The remarkable help of God: Book 5 Chapters 7-14: Confessions of Saint Augustine: The Friar Book Club
Confessions of Saint Augustine: The remarkable help of God
Chapter 7. Clearly Seeing the Fallacies of the Manichæans, He Retires from Them, Being Remarkably Aided by God.
12. For when it became plain to me that he was ignorant of those arts in which I had believed him to excel, I began to despair of his clearing up and explaining all the perplexities which harassed me: though ignorant of these, however, he might still have held the truth of piety, had he not been a Manichæan. For their books are full of lengthy fables concerning the heaven and stars, the sun and moon, and I had ceased to think him able to decide in a satisfactory manner what I ardently desired — whether, on comparing these things with the calculations I had read elsewhere, the explanations contained in the works of Manichæus were preferable, or at any rate equally sound? But when I proposed that these subjects should be deliberated upon and reasoned out, he very modestly did not dare to endure the burden. For he was aware that he had no knowledge of these things and was not ashamed to confess it. For he was not one of those loquacious persons, many of whom I had been troubled with, who covenanted to teach me these things, and said nothing; but this man possessed a heart, which, though not right towards You, yet was not altogether false towards himself. For he was not altogether ignorant of his own ignorance, nor would he without due consideration be inveigled in a controversy, from which he could neither draw back nor extricate himself fairly. And for that I was even more pleased with him, for more beautiful is the modesty of an ingenuous mind than the acquisition of the knowledge I desired — and such I found him to be in all the more abstruse and subtle questions.
13. My eagerness after the writings of Manichæus having thus received a check, and despairing even more of their other teachers — seeing that in sundry things which puzzled me, he, so famous among them, had thus turned out — I began to occupy myself with him in the study of that literature which he also much affected, and which I, as Professor of Rhetoric, was then engaged in teaching the young Carthaginian students, and in reading with him either what he expressed a wish to hear, or I deemed suited to his bent of mind. But all my endeavours by which I had concluded to improve in that sect, by acquaintance with that man, came completely to an end: not that I separated myself altogether from them, but, as one who could find nothing better, I determined in the meantime upon contenting myself with what I had in any way lighted upon, unless, by chance, something more desirable should present itself. Thus that Faustus, who had entrapped so many to their death — neither willing nor witting it — now began to loosen the snare in which I had been taken. For Your hands, O my God, in the hidden design of Your Providence, did not desert my soul; and out of the blood of my mother’s heart, through the tears that she poured out by day and by night, was a sacrifice offered unto You for me; and by marvelous ways did You deal with me. (Joel 2:26) It was You, O my God, who did it, for the steps of a man are ordered by the Lord, and He shall dispose his way. Or how can we procure salvation but from Your hand, remaking what it has made?
Chapter 8. He Sets Out for Rome, His Mother in Vain Lamenting It.
14. You dealt with me, therefore, that I should be persuaded to go to Rome, and teach there rather what I was then teaching at Carthage. And how I was persuaded to do this, I will not fail to confess unto You; for in this also the profoundest workings of Your wisdom, and Your ever present mercy to usward, must be pondered and avowed. It was not my desire to go to Rome because greater advantages and dignities were guaranteed me by the friends who persuaded me into this — although even at this period I was influenced by these considerations — but my principal and almost sole motive was, that I had been informed that the youths studied more quietly there, and were kept under by the control of more rigid discipline, so that they did not capriciously and impudently rush into the school of a master not their own, into whose presence they were forbidden to enter unless with his consent. At Carthage, on the contrary, there was among the scholars a shameful and intemperate license. They burst in rudely, and, with almost furious gesticulations, interrupt the system which anyone may have instituted for the good of his pupils. Many outrages they perpetrate with astounding phlegm, which would be punishable by law were they not sustained by custom; that custom showing them to be the more worthless, in that they now do, as according to law, what by Your unchangeable law will never be lawful. And they fancy they do it with impunity, whereas the very blindness whereby they do it is their punishment, and they suffer far greater things than they do. The manners, then, which as a student I would not adopt, I was compelled as a teacher to submit to from others; and so, I was too glad to go where all who knew anything about it assured me that similar things were not done. But You, “my refuge and my portion in the land of the living,” while at Carthage goaded me, so that I might thereby be withdrawn from it, and exchange my worldly habitation for the preservation of my soul; while at Rome You offered me enticements by which to attract me there, by men enchanted with this dying life — the one doing insane actions, and the other making assurances of vain things; and, in order to correct my footsteps, secretly employed their and my perversity. For both they who disturbed my tranquility were blinded by a shameful madness, and they who allured me elsewhere smacked of the earth. And I, who hated real misery here, sought fictitious happiness there.
15. But the cause of my going to that place and going there, You, O God, knew, yet revealed it not, either to me or to my mother, who grievously lamented my journey, and went with me as far as the sea. But I deceived her, when she violently restrained me either that she might retain me or accompany me, and I pretended that I had a friend whom I could not quit until he had a favorable wind to set sail. And I lied to my mother — and such a mother! — and got away. For this also You have in mercy pardoned me, saving me, thus replete with abominable pollutions, from the waters of the sea, for the water of Your grace, whereby, when I was purified, the fountains of my mother’s eyes should be dried, from which for me she day by day watered the ground under her face. And yet, refusing to go back without me, it was with difficulty I persuaded her to remain that night in a place quite close to our ship, where there was an oratory in memory of the blessed Cyprian. That night I secretly left, but she was not backward in prayers and weeping. And what was it, O Lord, that she, with such an abundance of tears, was asking of You, but that You would not permit me to sail? But You, mysteriously counselling and hearing the real purpose of her desire, granted not what she then asked, in order to make me what she was ever asking. The wind blew and filled our sails, and withdrew the shore from our sight; and she, wild with grief, was there on the morrow, and filled Your ears with complaints and groans, which You disregarded; while, by the means of my longings, You were hastening me on to the cessation of all longing, and the gross part of her love to me was whipped out by the just lash of sorrow. But, like all mothers — though even more than others — she loved to have me with her and knew not what joy You were preparing for her by my absence. Being ignorant of this, she did weep and mourn, and in her agony was seen the inheritance of Eve, — seeking in sorrow what in sorrow she had brought forth. And yet, after accusing my perfidy and cruelty, she again continued her intercessions for me with You, returned to her accustomed place, and I to Rome.
Chapter 9. Being Attacked by Fever, He is in Great Danger.
16. And behold, there was I received by the scourge of bodily sickness, and I was descending into hell burdened with all the sins that I had committed, both against You, myself, and others, many and grievous, over and above that bond of original sin whereby we all die in Adam. (1 Corinthians 15:22) For none of these things had Thou forgiven me in Christ, neither had He “abolished” by His cross “the enmity” which, by my sins, I had incurred with You. For how could He, by the crucifixion of a phantasm, which I supposed Him to be? As true, then, was the death of my soul, as that of His flesh appeared to me to be untrue; and as true the death of His flesh as the life of my soul, which believed it not, was false. The fever increasing, I was now passing away and perishing. For had I then gone hence, from what place should I have gone but into the fiery torments meet for my misdeeds, in the truth of Your ordinance? She was ignorant of this, yet, while absent, prayed for me. But You, everywhere present, hearkened to her where she was, and had pity upon me where I was, that I should regain my bodily health, although still frenzied in my sacrilegious heart. For all that peril did not make me wish to be baptized, and I was better when, as a lad, I entreated it of my mother’s piety, as I have already related and confessed. But I had grown up to my own dishonor, and all the purposes of Your medicine I madly derided, who would not suffer me, though such a one, to die a double death. Had my mother’s heart been smitten with this wound, it never could have been cured. For I cannot sufficiently express the love she had for me, nor how she now travailed for me in the spirit with a far keener anguish than when she bore me in the flesh.
17. I cannot conceive, therefore, how she could have been healed if such a death of mine had transfixed the bowels of her love. Where then would have been her so earnest, frequent, and unintermitted prayers to You alone? But could You, most merciful God, despise the “contrite and humble heart” of that pure and prudent widow, so constant in alms deeds, so gracious and attentive to Your saints, not permitting one day to pass without oblation at Your altar, twice a day, at morning and even-tide, coming to Your church without intermission — not for vain gossiping, nor old wives’ “fables,” (1 Timothy 5:10) but in order that she might listen to You in Your sermons, and You to her in her prayers? Could You— You by whose gift she was such — despise and disregard without succoring the tears of such a one, wherewith she entreated You not for gold or silver, nor for any changing or fleeting good, but for the salvation of the soul of her son? By no means, Lord. Assuredly You were near and were hearing and doing in that method in which You had predetermined that it should be done. Far be it from You that You should delude her in those visions and the answers she had from You — some of which I have spoken of, and others not, — which she kept (Luke 2:19) in her faithful breast, and, always petitioning, pressed upon You as Your autograph. For You, “because Your mercy endures forever,” condescends to those whose debts You have pardoned, to become likewise a debtor by Your promises.
Chapter 10. When He Had Left the Manichæans, He Retained His Depraved Opinions Concerning Sin and the Origin of the Saviour.
18. You restored me then from that illness and made sound the son of Your handmaid meanwhile in body, that he might live for You, to endow him with a higher and more enduring health. And even then at Rome I joined those deluding and deluded “saints;” not their “hearers” only — of the number of whom was he in whose house I had fallen ill and had recovered — but those also whom they designate “The Elect.” For it still seemed to me “that it was not we that sin, but that I know not what other nature sinned in us.” And it gratified my pride to be free from blame and, after I had committed any fault, not to acknowledge that I had done any —“that You might heal my soul because it had sinned against You;” but I loved to excuse it, and to accuse something else (I know not what) which was with me, but was not I. But assuredly it was wholly I, and my impiety had divided me against myself; and that sin was all the more incurable in that I did not deem myself a sinner. And execrable iniquity it was, O God omnipotent, that I would rather have You to be overcome in me to my destruction, than myself of You to salvation! Not yet, therefore, had Thou set a watch before my mouth, and kept the door of my lips, that my heart might not incline to wicked speeches, to make excuses of sins, with men that work iniquity — and, therefore, was I still united with their “Elect.”
19. But now, hopeless of making proficiency in that false doctrine, even those things with which I had decided upon contenting myself, providing that I could find nothing better, I now held more loosely and negligently. For I was half inclined to believe that those philosophers whom they call “Academics” were more sagacious than the rest, in that they held that we ought to doubt everything, and ruled that man had not the power of comprehending any truth; for so, not yet realizing their meaning, I also was fully persuaded that they thought just as they are commonly held to do. And I did not fail frankly to restrain in my host that assurance which I observed him to have in those fictions of which the works of Manichæus are full. Notwithstanding, I was on terms of more intimate friendship with them than with others who were not of this heresy. Nor did I defend it with my former ardor; still my familiarity with that sect (many of them being concealed in Rome) made me slower to seek any other way — particularly since I was hopeless of finding the truth, from which in Your Church, O Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of all things visible and invisible, they had turned me aside — and it seemed to me most unbecoming to believe You to have the form of human flesh, and to be bounded by the bodily lineaments of our members. And because, when I desired to meditate on my God, I knew not what to think of but a mass of bodies (for what was not such did not seem to me to be), this was the greatest and almost sole cause of my inevitable error.
20. For hence I also believed evil to be a similar sort of substance, and to be possessed of its own foul and misshapen mass — whether dense, which they denominated earth, or thin and subtle, as is the body of the air, which they fancy some malignant spirit crawling through that earth. And because a piety— such as it was — compelled me to believe that the good God never created any evil nature, I conceived two masses, the one opposed to the other, both infinite, but the evil the more contracted, the good the more expansive. And from this mischievous commencement the other profanities followed on me. For when my mind tried to revert to the Catholic faith, I was cast back, since what I had held to be the Catholic faith was not so. And it appeared to me more devout to look upon You, my God — to whom I make confession of Your mercies — as infinite, at least, on other sides, although on that side where the mass of evil was in opposition to You I was compelled to confess You finite, that if on every side I should conceive You to be confined by the form of a human body. And better did it seem to me to believe that no evil had been created by You — which to me in my ignorance appeared not only some substance, but a bodily one, because I had no conception of the mind excepting as a subtle body, and that diffused in local spaces — than to believe that anything could emanate from You of such a kind as I considered the nature of evil to be. And our very Saviour Himself, also, Your only-begotten, I believed to have been reached forth, as it were, for our salvation out of the lump of Your most effulgent mass, so as to believe nothing of Him but what I was able to imagine in my vanity. Such a nature, then, I thought could not be born of the Virgin Mary without being mingled with the flesh; and how that which I had thus figured to myself could be mingled without being contaminated, I saw not. I was afraid, therefore, to believe Him to be born in the flesh, lest I should be compelled to believe Him contaminated by the flesh. Now will Your spiritual ones blandly and lovingly smile at me if they shall read these my confessions; yet such was I.
Chapter 11. Helpidius Disputed Well Against the Manichæans as to the Authenticity of the New Testament.
21. Furthermore, whatever they had censured in Your Scriptures I thought impossible to be defended; and yet sometimes, indeed, I desired to confer on these several points with some one well learned in those books, and to try what he thought of them. For at this time the words of one Helpidius, speaking and disputing face to face against the said Manichæans, had begun to move me even at Carthage, in that he brought forth things from the Scriptures not easily withstood, to which their answer appeared to me feeble. And this answer they did not give forth publicly, but only to us in private — when they said that the writings of the New Testament had been tampered with by I know not whom, who were desirous of ingrafting the Jewish law upon the Christian faith; but they themselves did not bring forward any uncorrupted copies. But I, thinking of corporeal things, very much ensnared and in a measure stifled, was oppressed by those masses; panting under which for the breath of Your Truth, I was not able to breathe it pure and undefiled.
Chapter 12. Professing Rhetoric at Rome, He Discovers the Fraud of His Scholars.
22. Then began I assiduously to practise that for which I came to Rome— the teaching of rhetoric; and first to bring together at my home some to whom, and through whom, I had begun to be known; when, behold, I learned that other offenses were committed in Rome which I had not to bear in Africa. For those subvertings by abandoned young men were not practised here, as I had been informed; yet, suddenly, said they, to evade paying their master’s fees, many of the youths conspire together, and remove themselves to another — breakers of faith, who, for the love of money, set a small value on justice. These also my heart “hated,” though not with a “perfect hatred;” for, perhaps, I hated them more in that I was to suffer by them, than for the illicit acts they committed. Such of a truth are base persons, and they are unfaithful to You, loving these transitory mockeries of temporal things, and vile gain, which begrimes the hand that lays hold on it; and embracing the fleeting world, and scorning You, who abides, and invites to return, and pardons the prostituted human soul when it returns to You. And now I hate such crooked and perverse men, although I love them if they are to be corrected so as to prefer the learning they obtain to money, and to learning You, O God, the truth and fullness of certain good and most chaste peace. But then was the wish stronger in me for my own sake not to suffer them evil, than was the wish that they should become good for Yours.
Chapter 13. He is Sent to Milan, that He, About to Teach Rhetoric, May Be Known by Ambrose.
23. When, therefore, they of Milan had sent to Rome to the prefect of the city, to provide them with a teacher of rhetoric for their city, and to dispatch him at the public expense, I made interest through those identical persons, drunk with Manichæan vanities, to be freed from whom I was going away — neither of us, however, being aware of it — that Symmachus, the then prefect, having proved me by proposing a subject, would send me. And to Milan I came, unto Ambrose the bishop, known to the whole world as among the best of men, Your devout servant; whose eloquent discourse did at that time strenuously dispense unto Your people the flour of Your wheat, “the gladness” of Your “oil,” and the sober intoxication of Your “wine.” To him was I unknowingly led by You, that by him I might knowingly be led to You. That man of God received me like a father and looked with a benevolent and episcopal kindliness on my change of abode. And I began to love him, not at first, indeed, as a teacher of the truth — which I entirely despaired of in Your Church, — but as a man friendly to myself. And I studiously hearkened to him preaching to the people, not with the motive I should, but, as it were, trying to discover whether his eloquence came up to the fame thereof, or flowed fuller or lower than was asserted; and I hung on his words intently, but of the matter I was but as a careless and contemptuous spectator; and I was delighted with the pleasantness of his speech, more erudite, yet less cheerful and soothing in manner, than that of Faustus. Of the matter, however, there could be no comparison; for the latter was straying amid Manichæan deceptions, while the former was teaching salvation most soundly. But “salvation is far from the wicked,” such as I then stood before him; and yet I was drawing nearer gradually and unconsciously.
Chapter 14. Having Heard the Bishop, He Perceives the Force of the Catholic Faith, Yet Doubts, After the Manner of the Modern Academics.
24. For although I took no trouble to learn what he spoke, but only to hear how he spoke (for that empty care alone remained to me, despairing of a way accessible for man to You), yet, together with the words which I prized, there came into my mind also the things about which I was careless; for I could not separate them. And while I opened my heart to admit “how skilfully he spoke,” there also entered with it, but gradually, and “how truly he spoke!” For first, these things also had begun to appear to me to be defensible; and the Catholic faith, for which I had fancied nothing could be said against the attacks of the Manichæans, I now conceived might be maintained without presumption; especially after I had heard one or two parts of the Old Testament explained, and often allegorically — which when I accepted literally, I was “killed” spiritually. Many places, then, of those books having been expounded to me, I now blamed my despair in having believed that no reply could be made to those who hated and derided the Law and the Prophets. Yet I did not then see that for that reason the Catholic way was to be held because it had its learned advocates, who could at length, and not irrationally, answer objections; nor that what I held ought therefore to be condemned because both sides were equally defensible. For that way did not appear to me to be vanquished; nor yet did it seem to me to be victorious.
25. Hereupon did I earnestly bend my mind to see if in any way I could possibly prove the Manichæans guilty of falsehood. Could I have realized a spiritual substance, all their strongholds would have been beaten down, and cast utterly out of my mind; but I could not. But yet, concerning the body of this world, and the whole of nature, which the senses of the flesh can attain unto, I, now more and more considering and comparing things, judged that the greater part of the philosophers held much the more probable opinions. So, then, after the manner of the Academics (as they are supposed), doubting of everything and fluctuating between all, I decided that the Manichæans were to be abandoned; judging that, even while in that period of doubt, I could not remain in a sect to which I preferred some of the philosphers; to which philosophers, however, because they were without the saving name of Christ, I utterly refused to commit the cure of my fainting soul. I resolved, therefore, to be a catechumen in the Catholic Church, which my parents had commended to me, until something settled should manifest itself to me where I might steer my course.
Thoughts to Ponder
What factors do you think led to Augustine’s growing dissatisfaction with the teaching of the Manacheans?
For what reasons does Augustine claim that terrestrial and celestial things do not give happiness, and why does he say this? What implications does this have for our world today?
What factors led Augustine to the faith, and in what ways are the same factors present for us today?
Previous Chapters of the Confessions of Saint Augustine
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