i (1) ‘O Lord, I am your servant, I am your servant and the son of your handmaid. You have snapped my chains. I will sacrifice to you the offering of praise’ (Ps. 115: 16–17). Let my heart praise you and my tongue, and ‘let all my bones say, Lord who is like you?’ (Ps. 34: 10). Let them speak, answer me, and say to my soul ‘I am your salvation’ (Ps. 34: 3).
Who am I and what am I? What was not evil in my deeds or, if not deeds, in my words or, if not words, in my intention? But you, Lord, ‘are good and merciful’ (Ps. 102: 8). Your right hand had regard to the depth of my dead condition, and from the bottom of my heart had drawn out a trough of corruption. The nub of the problem was to reject my own will and to desire yours. But where through so many years was my freedom of will? From what deep and hidden recess was it called out in a moment? Thereby I submitted my neck to your easy yoke and my shoulders to your light burden (Matt. 11: 30), O Christ Jesus ‘my helper and redeemer’ (Ps. 18: 15). Suddenly it had become sweet to me to be without the sweets of folly. What I once feared to lose was now a delight to dismiss. You turned them out and entered to take their place, pleasanter than any pleasure but not to flesh and blood, brighter than all light yet more inward than any secret recess, higher than any honour but not to those who think themselves sublime. Already my mind was free of‘the biting cares’1 of place-seeking, of desire for gain, of wallowing in self-indulgence, of scratching the itch of lust. And I was now talking with you, Lord my God, my radiance, my wealth, and my salvation.
ii (2) I made a decision ‘in your sight’ (Ps. 18: 15) not to break off teaching with an abrupt renunciation, but quiedy to retire from my post as a salesman of words in the markets of rhetoric. I did not wish my pupils, who were giving their minds not to your law (Ps. 118: 70) nor to your peace, but to frenzied lies and lawcourt squabbles, to buy from my mouth weapons for their madness. Fortunately there were only a few days left before the Vintage Vacation [22 August–15 October]. I decided to put up with them so that I could resign with due formality. Redeemed by you, I was not now going to return to putting my skills up for sale. Our plan was formed with your knowledge but was not publicly known, except to our intimate circle. It was agreed among us that it was not to be published generally. Meanwhile, to us who were climbing out of the ‘valley of tears’ (Ps. 83: 6 f.) and singing a ‘song of steps’ (Ps. 119–33), vou had given ‘sharp arrows and destroying coals’ to answer any deceitful tongues of criticism (Ps. 119: 3 f). Tongues that appear to be offering helpful advice can actually be hostile opponents and, in offering love, may devour us in the way people consume food.2
(3) You pierced my heart with the arrow of your love,3 and we carried your words transfixing my innermost being (cf. Ps. 37: 3). The examples given by your servants whom you had transformed from black to shining white and from death to life, crowded in upon my thoughts. They burnt away and destroyed my heavy sluggishness, preventing me from being dragged down to low things. They set me on fire with such force that every breath of opposition from any ‘deceitful tongue’ (Ps. 119: 2 f.) had the power not to dampen my zeal but to inflame it the more. However, because of your name which you have sanctified throughout the earth (Ezek. 36: 23), my vow and profession would no doubt have some to approve it. So it would have seemed like ostentation if, rather than waiting for the imminent vacation period, I were prematurely to resign from a public position which had a high profile before everyone. The consequence would be that everyone would turn their scrutiny on what I had done in deliberately anticipating the coming day of the Vacation, and there would be much gossip that I was ambitious to appear important. What gain was it for me that people should be thinking and disputing about my state of mind and that a decision which was good to me should be evil spoken of? (Rom. 14: 16).4
(4) Furthermore, during that summer in consequence of too heavy a teaching load in literary studies, my lungs had begun to weaken. Breathing became difficult. Pains on the chest were symptoms of the lesion, and deprived me of power to speak clearly or for any length of time. At first this worried me because it was virtually enforcing the necessity of resigning the burden of my teaching responsibility or, if I could be cured and recover strength, at least taking some time off. But now that a total intention to ‘be at leisure and see that you are God’ (Ps. 45: 11) was born in me and had become quite firm (that you knew, my God), I also began to be pleased that my indisposition was a genuine excuse which softened the irritation felt by people who, being concerned for the education of their sons, were unwilling that I should ever be free. Full of joy in this regard, therefore, I tolerated that interval of time until it was over—it may have been about twenty days. Yet it required courage to be tolerant, because I no longer had the interest in money which ordinarily enabled me to endure a heavy work-load. In continuing my work I would have felt quite crushed if the desire for profit had not been replaced by patience. One of your servants, my brothers, might say that I had sinned in this matter, in that with my heart already fully determined upon your service, I had allowed myself to sit for even one hour in the seat of mendacity (Ps. 1: 1). I would not contest that. But, most merciful God, did you not grant pardon and remission for this fault together with my other horrendous and mortal sins,5 in the holy water of baptism?
iii (5) Verecundus was torn by anxiety at the happiness which had come to us because he was firmly tied by the chains of his obligations and saw himself losing our society. He was not yet a Christian, but his wife was a baptized believer. Fettered by her more than anything else, he was held back from the journey on which we had embarked. He used to say that he did not wish to be a Christian except in the way which was not open to him.6 Most generously he offered us hospitality at his expense for as long as we were there. Repay him, Lord, at the rewarding of the just (Luke 14: 14). Indeed you have already rewarded him with their lot (Num. 23: 10). For when we were absent during our stay in Rome,7 he was taken ill in body, and in his sickness departed this life a baptized Christian. So you had mercy not only on him but also on us. We would have felt tortured by unbearable pain if, in thinking of our friend’s outstanding humanity to us, we could not have numbered him among your flock. Thanks be to you, our God: we are yours. Your encouragements and consolations so assure us. Faithful to your promises, in return for Verecundus’ country estate at Cassiciacum8 where we rested in you from the heat of the world, you rewarded him with the loveliness of your evergreen paradise. For you forgave his sins upon earth and translated him to the mountain flowing with milk,9 your mountain, the mountain of abundance (Ps. 67: 16).
(6) Though at that time Verecundus was upset, Nebridius shared in our joy. He also was not yet a Christian. He had fallen into that ditch of pernicious [Manichee] error which taught him to believe that the flesh of your Son, the truth, was illusory. Nevertheless he had emerged from that to the attitude that, though not yet initiated into any of the sacraments of your Church, he was an ardent seeker after truth. Soon after my conversion and regeneration by your baptism, he too became a baptized Catholic believer. He was serving you in perfect chastity and continence among his own people in Africa, and through him his entire household became Christian, when you released him from bodily life. Now he lives in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16: 22). Whatever is symbolized by ‘bosom’, that is where my Nebridius lives, a sweet friend to me, but, Lord, your former freedman and now adopted son.10 There he lives; for what other place could hold so remarkable a soul? There he lives, in that place concerning which he used to put many questions to me—a poor little man without expert knowledge. He no longer pricks up his ear when I speak, but puts his spiritual mouth to your fountain and avidly drinks as much as he can of wisdom, happy without end. I do not think him so intoxicated by that as to forget me, since you, Lord, whom he drinks, are mindful of us.
So that was our state. We Comforted Verecundus in his sadness by the fact that my conversion did not put an end to our friendship, and we exhorted him to the faith appropriate to his rank, that is, to married life. But I waited for the time when Nebridius would follow my example. He was so close to doing so that he could have done it and was on the point of acting when at last those days ran their course. They seemed long and numerous because of my longing for freedom and leisure to sing with all my inmost being: ‘My heart has said to you, I have sought your face: your face, Lord, will I seek’ (Ps. 26: 8).
iv (7) The day came when I was actually liberated from the profession of rhetor, from which in thought I was already freed. But now it became reality. You delivered my tongue from a task from which you had already delivered my heart, and I blessed you with joy as I set out for the country villa with all my circle. The books that I wrote there were indeed now written in your service, and attest my discussions with those present and with myself alone before you.11 But they still breathe the spirit of the school of pride, as if they were at the last gasp. The discussions with Nebridius, who was not there, are shown by my correspondence.
When can time suffice for me to recall all your great benefits towards us at that time, especially when I have to hurry on to other more important matters? My memory calls me back to that period, and it becomes sweet for me, Lord, to confess to you by what inward goads you tamed me; how you levelled me by ‘bringing down the mountains and hills’ of my thoughts and ‘made straight my crooked ways and smoothed my roughnesses’ (Isa. 40: 4); and how you subjected Alypius too, my heart’s brother, to the name of your only-begotten Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3: 18). For at first he was scornfully critical of inserting Christ’s name in my books. He wanted them to smell of the ‘cedars’ of the schools ‘which the Lord had now felled’ (Ps. 28: 5) rather than of the healthgiving herbs of the Church which are a remedy against serpents.
(8) My God, how I cried to you when I read the Psalms of David, songs of faith, utterances of devotion which allow no pride of spirit to enter in! I was but a beginner in authentic love of you, a catechumen resting at a country villa with another catechumen, Alypius. My mother stayed close by us in the clothing of a woman but with a virile faith, an older woman’s serenity, a mother’s love, and a Christian devotion. How I cried out to you in those Psalms, and how they kindled my love for you! I was fired by an enthusiasm to recite them, were it possible, to the entire world in protest against the pride of the human race. Yet they are being sung in all the world and ‘there is none who can hide himself from your heat’ (Ps. 18: 7). What vehement and bitter anger I felt against the Manichees! But then my pity for them returned because they were ignorant of your remedies, the sacraments. They were madly hostile to the antidote which could have cured them.12 As I read the fourth Psalm during that period of contemplation, I would have liked them to be somewhere nearby without me knowing they were there, watching my face and hearing my cries, to see what that Psalm had done to me: ‘When I called upon you, you heard me, God of my righteousness; in tribulation you gave me enlargement. Have mercy on me, Lord, and hear my prayer’ (Ps. 4: 2). Without me knowing that they were listening, lest they should think I was saying things just for their sake, I wish they could have heard what comments I made on these words. But in truth I would not have said those things, nor said them in that kind of way, if I had felt myself to be heard or observed by them. Nor, had I said them, would they have understood how I was expressing the most intimate feeling of my mind with myself and to myself.
(9) I trembled with fear and at the same time burned with hope and exultation at your mercy, Father (Ps. 30: 7–8). All these emotions exuded from my eyes and my voice when ‘your good Spirit’ (Ps. 142: 10) turned towards us to say: ‘sons of men, how long will you be dull at heart? And why do you love vanity and seek after a lie?’ (Ps. 4: 3). For I had loved vanity and sought after a lie. And you Lord had already ‘magnified your holy one’ (Ps. 4: 4), raising him from the dead and setting him at your right hand (Eph. 1: 20), whence he sent from on high his promise, the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth (John 14: 16 f.). He had already sent him but I did not know it. He had sent him because he was already ‘magnified’ by rising from the dead and ascending to heaven. But before that ‘the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified’ (John 7: 39). The prophecy proclaims: ‘How long will you be dull at heart? Why do you love vanity and seek after a lie? Know that the Lord has magnified his holy one.’ (Ps. 4: 3–4). The prophet cries ‘How long?’ and cries ‘Know.’ But I, so long in ignorance, loved vanity and sought after a lie. As I heard the Psalm, I trembled at words spoken to people such as I recalled myself to have been. For in the fantasies which I had taken for truth, there was vanity and deceit. In the pain felt at my memory of it, I often cried out loud and strong. I wish I could have been heard by those who even now still love vanity and seek after a lie. Perhaps they would have been disturbed and vomited it up; and you would have ‘heard them when they cried to you’. For by a true physical death ‘he who intercedes for us died for us’ (Rom. 8: 34).
(10) I read ‘Be angry and sin not’ (Ps. 4: 5). How was I moved, my God! I had already learnt to be angry with myself for the past, that I should not sin in future. And I was right to be angry. For it was no race of darkness of another nature sinning through me, as the Manichees say, who feel no anger against themselves and yet ‘treasure up for themselves anger in the day of wrath and of the revelation of your just judgement’ (Rom. 2: 5). But now the goods I sought were no longer in the external realm, nor did I seek for them with bodily eyes in the light of this sun. In desiring to find their delight in externals, they easily become empty and expend their energies on ‘the things which are seen and temporal’ (2 Cor. 4: 18). With starving minds they can only lick the images of these things.13Would that they were wearied by hunger and would say ‘Who will show us good?’ (Ps. 4: 6 f). So let us say, and let them hear: ‘The light of your countenance, Lord, is signed upon us.’ (Ps. 4: 7). For we are not ‘the light that illuminates every man’ (John 1: 9). We derive our light from you, so that we ‘who were once darkness are light in you’ (Eph. 5: 8). If only they could see the eternal to be inward! I had tasted this, but was enraged that I was unable to show it to them, even if they were to bring their heart to me, though their eyes are turned away from you towards external things, and if they were to say ‘Who will show us good?’ In the place where I had been angry with myself, within my chamber where I felt the pang of penitence, where I had made a sacrifice offering up my old life and placing my hope in you as I first began to meditate on my renewal: there you began to be my delight, and you gave ‘gladness in my heart’ (Ps. 4: 7). And I cried out loud when I acknowledged inwardly what I read in external words. I had no desire for earthly goods to be multiplied, nor to devour time and to be devoured by it.14 For in the simplicity of eternity I had another kind of‘corn and wine and oil’ (Ps. 4: 9).
(11) At the following verse I uttered a cry from the bottom of my heart: ‘in peace … the selfsame’, and at the words ‘I will go to sleep and have my dream’ (Ps. 4: 9). Who will bar our way when the word is realized which is written ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15: 54)? For you are supremely ‘the selfsame’ in that you do not change (Mal. 3: 6). In you is repose15 which forgets all toil because there is none beside you, nor are we to look for the multiplicity of other things which are not what you are. For ‘you Lord, have established me in hope by means of unity’ (Ps. 4: 10).
As I read, I was set on fire, but I did not discover what to do for the deaf and dead of whom I had been one, when I was a plague, a bitter and blind critic barking at the scriptures which drip with the honey of heaven and blaze with your light. Because of the enemies of these scriptures, I was ‘sick with disgust’ (Ps. 138: 21).
(12) It is hard to recount all those days on vacation. But I have not forgotten them, and I will not pass over in silence the acute pain of your chastisement and the miraculous rapidity with which your mercy brought relief. At that time you tortured me with toothache, and when it became so bad that I lost the power to speak, it came into my heart to beg all my friends present to pray for me to you, God of health of both soul and body. I wrote this on a wax tablet and gave it to them to read. As soon as we fell on our knees in the spirit of supplication, the pain vanished. But what agony it was, and how instantly it disappeared! I admit I was terrified, ‘my Lord my God’ (Ps. 37: 23). I had experienced nothing like it in all my life. Your will was brought home to me in the depths of my being, and rejoicing in faith I praised your name. This faith did not allow me to be free of guilt over my past sins, which had not yet been forgiven through your baptism.
v (13) At the end of the Vintage Vacation my resignation took effect and I notified the people at Milan that they should provide another salesman of words for their pupils. The reasons were both that I had chosen to serve you, and that I had insufficient strength for that profession because of breathing difficulty and pain on the chest. By letter I informed your bishop, the holy man Ambrose, of my past errors and my present desire, asking what he would especially recommend me to read out of your books to make me readier and fitter to receive so great a grace. He told me to read the prophet Isaiah, I think because more clearly than others he foretold the gospel and the calling of the Gentiles. But I did not understand the first passage of the book, and thought the whole would be equally obscure. So I put it on one side to be resumed when I had had more practice in the Lord’s style of language.
vi (14) When the time came for me to give in my name for baptism, we left the country and returned to Milan. Alypius also decided to join me in being reborn in you. He had already embraced the humility that befits your mysteries, and tamed his body to a tough discipline by asceticism of extraordinary boldness: he went barefoot on the icy soil of Italy.16 We associated with us the boy Adeodatus, my natural son begotten of my sin. You had made him a fine person. He was about fifteen years old, and his intelligence surpassed that of many serious and well-educated men. I praise you for your gifts, my Lord God, Creator of all and with great power giving form to our deformities. For I contributed nothing to that boy other than sin. You and no one else inspired us to educate him in your teaching.17 I gratefully acknowledge before you your gifts. One of my books is entided The Teacher.18 There Adeodatus is in dialogue with me. You know that he was responsible for all the ideas there attributed to him in the role of my partner in the conversation. He was 16 at the time. I learnt many other remarkable things about him. His intelligence left me awestruck. Who but you could be the Maker of such wonders? Early on you took him away from life on earth. I recall him with no anxiety; there was nothing to fear in his boyhood or adolescence or indeed his manhood. We associated him with us so as to be of the same age as ourselves in your grace. We were baptized,19 and disquiet about our past life vanished from us. During those days I found an insatiable and amazing delight in considering the profundity of your purpose for the salvation of the human race. How I wept during your hymns and songs! I was deeply moved by the music of the sweet chants of your Church. The sounds flowed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart. This caused the feelings of devotion to overflow. Tears ran, and it was good for me to have that experience.
vii (15) The Church at Milan had begun only a short time before to employ this method of mutual comfort and exhortation. The brothers used to sing together with both heart and voice in a state of high enthusiasm. Only a year or a little more had passed since Justina, mother of the young king Valentinian, was persecuting your servant Ambrose in the interest of her heresy.20 She had been led into error by the Arians. The devout congregation kept continual guard in the Church, ready to die with their bishop, your servant. There my mother, your handmaid, was a leader in keeping anxious watch and lived in prayer. We were still cold, untouched by the warmth of your Spirit, but were excited by the tension and disturbed atmosphere in the city. That was the time when the decision was taken to introduce hymns and psalms sung after the custom of the eastern Churches, to prevent the people from succumbing to depression and exhaustion. From that time to this day the practice has been retained and many, indeed almost all your flocks, in other parts of the world have imitated it.
(16) This was the time when through a vision you revealed to the bishop already mentioned the place where lay hidden the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius. For many years you had kept them from corruption, hidden away in your secret treasury, out of which at the right moment you produced them to restrain the fury of a woman, indeed a lady of the royal family. When they had been produced and dug out, they were transferred with due honour to Ambrose’s basilica,21 and some people vexed by impure spirits were healed, the very demons themselves making public confession. Moreover, a citizen who had been blind many years and was well known in the city, heard the people in a state of tumultuous jubilation and asked the reason for it. On learning the answer, he leapt up and asked his guide to lead him there. When he arrived, he begged admission so that he might touch with his cloth the bier on which lay your saints whose ‘death is precious in your sight’ (Ps. 115: 15). When he did this and applied the cloth to his eyes, immediately they were opened. From that point the news spread fast, praises of you were fervent and radiant, and the mind of that hostile woman, though not converted to sound faith, was nevertheless checked in its anger. ‘Thanks be to you, my God’ (Luke 18: 11). From what starting-point and to what end have you led my memory to include even these events in my confession to you, when I have passed over much that I have forgotten? Yet at that time when ‘the perfume of your unguents’ (Cant, 1: 3) was so strong, I was not pursuing you. And so I wept much at the chants of your hymns. In the past I had sighed for you, and now at last was breathing your air to the extent that air is free to move in a house of straw.
viii (17) ‘You make people to live in a house in unanimity’ (Ps. 67: 7). So you made Evodius a member of our circle, a young man from my home town.22 When he was a civil servant as an agent in the special branch, he was converted to you before we were. He was baptized and resigned his post on taking up your service. We were together and by a holy decision resolved to live together. We looked for a place where we could be of most use in your service; all of us agreed on a move back to Africa.
While we were at Ostia by the mouths of the Tiber,23 my mother died. I pass over many events because I write in great haste. Accept my confessions and thanksgivings, my God, for innumerable things even though I do not specifically mention them. But I shall not pass over whatever my soul may bring to birth concerning your servant, who brought me to birth both in her body so that I was born into the light of time, and in her heart so that I was born into the light of eternity. I speak not of her gifts to me, but of your gifts to her. She had not made herself or brought herself up. You created her, and her father and mother did not know what kind of character their child would have. She was trained ‘in your fear’ (Ps. 5: 8) by the discipline of your Christ, by the government of your only Son in a believing household through a good member of your Church. She used to speak highly not so much of her mother’s diligence in training her as of a decrepit maidservant who had carried her father when he was an infant, in the way that infants are often carried on the back of older girls. Because of this long service and for her seniority and high moral standards in a Christian house, she was held in great honour by her masters. So she was entrusted with responsibility for her master’s daughters and discharged it with diligence and, when necessary, was vehement with a holy severity in administering correction. In training them she exercised a discreet prudence. Outside those times when they were nourished by a most modest meal at their parents’ table, even if they were burning with thirst, she allowed them to drink not even water, wishing to avert the formation of a bad habit. She used to add the wise word: ‘Now you drink water because it is not in your power to get wine. But when you come to have husbands and become mistresses of storerooms and cellars, water will seem dull stuff but the drinking habit will be unbreakable.’ By this method of laying down rules for behaviour and by her authoritative way of giving commands, she restrained the greedy appetite of a tender age, and brought the girls’ thirst to respectable moderation, so that they should not later hanker after anything they ought not to touch.
(18) Nevertheless, as your servant told me her son, a weakness for wine gradually got a grip upon her. By custom her parents used to send her, a sober girl, to fetch wine from the cask. She would plunge the cup through the aperture at the top. Before she poured the wine into a jug, she used to take a tiny sip with the tip of her lips. She could not take more as she disliked the taste. What led her to do this was not an appetite for liquor but the surplus high spirits of a young person, which can overflow in playful impulses and which in children adults ordinarily try to suppress. Accordingly, to that sip of wine she added more sips every day—for ‘he who despises small things gradually comes to a fall’ (Ecclus. 19: 1)—until she had fallen into the habit of gulping down almost full cups of wine. Where then was the wise old woman and her vehement prohibition? She could have had no strength against the secret malady unless your healing care, Lord were watching over us. When father and mother and nurses are not there, you are present. You have created us, you call us, you use human authorities set over us to do something for the health of our souls. How did you cure her? How did you restore her health? You brought from another soul a harsh and sharp rebuke, like a surgeon’s knife, from your secret stores, and with one blow you cut away the rottenness. The slavegirl who used to accompany her to the cask had a dispute with her young mistress which happened when they were alone together. Bitterly she insulted her by bringing up the accusation that she was a boozer. The taunt hurt. She reflected upon her own foul addiction, at once condemned it, and stopped the habit. Just as flattering friends corrupt, so quarrelsome enemies often bring us correction. Yet you reward them not for what you use them to achieve, but according to their intention. The maidservant in her anger sought to wound her little mistress, not to cure her. That is why she spoke in private—either because the time and place of the quarrel happened to find them alone together, or perhaps because she was afraid of the fact that she had come out with it so belatedly.
But you, Lord, ruler of heaven and earth, turn to your own purposes the deep torrents. You order the turbulent flux of the centuries. Even from the fury of one soul you brought healing to another. Thereby you showed that no one should attribute it to his own power if by anything he says he sets on the right path someone whom he wishes to be corrected.
ix (19) So she was brought up in modesty and sobriety. She was made by you obedient to her parents rather than by them to you. When she reached marriageable age, she was given to a man and served him as her lord. She tried to win him for you, speaking to him of you by her virtues through which you made her beautiful, so that her husband loved, respected and admired her. She bore with his infidelities and never had any quarrel with her husband on this account. For she looked forward to your mercy coming upon him, in hope that, as he came to believe in you, he might become chaste. Furthermore, he was exceptional both for his kindness and for his quick temper. She knew that an angry husband should not be opposed, not merely by anything she did, but even by a word. Once she saw that he had become calm and quiet, and that the occasion was opportune, she would explain the reason for her action, in case perhaps he had reacted without sufficient consideration. Indeed many wives married to gentler husbands bore the marks of blows and suffered disfigurement to their faces. In conversation together they used to complain about their husband’s behaviour. Monica, speaking as if in jest but offering serious advice, used to blame their tongues. She would say that since the day when they heard the so-called matrimonial contract read out to them, they should reckon them to be legally binding documents by which they had become servants. She thought they should remember their condition and not proudly withstand their masters. The wives were astounded, knowing what a violent husband she had to put up with. Yet it was unheard of, nor was there ever a mark to show, that Patrick had beaten his wife or that a domestic quarrel had caused dissension between them for even a single day. In intimate talk the wives would ask her the reason. She told them of her plan which I have just mentioned. Those who followed her advice found by experience that they were grateful for it. Those who did not follow her way were treated as subordinate and maltreated.
(20) Monica’s mother-in-law was at first stirred up to hostility towards her by the whisperings of malicious maidservants. Monica won even her over by her respectful manner and by persistence in patience and gentleness. The result was that her mother-in-law denounced to her son the interfering tongues of the slavegirls. By them domestic harmony between her and her daughter-in-law was disturbed, and she asked for them to be punished. So, after that, he bowed to his mother’s request and, exercising his responsibility for discipline in the family and to foster peace in his household, he met his mother’s wish by subjecting the girls of whom she complained to a whipping.24 She declared that the same reward was to be expected by anyone who supposed it would give her pleasure if malicious gossip were passed on about her daughter-in-law. From then on, no one dared to utter a word, and they lived with a memorably gentle benevolence towards each other.
(21) Another great gift with which you endowed that good servant of yours, in whose womb you created me, my God my mercy (Ps. 58: 18), was that whenever she could, she reconciled dissident and quarrelling people. She showed herself so great a peacemaker that when she had heard from both sides many bitter things, such as the bilious and undigested vomit that discord brings up, the crude hatreds that come out in acid gossip in the presence of one woman who is a friend and in the absence of another who is an enemy, Monica would never reveal to one anything about the other unless it might help to reconcile them. I would regard this good gift as a minor matter had I not had sad experience of uncountable numbers of people who, infected by a widely diffused sinful contagion, not only report the words angry enemies use about each other but even add words which were never spoken. On the contrary, it should be regarded as a matter of common humanity not to stir up enmities between people nor to increase them by malicious talk, if one lacks the resolve to try to extinguish them by speaking generously. That was the kind of person she was because she was taught by you as her inward teacher in the school of her heart.
(22) At the end when her husband had reached the end of his life in time, she succeeded in gaining him for you. After he was a baptized believer, she had no cause to complain of behaviour which she had tolerated in one not yet a believer. She was also a servant of your servants: any of them who knew her found much to praise in her, held her in honour and loved her; for they felt your presence in her heart, witnessed by the fruits of her holy way of life. She had been ‘the wife of one husband’ (1 Tim. 5: 9). She repaid the mutual debt to her parents; she had governed her house in a spirit of devotion (1 Tim. 5: 4). She had ‘testimony to her good works’ (1 Tim. 5: 10). She had brought up her children, enduring travail as often as she saw them wandering away from you. Lastly, Lord—by your gift you allow me to speak for your servants, for before her falling asleep we were bound together in community in you after receiving the grace of baptism—she exercised care for everybody as if they were all her own children. She served us as if she was a daughter to all of us.
x (23) The day was imminent when she was to depart this life (the day which you knew and we did not). It came about, as I believe by your providence through your hidden ways, that she and I were standing leaning out of a window overlooking a garden. It was at the house where we were staying at Ostia on the Tiber, where, far removed from the crowds, after the exhaustion of a long journey, we were recovering our strength for the voyage.
Alone with each other, we talked very intimately. ‘Forgetting the past and reaching forward to what lies ahead’ (Phil. 3: 13), we were searching together in the presence of the truth which is you yourself.
We asked what quality of life the eternal life of the saints will have, a life which ‘neither eye has seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man’ (1 Cor. 2: 9). But with the mouth of the heart wide open, we drank in the waters flowing from your spring on high, ‘the spring of life’ (Ps. 35: 10) which is with you. Sprinkled with this dew to the limit of our capacity, our minds attempted in some degree to reflect on so great a reality.
(24) The conversation led us towards the conclusion that the pleasure of the bodily senses, however delightful in the radiant light of this physical world, is seen by comparison with the life of eternity to be not even worth considering. Our minds were lifted up by an ardent affection towards eternal being itself. Step by step we climbed beyond all corporeal objects and the heaven itself, where sun, moon, and stars shed light on the earth. We ascended even further by internal reflection and dialogue and wonder at your works, and we entered into our own minds. We moved up beyond them so as to attain to the region of inexhaustible abundance where you feed Israel eternally with truth for food. There life is the wisdom by which all creatures come into being, both things which were and which will be. But wisdom itself is not brought into being but is as it was and always will be. Furthermore, in this wisdom there is no past and future, but only being, since it is eternal. For to exist in the past or in the future is no property of the eternal. And while we talked and panted after it, we touched it in some small degree by a moment of total concentration of the heart. And we sighed and left behind us ‘the firstfruits of the Spirit’ (Rom. 8: 23)25 bound to that higher world, as we returned to the noise of our human speech where a sentence has both a beginning and an ending. But what is to be compared with your word, Lord of our lives? It dwells in you without growing old and gives renewal to all things.
(25) Therefore we said: If to anyone the tumult of the flesh has fallen silent, if the images of earth, water, and air are quiescent,26 if the heavens themselves are shut out and the very soul itself is making no sound and is surpassing itself by no longer thinking about itself, if all dreams and visions in the imagination are excluded, if all language and every sign and everything transitory is silent—for if anyone could hear them, this is what all of them would be saying, “We did not make ourselves, we were made by him who abides for eternity” (Ps. 79: 3, 5)—if after this declaration they were to keep silence, having directed our ears to him that made them, then he alone would speak not through them but through himself. We would hear his word, not through the tongue of the flesh, nor through the voice of an angel, nor through the sound of thunder, nor through the obscurity of a symbolic utterance. Him who in these things we love we would hear in person without their mediation. That is how it was when at that moment we extended our reach and in a flash of mental energy attained the eternal wisdom which abides beyond all things.27 If only it could last, and other visions of a vastly inferior kind could be withdrawn! Then this alone could ravish and absorb and enfold in inward joys the person granted the vision. So too eternal life is of the quality of that moment of understanding after which we sighed. Is not this the meaning of‘Enter into the joy of your Lord’ (Matt. 25: 21)? And when is that to be? Surely it is when ‘we all rise again, but are not all changed’ (1 Cor. 15: 51).
(26) I said something like this, even if not in just this way and with exactly these words. Yet, Lord, you know that on that day when we had this conversation, and this world with all its delights became worthless to us as we talked on, my mother said ‘My son, as for myself, I now find no pleasure in this life. What I have still to do here and why I am here, I do not know. My hope in this world is already fulfilled. The one reason why I wanted to stay longer in this life was my desire to see you a Catholic Christian before I die. My God has granted this in a way more than I had hoped. For I see you despising this world’s success to become his servant.28 What have I to do here?’
xi (27) The reply I made to that I do not well recall, for within five days or not much more she fell sick of a fever. While she was ill, on one day she suffered loss of consciousness and gradually became unaware of things around her. We ran to be with her, but she quickly recovered consciousness. She looked at me and my brother29 standing beside her, and said to us in the manner of someone looking for something, ‘Where was I?’ Then seeing us struck dumb with grief, she said: ‘Bury your mother here’. I kept silence and fought back my tears. But my brother, as if to cheer her up, said something to the effect that he hoped she would be buried not in a foreign land but in her home country. When she heard that, her face became worried and her eyes looked at him in reproach that he should think that. She looked in my direction and said ‘see what he says’, and soon said to both of us ‘Bury my body anywhere you like. Let no anxiety about that disturb you. I have only one request to make of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord, wherever you may be.’ She explained her thought in such words as she could speak, then fell silent as the pain of her sickness became worse.
(28) But as I thought about your gifts, invisible God, which you send into the hearts of your faithful, and which in consequence produce wonderful fruits, I was filled with joy and gave thanks to you as I recalled what I knew of the great concern which had agitated her about the tomb which she had foreseen and prepared for herself next to the body of her husband. Because they had lived together in great concord, she had expressed the wish (so little is the human mind capable of grasping divine things) that a further addition might be made to her happiness and that posterity might remember it: she wished it to be granted to her that after her travels overseas the two partners in the marriage might be joined in the same covering of earth. But when, by your bountiful goodness, this vain thought began to disappear from her mind, I did not know. I was delighted and surprised that my mother had disclosed this to me. Yet even at the time of our conversation at the window, when she said ‘What have I to do here now?’, she made it evident that she did not want to die at home. Moreover, I later learnt that before, when we were at Ostia, she conversed one day with some of my friends with all a mother’s confidence, and spoke of her contempt for this life and of the beneficence of death. I had not been present on this occasion. But they were surprised at the courage of the woman (for you had given it to her), and asked whether she were not afraid to leave her body so far from her own town. ‘Nothing,’ she said ‘is distant from God, and there is no ground for fear that he may not acknowledge me at the end of the world and raise me up.’
On the ninth day of her illness, when she was aged 56, and I was 33, this religious and devout soul was released from the body.30
xii (29) I closed her eyes and an overwhelming grief welled into my heart and was about to flow forth in floods of tears. But at the same time under a powerful act of mental control my eyes held back the flood and dried it up. The inward struggle put me into great agony. Then when she breathed her last, the boy Adeodatus cried out in sorrow and was pressed by all of us to be silent. In this way too something of the child in me, which had slipped towards weeping, was checked and silenced by the youthful voice, the voice of my heart. We did not think it right to celebrate the funeral with tearful dirges and lamentations, since in most cases it is customary to use such mourning to imply sorrow for the miserable state of those who die, or even their complete extinction. But my mother’s dying meant neither that her state was miserable nor that she was suffering extinction. We were confident of this because of the evidence of her virtuous life, her ‘faith unfeigned’ (1 Tim. 1: 15), and reasons of which we felt certain.
(30) Why then did I suffer sharp pains of inward grief? It must have been the fresh wound caused by the break in the habit formed by our living together, a very affectionate and precious bond suddenly torn apart. I was glad indeed to have her testimony when in that last sickness she lovingly responded to my attentions by calling me a devoted son. With much feeling in her love, she recalled that she had never heard me speak a harsh or bitter word to her. And yet, my God our maker, what comparison can there be between the respect with which I deferred to her and the service she rendered to me? Now that I had lost the immense support she gave, my soul was wounded, and my life as it were torn to pieces, since my life and hers had become a single thing.
(31) After the boy’s tears had been checked, Evodius took up the psalter and began to chant a psalm. The entire household responded to him: ‘I will sing of your mercy and judgement, Lord’ (Ps. 100: 1).
When the news of what had happened got about, many brothers and religious women gathered and, according to custom, those whose duty it was made arrangements for the funeral. I myself went apart to a place where I could go without discourtesy and, with those who thought I ought not to be left alone, I discussed subjects fitting for the occasion. I was using truth as a fomentation to alleviate the pain of which you were aware, but of which they were not. They listened to me intendy and supposed me to have no feeling of grief.
But in your ears where none of them heard me, I was reproaching the softness of my feelings and was holding back the torrent of sadness. It yielded a little to my efforts, but then again its attack swept over me—yet not so as to lead me to burst into tears or even to change the expression on my face. But I knew what pressure lay upon my heart. And because it caused me such sharp displeasure to see how much power these human frailties had over me, though they are a necessary part of the order we have to endure and are the lot of the human condition, there was another pain to put on top of my grief, and I was tortured by a twofold sadness.
(32) When her body was carried out, we went and returned without a tear. Even during those prayers which we poured out to you when the sacrifice of our redemption was offered for her, when her corpse was placed beside the tomb prior to burial, as was the custom there,30A not even at those prayers did I weep. But throughout the day I was inwardly oppressed with sadness and with a troubled mind I asked you, to the utmost of my strength, to heal my pain. You did not do so. I believe that you gave me no relief so that by this single admonition I should be made aware of the truth that every habit is a fetter adverse even to the mind that is not fed upon deceit. I decided to go and take a bath, because I had heard that baths, for which the Greeks say balaneion, get their name from throwing anxiety out of the mind.31 But 1 confess this to your mercy, father of orphans (Ps. 67: 6) that after I bathed I was exactly the same as before. The bitterness of sorrow had not sweated out of my heart. Finally, I fell asleep and on waking up found that in large part my suffering had been relieved. Alone upon my bed I remembered the very true verses of your Ambrose.32 For you are
Creator of all things.
You rule the heavens.
You clothe the day with light
And night with the grace of sleep.
So rest restores exhausted limbs
to the usefulness of work.
It lightens weary minds
And dissolves the causes of grief.
(33) From then on, little by little, I was brought back to my old feelings about your handmaid, recalling her devout attitude to you and her holy gentle and considerate treatment of us, of which I had suddenly been deprived. I was glad to weep before you about her and for her, about myself and for myself. Now I let flow the tears which I had held back so that they ran as freely as they wished. My heart rested upon them, and it reclined upon them because it was your ears that were there, not those of some human critic who would put a proud interpretation on my weeping.33 And now, Lord, I make my confession to you in writing. Let anyone who wishes read and interpret as he pleases. If he finds fault that I wept for my mother for a fraction of an hour, the mother who had died before my eyes who had wept for me that I might live before your eyes, let him not mock me but rather, if a person of much charity, let him weep himself before you for my sins; for you are the Father of all the brothers of your Christ.
xiii (34) My heart is healed of that wound; I could be reproached for yielding to that emotion of physical kinship. But now, on behalf of your maidservant, I pour out to you, our God, another kind of tears. They flow from a spirit struck hard by considering the perils threatening every soul that ‘dies in Adam’ (1 Cor. 15: 22). She, being ‘made alive in Christ’, though not yet delivered from the flesh, so lived that your name is praised in her faith and behaviour. But I do not dare to say that, since the day when you regenerated her through baptism, no word came from her mouth contrary to your precept. It was said by the truth, your Son: ‘If anyone says to his brother, Fool, he will be liable to the gehenna of fire’ (Matt. 5: 22). Woe even to those of praiseworthy life if you put their life under scrutiny and remove mercy. But because you do not search our faults with rigour, we confidently hope for some place with you. If anyone lists his true merits to you, what is he enumerating before you but your gifts? If only human beings would acknowledge themselves to be but human, and that ‘he who glories would glory in the Lord’ (2 Cor. 10: 17)!
(35) Therefore, God of my heart, my praise and my life, I set aside for a moment her good actions for which I rejoice and give you thanks. I now petition you for my mother’s sins. ‘Hear me’ (Ps. 142: 1) through the remedy for our wounds who hung upon the wood and sits at your right hand to intercede for us (Rom. 8: 34). I know that she acted mercifully and from her heart forgave the debts of her debtors (Matt. 6: 12; 18: 35). Now please forgive her her debts if she contracted any during the many years that passed after she received the water of salvation. Forgive, Lord, forgive, I beseech you. ‘Enter not into judgement’ with her (Ps. 142: 2). Let mercy triumph over justice (Jas. 2: 13), for your words are true, and you have promised mercy to the merciful (Matt. 5: 7). That the merciful should be so was your gift to them: ‘You have mercy on whom you will have mercy and show pity to whom you are compassionate’ (Rom. 9: 15; Exod. 33: 19).
(36) I believe you have already done what I am asking of you; but ‘approve the desires of my mouth, Lord’ (Ps. 118: 108). As the day of her deliverance approached, she did not think of having her body sumptuously wrapped or embalmed with perfumes or given a choice monument. Nor did she care if she had a tomb in her homeland. On that she gave us no instruction; she desired only that she might be remembered at your altar which she had attended every day without fail, where she knew that what is distributed is the holy victim who ‘abolished the account of debts which was reckoned against us’ (Col. 2: 14). He triumphed over the enemy who counts up our sins, and searches for grounds of accusation, but who found no fault in him in whom we are conquerors (John 14: 30; Rom. 8: 37).
Who will restore to him his innocent blood? Who will restore to him the price which he paid to buy us, so as to take us out of our adversary’s hands? By the chain of faith your handmaid bound her soul to the sacrament of our redemption. Let no one tear her from your protection. Let not the lion and dragon (Ps. 90: 13) intrude themselves either by force or by subtle tricks. For she will not reply that she has no debts to pay, lest she be refuted and captured by the clever Accuser. Her answer will be that her debts have been forgiven by him to whom no one can repay the price which he, who owed nothing, paid on our behalf.
(37) With her husband may she rest in peace. She had no one as her husband before him and after him. She served him by offering you ‘fruit with patience’ (Luke 8: 15) so as to gain him for you also. My Lord, my God, inspire your servants, my brothers, your sons, my masters, to whose service I dedicate my heart, voice, and writings, that all who read this book may remember at your altar Monica your servant and Patrick her late husband, through whose physical bond you brought me into this life without my knowing how.34 May they remember with devout affection my parents in this transient light, my kith and kin under you, our Father, in our mother the Catholic Church, and my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem. For this city your pilgrim people yearn, from their leaving it to their return. So as a result of these confessions of mine may my mother’s request receive a richer response through the prayers which many offer and not only those which come from me (2 Cor. 1: 11).
1 Horace, Odes 1. 18. 4.
2 Cf (. above II. ix (17).
3 The symbol of Christ as heavenly Eros was familiar from the Latin version of Origen’s commentary on the Song of Songs. Augustine’s African critic, Arnobius the younger, could write of ‘Christ our Cupid’. Cf. below X. vi (8).
4 The argument answers the implied criticism of puritan Christians that if his conversion had been 100 per cent real, he would immediately and dramatically have renounced so profane a profession. The criticism from other secular professors of literature he had already scorned: I. xiii (22).
5 Augustine followed 1 John 5: 16–17 in the distinction between pardonable sins and ‘sins unto death’ and the early Christian interpretation of the latter to mean major sins (apostasy, murder, adultery) bringing shame on the community, not only the individual; the major sins required some formal act by the Church to give full restoration after penitential discipline had manifested serious sorrow. But Augustine also saw that no clear-cut line can be drawn between venial and mortal (City of God 21. 27).
6 As an ascetic, since married Christians enjoyed second-class status.
7 In summer 387 Augustine left Milan for Africa, but was delayed by civil war. He buried Monica at Ostia, 13 Nov. 387, but stayed in Rome till Aug. 388.
8 Near Como.
9 The Old Latin version of the Psalms (in monte incaseato, in the cheesy mountain) gave a rhetorical assonance with Cassiciacum.
10 Cf. Gal. 4: 5–7. Nebridius—God’s freedman by baptism, adopted son in paradise. If the text implies that Nebridius’ social status was that of a freedman, which is possible, he was a well-to-do member of that class.
11 At Cassiciacum during the months between conversion (July 386) and baptism at Milan by Ambrose at Easter 387, Augustine used shorthand transcripts of the conversations with his circle as the basis for a set of philosophical dialogues: Against the Academics, The Happy Life, Order (of providence), Soliloquies. The dialogues and the correspondence with Nebridius, which Augustine published probably as a memorial to his dead friend, are deeply Neoplatonic, while explicitly Christian. They also have numerous literary echoes of Cicero, Terence, etc.
12 Many Manichee texts express contempt for baptism and eucharist.
13 Plotinus 1. 6. 8. 8.
14 Several texts in Augustine speak of the successiveness of time as that from which the divine eternity saves us.
15 The One is repose: Plotinus 6. 8. 16. 26; cf. 6. 9. 11 (the mystic experiences unity with no multiplicity, is filled with God, and becomes repose).
16 Some Christians late in the fourth century, especially round Brescia, walked barefoot after the example of Moses at the burning bush or the prophet Isaiah who went barefoot for three years. Successive bishops deplored this, evidently in vain. Much ancient evidence records the axiom that for cultic acts bare feet are necessary; Augustine himself found it impossible to stop the practice when he became a bishop. Monks in ancient Egypt removed their shoes for communion. In Syria it was customary for candidates for baptism, in the West for Rogation processions.
17 The sentence is crucial evidence that Adeodatus was not hrought up as a Manichee, and therefore that his mother was a Catholic girl.
18 The book is an acute study of non-verbal communication.
19 24 April 387, at the baptistery of Milan cathedral by bishop Ambrose. Adeodatus’ death, whether by illness or accident, occurred about two years later, not long after the discussions written up by Augustine in The Teacher (which show that the boy was educated both in scripture and in Virgil, and had some knowledge of Punic).
20 Justina, the Arian wife of Valentinian I (who died in 375), came to Milan with her son Valentinian II (b.371), and engaged in a lengthy struggle against Ambrose, the anti-Arian bishop from 374, issuing an edict of toleration for Arianism in January 386 with a demand that Ambrose surrender basilicas for Arian worship. Ambrose arranged for his people to provide a permanent sit-in to prevent military force from confiscating any Churches for the Arian Goths to use at Easter 386.
21 Today’s Church of S. Ambrogio near the University. Augustine, followed by Ambrose’s biographer Paulinus, gives the misleading impression that the discovery of the saints’ relics was directly connected with Ambrose’s struggle at Holy Week 386 against Justina and the Arians, as if they were miraculously produced from the arsenals of divine wrath to vindicate Catholicism and a very clever bishop Ambrose. In fact the evidence is clear that the two incidents were only marginally connected. Ambrose needed martyrs’ relics for his new Basilica Ambrosiana (so called at the time). Augustine and Paulinus, but not Ambrose, say the discovery of relics came as a result of a revelation. The martyrs’ graves were found in June 386, long after the Easter excitements had passed away. That they vindicated Catholic orthodoxy was secondary.
22 Evodius travelled to Rome, Ostia, and on to Africa with Augustine. Augustine gave him a role as interlocutor in two dialogues. About 400 he became bishop of Uzali, about 414 exchanged letters on intricate theological matters with Augustine, and played an active role in controversy against Manichees and Pelagians.
23 Echo of Virgil, Aeneid 1. 13.
24 The inferior status of the slave was enforced in antiquity by subjection to corporal punishment, the prime distinction between a slave and a free person being the fact that a slave ‘has to answer for all offences with his body’ (Demosthenes 22. 25; cf 21. 72). John Chrysostom (on Ephesians, 15:3) judged it a monstrous offence for a Christian wife to call in her husband to strip a slavegirl naked and whip her. Unlike Augustine who accepted corporal punishment, John thought it quite unfitting in a Christian household for a slave to be struck.
25 The force of this quotation is debated. Does Augustine imply that the ecstasy of Ostia was an anticipation of the beatific vision? Or does he mean the most divine part of the soul, most nearly akin to God, which analogy in Plotinus (5. 1. 3. 4–6) might suggest? Elsewhere Augustine interprets ‘the firstfruits of the spirit’ to mean the spirit of man, which would favour the latter view. The description of the vision at Ostia has affinities with Plotinus 5. 1. 2. 14 ff., a text also found congenial by St Basil.
26 Similar language in Plotinus 5. 1. 2. 14 f.
27 Plotinus 1. 6. 7. 15 ff. speaks of the soul’s shock in the experience of awe and delight in its ascent to the Good.
2S i.e. an ascetic.
29 Navigius. The reference to Alypius as Augustine’s ‘brother in heart’, above, IX. iv (7), may imply that Navigius did not share his brother’s religious position or ascetic dedication. Augustine’s biographer Possidius says that Augustine’s nieces became nuns; and we hear of a son (perhaps a nephew) to Navigius who became subdeacon at Hippo.
30 Medieval pilgrims record the epitaph on Monica’s tomb at Ostia placed early in the fifth century by Anicius Aucherius Bassus, consul in 431. In 1945 the tomb was accidentally discovered when boys were digging a hole for their basket-ball goal. The epitaph is evidence that the Confessions remained a best-seller.
30A By African canon law burial preceded requiem.
31 Etymology was deployed by Stoics and Alexandrian grammarians of the hellenistic age to explain the formation of language, and the results can be seen in part through a work, well known to Augustine, Varro ‘On the I.atin language’. Augustine s derivation of ‘he Greek for bath from the verb ballo (throw, eject) and ania (grief) is also found in Greek collections, e.g. the 12th century Etymologicum Magnum.
32 Already quoted earlier, IV. x (15).
33 Plotinus (1. 4. 4) says that the truly rational person does not grieve at the death of relatives and friends and will not allow himself to be moved; that part which is grieved is deficient in intelligence.
34 Augustine deliberately refused to express a firm opinion on the question how the soul is united to the embrvo, whether bv heredity from the parents (as Manichces believed), or by special creative act bv God, or because pre-existent. Cf. similar agnosticism in I. vi (7) above. Despite fierce criticism for his suspense of judgement, Augustine to the last refused to decide.