i (1) Accept the sacrifice of my confessions offered by ‘the hand of my tongue’ (Prov. 18: 21) which you have formed and stirred up to confess your name (Ps. 53: 8). ‘Heal all my bones’ (Ps. 6: 3) and let them say ‘Lord who is like you?’ (Ps. 34: 10). He who is making confession to you is not instructing you of that which is happening within him. The closed heart does not shut out your eye, and your hand is not kept away by the hardness of humanity, but you melt that when you wish, either in mercy or in punishment, and there is ‘none who can hide from your heat’ (Ps. 18: 7). Let my soul praise you that it may love you, and confess to you your mercies that it may praise you (Ps. 118: 175; 145: 2). Your entire creation never ceases to praise you and is never silent. Every spirit continually praises you with mouth turned towards you; animals and physical matter find a voice through those who contemplate them. So from weariness our soul rises towards you, first supporting itself on the created order and then passing on to you yourself who wonderfully made it (Ps. 71: 18; 135: 4). With you is restored strength and true courage.
ii (2) Let the restless and wicked depart and flee from you (Ps. 138: 7). You see them and pierce their shadowy existence: even with them everything is beautiful, though they are vile.1 What injury have they done you? Or in what respect have they diminished the honour of your rule, which from the heavens down to the uttermost limits remains just and intact? Where have those who fled from your face gone? Where can they get beyond the reach of your discovery? (Ps. 138). But they have fled that they should not see you, though you see them, and so in their blindness they stumble over you (Rom. 11: 7–11); for you do not desert anything you have made (Wisd. 11: 25). The unjust stumble over you and are justly chastised. Endeavouring to withdraw themselves from your gentleness, they stumble on your equity and fall into your anger. They evidendy do not know that you are everywhere. No space circumscribes you. You alone are always present even to those who have taken themselves far from you.2 Let them turn and seek you, for you have not abandoned your creation as they have deserted their Creator (Wisd. 5: 7). Let them turn, and at once you are there in their heart—in the heart of those who make confession to you and throw themselves upon you and weep on your breast after travelling many rough paths. And you gently wipe away their tears (Rev. 7: 17; 21: 4), and they weep yet more and rejoice through their tears. For it is you, Lord, not some man of flesh and blood, but you who have made them and now remake and strengthen them. Where was I when I was seeking for you? You were there before me, but I had departed from myself. I could not even find myself, much less you.
iii (3) In the presence of my God I speak openly of the twentyninth year of my life. There had arrived in Carthage a Manichee bishop named Faustus,3 a great trap of the devil (1 Tim. 3: 7) by which many were captured as a result of his smooth talk. Although I admired his soft eloquence, nevertheless I came to discern his doctrines to diverge from the truth of matters about which I was keen to learn. I was interested not in the decoration of the vessel in which his discourse was served up but in the knowledge put before me to eat by this Faustus held in high respect among the Manichees. The repute which had preceded his encounter with me was that he was highly trained in all the disciplines of an educated gentleman, and especially learned in the liberal arts. Since I had done much reading in the philosophers and retained this in my memory, I compared some of their teachings with the lengthy fables of the Manichees. The philosophers’ teachings seemed to be more probable than what the Manichees said. The philosophers ‘were able to judge the world with understanding’ even though ‘they did not find its Lord’ (Wisd. 13: 9). ‘For you are great, Lord, you regard the humble things, the exalted you know from far off’ (Ps. 137: 6). By the proud you are not found, not even if their curiosity and skill number the stars and the sand, measure the constellations, and trace the paths of the stars.
(4) With the mind and intellect which you have given them, they investigate these matters. They have found out much. Many years beforehand they have predicted eclipses of sun and moon, foretelling the day, the hour, and whether total or partial. And their calculation has not been wrong. It has turned out just as they predicted. They have put the rules which they discovered into books which are read to this day. On this basis prediction can be made of the year, the month of the year, the day of the month, the hour of the day, and what proportion of light will be eclipsed in the case of either sun or moon; and it happens exactly as predicted. People who have no understanding of these things are amazed and stupefied. Those who know are exultant and are admired. Their irreligious pride makes them withdraw from you and eclipse your great light from reaching themselves. They can foresee a future eclipse of the sun, but do not perceive their own eclipse in the present. For they do not in a religious spirit investigate the source of the intelligence with which they research into these matters. Moreover, when they do discover that you are their Maker, they do not give themselves to you so that you may preserve what you have made. They do not slay in sacrifice to you what they have made themselves to be. They do not kill their own pride like high-flying birds, their curiosity like ‘fishes of the sea’, and their sexual indulgence like ‘the beasts of the field’,4 so that you, God, who are a devouring fire,5 may consume their mortal concerns and recreate them for immortality.
(5) They have not known the Way, your Word through whom you made the things that they count and also those who do the counting, and the senses thanks to which they observe what they count, and the mind they employ to calculate. Of your wisdom there is no numbering (Ps. 146: 5). The Only-begotten himself was made for us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1: 30). He was numbered among us (Isa. 53: 12) and paid tribute to Caesar (Matt. 22: 21). They have not known this way by which they may descend from themselves to him and through him ascend to him. They have not known this way, and think of themselves as exalted and brilliant with the stars. But see, they are crushed to the ground (Isa. 14: 12–13) and their foolish heart is darkened’ (Rom. 1: 21–5). About the creation they say many things that are true; but the truth, the artificer of creation, they do not seek in a devout spirit and so they fail to find him. Or if they do find him, although knowing God they do not honour him as God or give thanks. They become lost in their own ideas and claim to be. wise, attributing to themselves things which belong to you. In an utterly perverse blindness they want to attribute to you qualities which are their own, ascribing mendacity to you who are the truth, and changing the glory of the incorrupt God into the likeness of the image of corruptible man and birds and animals and serpents. They change your truth into a lie and serve the creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1: 21–5).
(6) Nevertheless I used to recall many true observations made by them about the creation itself. I particularly noted the rational, mathematical order of things, the order of seasons, the visible evidence of the stars. I compared these with the sayings of Mani who wrote much on these matters very copiously and foolishly. I did not notice any rational account of solstices and equinoxes or eclipses of luminaries nor anything resembling what I had learnt in the books of secular wisdom. Yet I was ordered to believe Mani. But he was not in agreement with the rational explanations which I had verified by calculation and had observed with my own eyes. His account was very different.6
iv (7) Lord God of truth, surely the person with a scientific knowledge of nature is not pleasing to you on that ground alone. The person who knows all those matters but is ignorant of you is unhappy. The person who knows you, even if ignorant of natural science, is happy. Indeed the one who knows both you and nature is not on that account happier. You alone are his source of happiness if knowing you he glorifies you for what you are and gives thanks and is not lost in his own imagined ideas (Rom. 1: 21). A man who knows that he owns a tree and gives thanks to you for the use of it, even though he does not know exacdy how many cubits high it is or what is the width of its spread, is better than the man who measures it and counts all its branches but does not own it, nor knows and loves its Creator. In an analogous way the believer has the whole world of wealth (Prov. 17: 6 LXX) and ‘possesses all things as if he had nothing’ (2 Cor. 6: 10) by virtue of his attachment to you whom all things serve; yet he may know nothing about the circuits of the Great Bear. It is stupid to doubt that he is better than the person who measures the heaven and counts the stars and weighs the elements, but neglects you who have disposed everything ‘by measure and number and weight’ (Wisd. 11: 21).
v (8) Who asked this obscure fellow Mani to write on these things, skill in which is not essential to learning piety? You have said to man: ‘See, piety is wisdom’ (Job 28: 28). Mani could be ignorant of religion even if he knew natural science perfecdy. But his impudence in daring to teach a matter which he did not understand shows that he could know nothing whatever of piety. It is vanity to profess to know these scientific matters, even if one understands them; but it is piety to make confession to you. Mani departed from this principle. He had very much to say about the world, but was convicted of ignorance by those who really understand these things, and from this one can clearly know what understanding he had in other matters which are harder to grasp. He did not wish the opinion of his abilities to be low. He even tried to persuade people that the Holy Spirit, the comforter and enricher of your faithful people, was with plenary authority personally present in himself.7 So when he was found out, saying quite mistaken things about the heaven and stars and the movements of sun and moon, though these matters have nothing to do with religion, it was very clear that his bold speculations were sacrilegious. He not only wrote on matters of which he was ignorant, but also uttered his falsehoods with so mad a vanity and pride that he attempted to attribute them to himself as though he were a divine person.
(9) When I hear this or that brother Christian, who is ignorant of these matters and thinks one thing the case when another is correct, with patience I contemplate the man expressing his opinion. I do not see it is any obstacle to him if perhaps he is ignorant of the position and nature of a physical creature, provided that he does not believe something unworthy of you, Lord, the Creator of all things (1 Macc. 1: 24). But it becomes an obstacle if he thinks his view of nature belongs to the very form of orthodox doctrine, and dares obstinately to affirm something he does not understand. But such an infirmity in the cradle of faith is sustained by mother charity, until the new man ‘grows up into a mature man and is no longer carried about by any wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4: 13). But in the case of that man who dared to pose as a teacher, an authority, as a leader and prince of those he persuaded of his ideas, so that his followers thought themselves to be going after not a mere man but your Holy Spirit, who would not judge that, once he had been convicted of purveying falsehoods, such folly should be detested and put wholly aside?
But I had not yet clearly ascertained whether Mani’s words offered a possible explanation consistent with the changes of longer and shorter days and nights, the alternation of night and day, the eclipses and other phenomena .of this kind which I had read about in other books. If perhaps this view were possible, the matter would become an open question to me whether the truth were this way or that; then notwithstanding the uncertainty, I could still advance his authority, based on the belief in his sanctity, as a support to my faith.8
vi (10) In the nine years or so during which my vagabond mind listened to the Manichees, I waited with intense yearning for the coming of this Faustus. Other Manichees, whom I had happened to meet, were unable to answer the questions which I put. But they promised me that once Faustus had come and had conversation with me, these questions and any yet greater problems I might have would be resolved very easily and clearly. When he came, I found him gracious and pleasant with words. He said the things they usually say, but put it much more agreeably. But what could the most presentable waiter do for my thirst by offering precious cups? My ears were already satiated with this kind of talk, which did not seem better to me because more elegantly expressed. Fine style does not make something true, nor has a man a wise soul because he has a handsome face and well-chosen eloquence. They who had promised that he would be so good were not good judges. He seemed to them prudent and wise because he charmed them by the way he talked.
I have come to know people of another type, who are suspicious and refuse to accept the truth if it is presented in polished and rich language.9 But I had already been taught by you, my God, through wonderful and hidden ways, and I believe what you have taught me because it is true, and none other than you is teacher of the truth, wherever and from whatever source it is manifest. Already I had learnt from you that nothing is true merely because it is eloquently said, nor false because the signs coming from the lips make sounds deficient in a sense of style. Again, a statement is not true because it is enunciated in an unpolished idiom, nor false because the words are splendid. Wisdom and foolishness are like food that is nourishing or useless. Whether the words are ornate or not does not decide the issue. Food of either kind can be served in either town or country ware.
(11) For a long time I had eagerly awaited Faustus. When he came, I was delighted by the force and feeling he brought to his discourse and by the fitting language which flowed with facility to clothe his ideas. I was pleased and, as much as many and even more than many, I praised and spoke highly of him. But I was disappointed that in the public assembly of his audience I was not allowed to put a question, and to share with him the perplexing questions disturbing me, by informal conference and by the give and take of argument. When this became possible, I together with my close friends began to engage his attention at a moment when it was not out of place to exchange question and answer in discussion. When I put forward some problems which troubled me, I quickly discovered him to be ignorant of the liberal arts other than grammar and literature; and his knowledge was of a conventional kind. He had read some orations of Cicero, a very few books by Seneca, some pieces of poetry, and some volumes of his own sect composed in a Latin of good style. Every day he practised delivery of a discourse, and so acquired a verbal facility which was made more agreeable and attractive by the controlled use of his mind and by a certain natural grace.
Lord my God, judge of my conscience, is my memory correct? Before you I lay my heart and my memory. At that time you were dealing with me in your hidden secret providence, and you were putting my shameful errors before my face (Ps. 49: 21) so that I would see and hate them.
vii (12) After he had clearly showed his lack of training in liberal arts in which I had supposed him to be highly qualified, I began to lose all hope that he would be able to analyse and resolve the difficulties which disturbed me. Ignorance of the liberal arts is compatible with holding authentic piety, but not if one is a Manichee. Their books are full of immensely lengthy fables about the heaven and stars and sun and moon. I wanted Faustus to tell me, after comparing the mathematical calculations which I had read in other books, whether the story contained in the Manichee books was correct, or at least whether it had an equal chance of being so. I now did not think him clever enough to explain the matter. Nevertheless I put forward my problems for consideration and discussion. He modestly did not even venture to take up the burden. He knew himself to be uninformed on these matters and was not ashamed to confess it. He was not one of the many loquacious people, whom I have had to endure, who attempted to instruct me and had nothing to say. He had a heart which, if not right towards you, was at least very cautious with himself. He was not utterly unskilled in handling his own lack of training, and he refused to be rashly drawn into a controversy about those matters from which there would be no exit nor easy way of retreat. This was an additional ground for my pleasure. For the controlled modesty of a mind that admits limitations is more beautiful than the things I was anxious to know about. And in all the most difficult and subtle questions this was how I found him.
(13) In consequence the enthusiasm I had for the writings of Mani was diminished, and I felt even greater despair of learning from their other teachers after having consulted on the many points which disturbed me the man who was particularly distinguished. However, I began to spend time with him because of his warm love for literature, the subject which at that time I was teaching young men as a professor of rhetoric at Carthage. I used to read with him either books which he expressed a desire to hear or which I thought appropriate for a mind of his ability. But my entire effort, on which I had resolved, to advance higher in that sect was totally abandoned, once I had come to know that man. My position was that I had not found anything more satisfactory than that into which I had somehow fallen. I decided to be content for the time being unless perhaps something preferable should come to light. So the renowned Faustus, who had been for many ‘a snare of death’ (Ps. 17: 6), without his will or knowledge had begun to loosen the bond by which I had been captured. For in your hidden providence your hands, my God, did not forsake my soul. By my mother’s tears night and day sacrifice was being offered to you from the blood of her heart, and you dealt with me in wonderful ways.
You, my God, brought that about. ‘For the steps of man are directed by the Lord, and he chooses his way’ (Ps. 36: 23). How can salvation be obtained except through your hand remaking what you once made?
viii (14) You were at work in persuading me to go to Rome and to do my teaching there rather than at Carthage. The consideration which persuaded me I will not omit to confess to you because in this also your profoundly mysterious providence and your mercy very present to us are proper matters for reflection and proclamation. My motive in going to Rome was not that the friends who urged it on me promised higher fees and a greater position of dignity, though at that time these considerations had an influence on my mind. The principal and almost sole reason was that I had heard how at Rome the young men went quietly about their studies and were kept in order by a stricter imposition of discipline. They did not rush all at once and in a mob into the class of a teacher with whom they were not enrolled, nor were pupils admitted at all unless the teacher gave them leave. By contrast at Carthage the licence of the students is foul and uncontrolled. They impudendy break in and with almost mad behaviour disrupt the order which each teacher has established for his pupils’ benefit. They commit many acts of vandalism with an astonishing mindlessness, which would be punished under the law were it not that custom protects them.
Thereby their wretched self-delusion is shown up. They act as if they were allowed to do what would never be permitted by your eternal law. They think they are free to act with impunity when by the very blindness of their behaviour they are being punished, and inflict on themselves incomparably worse damage than on others.10 When I was a student, I refused to have anything to do with these customs; as a professor I was forced to tolerate them in outsiders who were not my own pupils. So I decided to go where all informed people declared that such troubles did not occur. But it was you, ‘my hope and my portion in the land of the living’ (Ps. 141:6) who wished me to change my earthly home for ‘the salvation of my soul’ (Ps. 34: 3). You applied the pricks which made me tear myself away from Carthage, and you put before me the attractions of Rome to draw me there, using people who love a life of death, committing insane actions in this world, promising vain rewards in the next.11 To correct my ‘steps’ (Ps. 36: 23; Prov. 20: 20) you secretly made use of their and my perversity. For those who disturbed my serenity were blinded with a disgraceful frenzy. Those who invited me to go elsewhere had a taste only for this earth. I myself, while I hated a true misery here, pursued a false felicity there.
(15) But you knew, God, why I left Carthage and went to Rome, and of that you gave no hint either to me or to my mother, who was fearfully upset at my going and followed me down to the sea. But as she vehemently held on to me calling me back or saying she would come with me, I deceived her. I pretended I had a friend I did not want to leave until the wind was right for him to sail. I lied to my mother—to such a mother—and I gave her the slip. Even this you forgave me, mercifully saving me from the waters of the sea, when I was full of abominable filth, so as to bring me to the water of your grace [in baptism]. This water was to wash me clean, and to dry the rivers flowing from my mother’s eyes which daily before you irrigated the soil beneath her face.
Nevertheless since she refused to return home without me, with difficulty I persuaded her to stay that night in a place close to our ship, the memorial shrine to blessed Cyprian.12 But that night I secretly set out; she did not come, but remained praying and weeping. By her floods of tears what was she begging of you, my God, but that you would not allow me to sail? Yet in your deep counsel you heard the central point of her longing, though not granting her what she then asked, namely that you would make me what she continually prayed for. The wind blew and filled our sails and the shore was lost to our sight. There, when morning came, she was crazed with grief, and with recriminations and groans she filled your ears. But you paid no heed to her cries. You were using my ambitious desires as a means towards putting an end to those desires, and the longing she felt for her own flesh and blood was jusdy chastised by the whip of sorrows. As mothers do, she loved to have me with her, but much more than most mothers; and she did not understand that you were to use my absence as a means of bringing her joy. She did not know that. So she wept and lamented, and these agonies proved that there survived in her the remnants of Eve, seeking with groaning for the child she had brought forth in sorrow (Gen. 3: 16). And yet after accusing me of deception and cruelty, she turned again to pray for me and to go back to her usual home. Meanwhile I came to Rome.
ix (16) At Rome my arrival was marked by the scourge of physical sickness, and I was on the way to the underworld, bearing all the evils I had committed against you, against myself, and against others—sins both numerous and serious, in addition to the chain of original sin13 by which ‘in Adam we die’ (1 Cor. 15: 22). You had not yet forgiven me in Christ for any of them, nor had he by his cross delivered me from the hostile disposition towards you which I had contracted by my sins. How could he deliver me from them if his cross was, as I had believed, a phantom?14 Insofar as the death of his flesh was in my opinion unreal, the death of my soul was real. And insofar as the death of his flesh was authentic, to that extent the life of my soul, which disbelieved that, was inauthentic. The fevers became worse, and I was on my way out and dying. If at that time I had died, where was I going but into the fire and to the torments which, by your true order of justice, my deeds deserved? My mother did not know I was ill, but she was praying for me, though not beside me. But you are present everywhere. Where she was, you heard her, and where I was, you had mercy on me so that I recovered the health of my body. I still remained sick in my sacrilegious heart, for though in such great danger, I had no desire for your baptism. I did better as a boy when I begged for it from my devout mother, as I have recalled and confessed.15 But I had grown in shame and in my folly used to laugh at the counsels of your medicine. Yet you did not allow me to die in this sad condition of both body and soul. If my mother’s heart had suffered that wound, she would never have recovered. I cannot speak enough of the love she had for me. She suffered greater pains in my spiritual pregnancy than when she bore me in the flesh.
(17) I do not see how she could have recovered if my death in those circumstances had like a scourge struck across the compassion of her love. Where would have been all her prayers, so frequent as to be ceaseless? Nowhere except with you. But, God of mercies, would you despise the contrite and humble heart of a chaste and sober widow (cf. 1 Tim. 5: 10), liberal in almsgiving, obedient and helpful in serving your saints, letting no day pass without making an oblation at your altar, twice a day at morning and at evening coming to your Church with unfailing regularity, taking no part in vain gossip and old wives’ chatter, but wanting to hear you in your words’16 and to speak to you in her prayers? Could you, who gave her this character, despise and repel from your assistance tears by which she sought of you, not gold and silver nor any inconstant or transitory benefit, but the salvation of her son’s soul? No indeed, Lord, of course you were there and were hearing her petition, and were following through the order of events that you had predestinated. You could not have misled her in those visions and your responses, both those which I have already mentioned, and those which I have omitted. At her faithful breast she held on to them, and in her unceasing prayer she as it were presented to you your bond of promises. For your mercy is for ever (Ps. 117: 1; 137: 8), and you deign to make yourself a debtor obliged by your promises to those to whom you forgive all debts.
x (18) You healed my sickness, and at that time made ‘the son of your maidservant’ (Ps. 115: 16) whole in body as an interim step towards giving him a better and more certain health. Even during this period at Rome I was associated with those false and deceiving Saints—not only with their Hearers, one of whom was the man in whose house I had lain sick and recovered health, but also with those whom they call Elect. I still thought that it is not we who sin, but some alien nature which sins in us. It flattered my pride to be free of blame and, when I had done something wrong, not to make myself confess to you that you might heal my soul; for it was sinning against you (Ps. 40: 5). I liked to excuse myself and to accuse some unidentifiable power which was with me and yet not I. But the whole was myself and what divided me against myself was my impiety. That was a sin the more incurable for the fact that I did not think myself a sinner. My execrable wickedness preferred the disastrous doctrine that in me you, almighty God, suffer defeat rather than that, to be saved, I needed to surrender to you.
You had not yet ‘put a guard on my mouth and a gate of continence about my lips’ (Ps. 140: 2) to prevent my heart slipping into evil words to find excuses for sinning with ‘people who do iniquity’ (Ps. 140: 3). That is why I was still in close association ‘with their Elect’ (Ps. 140: 4), even though I had already lost hope of being able to advance higher in that false doctrine. I had decided to be content to remain with them if I should find nothing better; but my attitude was increasingly remiss and negligent.
(19) The thought had come into my mind that the philosophers whom they call Academics were shrewder than others. They taught that everything is a matter of doubt, and that an understanding of the truth lies beyond human capacity. For to me that seemed clearly to be their view, and so they are popularly held to think. I did not yet understand their intention.17
I did not neglect to tell my host that he should not put the excessive trust, which I perceived him to have, in the fabulous matters of which Manichee books are full. But I was in more intimate friendship with them than with others who were not in that heresy. I did not defend it with the zest that at one time I had. Nevertheless my close association with them (the number of them secredy living in Rome was large) made me reluctant to look elsewhere. In particular I had no hope that truth could be found in your Church, Lord of heaven and earth (Gen. 24: 3), maker of all things visible and invisible (Col. 1: 16). The Manichees had turned me away from that. I thought it shameful to believe you to have the shape of the human figure, and to be limited by the bodily lines of our limbs.18 When I wanted to think of my God, I knew of no way of doing so except as a physical mass. Nor did I think anything existed which is not material. That was the principal and almost sole cause of my inevitable error.
(20) For the same reason I also believed that evil is a kind of material substance with its own foul and misshapen mass, either solid which they used to call earth, or thin and subtle, as is the body of air. They imagine it to be a malignant mind creeping through the earth. And since piety (however bizarre some of my beliefs were) forbade me to believe that the good God had created an evil nature, I concluded that there are two opposed masses, both infinite, but the evil rather smaller, the good larger;19 and of this pestilential beginning other blasphemous notions were the corollary. When my mind attempted to return to the Catholic faith, it was rebuffed because the Catholic faith is not what I thought. My God, to whom your mercies make it possible for me to make confession, I felt it more reverent to believe you infinite in all respects but one, namely the mass of evil opposed to you, than to think you in all parts limited to the shape of the human body. I thought it better to believe that you had created no evil—which in my ignorance I thought not merely some sort of substance but even corporeal, since I did not know how to think of mind except as a subtle physical entity diffused through space—rather than to believe that the nature of evil, as I understood it, came from you. Our Saviour himself, your only Son, I imagined emerging from the mass of your dazzling body of light for our salvation. I could believe of him only what my vain imagination could picture. I thought a nature such as his could not be born of the Virgin Mary without being mingled with flesh. That he could be mixed with us and not polluted I did not see, because my mental picture was what it was. I was afraid to believe him incarnate lest I had to believe him to be defiled by the flesh. Today your spiritual believers will kindly and lovingly laugh at me when they read these my confessions. Nevertheless that was the state of my mind.
xi (21) I did not think there was any defence against the Manichees’ criticisms of your scriptures. Sometimes, however, I desired to debate particular points with someone very learned in those books, and to discover what he thought about these questions. At Carthage the lectures of a certain Elpidius, who publicly spoke and debated against the Manichees, began to disturb me, when he cited matter from the scriptures to which there was no easy reply. The Manichee answer seemed to me weak. They did not easily produce their response before the public but did so to us in private. They asserted that the scriptures of the New Testament had been tampered with by persons unknown, who wanted to insert the Jews’ law into the Christian faith. They were incapable of producing any uncorrupted copies. But the principal things which held me captive and somehow suffocated me, as long as I thought only in physical terms, were those vast masses. Gasping under their weight I could not breathe the pure and simple breeze of your truth.
xii (22) I began to be busy about the task of teaching the art of rhetoric for which I had come to Rome. I first gathered some pupils at my lodging, and with them and through them I began to be known. I quickly discovered that at Rome students behaved in a way which I would never have had to endure in Africa. Acts of vandalism, it was true, by young hooligans did not occur at Rome; that was made clear to me. But, people told me, to avoid paying the teacher his fee, numbers of young men would suddenly club together and transfer themselves to another tutor,20 breaking their word and out of love of money treating fairness as something to be flouted. I cordially detested them, but not ‘with a perfect hatred’ (Ps. 138: 22); for I probably felt more resentment for what I personally was to suffer from them than for the wrong they were doing to anyone and everyone. Certainly such people are a disgrace and ‘commit for-nication against you’ (Ps. 72: 27). They love the passing, transient amusements and the filthy lucre which dirties the hand when it is touched. They embrace a world which is fleeing away. They despise you, though you abide and call the prodigal back and pardon the human soul for its harlotry when it returns to you. Today too I hate such wicked and perverted people, though I love them as people in need of correction, so that instead of money they may prefer the doctrine which they learn and, above the doctrine, may prefer you, God, the truth, the abundant source of assured goodness and most chaste peace. But at that time I was determined not to put up with badly behaved people more out of my own interest than because I wanted them to become good for your sake.
xiii (23) So after a notification came from Milan to Rome to the city prefect saying that at Milan a teacher of rhetoric was to be appointed with his travel provided by the government service, I myself applied through the mediation of those intoxicated with Manichee follies. My move there was to end my association with them, but neither of us knew that. An oration I gave on a prescribed topic was approved by the then prefect Symmachus,21 who sent me to Milan.
And so I came to Milan to Ambrose the bishop, known throughout the world as among the best of men, devout in your worship. At that time his eloquence valiantly ministered to your people ‘the abundance of your sustenance’ and ‘the gladness of oil’ (Ps. 44: 8; 80: 17; 147: 14), and the sober intoxication of your wine.22 I was led to him by you, unaware that through him, in full awareness, I might be led to you. That ‘man of God’ (2 Kgs. 1: 9) received me like a father and expressed pleasure at my coming with a kindness most fitting in a bishop. I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me. I used enthusiastically to listen to him preaching to the people, not with the intention which I ought to have had, but as if testing out his oratorical skill to see whether it merited the reputation it enjoyed or whether his fluency was better or inferior than it was reported to be. I hung on his diction in rapt attention, but remained bored and contemptuous of the subject-matter. My pleasure was in the charm of his language. It was more learned than that of Faustus, but less witty and entertaining, as far as the manner of his speaking went. But in content there could be no comparison. Through Manichee deceits Faustus wandered astray. Ambrose taught the sound doctrine of salvation. From sinners such as I was at that time, salvation is far distant. Nevertheless, gradually, though I did not realize it, I was drawing closer.
xiv (24) I was not interested in learning what he was talking about. My ears were only for his rhetorical technique; this empty concern was all that remained with me after I had lost any hope that a way to you might lie open for man. Nevertheless together with the words which I was enjoying, the subject matter, in which I was unconcerned, came to make an entry into my mind. I could not separate them. While I opened my heart in noting the eloquence with which he spoke, there also entered no less the truth which he affirmed, though only gradually. First what he said began to seem defensible, and I did not now think it impudent to assert the Catholic faith, which I had thought defenceless against Manichee critics. Above all, I heard first one, then another, then many difficult passages in the Old Testament scriptures figuratively interpreted, where I, by taking them literally, had found them to kill (2 Cor. 3: 6). So after several passages in the Old Testament had been expounded spiritually, I now found fault with that despair of mine, caused by my belief that the law and the prophets could not be defended at all against the mockery of hostile critics. However, even so I did not think the Catholic faith something I ought to accept. Granted it could have educated people who asserted its claims and refuted objections with abundant argument and without absurdity. But that was not sufficient ground to condemn what I was holding. There could be an equally valid defence for both. So to me the Catholic faith appeared not to have been defeated but also not yet to be the conqueror.
(25) I then energetically applied my critical faculty to see if there were decisive arguments by which I could somehow prove the Manichees wrong. If I had been able to conceive of spiritual substance, at once all their imagined inventions would have collapsed and my mind would have rejected them. But I could not. However, in regard to the physical world and all the natural order accessible to the bodily senses, consideration and comparison more and more convinced me that numerous philosophers held opinions much more probable than theirs. Accordingly, after the manner of the Academics, as popularly understood, I doubted everything, and in the fluctuating state of total suspense of judgement I decided I must leave the Manichees, thinking at that period of my scepticism that I should not remain a member of a sect to which I was now preferring certain philosophers. But to these philosophers, who were without Christ’s saving name, I altogether refused to entrust the healing of my soul’s sickness. I therefore decided for the time being to be a catechumen in the Catholic Church, which the precedent of my parents recommended to me, until some clear light should come by which I could direct my course.
1 In Augustine’s Platonic and aesthetic interpretation of evil, the wicked are like the dark in the chiaroscuro of a beautiful picture: City of God 11. 23. The idea is already in Plotinus 3. 2. 11. 10 ff.
2 Plotinus 6. 9. 7: ‘God is outside none, is present unperceived to all; men flee to get away from him, but really flee from themselves.’
3 At the same time as the Confessions, Augustine was writing a long refutation of Faustus of Mileu in Numidia, who had composed a strong attack on the Old Testament’s authority for real Christians, i.e. Manichees, because of its animal sacrifices, womanizers like Solomon, murderers like Moses. The New Testament Faustus treated as interpolated, the Paraclete being the Manichee’s guide to distinguish authentic parts. His arrival at Carthage falls c.382; he was exiled by the proconsul in 385, and died before Augustine wrote.
4 A fusion of 1 John 2: 16 with an allegory of Ps. 8.
5 Heb. 12: 29 cf. Virgil, Aeneid 2.758. There is possibly an allusion to the phoenix myth.
6 The Manichees believed eclipses occurred when the sun or the moon wished to veil their eyes from the terrible cosmic battles between the light and the darkness (Simplicius, Commentary on Epictetus 34 p. 167 Salmasius = 27 p. 72 ed. Dubner).
7 Several Manichee texts say that the Paraclete is Mani’s other self.
8 Augustine’s Literal Commentary on Genesis is severely critical of Christians who bring their faith into discredit by treating Genesis as creation-science. Nevertheless, he could also argue that the correct literal interpretation of Genesis is a matter of such uncertainty that none can assert it to be at variance with science anyway.
9 Augustine’s book ‘On Christian Doctrine’ has a critique of this view.
10 Plotinus (3. 2. 8. 26–31) similarly comments that ruffians and hoodlums do themselves much injury.
11 Augustine’s appointment to Rome was facilitated by his Manichee connections.
12 Cyprian, bishop of Carthage martyred in 258, was for the African Churches their outstanding hero, the vigil of whose feast day (14 September) was marked by all-night dancing.
13 This is the earliest occurrence of this phrase to describe inherent human egotism, the inner condition contrasted with overt actions.
14 Manichees disbelieved the reality of the crucifixion, for them a symbol of universal human suffering.
15 11. xi (17).
16 i.e. through the Bible.
17 Augustine (Against the Academics III) accepted from Porphyry the opinion that the scepticism of the ancient Academy about the possibility of assured knowledge about anything went with an esoteric positive doctrine. Their intention was to safeguard Plato’s spiritual metaphysic from the materialism of Stoics and Epicureans.
18 Manichee attacks on Genesis 1 especially scorned the notion that man is in God’s image.
19 Manichees did not hold the area of Darkness to be equal to that of Light, but to be a black ‘wedge’ cutting into the Light.
20 Augustine’s contemporary, a pagan Alexandrian schoolmaster named Palladas, has the identical complaint about his pupils, who would leave him for another teacher just as they were due to pay the annual fee of one gold solidus (The Greek Anthology 9, 174). At Antioch Libanius circumvented pupils’ dishonesty by making a contract with their parents (oratio 43). A teacher with 40 pupils would be doing reasonably well, but was not wealthy; moreover, he had to pay something to an usher to guard the entrance veil. Salaries and fees would be higher in larger cities (see above, 1. xvi (26)). Elsewhere Augustine says that in small towns there was only a single teacher; the market perhaps would not have supported a second.
21Symmachus, a prominent and opulent pagan, became prefect of Rome in September 384. Augustine’s arrival at Milan was probably in October.
22 ‘Sober intoxication’, describing the ecstasy of a knowledge of God lying beyond reason, occurs in Ambrose and, before him, in the Jewish theologian Philo of Alexandria. Also Plotinus 6. 7. 35. 27.