers, could once wring
the belief from me that Thou art,–whatsoever Thou wert, though what
I knew not,–or that the government of human affairs belongs to

8. Thus much I believed, at one time more strongly than another,
yet did I ever believe both that Thou weft, and hadst a care of us,
although I was ignorant both what was to be thought of Thy
substance, and what way led, or led back to Thee. Seeing, then, that
we were too weak by unaided reason to find out the truth, and for
this cause needed the authority of the holy writings, I had now
begun to believe that Thou wouldest by no means have given such
excellency of authority to those Scriptures throughout all lands,
had it not been Thy will thereby to be believed in, and thereby
sought. For now those things which heretofore appeared incongruous
to me in the Scripture, and used to offend me, having heard divers
of them ex-‘pounded reasonably, I referred to the depth of the
mysteries, and its authority seemed to me all the more venerable and
worthy of religious belief, in that, while it was visible for all to
read it, it reserved the majesty of its secrets within its profound
significance, stooping to all in the great plainness of its language
and lowliness of its style, yet exercising the application of such
as are not light of heart;’ that it might receive all into its
common bosom, and through narrow passages waft over some few towards
Thee, yet many more than if it did not stand upon such a height of
authority, nor allured multitudes within its bosom by its holy
humility. These things I meditated upon, and Thou wert with me; I
sighed, and Thou heardest me; I vacillated, and Thou didst guide me;
I roamed through the broad way of the world, and Thou didst not
desert me.


9. I longed for honours, gains, wedlock; and Thou mockedst me. In
these desires I underwent most bitter hardships, Thou being the more
gracious the less Thou didst suffer anything which was not Thou to
grow sweet to me. Behold my heart, O Lord, who wouldest that I
should recall all this, and confess unto Thee. Now let my soul
cleave to Thee, which Thou hast freed from that fast-holding
bird-lime of death. How wretched was it t And Thou didst irritate
the feeling of its wound, that, forsaking all else, it might be
converted unto Thee, –who art above all, and without whom all
things would be naught,–be converted and be healed.


How wretched was I at that time, and how didst Thou deal with me,
to make me sensible of my wretchedness on that day wherein I was
preparing to recite a panegyric on the Emperor,’ wherein I was to
deliver many a lie, and lying was to be applauded by those who knew
I lied; and my heart panted with these cares, and boiled over with
the feverishness of consuming thoughts. For, while walking along one
of the streets of Milan, I observed a poor mendicant,–then, I
imagine, with a full belly,–joking and joyous; and I sighed, and
spake to the friends around me of the many sorrows resulting from
our madness, for that by all such exertions of ours,–as those
wherein I then laboured, dragging along, under the spur of desires,
the burden of my own, unhappiness, and by dragging increasing it,we
yet aimed only to attain that very joyousness which that mendicant
had reached before us, ] who, perchance, never would attain it! For
what he had obtained through a few begged pence, the same was I
scheming for by many a wretched and tortuous turning,–the joy of a
temporary felicity. For he verily possessed not true joy, but yet I,
with these my ambitions, was seeking one much more untrue. And in
truth he was joyous, I anxious; he free from care, I full of alarms.
But should any one inquire of me whether I would rather be merry or
fearful, I would reply, Merry. Again, were I asked whether I would
rather be such as he was, or as I myself then was, I should elect to
be myself, though beset with cares and alarms, but out of
perversity; for was it so in truth? For I ought not to prefer myself
to him because I happened to be more learned than he, seeing that I
took no delight therein, but sought rather to please men by it; and
that not to instruct, but only to please. Wherefore also didst Thou
break my bones with the rod of Thy correction.

10. Away with those, then, from my soul, who say unto it, “It
makes a difference from whence a man’s joy is derived. That
mendicant rejoiced in drunkenness; thou longedst to rejoice in
glory.” What glory, O Lord? That which is not in Thee. For even as
his was no true joy, so was mine no true glory;a and it subverted my
soul more. He would digest his drunkenness that same night, but many
a night had I slept with mine, and risen again with it, and was to
sleep again and again to rise With it, I know not how oft. It does
indeed “make a difference whence a man’s joy is derived.” I know it
is so, and that the joy of a faithful hope is incomparably beyond
such vanity. Yea, and rat that time was he beyond me, for he truly
was i the happier man; not only for that he was thoroughly steeped
in mirth, I torn to pieces with cares, but he, by giving good
wishes, had gotten wine, I, by lying, was following after pride.
Much to this effect said I then to my dear friends, and I often
marked in them how it fared with me; and I found that it went ill
with me, and fretted, and doubled that very ill. And if any
prosperity smiled upon me, I loathed to seize it, for almost before
I could grasp it flew away.


11. These things we, who lived like friends together, jointly
deplored, but chiefly and most familiarly did I discuss them with
Alypius and Nebridius, of whom Alypius was born in the same town as
myself, his parents being of the highest rank there, but he being
younger,than I. For he had studied under me, first, when I taught in
our own town, and afterwards at Carthage, and esteemed me highly,
because I appeared to him good and learned; and I esteemed him for
his innate love of virtue, which, in one of no great age, was
sufficiently eminent. But the vortex of Carthaginian customs
(amongst whom these frivolous spectacles are hotly followed) had
inveigled him into the madness of the Circensian games. But while he
was miserably tossed about therein, I was professing rhetoric there,
and had a public school. As yet he did not give ear to my teaching,
on account of some ill-feeling that had arisen between me and his
father. I had then found how fatally he doted upon the circus, and
was deeply grieved that he seemed likely–if, indeed, he had not
already done so–to cast away his so great promise. Yet had I no
means of advising, or by a sort of restraint reclaiming him, either
by the kindness of a friend or by the authority of a master. For I
imagined that his sentiments towards me were the same as his
father’s; but he was not such. Disregarding, therefore, his father’s
will in that matter, he commenced to salute me, and, coming into my
lecture-room, to listen for a little and depart.

12. But it slipped my memory to deal with him, so that he should
not, through a blind and headstrong desire of empty pastimes, undo
so [great a wit. But Thou, O Lord, who governest the helm of all
Thou hast created, hadst not forgotten him, who was one day to be
amongst Thy sons, the President of Thy sacrament;
and that his amendment might plainly be attributed to Thyself, Thou
broughtest it about through me, but I knowing nothing of it. For one
day, when I was sitting in my accustomed place, with my scholars
before me, he came in, saluted me, sat himself down, and fixed his
attention on the subject I was then handling. It so happened that I
had a passage in hand, which while I was explaining, a simile
borrowed from the Circensian games occurred to me, as likely to make
what I wished to convey pleasanter and plainer, imbued with a biting
jibe at those whom that madness had enthralled. Thou knowest, O our
God, that I had no thought at that time of curing Alypius of that
plague. But he took it to himself, and thought that I would not have
said it but for his sake. And what any other man would have made a
ground of offence against me, this worthy young man took as a reason
for being offended at himself, and for loving me more fervently. For
Thou hast said it long ago, and written in Thy book, “Rebuke a wise
man, and he will love thee.” But I had not rebuked him, but Thou,
who makest use of all consciously or unconsciously, in that order
which Thyself knowest (and that order is right), wroughtest out of
my heart and tongue burning coals, by which Thou mightest set on
fire and cure the hopeful mind thus languishing. Let him be silent
in Thy praises who meditates not on Thy mercies, which from my
inmost parts confess unto Thee. For he upon that speech rushed out
from that so deep pit, wherein he was wilfully plunged, and was
blinded by its miserable pastimes; and he roused his mind with a
resolute moderation; whereupon all the filth of the Circensian
pastimes flew off from him, and he did not approach them further.
Upon this, he prevailed with his reluctant father to let him be my
pupil. He gave in and consented. And Alypius, beginning again to
hear me, was involved in the same superstition as I was, loving in
the Manichaeans that ostentation of continency which he believed to
be true and unfeigned. It was, however, a senseless and seducing
continency, ensnaring precious souls, not able as yet to reach the
height of virtue, and easily beguiled with the veneer of what was
but a shadowy and feigned virtue.


13. He, not relinquishing that worldly way which his parents had
bewitched him to pursue, had gone before me to Rome, to study law,
and there he was carried away in an extraordinary manner with an
incredible eagerness after the gladiatorial shows. For, being
utterly opposed to and detesting such spectacles, he was one day met
by chance by divers of his acquaintance and fellow-students
returning from dinner, and they with a friendly violence drew him,
vehemently objecting and resisting, into the amphitheatre, on a day
of these cruel and deadly shows, he thus protesting: “Though you
drag my body to that place, and there place me, can you force me to
give my mind and lend my eyes to these shows? Thus shall I be absent
while present, and so shall overcome both you and them.” They
hearing this, dragged him on nevertheless, desirous, perchance, to
see whether he could do as he said. When they had arrived thither,
and had taken their places as they could, the whole place became
excited with the inhuman sports. But he, shutting up the doors of
his eyes, forbade his mind to roam abroad after such naughtiness;
and would that he had shut his ears also! For, upon the fall of one
in the fight, a mighty cry from the whole audience stirring him
strongly, he, overcome by curiosity, and prepared as it were to
despise and rise superior to it, no matter what it were, opened his
eyes, and was struck with a deeper wound in his soul than the other,
whom he desired to see, was in his body; and
he fell more miserably than he on whose fall that mighty clamour was
raised, which entered through his ears, and unlocked his eyes, to
make way for the striking and beating down of his soul, which was
bold rather than valiant hitherto; and so much the weaker in that it
presumed on itself, which ought to have depended on Thee. For,
directly he saw that blood, he therewith imbibed a sort of
savageness; nor did he turn away, but fixed his eye, drinking in
madness unconsciously, and was delighted with the guilty contest,
and drunken with the bloody pastime. Nor was he now the same he came
in, but was one of the throng he came unto, and a true companion of
those who had brought him thither. Why need I say more? He looked,
shouted, was excited, carried away with him the madness which would
stimulate him to return, not only with those who first enticed him,
but also before them, yea, and to draw in others. And from all this
didst Thou, with a most powerful and most merciful hand, pluck him,
and taughtest him not to repose confidence in himself, but in Thee
— but not till long after.


14. But this was all being stored up in his memory for a medicine
hereafter. As was that also, that when he was yet studying under me
at Carthage, and was meditating at noonday in the market-place upon
what he had to recite (as scholars are wont to be exercised), Thou
sufferedst him to be apprehended as a thief by the officers of the
market-place. For no other reason, I apprehend, didst Thou, O our
God, suffer it, but that he who was in the future to prove so great
a man should now begin to learn that, in judging of causes, man
should not with a reckless credulity readily be condemned by man.
For as he was walking up and down alone before the judgment-seat
with his tablets and pen, lo, a young man, one of the scholars, the
real thief, privily bringing a hatchet, got in without Alypius’
seeing him as far as the leaden bars which protect the silversmiths’
shops, and began to cut away the lead. But the noise of the hatchet
being heard, the silversmiths below began to make a stir, and sent
to take in custody whomsoever they should find. But the thief,
hearing their voices, ran away, leaving his hatchet, fearing to be
taken with it. Now Alypius, who had not seen him come in, caught
sight of him as he went out, and noted with what speed he made off.
And, being curious to know the reasons, he entered the place, where,
finding the hatchet, he stood wondering and pondering, when behold,
those that were sent caught him alone, hatchet in hand, the noise
whereof had startled them and brought them thither. They lay hold of
him and drag him away, and, gathering the tenants of the
market-place about them, boast of having taken a notorious thief,
and thereupon he was being led away to apppear before the judge.

15. But thus far was he to be instructed. For immediately, O
Lord, Thou camest to the succour of his innocency, whereof Thou wert
the sole witness. For, as he was being led either to prison or to
punishment, they were met by a
certain architect, who had the chief charge of the public buildings.
They were specially glad to come across him, by whom they used to be
suspected of stealing the goods lost out of the market-place, as
though at last to convince him by whom these thefts were committed.
He, however, had at divers times seen Alypius at the house of a
certain senator, whom he was wont to visit to pay his respects; and,
recognising him at once, he took him aside by the hand, and
inquiring of him the cause of so great a misfortune, heard the whole
affair, and commanded all the rabble then present (who were very
uproarious and full of threatenings) to go with him. And they came
to the house of the young man who had committed the deed. There,
before the door, was a lad so young as not to refrain from
disclosing the whole through the fear of injuring his master. For he
had followed his master to the market-place. Whom, so soon as
Alypius recognised, he intimated it to the architect; and he,
showing the hatchet to the lad; asked him to whom it belonged. “To
us,” quoth he immediately; and on being further interrogated, he
disclosed everything. Thus, the crime being transferred to that
house, and the rabble shamed, which had begun to triumph over
Alypius, he, the future dispenser of Thy word, and an examiner of
numerous causes in Thy Church, went away better experienced and


16. Him, therefore, had I lighted upon at Rome, and he clung to
me by a most strong tie, and accompanied me to Milan, both that he
might not leave me, and that he might practise something of the law
he had studied, more with a view of pleasing his parents than
himself. There had he thrice sat as assessor with an uncorruptness
wondered at by others, he rather wondering at those who could prefer
gold to integrity. His character was tested, also, not only by the
bait of covetousness, but by the spur of fear. At Rome, he was
assessor to the Count of the Italian Treasury. There was at that
time a most potent senator, to whose favours many were indebted, of
whom also many stood in fear. He would fain, by his usual power,
have a thing granted him which was forbidden by the laws. This
Alypius resisted; a bribe was promised, he scorned it with all his
heart; threats were employed, he trampled them under foot, — all
men being astonished at so rare a spirit, which neither coveted the
friendship nor feared the enmity of a man at once so powerful and so
greatly famed for his innumerable means of doing good or ill. Even
the judge whose councillor Alypius was, although also unwilling that
it should be done, yet did not openly refuse it, but put the matter
off upon Alypius, alleging that it was he who would not permit him
to do it; for verily, had the judge done it, Alypius would have
decided otherwise. With this one thing in the way of learning was he
very nearly led away, — that he might have books copied for him at
praetorian prices. But, consulting justice, he changed his mind for
the better, esteeming equity, whereby he was hindered, more gainful
than the power whereby he was permitted. These are little things,
but “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in
much.” Nor can that possibly be void which proceedeth out of the
mouth of Thy Truth. “If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the
unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?
And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who
shall give you that which is your own?” He, being such, did at that
time cling to me, and wavered in purpose, as I did, what course of
life was to be taken.

17. Nebridius also, who had left his native country near
Carthage, and Carthage itself, where he had usually lived, leaving
behind his fine paternal estate, his house, and his mother, who
intended not to follow him, had come to Milan, for no other reason
than that he might live with me in a most ardent search after truth
and wisdom. Like me he sighed, like me he wavered, an ardent seeker
after true life, and a most acute examiner of the most abstruse
questions. So were there three begging mouths, sighing out their
wants one to the other, and waiting upon Thee, that Thou mightest
give them their meat in due season. And in all the bitterness which
by Thy mercy followed our worldly pursuits, as we contemplated the
end, why this suffering should be ours, darkness came upon us; and
we turned away groaning and exclaiming, “How long shall these things
be?” And this we often said; and saying so, we did not relinquish
them, for as yet we had discovered noth
ing certain to which, when relinquished, we might betake ourselves.


18. And I, puzzling over and reviewing these things, most
marvelled at the length of time from that my nineteenth year,
wherein I began to be inflamed with the desire of wisdom, resolving,
when I had found her, to forsake all the empty hopes and lying
insanities of vain desires. And behold, I was now getting on to my
thirtieth year, sticking in the same mire, eager for the enjoyment
of things present, which fly away and destroy me, whilst I say,
“Tomorrow I shall discover it; behold, it will appear plainly, and I
shall seize it; behold, Faustus will come and explain everything! O
ye great men, ye Academicians, it is then true that nothing certain
for the ordering of life can be attained! Nay, let us search the
more diligently, and let us not despair. Lo, the things in the
ecclesiastical books, which appeared to us absurd aforetime, do not
appear so now, and may be otherwise and honestly interpreted. I will
set my feet upon that step, where, as a child, my parents placed me,
until the clear truth be discovered. But where and when shall it be
sought? Ambrose has no leisure, — we have no leisure to read. Where
are we to find the books? Whence or when procure them? From whom
borrow them? Let set times be appointed, and certain hours be set
apart for the health of the soul.

Great hope has risen upon us, the Catholic faith doth not teach
what we conceived, and vainly accused it of. Her learned ones hold
it as an abomination to believe that God is limited by the form of a
human body. And do we doubt to ‘knock,’ in order that the rest may
be ‘opened’? The mornings are taken up by our scholars; how do we
employ the rest of the day? Why do we not set about this? But when,
then, pay our respects to our great friends, of whose favours we
stand in need? When prepare what our scholars buy from us?

When recreate ourselves, relaxing our minds from the pressure of care?”

19. “Perish everything, and let us dismiss these empty vanities,
and betake ourselves solely to the search after truth! Life is
miserable, death uncertain. If it creeps upon us suddenly, in what
state shall we depart hence, and where shall we learn what we have
neglected here? Or rather shall we not suffer the punishment of this
negligence? What if death itself should cut off and put an end to
all care and feeling? This also, then, must be inquired into. But
God forbid that it should be so. It is not without reason, it is no
empty thing, that the so eminent height of the authority of the
Christian faith is diffused throughout the entire world. Never would
such and so great things be wrought for us, if, by the death of the
body, the life of the soul were destroyed. Why, therefore, do we
delay to abandon our hopes of this world, and give ourselves wholly
to seek after God and the blessed life? But stay! Even those things
are enjoyable; and they possess some and no little sweetness. We
must not abandon them lightly, for it would be a shame to return to
them again. Behold, now is it a great matter to obtain some post of

And what more could we desire? We have crowds of influential
friends, though we have nothing else, and if we make haste a
presidentship may be offered us; and a wife with some money, that
she increase not our expenses; and this shall be the height of
desire. Many men, who are great and worthy of imitation, have
applied themselves to the study of wisdom in the marriage state.”

20. Whilst I talked of these things, and these winds veered about
and tossed my heart hither and thither, the time passed on; but I
was slow to turn to the Lord, and from day to day deferred to live
in Thee, and deferred not daily to die in myself. Being enamoured of
a happy life, I yet feared it in its own abode, and, fleeing from
it, sought after it. I conceived that I should be too unhappy were I
deprived of the embracements of a woman; and of Thy merciful
medicine to cure that infirmity I thought not, not having tried it.
As regards continency, I imagined it to be under the control of our
own strength (though in myself I found it not), being so foolish as
not to know what is written, that none can be continent unless Thou
give it; and that Thou wouldst give it, if with heartfelt groaning I
should knock at Thine ears, and should with firm faith cast my care
upon Thee.


21. It was in truth Alypius who prevented me from marrying,
alleging that thus we could
by no means live together, having so much undistracted leisure in
the love of wisdom, as we had long desired. For he himself was so
chaste in this matter that it was wonderful — all the more, too,
that in his early youth he had entered upon that path, but had not
clung to it; rather had he, feeling sorrow and disgust at it, lived
from that time to the present most continently. But I opposed him
with the examples of those who as married men had loved wisdom,
found favour with God, and walked faithfully and lovingly with their
friends. From the greatness of whose spirit I fell far short, and,
enthralled with the disease of the flesh and its deadly sweetness,
dragged my chain along, fearing to be loosed; and, as if it pressed
my wound, rejected his kind expostulations, as it were the hand of
one who would unchain me. Moreover, it was by me that the serpent
spake unto Alypius himself, weaving and laying in his path, by my
tongue, pleasant snares, wherein his honourable and free feet might
be entangled.

22. For when he wondered that I, for whom he had no slight
esteem, stuck so fast in the bird-lime of that pleasure as to affirm
whenever we discussed the matter that it would be impossible for me
to lead a single life, and urged in my defence when I saw him wonder
that there was a vast difference between the life that he had tried
by stealth and snatches (of which he had now but a faint
recollection, and might therefore, without regret, easily despise),
and my sustained acquaintance with it, whereto if but the honourable
name of marriage were added, he would not then be astonished at my
inability to contemn that course, — then began he also to wish to
be married, not as if overpowered by the lust of such pleasure, but
from curiosity. For, as he said, he was anxious to know what that
could be without which my life, which was so pleasing to him, seemed
to me not life but a penalty. For his mind, free from that chain,
was astounded at my slavery, and through that astonishment was going
on to a desire of trying it, and from it to the trial itself, and
thence, perchance, to fall into that bondage whereat he was so
astonished, seeing he was ready to enter into “a covenant with
death;” and he that loves danger shall fall into it. For whatever
the conjugal honour be in the office of well-ordering a married
life, and sustaining children, influenced us but slightly. But that
which did for the most part afflict me, already made a slave to it,
was the habit of satisfying an insatiable lust; him about to be
enslaved did an admiring wonder draw on. In this state were we,
until Thou, O most High, not forsaking our lowliness, commiserating
our misery, didst come to our rescue by wonderful and secret ways.


23. Active efforts were made to get me a wife. I wooed, I was
engaged, my mother taking the greatest pains in the matter, that
when I was once married, the health-giving baptism might cleanse me;
for which she rejoiced that I was being daily fitted, remarking that
her desires and Thy promises were being fulfilled in my faith. At
which time, verily, both at my request and her own desire, with
strong heartfelt cries did we daily beg of Thee that Thou wouldest
by a vision disclose unto her something concerning my future
marriage; but Thou wouldest not. She saw indeed certain vain and
fantastic things, such as the earnestness of a human spirit, bent
thereon, conjured up; and these she told me of, not with her usual
confidence when Thou hadst shown her anything, but slighting them.
For she could, she declared, through some feeling which she could
not express in words, discern the difference betwixt Thy revelations
and the dreams of her own spirit. Yet the affair was pressed on, and
a maiden sued who wanted two years of the marriageable age; and, as
she was pleasing, she was waited for.


24. And many of us friends, consulting on and abhorring the
turbulent vexations of human life, had considered and now almost
determined upon living at ease and separate from the turmoil of men.
And this was to be obtained in this way; we were to bring whatever
we could severally procure, and make a common household, so that,
through the sincerity of our friendship, nothing should belong more
to one than the other; but the whole, being derived from all, should
as a whole belong to each, and the whole unto all. It seemed to us
that this society might consist of ten persons, some of whom were very rich,
especially Romanianus, our townsman, an intimate friend of mine
from his childhood, whom grave business matters had then brought up
to Court; who was the most earnest of as all for this project, and
whose voice was of great weight in commending it, because his estate
was far more ample than that of the rest. We had arranged, too, that
two officers should be chosen yearly, for the providing of all
necessary things, whilst the rest were left undisturbed. But when we
began to reflect whether the wives which some of us had already, and
others hoped to have, would permit this, all that plan, which was
being so well framed, broke to pieces in our hands, and was utterly
wrecked and cast aside. Thence we fell again to sighs and groans,
and our steps to follow the broad and beaten ways
of the world; for many thoughts were in our heart, but Thy counsel
standeth for ever. Out of which counsel Thou didst mock ours, and
preparedst Thine own, purposing to give us meat in due season, and
to open Thy hand, and to fill our souls with blessing.


25. Meanwhile my sins were being multiplied, and my mistress
being torn from my side as an impediment to my marriage, my heart,
which clave to her, was racked, and wounded, and bleeding. And she
went back to Africa, making a vow unto Thee never to know another
man, leaving with me my natural son by her. But I, unhappy one, who
could not imitate a woman, impatient of delay, since it was not
until two years’ time I was to obtain her I sought, — being not so
much a lover of marriage as a slave to lust, — procured another
(not a wife, though), that so by the bondage of a lasting habit the
disease of my soul might be nursed up, and kept up in its vigour, or
even increased, into the kingdom of marriage. Nor was that wound of
mine as yet cured which had been caused by the separation from my
former mistress, but after inflammation and most acute anguish it
mortified, and the pain became numbed, but more desperate.


26. Unto Thee be praise, unto Thee be glory, O Fountain of
mercies! I became more wretched, and Thou nearer. Thy right hand was
ever ready to pluck me out of the mire, and to cleanse me, but I was
ignorant of it. Nor did anything recall me from a yet deeper abyss
of carnal pleasures, but the fear of death and of Thy future
judgment, which, amid all my fluctuations of opinion, never left my
breast. And in disputing with my friends, Alypius and Nebridius,
concerning the nature of good and evil, I held that Epicurus had, in
my judgment, won the palm, had I not believed that after death there
remained a life for the soul, and places of recompense, which
Epicurus would not believe. And I demanded, “Supposing us to be
immortal, and to be living in the enjoyment of perpetual bodily
pleasure, and that without any fear of losing it, why, then, should
we not be happy, or why should we search for anything else?” — not
knowing that even this very thing was a part of my great misery,
that, being thus sunk and blinded, I could not discern that light
of honour and beauty to be embraced for its own sake, which cannot
be seen by the eye of the flesh, it being visible only to the inner
man. Nor did I, unhappy one, consider out of what vein it emanated,
that even these things, loathsome as they were, I with pleasure
discussed with my friends. Nor could I, even in accordance with my
then notions of happiness, make myself happy without friends, amid
no matter how great abundance of carnal pleasures. And these friends
assuredly I loved for their own sakes, and I knew myself to be loved
of them again for my own sake. O crooked ways! Woe to the audacious
soul which hoped that, if it forsook Thee, it would find some better
thing! It hath turned and returned, on hack, sides, and belly, and
all was hard, and Thou alone rest. And behold, Thou art near, and
deliverest us from our wretched wanderings, and stablishest us in
Thy way, and dost comfort us, and say, “Run; I will carry you, yea,
I will lead you, and there also will I carry you.”

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