The eternal word and immutable author: Book 4 Chapters 11-16: Confessions of Saint Augustine: The Friar Book Club
Confessions of Saint Augustine: The eternal word and immutable author
Chapter 11. That Portions of the World are Not to Be Loved; But that God, Their Author, is Immutable, and His Word Eternal.
16. Be not foolish, O my soul, and deaden not the ear of your heart with the tumult of your folly. Hearken also. The word itself invokes you to return; and there is the place of rest imperturbable, where love is not abandoned if itself abandons not. Behold, these things pass away, that others may succeed them, and so this lower universe be made complete in all its parts. But do I depart anywhere, says the word of God? There fix your habitation. There commit whatsoever you have thence, O my soul; at all events now you are tired out with deceits. Commit to truth whatsoever you have from the truth, and nothing shall you lose; and your decay shall flourish again, and all your diseases be healed, and your perishable parts shall be reformed and renovated, and drawn together to you; nor shall they put you down where themselves descend, but they shall abide with you, and continue forever before God, who abides and continues forever. (1 Peter 1:23)
17. Why, then, be perverse and follow your flesh? Rather let it be converted and follow you. Whatever by her you feel, is but in part; and the whole, of which these are portions, you are ignorant of, and yet they delight you. But had the sense of your flesh been capable of comprehending the whole, and not itself also, for your punishment, been justly limited to a portion of the whole, you would that whatsoever exists at the present time should pass away, that so the whole might please you more. For what we speak, also by the same sense of the flesh you hear, and yet would not you that the syllables should stay, but fly away, that others may come, and the whole be heard. Thus it is always, when any single thing is composed of many, all of which exist not together, all together would delight more than they do simply could all be perceived at once. But far better than these is He who made all; and He is our God, and He passes not away, for there is nothing to succeed Him. If bodies please you, praise God for them, and turn back your love upon their Creator, lest in those things which please you you displease.
Chapter 12. Love is Not Condemned, But Love in God, in Whom There is Rest Through Jesus Christ, is to Be Preferred.
18. If souls please you, let them be loved in God; for they also are mutable, but in Him are they firmly established, else would they pass, and pass away. In Him, then, let them be beloved; and draw unto Him along with you as many souls as you can and say to them, “Him let us love, Him let us love; He created these, nor is He far off. For He did not create them, and then depart; but they are of Him, and in Him. Behold, there is He wherever truth is known. He is within the very heart, but yet has the heart wandered from Him. Return to your heart, O you transgressors, Isaiah 56:8 and cleave fast unto Him that made you. Stand with Him, and you shall stand fast. Rest in Him, and you shall be at rest. Where do you go in rugged paths? Where do you go? The good that you love is from Him; and as it has respect unto Him it is both good and pleasant, and justly shall it be embittered, because whatsoever comes from Him is unjustly loved if He be forsaken for it. Why, then, will you wander farther and farther in these difficult and toilsome ways? There is no rest where you seek it. Seek what you seek; but it is not there where you seek. You seek a blessed life in the land of death; it is not there. For could a blessed life be where life itself is not?“
19. But our very Life descended here, and bore our death, and slew it, out of the abundance of His own life; and thundering He called loudly to us to return hence to Him into that secret place whence He came forth to us — first into the Virgin’s womb, where the human creature was married to Him — our mortal flesh, that it might not be for ever mortal — and thence “as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race.” For He tarried not, but ran crying out by words, deeds, death, life, descent, ascension, crying aloud to us to return to Him. And He departed from our sight, that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here. He would not be long with us, yet left us not; for He departed there, whence He never departed, because “the world was made by Him.” (John 1:10) And in this world He was, and into this world He came to save sinners, (1 Timothy 1:15) unto whom my soul does confess, that He may heal it, for it has sinned against Him. O you sons of men, how long so slow of heart? (Luke 24:25) Even now, after the Life is descended to you, will you not ascend and live? But where do you ascend, when you are on high, and set your mouth against the heavens? Descend that you may ascend, and ascend to God. For you have fallen “by ascending against Him.” Tell them this, that they may weep in the valley of tears, and so draw them with you to God, because it is by His Spirit that you speak thus unto them, if you speak burning with the fire of love.
Chapter 13. Love Originates from Grace and Beauty Enticing Us.
20. These things I knew not at that time, and I loved these lower beauties, and I was sinking to the very depths; and I said to my friends, “Do we love anything but the beautiful? What, then, is the beautiful? And what is beauty? What is it that allures and unites us to the things we love; for unless there were a grace and beauty in them, they could by no means attract us to them?” And I marked and perceived that in bodies themselves there was a beauty from their forming a kind of whole, and another from mutual fitness, as one part of the body with its whole, or a shoe with a foot, and so on. And this consideration sprang up in my mind out of the recesses of my heart, and I wrote books (two or three, I think) “on the fair and fit.” You know, O Lord, for it has escaped me; for I have them not, but they have strayed from me, I know not how.
Chapter 14. Concerning the Books Which He Wrote On the Fair and Fit, Dedicated to Hierius.
21. But what was it that prompted me, O Lord my God, to dedicate these books to Hierius, an orator of Rome, whom I knew not by sight, but loved the man for the fame of his learning, for which he was renowned, and some words of his which I had heard, and which had pleased me? But the more did he please me in that he pleased others, who highly extolled him, astonished that a native of Syria, instructed first in Greek eloquence, should afterwards become a wonderful Latin orator, and one so well versed in studies pertaining unto wisdom. Thus a man is commended and loved when absent. Does this love enter into the heart of the hearer from the mouth of the commender? Not so. But through one who loves is another inflamed. For hence he is loved who is commended when the commender is believed to praise him with an unfeigned heart; that is, when he that loves him praises him.
22. Thus, then, loved I men upon the judgment of men, not upon Yours, O my God, in which no man is deceived. But yet why not as the renowned charioteer, as the huntsman known far and wide by a vulgar popularity — but far otherwise, and seriously, and so as I would desire to be myself commended? For I would not that they should commend and love me as actors are — although I myself did commend and love them — but I would prefer being unknown than so known, and even being hated than so loved. Where now are these influences of such various and various kinds of loves distributed in one soul? What is it that I am in love with in another, which, if I did not hate, I should not detest and repel from myself, seeing we are equally men? For it does not follow that because a good horse is loved by him who would not, though he might, be that horse, the same should therefore be affirmed by an actor, who partakes of our nature. Do I then love in a man that which I, who am a man, hate to be? Man himself is a great deep, whose very hairs You number, O Lord, and they fall not to the ground without You. Matthew 10:29-30 And yet are the hairs of his head more readily numbered than are his affections and the movements of his heart.
23. But that orator was of the kind that I so loved as I wished myself to be such a one; and I erred through an inflated pride, and was “carried about with every wind,” Ephesians 4:14 but yet was piloted by You, though very secretly. And whence know I, and whence confidently confess I unto You that I loved him more because of the love of those who praised him, than for the very things for which they praised him? Because had he been upraised, and these self-same men had dispraised him, and with dispraise and scorn told the same things of him, I should never have been so inflamed and provoked to love him. And yet the things had not been different, nor he himself different, but only the affections of the narrators. See where lies the impotent soul that is not yet sustained by the solidity of truth! Just as the blasts of tongues blow from the breasts of conjecturers, so is it tossed this way and that, driven forward and backward, and the light is obscured to it and the truth not perceived. And behold it is before us. And to me it was a great matter that my style and studies should be known to that man; the which if he approved, I were the more stimulated, but if he disapproved, this vain heart of mine, void of Your solidity, had been offended. And yet that “fair and fit,” about which I wrote to him, I reflected on with pleasure, and contemplated it, and admired it, though none joined me in doing so.
Chapter 15. While Writing, Being Blinded by Corporeal Images, He Failed to Recognise the Spiritual Nature of God.
24. But not yet did I perceive the hinge on which this impotent matter turned in Your wisdom, O Thou Omnipotent, “who alone does great wonders;” and my mind ranged through corporeal forms, and I defined and distinguished as “fair,” that which is so in itself, and “fit,” that which is beautiful as it corresponds to some other thing; and this I supported by corporeal examples. And I turned my attention to the nature of the mind, but the false opinions which I entertained of spiritual things prevented me from seeing the truth. Yet the very power of truth forced itself on my gaze, and I turned away my throbbing soul from incorporeal substance, to lineaments, and colors, and bulky magnitudes. And not being able to perceive these in the mind, I thought I could not perceive my mind. And whereas in virtue I loved peace, and in viciousness I hated discord, in the former I distinguished unity, but in the latter a kind of division. And in that unity I conceived the rational soul and the nature of truth and of the chief good to consist. But in this division I, unfortunate one, imagined there was I know not what substance of irrational life, and the nature of the chief evil, which should not be a substance only, but real life also, and yet not emanating from You, O my God, from whom are all things. And yet the first I called a Monad, as if it had been a soul without sex, but the other a Duad — anger in deeds of violence, in deeds of passion, lust — not knowing of what I talked. For I had not known or learned that neither was evil a substance, nor our soul that chief and unchangeable good.
25. For even as it is in the case of deeds of violence, if that emotion of the soul from whence the stimulus comes be depraved, and carry itself insolently and mutinously; and in acts of passion, if that affection of the soul whereby carnal pleasures are imbibed is unrestrained — so do errors and false opinions contaminate the life, if the reasonable soul itself be depraved, as it was at that time in me, who was ignorant that it must be enlightened by another light that it may be partaker of truth, seeing that itself is not that nature of truth. For You will light my candle; the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness; and “of His fullness have all we received,” John 1:16 for “that was the true Light which lighted every man that comes into the world;” John 1:9 for in You there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” James 1:17
26. But I pressed towards You, and was repelled by You that I might taste of death, for You “resist the proud.” But what prouder than for me, with a marvellous madness, to assert myself to be that by nature which You are? For whereas I was mutable — so much being clear to me, for my very longing to become wise arose from the wish from worse to become better — yet chose I rather to think You mutable, than myself not to be that which You are. Therefore was I repelled by You, and You resisted my changeable stiffneckedness; and I imagined corporeal forms, and, being flesh, I accused flesh, and, being “a wind that passes away,” I returned not to You, but went wandering and wandering on towards those things that have no being, neither in You, nor in me, nor in the body. Neither were they created for me by Your truth, but conceived by my vain conceit out of corporeal things. And I used to ask Your faithful little ones, my fellow-citizens — from whom I unconsciously stood exiled — I used flippantly and foolishly to ask, “Why, then, does the soul which God created err?” But I would not permit any one to ask me, “Why, then, does God err?” And I contended that Your immutable substance erred of constraint, rather than admit that my mutable substance had gone astray of free will, and erred as a punishment.
27. I was about six or seven and twenty years of age when I wrote those volumes — meditating upon corporeal fictions, which clamored in the ears of my heart. These I directed, O sweet Truth, to Your inward melody, pondering on the “fair and fit,” and longing to stay and listen to You, and to rejoice greatly at the Bridegroom’s voice, John 3:29 and I could not; for by the voices of my own errors was I driven forth, and by the weight of my own pride was I sinking into the lowest pit. For You did not “make me to hear joy and gladness;” nor did the bones which were not yet humbled rejoice.
Chapter 16. He Very Easily Understood the Liberal Arts and the Categories of Aristotle, But Without True Fruit.
28. And what did it profit me that, when scarce twenty years old, a book of Aristotle’s, entitled The Ten Predicaments, fell into my hands — on whose very name I hung as on something great and divine, when my rhetoric master of Carthage, and others who were esteemed learned, referred to it with cheeks swelling with pride — I read it alone and understood it? And on my conferring with others, who said that with the assistance of very able masters — who not only explained it orally, but drew many things in the dust — they scarcely understood it, and could tell me no more about it than I had acquired in reading it by myself alone? And the book appeared to me to speak plainly enough of substances, such as man is, and of their qualities, — such as the figure of a man, of what kind it is; and his stature, how many feet high; and his relationship, whose brother he is; or where placed, or when born; or whether he stands or sits, or is shod or armed, or does or suffers anything; and whatever innumerable things might be classed under these nine categories, — of which I have given some examples — or under that chief category of substance.
29. What did all this profit me, seeing it even hindered me, when, imagining that whatsoever existed was comprehended in those ten categories, I tried so to understand, O my God, Your wonderful and unchangeable unity as if Thou also had been subjected to Your own greatness or beauty, so that they should exist in You as their subject, like as in bodies, whereas You Yourself art Your greatness and beauty? But a body is not great or fair because it is a body, seeing that, though it were less great or fair, it should nevertheless be a body. But that which I had conceived of You was falsehood, not truth — fictions of my misery, not the supports of Your blessedness. For You had commanded, and it was done in me, that the earth should bring forth briars and thorns to me, Isaiah 32:13 and that with labor I should get my bread. Genesis 3:19
30. And what did it profit me that I, the base slave of vile affections, read unaided, and understood, all the books that I could get of the so-called liberal arts? And I took delight in them, but knew not whence came whatever in them was true and certain. For my back then was to the light, and my face towards the things enlightened; whence my face, with which I discerned the things enlightened, was not itself enlightened. Whatever was written either on rhetoric or logic, geometry, music, or arithmetic, did I, without any great difficulty, and without the teaching of any man, understand, as You know, O Lord my God, because both quickness of comprehension and acuteness of perception are Your gifts. Yet did I not thereupon sacrifice to You. So, then, it served not to my use, but rather to my destruction, since I went about to get so good a portion of my substance Luke 15:12 into my own power; and I kept not my strength for You, but went away from You into a far country, to waste it upon harlotries. Luke 15:13 For what did good abilities profit me, if I did not employ them to good uses? For I did not perceive that those arts were acquired with great difficulty, even by the studious and those gifted with genius, until I endeavoured to explain them to such; and he was the most proficient in them who followed my explanations not too slowly.
31. But what did this profit me, supposing that Thou, O Lord God, the Truth, were a bright and vast body, and I a piece of that body? Perverseness too great! But such was I. Nor do I blush, O my God, to confess to You Your mercies towards me, and to call upon You — I, who blushed not then to avow before men my blasphemies, and to bark against You. What profited me then my nimble wit in those sciences and all those knotty volumes, disentangled by me without help from a human master, seeing that I erred so odiously, and with such sacrilegious baseness, in the doctrine of piety? Or what impediment was it to Your little ones to have a far slower wit, seeing that they departed not far from You, that in the nest of Your Church they might safely become fledged, and nourish the wings of charity by the food of a sound faith? O Lord our God, under the shadow of Your wings let us hope, defend us, and carry us. You will carry us both when little, and even to grey hairs will You carry us; Isaiah 46:4 for our firmness, when it is Thou, then is it firmness; but when it is our own, then it is infirmity. Our good lives always with You, from which when we are averted we are perverted. Let us now, O Lord, return, that we be not overturned, because with You our good lives without any eclipse, which good You Yourself art. And we need not fear lest we should find no place unto which to return because we fell away from it; for when we were absent, our home — Your Eternity — fell not.
Thoughts to Ponder
What is the relationship between those parts of our selves, the body, that we can see, touch, and feel, and the soul, which is immortal?
What is the way to distinguish between a healthy control of emotions, and the unhealthy repression of emotions?
In what ways is Augustine being drawn into a powerful relationship with God?
Previous Chapters of the Confessions of Saint Augustine
The previous chapters of the Confessions of Saint Augustine can be found by clicking this link.