Table of Contents
Confessions of Saint Augustine: The Beginning of the Transformation
Chapter 1. That It Becomes the Soul to Praise God, and to Confess Unto Him.
1. Accept the sacrifice of my confessions by the agency of my tongue, which You have formed and quickened, that it may confess to Your name; and heal Thou all my bones, and let them say, “Lord, who is like You?” For neither does he who confesses to You teach You what may be passing within him, because a closed heart does not exclude Your eye, nor does man’s hardness of heart repulse Your hand, but You dissolve it when You will, either in pity or in vengeance, “and there is no One who can hide himself from Your heart.” But let my soul praise You, that it may love You; and let it confess Your own mercies to You, that it may praise You. Your whole creation ceases not, nor is it silent in Your praises — neither the spirit of man, by the voice directed unto You, nor animal nor corporeal things, by the voice of those meditating thereon; so that our souls may from their weariness arise towards You, leaning on those things which You have made, and passing on to You, who hast made them wonderfully and there is there refreshment and true strength.
Chapter 2. On the Vanity of Those Who Wished to Escape the Omnipotent God.
2. Let the restless and the unjust depart and flee from You. You both see them and distinguish the shadows. And lo! All things with them are fair, yet they themselves are foul. And how have they injured You? Or in what have they disgraced Your government, which is just and perfect from heaven even to the lowest parts of the earth. For whether fled they when they fled from Your presence? Or where do You not find them? But they fled that they might not see You seeing them, and blinded might stumble against You; (Genesis 16:13-14) since You forsake nothing that You have made — that the unjust might stumble against You, and justly be hurt, withdrawing themselves from Your gentleness, and stumbling against Your uprightness, and falling upon their own roughness. In truth, they know not that You are everywhere whom no place encompasses, and that You alone are near even to those that remove far from You. Let them, then, be converted and seek You; because not as they have forsaken their Creator have You forsaken Your creature. Let them be converted and seek You; and behold, You are there in their hearts, in the hearts of those who confess to You, and cast themselves upon You, and weep on Your bosom after their obdurate ways, even You gently wiping away their tears. And they weep the more, and rejoice in weeping, since You, O Lord, not man, flesh and blood, but You, Lord, who made, remakes and comforts them. And where was I when I was seeking You? And You were before me, but I had gone away even from myself; nor did I find myself, much less You!
Chapter 3. Having Heard Faustus, the Most Learned Bishop of the Manichæans, He Discerns that God, the Author Both of Things Animate and Inanimate, Chiefly Has Care for the Humble.
3. Let me lay bare before my God that twenty-ninth year of my age. There had at this time come to Carthage a certain bishop of the Manichæans, by name Faustus, a great snare of the devil, and in any were entangled by him through the allurement of his smooth speech; the which, although I did commend, yet could I separate from the truth of those things which I was eager to learn. Nor did I esteem the small dish of oratory so much as the science, which this their so praised Faustus placed before me to feed upon. Fame, indeed, had before spoken of him to me, as most skilled in all becoming learning, and pre-eminently skilled in the liberal sciences. And as I had read and retained in memory many injunctions of the philosophers, I used to compare some teachings of theirs with those long fables of the Manichæans and the former things which they declared, who could only prevail so far as to estimate this lower world, while its lord they could by no means find out, Wisdom 13:9 seemed to me the more probable. For You are great, O Lord, and hast respect unto the lowly, but the proud You know afar off. Nor do You draw near but to the contrite heart, nor are You found by the proud, — not even could they number by cunning skill the stars and the sand, and measure the starry regions, and trace the courses of the planets.
4. For with their understanding and the capacity which You have bestowed upon them they search out these things; and much have they found out, and foretold many years before — the eclipses of those luminaries, the sun and moon, on what day, at what hour, and from how many particular points they were likely to come. Nor did their calculation fail them; and it came to pass even as they foretold. And they wrote down the rules found out, which are read at this day; and from these others foretell in what year and in what month of the year, and on what day of the month, and at what hour of the day, and at what quarter of its light, either moon or sun is to be eclipsed, and thus it shall be even as it is foretold. And men who are ignorant of these things marvel and are amazed, and they that know them exult and are exalted; and by an impious pride, departing from You, and forsaking Your light, they foretell a failure of the sun’s light which is likely to occur so long before, but see not their own, which is now present. For they seek not religiously from where they have the ability where-with they seek out these things. And finding that You have made them, they give not themselves up to You, that You may preserve what You have made, nor sacrifice themselves to You, even such as they have made themselves to be; nor do they slay their own pride, as fowls of the air, nor their own curiosities, by which (like the fishes of the sea) they wander over the unknown paths of the abyss, nor their own extravagance, as the “beasts of the field,” that You, Lord, “a consuming fire,” (Deuteronomy 4:24) may burn up their lifeless cares and renew them immortally.
5. But the way — Your Word, (John 1:3) by whom Thou made these things which they number, and themselves who number, and the sense by which they perceive what they number, and the judgment out of which they number — they knew not, and that of Your wisdom there is no number. But the Only-begotten has been “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification,” (1 Corinthians 1:30) and has been numbered among us, and paid tribute to Cæsar. (Matthew 17:27) This way, by which they might descend to Him from themselves, they knew not; nor that through Him they might ascend unto Him. This way they knew not, and they think themselves exalted with the stars Isaiah 14:13 and shining, and lo! They fell upon the earth, (Revelation 12:4) and “their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:21) They say many true things concerning the creature; but Truth, the Artificer of the creature, they seek not with devotion, and hence they find Him not. Or if they find Him, knowing that He is God, they glorify Him not as God, neither are they thankful, (Romans 1:21) but become vain in their imaginations, and say that they themselves are wise, (Romans 1:22) attributing to themselves what is Yours; and by this, with most perverse blindness, they desire to impute to You what is their own, forging lies against You who art the Truth, and changing the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things, (Romans 1:23) — changing Your truth into a lie, and worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator. (Romans 1:25)
6. Many truths, however, concerning the creature did I retain from these men, and the cause appeared to me from calculations, the succession of seasons, and the visible manifestations of the stars; and I compared them with the sayings of Manichæus, who in his frenzy has written most extensively on these subjects, but discovered not any account either of the solstices, or the equinoxes, the eclipses of the luminaries, or anything of the kind I had learned in the books of secular philosophy. But therein I was ordered to believe, and yet it corresponded not with those rules acknowledged by calculation and my own sight, but was far different.
Chapter 4. That the Knowledge of Terrestrial and Celestial Things Does Not Give Happiness, But the Knowledge of God Only.
7. Does, then, O Lord God of truth, whosoever knows those things therefore please You? For unhappy is the man who knows all those things, but knows You not; but happy is he who knows You, though these he may not know. But he who knows both You and them is not the happier on account of them, but is happy on account of You only, if knowing You he glorify You as God, and gives thanks, and becomes not vain in his thoughts. Romans 1:21 But as he is happier who knows how to possess a tree, and for the use thereof renders thanks to You, although he may not know how many cubits high it is, or how wide it spreads, than he that measures it and counts all its branches, and neither owns it nor knows or loves its Creator; so a just man, whose is the entire world of wealth, and who, as having nothing, yet possesses all things (2 Corinthians 6:10) by cleaving unto You, to whom all things are subservient, though he know not even the circles of the Great Bear, yet it is foolish to doubt but that he may verily be better than he who can measure the heavens, and number the stars, and weigh the elements, but is forgetful of You, “who hast set in order all things in number, weight, and measure.” (Wisdom 11:20)
Chapter 5. Of Manichæus Pertinaciously Teaching False Doctrines, and Proudly Arrogating to Himself the Holy Spirit.
8. But yet who was it that ordered Manichæus to write on these things likewise, skill in which was not necessary to piety? For You have told man to behold piety and wisdom, of which he might be in ignorance although having a complete knowledge of these other things; but since, knowing not these things, he yet most impudently dared to teach them, it is clear that he had no acquaintance with piety. For even when we have a knowledge of these worldly matters, it is folly to make a profession of them; but confession to You is piety. It was therefore with this view that this straying one spoke much of these matters, that, standing convicted by those who had in truth learned them, the understanding that he really had in those more difficult things might be made plain. For he wished not to be lightly esteemed but went about trying to persuade men “that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter and Enricher of Your faithful ones, was with full authority personally resident in him.” When, therefore, it was discovered that his teaching concerning the heavens and stars, and the motions of sun and moon, was false, though these things do not relate to the doctrine of religion, yet his sacrilegious arrogance would become sufficiently evident, seeing that not only did he affirm things of which he knew nothing, but also perverted them, and with such egregious vanity of pride as to seek to attribute them to himself as to a divine being.
9. For when I hear a Christian brother ignorant of these things, or in error concerning them, I can bear with patience to see that man hold to his opinions; nor can I apprehend that any want of knowledge as to the situation or nature of this material creation can be injurious to him, so long as he does not entertain belief in anything unworthy of You, O Lord, the Creator of all. But if he conceives it to pertain to the form of the doctrine of piety, and presumes to affirm with great obstinacy that whereof he is ignorant, therein lies the injury. And yet even a weakness such as this in the dawn of faith is borne by our Mother Charity, till the new man may grow up “unto a perfect man,” and not be “carried about with every wind of doctrine.” (Ephesians 4:13-14) But in him who thus presumed to be at once the teacher, author, head, and leader of all whom he could induce to believe this, so that all who followed him believed that they were following not a simple man only, but Your Holy Spirit, who would not judge that such great insanity, when once it stood convicted of false teaching, should be abhorred and utterly cast off? But I had not yet clearly ascertained whether the changes of longer and shorter days and nights, and day and night itself, with the eclipses of the greater lights, and whatever of the like kind I had read in other books, could be expounded consistently with his words. Should I have found myself able to do so, there would still have remained a doubt in my mind whether it were so or no, although I might, on the strength of his reputed godliness, rest my faith on his authority.
Chapter 6. Faustus Was Indeed an Elegant Speaker, But Knew Nothing of the Liberal Sciences.
10. And for nearly the whole of those nine years during which, with unstable mind, I had been their follower, I had been looking forward with but too great eagerness for the arrival of this same Faustus. For the other members of the sect whom I had chanced to light upon, when unable to answer the questions I raised, always bade me look forward to his coming, when, by discoursing with him, these, and greater difficulties if I had them, would be most easily and amply cleared away. When at last he did come, I found him to be a man of pleasant speech, who spoke of the very same things as they themselves did, although more fluently, and in better language. But of what profit to me was the elegance of my cup-bearer, since he offered me not the more precious draught for which I thirsted? My ears were already satiated with similar things; neither did they appear to me more conclusive, because better expressed; nor true, because oratorical; nor the spirit necessarily wise, because the face was comely and the language eloquent. But they who extolled him to me were not competent judges; and therefore, as he was possessed of suavity of speech, he appeared to them to be prudent and wise. Another sort of persons, however, was, I was aware, suspicious even of truth itself, if enunciated in smooth and flowing language. But me, O my God, You had already instructed by wonderful and mysterious ways, and therefore I believe that You instructed me because it is truth; nor of truth is there any other teacher — where or wherever it may shine upon us — but You. From You, therefore, I had now learned, that because a thing is eloquently expressed, it should not of necessity seem to be true; nor, because uttered with stammering lips, should it be false nor, again, perforce true, because unskillfully delivered; nor consequently untrue, because the language is fine; but that wisdom and folly are as food both wholesome and unwholesome, and courtly or simple words as town-made or rustic vessels — and both kinds of food may be served in either kind of dish.
11. That eagerness, therefore, with which I had so long waited for this man was in truth delighted with his action and feeling when disputing, and the fluent and apt words with which he clothed his ideas. I was therefore filled with joy and joined with others (and even exceeded them) in exalting and praising him. It was, however, a source of annoyance to me that I was not allowed at those meetings of his auditors to introduce and impart any of those questions that troubled me in familiar exchange of arguments with him. When I might speak, and began, in conjunction with my friends, to engage his attention at such times as it was not unseeming for him to enter into a discussion with me, and had mooted such questions as perplexed me, I discovered him first to know nothing of the liberal sciences save grammar, and that only in an ordinary way. Having, however, read some of Tully’s Orations, a very few books of Seneca and some of the poets, and such few volumes of his own sect as were written coherently in Latin, and being day by day practiced in speaking, he so acquired a sort of eloquence, which proved the more delightful and enticing in that it was under the control of ready tact, and a sort of native grace. Is it not even as I recall, O Lord my God, You judge of my conscience? My heart and my memory are laid before You, who at that time directed me by the inscrutable mystery of Your Providence and set before my face those vile errors of mine, in order that I might see and loathe them.
Thoughts to Ponder
Have you ever had a time which resulted in a major change in the way you see the world?
What does it mean to convert or change, especially in terms of religion?
What are the challenges when you are on the verge of a big conversion or a significant change in your way of thinking?