Table of Contents
Confessions of Saint Augustine: A young adult’s quest for meaning
Then follows a period of nine years from the nineteenth year of his age, during which having lost a friend, he followed the Manichæans — and wrote books on the fair and fit, and published a work on the liberal arts, and the categories of Aristotle.
Chapter 4. Sorely Distressed by Weeping at the Death of His Friend, He Provides Consolation for Himself.
7. In those years, when I first began to teach rhetoric in my native town, I had acquired a very dear friend, from association in our studies, of my own age, and, like myself, just rising up into the flower of youth. He had grown up with me from childhood, and we had been both classmates and playmates. But he was not then my friend, nor, indeed, afterwards, as true friendship is; for true it is not but in such as You bind together, cleaving unto You by that love which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is given unto us. (Romans 5:5) But yet it was too sweet, being ripened by the fervor of similar studies. For, from the true faith (which he, as a youth, had not soundly and thoroughly become master of), I had turned him aside towards those superstitious and pernicious fables which my mother mourned in me. With me this man’s mind now erred, nor could my soul exist without him. But behold, You were close behind Your fugitives — at once God of vengeance and Fountain of mercies, who turns us to Yourself by wondrous means. You removed that man from this life when he had scarce completed one whole year of my friendship, sweet to me above all the sweetness of that my life.
8. Who can show forth all Your praise which he has experienced in himself alone? What was it that Thou did then, O my God, and how unsearchable are the depths of Your judgments! For when, sore sick of a fever, he long lay unconscious in a death-sweat, and all despaired of his recovery, he was baptized without his knowledge; myself meanwhile little caring, presuming that his soul would retain rather what it had imbibed from me, than what was done to his unconscious body. Far different, however, was it, for he was revived and restored. Straightway, as soon as I could talk to him (which I could as soon as he was able, for I never left him, and we hung too much upon each other), I attempted to jest with him, as if he also would jest with me at that baptism which he had received when mind and senses were in abeyance, but had now learned that he had received. But he shuddered at me, as if I were his enemy; and, with a remarkable and unexpected freedom, admonished me, if I desired to continue his friend, to desist from speaking to him in such a way. I, confounded and confused, concealed all my emotions, till he should get well, and his health be strong enough to allow me to deal with him as I wished. But he was withdrawn from my frenzy, that with You he might be preserved for my comfort. A few days after, during my absence, he had a return of the fever, and died.
9. At this sorrow my heart was utterly darkened, and whatever I looked upon was death. My native country was a torture to me, and my father’s house a wondrous unhappiness; and whatsoever I had participated in with him, wanting him, turned into a frightful torture. My eyes sought him everywhere, but he was not granted them; and I hated all places because he was not in them; nor could they now say to me, Behold; he is coming, as they did when he was alive and absent. I became a great puzzle to myself, and asked my soul why she was so sad, and why she so exceedingly disquieted me; but she knew not what to answer me. And if I said, Hope in God, she very properly obeyed me not; because that most dear friend whom she had lost was, being man, both truer and better than that phantasm she was bid to hope in. Naught but tears were sweet to me, and they succeeded my friend in the dearest of my affections.
Chapter 5. Why Weeping is Pleasant to the Wretched.
10. And now, O Lord, these things are passed away, and time has healed my wound. May I learn from You, who art Truth, and apply the ear of my heart unto Your mouth, that You may tell me why weeping should be so sweet to the unhappy. Have You — although present everywhere — cast away far from You our misery? And You abide in Yourself, but we are disquieted with various trials; and yet, unless we wept in Your ears, there would be no hope for us remaining. Whence, then, is it that such sweet fruit is plucked from the bitterness of life, from groans, tears, sighs, and lamentations? Is it the hope that You hear us that sweetens it? This is true of prayer, for therein is a desire to approach unto You. But is it also in grief for a thing lost, and the sorrow with which I was then overwhelmed? For I had neither hope of his coming to life again, nor did I seek this with my tears; but I grieved and wept only, for I was miserable, and had lost my joy. Or is weeping a bitter thing, and for distaste of the things which aforetime we enjoyed before, and even then, when we are loathing them, does it cause us pleasure?
Chapter 6. His Friend Being Snatched Away by Death, He Imagines that He Remains Only as Half.
11. But why do I speak of these things? For this is not the time to question, but rather to confess unto You. Miserable I was, and miserable is every soul fettered by the friendship of perishable things — he is torn to pieces when he loses them, and then is sensible of the misery which he had before ever he lost them. Thus was it at that time with me; I wept most bitterly, and found rest in bitterness. Thus was I miserable, and that life of misery I accounted dearer than my friend. For though I would willingly have changed it, yet I was even more unwilling to lose it than him; yea, I knew not whether I was willing to lose it even for him, as is handed down to us (if not an invention) of Pylades and Orestes, that they would gladly have died one for another, or both together, it being worse than death to them not to live together. But there had sprung up in me some kind of feeling, too, contrary to this, for both exceedingly wearisome was it to me to live, and dreadful to die, I suppose, the more I loved him, so much the more did I hate and fear, as a most cruel enemy, that death which had robbed me of him; and I imagined it would suddenly annihilate all men, as it had power over him. Thus, I remember, it was with me. Behold my heart, O my God! Behold and look into me, for I remember it well, O my Hope! Who cleans me from the uncleanness of such affections, directing my eyes towards You, and plucking my feet out of the net. For I was astonished that other mortals lived, since he whom I loved, as if he would never die, was dead; and I wondered still more that I, who was to him a second self, could live when he was dead. Well did one say of his friend, Thou half of my soul, for I felt that my soul and his soul were but one soul in two bodies; and, consequently, my life was a horror to me, because I would not live in half. And therefore, perchance, was I afraid to die, lest he should die wholly whom I had so greatly loved.
The difficult task of finding meaning
There are those moments when a crisis in our lives can cause us to question everything we thought we knew. It can be any type of crisis. A medical diagnosis that is grim, a broken relationship, the death of someone we love. And such was the case for Saint Augustine. In this section of the confessions of Saint Augustine, he describes his sadness at the condition of his friend, and it causes him to reflect on death, his friend, and many aspects of how death causes a crisis.
The gift of a crisis, which is not always easy to see, is that it helps us to recognize our need for others. If the pain is deep, this is no small task in our lives. We can think that there is no hope, and sometimes even despair. But God can use these painful times to help us to see and to learn that we are never alone.
In fact, it is the case that God helps us to recognize this. God constantly pours out grace into people’s lives, so that they can more clearly find the presence of God and to follow him to eternity.
Thoughts to Ponder
The belief about God and evil is that God permits evil because he can bring from it some greater good. While this may not always feel consoling, how to you see it possible that God can bring good from evil?
Can you describe times where a deep crisis in your life caused greater spiritual growth?
What would you say to someone in a situation similar to Saint Augustine’s