TRUTH SEEN BUT NOT FOLLOWED
(1) With thanksgiving let me remember, O my God, all your mercies to me and let me confess them to you. Let my bones be filled with your love, and let them say to you: “Lord, who is like unto you?1 You have broken my bonds. I will sacrifice to you the sacrifice of praise.”2 I will narrate how you broke them asunder. And when they hear these things, let all who adore you say: “Blessed be the Lord, in heaven and on earth. Great and wonderful is his name.”3
Your words had stuck fast in the depths of my heart, and on every side I was encompassed by you. I was now certain that you are eternal life, although I saw it only “in a glass, in a dark manner.”4 Yet all my doubts concerning incorruptible substance, and that every other substance comes from it, had been removed from me. It was not to be more certain concerning you, but to be more steadfast in you that I desired. But in my temporal life all things were uncertain, and my heart had to be cleansed of the old leaven.5The way, the Savior himself, had become pleasing, but as yet I was loath to tread its narrow passes. You put it into my mind, and it seemed good to my sight, to turn to Simplicianus,6 who appeared to me to be a good servant of yours, for in him your grace shone bright. I had also heard that from his youth he had lived most devoutly in your service. At that time he had grown old, and because of long years spent in following your way with such good zeal, I thought that he was one who had experienced many things and learned many things. In truth, he was such a one. Hence I wished that after I had discussed my problems with him, he would show me the proper manner for one affected like me to walk in your way.
(2) I saw that the Church was full of men, of whom one went this way, another that. I was displeased with the course I followed in the world, and with my desires no longer aflame with hope of honor and wealth, as they had been, to bear so grievous a bondage was a very great burden to me. In comparison with your sweetness and the beauty of your house, which I loved,7 those things no longer gave me delight, but I was still tightly bound by love of women. However, your apostle did not forbid me to marry, although he exhorted me to something better, especially wishing that all men would be like himself.8 But I was weaker and chose the softer place. For this one thing I was tossed all about in other ways: I was faint and I wasted away with withering cares. For in other matters, which I had no wish to endure, I was forced to adapt myself to that conjugal life, which I had given myself to and by which I was therefore restricted.
From the mouth of your truth I had learned that there are eunuchs who made themselves such for the kingdom of heaven, but he also says, “He that can take it, let him take it.”9 Surely all men are vain in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen could not understand, could not find, him who is.”10 I was no longer in that vanity! I had passed beyond it, and by the testimony of the whole creation I had found you our creator, and your Word, who is God with you, and who is one God with you, through whom you created all things.
There is another class of impious men, who “knowing God, have not glorified him as God, or given thanks.”11 Into this group also I had fallen, but your right hand12 raised me up, and took me out of it, and you placed me where I might grow strong again. For you have said to man: “Behold, piety is wisdom,”13 and “Do not desire to appear wise,”14 “for professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”15 But I had now found the good pearl, and this I must buy, after selling all that I had.16 Yet still I hesitated.
THE CONVERSION OF VICTORINUS
(3) I went, then, to Simplicianus, the father, as to his reception of grace,1 of Ambrose, the then bishop, and by him loved as a father. To him I recounted the winding ways of my errors. When I recorded how I had read certain books of the Platonists, translated into the Latin language by Victorinus,2 sometime professor of rhetoric at Rome, who, I had heard, had died a Christian, he congratulated me because I had not fallen in with the writings of other philosophers, full of fallacies and deceits according to the elements of this world,3 whereas in the works of the Platonists God and his Word are introduced in all manners. Thereupon, in order to exhort me to accept Christ’s humility, “hidden from the wise and revealed to little ones,”4 he spoke of Victorinus himself, whom he had known intimately when he was in Rome. He told me certain things about him that I will not pass over in silence, as they involve an instance of that great praise of your grace5 which must be confessed to you. For that aged man, most learned and most highly skilled in all liberal studies, had read through and passed judgment on many philosophical works and had been the teacher of many noble senators. He had even merited and obtained a statue in the Roman forum as a memorial of his outstanding teaching, which citizens of this world deem a great honor. Right up to his old age, he had been a worshiper of idols and a communicant in sacrilegious rites, with which almost the entire Roman nobility was then inflated. By such rites they inspired the people with the cult of Osiris,6 and every kind of god, monsters, and barking Anubis, which at one time had borne arms against Neptune and Venus, and against Minerva.7 These gods, whom Rome had once conquered, she now adored. Over the course of many years, the aged Victorinus himself had defended them with thunderous and terrifying eloquence. But now he did not blush to become the child of your Christ and a newborn infant at your font,8 to bend his neck under the yoke of humility, and to lower his brow before the reproach of the cross.9
(4) Lord, Lord, you who have bowed down the heavens and have descended, you who have touched the mountains and they have smoked,10 by what means did you wend your way into his breast? He used to read Holy Writ, as Simplicianus has said, and he studiously searched into and examined all Christian writings. He said to Simplicianus, not openly, but privately and as a friend, “You should know that I am already a Christian.” But he answered, “I will not believe it, nor will I reckon you among Christians, unless I see you in the Church of Christ.” The other laughed and said, “Is it walls, then, that make men Christians?” He often said that he was already a Christian; Simplicianus just as often made his reply: and just as often he made his joke about the walls. He was afraid of offending his friends, the proud worshipers of demons. He thought that from their lofty seat of honor in Babylon,11 as from cedars of Lebanon. which the Lord had not yet broken down,12 the heavy weight of their enmity would rush down upon him.
Afterwards, through reading and longing, he drank in strength. He feared that he would be denied by Christ before the angels if he now feared to confess him before men.13 He saw himself as guilty of a great crime by being ashamed of the mysteries of the humility of your Word, while not being ashamed of the sacrilegious rites of proud demons, which he had proudly imitated and accepted. He put aside shame from vanity and became modest before the truth. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he said to Simplicianus, who has himself described it, “Let us go to the church. I wish to become a Christian.” Unable to contain himself for joy, Simplicianus went with him. There he was granted the initial sacraments of instruction.14 and not long after he gave in his name, so that he might be reborn in baptism. Rome stood in wonder, and the Church rejoiced. The proud saw, and were angry; they gnashed their teeth, and pined away.15 But the Lord God was the hope of his servant, and he had no regard for vanities and lying follies.16
(5) At length the hour came for him to make his profession of faith.17 At Rome, those who are about to approach your grace usually deliver this profession from an elevated place, in the sight of your faithful people, in set words which they have learned and committed to memory. To Victorinus, he said, the priests gave permission to make the profession in private, as it was the custom to allow this to those who looked as if they would be self-conscious and upset. However, he preferred to make profession of his salvation in the sight of that holy throng. What he taught in his school of rhetoric was not salvation, and yet he taught it publicly. How much less, then, should he dread your meek flock when he affirmed your Word, since he had never dreaded to pronounce his own words before throngs of madmen! Hence, when he arose to make his profession, all who knew him uttered his name to one another with a murmur of congratulation. And who among them did not know him? A suppressed sound issued from the mouths of all those who rejoiced together, “Victorinus! Victorinus!” Suddenly, as they saw him, they gave voice to their joy, and just as suddenly they became silent in order to hear him. He pronounced the true faith with splendid confidence, and they all desired to clasp him to their hearts. By their love and joy they clasped him to themselves. Those were the hands by which they clasped him.
THE LAW OF CONTRASTS
(6) O God the good, what goes on within a man that he should rejoice more over the salvation of a soul that had been despaired of, and was then set free of a greater peril, than if there had always been hope for him, or if his danger had been less? Merciful Father, you too rejoice more over one man who does penance than over ninety-nine just men who do not need penance. We listen with great gladness as we hear how the sheep that had strayed away is brought back on the joyful shepherd’s shoulders, and how the drachma is restored to your treasure house, while the neighbors rejoice with the woman who has found it. The joyous festivities within your home wring tears from our eyes when the story is read in your house of how your younger son was dead and is come to life again, was lost and is found.1 In truth, you rejoice in us and in your angels, who are holy in holy charity. For you are always the same, but things that do not exist forever or in the same way, all these you know forever and in the same way.
(7) What is it, therefore, that goes on within the soul, since it takes greater delight if things that it loves are found or restored to it than if it had always possessed them? Other things bear witness to this, and all are filled with proofs that cry aloud, “Thus it is!” The victorious general holds his triumph: yet unless he had fought, he would never have won the victory, and the greater was the danger in battle, the greater is the joy in the triumph. The storm tosses seafarers about, and threatens them with shipwreck: they all grow pale at their coming death. Then the sky and the sea become calm, and they exult exceedingly, just as they had feared exceedingly. A dear friend is ill, and his pulse tells us of his bad case. All those who long to see him in good health are in mind sick along with him. He gets well again, and although he does not yet walk with his former vigor, there is joy such as did not obtain before when he walked well and strong.
Men gain these very pleasures of human life, not merely from any unexpected and unwanted troubles that happen to them, but from those that are planned and voluntary. There is no pleasure in eating and drinking unless the discomfort of hunger and thirst comes first. Men addicted to liquor eat certain salty foods so as to produce an annoying dryness, and when a drink allays this, pleasure results. It is the custom for affianced brides not to be given immediately in marriage, lest as husband a man hold in low esteem the woman given to him, whom as her betrothed he did not long for because she was kept from him.
(8) This same rule holds for foul and accursed joys; it holds for those that are permitted and lawful; it holds for the most sincere and virtuous friendship; it holds for him who was dead but now lives again, and for him who was lost and is now found. Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering. Why is this, O Lord my God, since you are eternal unto yourself, since you yourself are joy, and since there are beings that forever rejoice in you and about you?2 Why is it that this particular rank of beings alternates between decline and advance and between strife and harmony? Is this their proper measure? Is it so much only that you have given to them, when from the heights of heaven3 down to the depths of the earth, from the beginning to the end of time, from the angel even to the worm, from the first movement up to the last, you seated, each in its proper place, all varieties of good things and all your just works, and caused them to be each in its proper season?
Woe is me! How high are you in the highest, and how deep are you in the depths? Nowhere do you depart from us, and we scarcely return to you.
(9) Lead us, O Lord, and work within us: arouse us, and call us back; enkindle us, and draw us to you; grow fragrant and sweet to us. Let us love you, and let us run to you.1 Are there not many men who, out of a deeper hell of blindness than Victorinus, have turned back to you and drawn near to you? Are they not enlightened, as they receive your light? For if they receive it, they also receive from you power to become your sons.2 Yet if they are known to fewer people, so also those who know them rejoice less over them. For when many men rejoice together, there is a richer joy in each individual, since they enkindle themselves and they inflame one another.3 Again, if they are well known to many men, they exercise authority towards salvation for many others, and they lead the way on which many others follow. Therefore, those also who have preceded them rejoice because of them, for the reason that they do not rejoice over them alone.4
Far be it from me to think that in your tabernacles there should be acceptance of persons,5 of the rich before the poor, or of the noble before the baseborn. Rather, you have chosen the weak things of the world, that you may confound the strong, and the contemptible things, and those that are not, as if they are, that you might bring to naught things that are.6 Yet even that same man, the least of your apostles,7 by whose tongue you have uttered these words of yours, when Paulus the proconsul, whose pride had been conquered through that other’s warfare, was sent to pass under the easy yoke of your Christ, and was made a private citizen of the great King, then, instead of his former name of Saul, was pleased to be called Paul as a token of so great a victory.8
A greater victory is won over the enemy in the case of a man upon whom he has a firmer hold and by means of whom he has hold on many others. He has more hold on the proud because of their lofty titles, and because of their name and authority, he has hold on many others. Hence the more grateful were their thoughts with regard to Victorinus’s heart, which the devil had held as an impregnable fortress, and with regard to Victorinus’s tongue, with which as a keen and powerful weapon he had slain so many, so much the more abundantly did it behoove your sons to rejoice because our King bound up the strong man,9 and because they saw his vessels taken from him, and cleansed, and rendered fit for your honor, and made profitable to the Lord for every good work.10
THE INNER CONFLICT
(10) When Simplicianus, your servant, related to me all this concerning Victorinus, I was on fire to imitate him, and it was for this reason that he had told it to me. Afterwards he added to it how in Emperor Julian’s time a law was passed by which Christians were forbidden to teach literature and oratory, and how he obeyed the law, and chose rather to give up his school for words than your Word, by which you make eloquent the tongues of infants.1 Then he appeared to me to have been no more courageous than fortunate, since he found opportunity to devote himself to you alone. For this very thing did I sigh, bound as I was, not by another’s irons but by my own iron will. The enemy2 had control of my will, and out of it he fashioned a chain and fettered me with it. For in truth lust is made out of a perverse will, and when lust is served, it becomes habit, and when habit is not resisted, it becomes necessity. By such links, joined one to another, as it were—for this reason I have called it a chain—a harsh bondage held me fast. A new will, which had begun within me, to wish freely to worship you and find joy in you, O God, the sole sure delight, was not yet able to overcome that prior will, grown strong with age. Thus did my two wills, the one old, the other new, the first carnal, and the second spiritual, contend with one another, and by their conflict they laid waste my soul.
(11) Thus I understood from my own experience what I had read, how “the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.”3 I was in both camps, but I was more in that which I approved within myself than in that other which I disapproved within me. For now, in the latter, it was not so much myself, since in large part I suffered it against my will rather than did it voluntarily. Yet it was by me that this habit had been made so warlike against me, since I had come willingly to this point where I now willed not. Who can rightly argue against it, when just punishment comes upon the sinner? Nor did I any longer have that former excuse, in which I used to look upon myself as unable to despise the world and to serve you, because knowledge of the truth was still uncertain to me. Now indeed it was certain to me. Yet I was still bound to the earth, and I refused to become your soldier.4 I was afraid to be lightened of all my heavy burden, even as I should have feared to be encumbered by it.
(12) Thus by the burdens of this world I was sweetly weighed down, just as a man often is in sleep. Thoughts wherein I meditated upon you were like the efforts of those who want to arouse themselves but, still overcome by deep drowsiness, sink back again. Just as no man would want to sleep forever, and it is the sane judgment of all men that it is better to be awake, yet a man often defers to shake off sleep when a heavy languor pervades all his members, and although the time to get up has come, he yields to it with pleasure even although it now irks him. In like manner, I was sure that it was better for me to give myself up to your love than to give in to my own desires. However, although the one way appealed to me and was gaining mastery, the other still afforded me pleasure and kept me victim. I had no answer to give to you when you said to me, “Rise, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you.”5 When on all sides you showed me that your words were true, and I was overcome by your truth, I had no answer whatsoever to make, but only those slow and drowsy words, “Right away. Yes, right away.” “Let me be for a little while.” But “Right away—right away” was never right now, and “Let me be for a little while” stretched out for a long time.
In vain was I delighted with your law according to the inward man, when another law in my members fought against the law of my mind, and led me captive in the law of sin which was in my members.6 For the law of sin is force of habit, whereby the mind is dragged along and held fast, even against its will, but still deservedly so, since it was by its will that it had slipped into the habit. Unhappy man that I was! Who would deliver me from the body of this death, unless your grace through Jesus Christ our Lord?7
THE STORY OF PONTICIANUS
(13) I will now recount and confess to your name,1 “O Lord, my helper and my redeemer,”2 how you delivered me from the fetters of desire for concubinage, by which I was held most tightly, and from the slavery of worldly concerns. I went about my accustomed tasks with ever increasing anxiety, and each day I sighed for you. I frequented your church whenever I was free from the burden of the tasks under which I groaned. Alypius was with me, since now, after his third term as assessor, he was relieved of his legal duties and was looking for clients to whom he might again sell his counsel, just as I sold skill at speech, if such skill can be imparted by teaching. By reason of our friendship, Nebridius had consented to teach under Verecundus, a citizen and grammarian of Milan and a very close friend to all of us, who urgently desired, and by right of friendship demanded from our group, the reliable assistance he needed so much. Nebridius was not attracted to this by desire for profit; if he wished for that, he could have gained greater rewards from his learning. But he was a very kind and agreeable friend, and out of duty to friendship he would not reject our request. He acted in a very prudent manner, as he was on guard against becoming known to men who were great according to this world,3 and he avoided among them all mental disturbance. He wished to keep his mind free and to have as much time as possible open to engage in study, to read, or to hear things concerning wisdom.
(14) One day when Nebridius was absent, for what reason I do not recall, there came to our home to visit me and Alypius a certain Ponticianus,4 a countryman of ours, in so far as being from Africa, who held a high office at court. I do not know what he wanted from us, but we sat down to talk together. He chanced to notice a book lying upon a game table that stood before us. He took it up, opened it, and much to his surprise found that it was by the apostle Paul. He had thought that it was one or another of the books that I was wearing myself out in teaching. Whereupon he smiled and looked at me as if to congratulate me, and expressed surprise that he had suddenly found these writings and these alone before my eyes. For he was a faithful Christian, and often he prostrated himself before you, our God, in many long prayers within the church. When I told him how I expended very great pains upon those Scriptures, a discussion arose in which he narrated the story of Anthony, an Egyptian monk.5 His name was famous among your servants, but up to that very hour it had been unknown to us. When he discovered this, he dwelt all the more on the subject, introducing this great man to us who were ignorant of him, and wondering at this same ignorance. We in turn stood in amazement on hearing such wonderful works6 of yours, deeds of such recent memory, done so close to our own times, and most fully testified to, in the true faith and in the Catholic Church. All of us marveled at it, we because there had been such great wonders, and he because they had not been heard of by us.
(15) From this subject his discourse turned to the flocks within the monasteries and to their way of life, which is like a sweet-smelling odor to you, and to the fruitful deserts in the wilderness, of all of which we knew nothing. There was a monastery at Milan, filled with good brothers, situated outside the walls, under the fostering care of Ambrose, but we had not known about it. He proceeded with his account, and we kept silent and attentive. Then it came about that he told us how he and three of his associates—just when I do not know, but it was at Trier7—one afternoon, when the emperor was attending the games at the circus, went out for a walk in the gardens along the walls. As they chanced to walk in pairs, one went apart with him and the other two wandered off by themselves. While wandering about, these two others came upon a certain house, where dwelled some of your servants, “poor in spirit, of whom is the kingdom of heaven,”8 and there they found a little book in which was written the life of Anthony.
One of them began to read this book, to marvel at it, and to be aroused by it. As he read it, he began to meditate on taking up such a life, and to give up his worldly career and serve you. These two men were numbered among those whom they style special agents.9 Then the reader, suddenly filled with holy love and by sober shame made angry with himself, turned his eyes upon his friend and said, “Tell me, I ask you, where will we get by all these labors of ours? What are we seeking for? To what purpose do we serve in office? What higher ambition can we have at court than to become friends of the emperor?10 In such a position what is there that is not fragile and full of peril? By how many perils do we arrive at a greater peril? When will we get there? But to become God’s friend, if I wish it, see, I become one here and now.”
He spoke these words, and in anguish during this birth of a new life, he turned his eyes again upon those pages. He read on and was changed within himself, where your eye could see. His mind was stripped of this world, as soon became apparent. For as he read, and turned about on the waves of his heart, he raged at himself for a while, but then discerned better things and determined upon them. Already belonging to you, he said to his friend, “I have now broken away from our former hopes, and I have determined to serve God, and from this very hour and in this very place I make my start. If it is too much for you to imitate me, do not oppose me.” The other answered that he would join him as a comrade for so great a reward and in so great a service. Both of them, being now yours, began to build a tower at that due cost11 of leaving all that they had and following you.
By then Ponticianus and the man with him, who had walked in other parts of the garden, came in search of them in the same place, and on finding them, warned them that they must return, as the day was already late. The men told them of their resolution and purpose and how such a determination had sprung up and become established within them, and begged the others not to trouble them, even if they would refuse to join them. Ponticianus and his companion, although in no wise changed from their former state, nevertheless wept over it, as he affirmed, congratulated them devoutly, and recommended themselves to their prayers. Then, with hearts dragging along upon the earth, they returned to the palace, while the other two fixed their hearts on heaven and remained in the house. Both men had affianced brides, and when these women heard the story, they also dedicated their virginity to you.
THE NAKED SELF
(16) Ponticianus told us this story, and as he spoke, you, O Lord, turned me back upon myself. You took me from behind my own back, where I had placed myself because I did not wish to look upon myself. You stood me face to face with myself, so that I might see how foul I was, how deformed and defiled, how covered with stains and sores. I looked, and I was filled with horror, but there was no place for me to flee to away from myself. If I tried to turn my gaze from myself, he still went on with the story that he was telling, and once again you placed me in front of myself, and thrust me before my own eyes, so that I might find out my iniquity and hate it.1 I knew what it was, but I pretended not to; I refused to look at it, and put it out of my memory.
(17) At that time, in truth, the more ardently I loved those men whose healthful affections I was hearing about, because they had given themselves wholly to you for healing, the more detestably did I hate myself as compared to them. Many, perhaps twelve, of my years had flown by since that nineteenth year when by reading Cicero’s Hortensius I was aroused to a zeal for wisdom. Yet still I delayed to despise earthly happiness, and thus devote myself to that search. For the bare search for wisdom, even when it is not actually found,2 was preferable to finding treasures and earthly kingdoms and to bodily pleasures swirling about me at my beck. But I, a most wretched youth, most wretched from the very start of my youth, had even sought chastity from you, and had said, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet!” For I feared that you would hear me quickly, and that quickly you would heal me of that disease of lust, which I wished to have satisfied rather than extinguished. I had wandered along crooked ways3 in a sacrilegious superstition, not indeed because I was certain of it, but as though I preferred it to other teachings which I did not seek with piety but opposed with hatred.
(18) I thought that the reason I deferred from day to day4 to reject worldly hopes and to follow you alone was because there seemed nothing certain by which I could direct my course. But the day had come when I stood stripped naked before myself, and my conscience upbraided me. “Where is my tongue? You said, forsooth, that you would not cast off your burden of vanity for the sake of an uncertain truth. See, now it is certain, and yet that burden still weighs you down, while men who neither wore themselves out in search of truth, nor meditated for ten years and more on such things, win wings for their readier shoulders.”5
Thus was I gnawed within myself, and I was overwhelmed with shame and horror, while Ponticianus spoke of such things. When he had brought an end to his story, and to the business for which he had come, he departed and I went into myself. What was there that I did not say against myself? With what scourges of self-condemnation did I not lash my soul, so that it would follow me as I strove to follow after you? Yet it drew back; it refused to go on, and it offered no excuses for itself. All arguments were used up, and all had been refuted. There remained only speechless dread and my soul was fearful, as if of death itself, of being kept back from that flow of habit by which it was wasting away unto death.
IN THE GARDEN
(19) Then, during that great struggle in my inner house, which I had violently raised up against my own soul in our chamber,1 in my heart, troubled both in mind and in countenance, I turn upon Alypius and cry out to him: “What is the trouble with us? What is this? What did you hear? The unlearned rise up and take heaven by storm,2 and we, with all our erudition but empty of heart, see how we wallow in flesh and blood! Are we ashamed to follow, because they have gone on ahead of us? Is it no shame to us not even to follow them?” I said some such words, and my anguish of mind tore me from him, while astounded he looked at me and kept silent. I did not speak in my usual way. My brow, cheeks, eyes, color, and tone of voice spoke of my state of mind more than the words that I uttered.
Attached to our lodging there was a little garden; we had the use of it, as of the whole house, for our host, the owner of the house, did not live in it. The tumult within my breast hurried me out into it, where no one would stop the raging combat that I had entered into against myself, until it would come to such an end as you knew of, but as I knew not. I suffered from a madness that was to bring health, and I was in a death agony that was to bring life: for I knew what a thing of evil I was, but I did not know the good that I would be after but a little while. I rushed, then, into the garden, and Alypius followed in my steps. Even when he was present, I was not less alone—and how could he desert me when I was reduced to such a state? We sat down as far as we could from the house. Suffering from a most fearful wound, I quaked in spirit, angered by a most turbulent anger, because I did not enter into your will and into a covenant with you,3 my God. For all my bones cried out4 to me to enter into that covenant, and by their praises they lifted me up to the skies. Not by ships, or in chariots, or on foot do we enter therein; we need not go even so far as I had gone from the house to the place where we were sitting. For not only to go, but even to go in thither was naught else but the will to go, to will firmly and finally, and not to turn and toss, now here, now there, a struggling, half-maimed will, with one part rising upwards and another falling down.
(20) Finally, in the shifting tides of my indecision, I made many bodily movements, such as men sometimes will to make but cannot, whether because they lack certain members or because those members are bound with chains, weakened by illness, or hindered in one way or another. If I tore my hair, and beat my forehead, if I locked my fingers together and clasped my knees, I did so because I willed it. But I could have willed this and yet not done it, if the motive power of my limbs had not made its response. Therefore I did many things in which to will was not the same as the ability to act. Yet I did not do that which I wanted to do with an incomparably greater desire, and could have done as soon as I willed to act, for immediately, when I made that act of will, I would have willed with efficacy. In such an act the power to act and the will itself are the same, and the very act of willing is actually to do the deed. Yet it was not done: it was easier for the body to obey the soul’s most feeble command, so that its members were moved at pleasure, than for the soul to obey itself and to accomplish its own high will wholly within the will.
THE TWO WILLS
(21) Whence comes this monstrous state?1 Why should it be? Let your mercy shine forth, and let me inquire, if perchance man’s hidden penalties and the darkest sufferings of the sons of Adam may be able to give me an answer. Whence comes this monstrous state? Why should it be? Mind commands body, and it obeys forthwith. Mind gives orders to itself, and it is resisted. Mind gives orders for the hand to move, and so easy is it that command can scarce be distinguished from execution. Yet mind is mind, while hand is body. Mind commands mind to will: there is no difference here, but it does not do so. Whence comes this monstrous state? Why should it be? I say that it commands itself to will a thing: it would not give this command unless it willed it, and yet it does not do what it wills.
It does not will it in its entirety: for this reason it does not give this command in its entirety. For it commands a thing only in so far as it wills it, and in so far as what it commands is not done, to that extent it does not will it. For the will commands that there be a will, and that this be itself, and not something else. But the complete will does not give the command, and therefore what it commands is not in being. For if it were a complete will, it would not command it to be, since the thing would already be in being. Therefore, it is no monstrous thing partly to will a thing and partly not to will it, but it is a sickness in the mind. Although it is supported by truth, it does not wholly rise up, since it is heavily encumbered by habit. Therefore there are two wills, since one of them is not complete, and what is lacking in one of them is present in the other.
MAN’S SINGLE NATURE
(22) Let them perish from before your face,1 O God, even as vain talkers and seducers2 of men’s minds perish who detect in the act of deliberation two wills at work, and then assert that in us there are two natures of two minds, one good, the other evil.3 They themselves are truly evil, when they think such evil things. They will become good, if they come to know true doctrines and assent to the truth, so that your apostle may say to them, “For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord.”4 But they wish to be light, not in the Lord, but in themselves, and they think the soul’s nature to be that which God is. Thus they are made into a deeper darkness, for in horrid pride they have turned back farther from you, from you who are “the true light which enlightens every man that comes into this world.”5 Take heed of what you say, and blush for shame, but “come to him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be confounded.”6
As for me, when I deliberated upon serving the Lord my God, as I had long planned to do, it was I myself who willed it and I myself who did not will it. It was I myself. I neither willed it completely, nor did I refrain completely from willing it. Therefore, I was at war within myself, and I was laid waste by myself. This devastation was made against my will indeed, and yet it revealed not the nature of a different mind within me, but rather the punishment of my own nature. Therefore, it is no more I that did it, but sin that dwells in me,7 sin that issues from punishment of a more voluntary sin, for I was Adam’s son.8
(23) If there are as many contrary natures as there are conflicting wills, there will now be not only two natures but many of them. If a man deliberates whether he should go to the Manicheans’ meeting place or to the theater, they cry out: “See, there are two natures: the good one draws him this way, while the evil one leads him back there! For whence else is this hesitation between the opposing wills?” I answer that both of them are evil, both that which draws him to them and that which draws him back to the theater. But they do not believe a will that leads to them to be anything but good. What results? If one of us debates with himself and wavers between two contending wills—whether he should go to the theater or to our church—must not those men likewise waver as to their answer? Either they will admit what they do not want to, viz., that he goes to our church out of a good will, as those who receive its sacraments and are obligated by them enter into it, or else they will suppose that two evil natures and two evil minds conflict within one man. But then what they are accustomed to say, that one nature is good and the other evil, will not be true. Or else they will be converted to the truth, and they will not deny that when a man deliberates, a single soul wavers between different wills.
(24) Therefore, when they perceive two conflicting wills within one man, let them no longer say that two contrary minds, deriving from two contrary substances and from two contrary principles, contend together, one good, the other evil. For you, the God of truth, condemn them, and contradict and refute them, as in cases where both wills are bad. For instance, a man deliberates whether he should murder another by poison or with a sword; whether he should seize this or that part of another man’s land, when he cannot take both; whether he should purchase pleasure out of lust or save his money out of avarice; whether he should go to the circus or to the theater, if both are showing on the same day. To this last I add a third choice, whether he should rob another man’s house, if he has the chance. And I add a fourth, whether he should commit adultery, if an opportunity opens up at the same time. Let us suppose that all these occur together at exactly the same time, and that all are equally desired but cannot be carried out simultaneously. They rend asunder the mind, with these four wills opposing one another, or even with many more, in accordance with the great range of things that are desired. Yet the Manichean are not accustomed to assert that there is such a great multitude of diverse substances.
So also with regard to wills that are good. I ask of them whether it is good to find delight in reading the apostle, whether it is good to take delight out of a sober psalm, whether it is good to discourse on the Gospel? To each of these questions they will answer, “It is good.” What now? If, therefore, all these offer delight at one and the same time, do not diverse wills perplex a man’s heart while it deliberates which thing we would seize upon before all others? All of them are good, but all strive with one another, until one is chosen, and there is fixed upon it a single complete will, whereas it had been divided into many wills. So also, when eternity above delights us and the pleasure found in a temporal good holds us fast from below, it is the same soul that wills this course or that, but not with its whole will. Therefore, it is rent asunder by grievous hurt as long as it prefers the first because of its truth but does not put away the other because of habit.
THE VOICE OF CONTINENCE
(25) Thus I was sick and tormented, and I upbraided myself much more bitterly than ever before.1 I twisted and turned in my chain, until it might be completely broken, although now I was scarcely held by it, but still held by it I was. Within the hidden depths of my soul, O Lord, you urged me on. By an austere mercy you redoubled the scourges2 of fear and shame, lest I should give in again, and lest that thin little remaining strand should not be broken through but should grow strong again and bind me yet more firmly.
Within myself I said: “Behold, let it be done now, now let it be done,” and by those words I was already moving on to a decision. By then I had almost made it, and yet I did not make it. Still, I did not slip back into my former ways, but close by I stood my ground and regained my breath. Again I tried, and I was but a little away from my goal, just a little away from it, and I all but reached it and laid hold of it. Yet I was not quite there, and I did not reach it, and I did not catch hold of it. I still hesitated to die to death and to live to life, for the ingrown worse had more power over me than the untried better. The nearer came that moment in time when I was to become something different, the greater terror did it strike into me. Yet it did not strike me back, nor did it turn me away, but it held me in suspense.
(26) My lovers of old, trifles of trifles and vanities of vanities,3 held me back. They plucked at my fleshly garment, and they whispered softly: “Do you cast us off?” and “From that moment we shall no more be with you forever and ever!” and again, “From that moment no longer will this thing and that be allowed to you, forever and ever!” What did they suggest by what I have called “this thing and that,” what, O my God, did they suggest? May your mercy turn away all that from your servant’s soul! What filth did they suggest! What deeds of shame! But now by far less than half did I hear them. For now it was not as if they were openly contradicting me, face to face, but as if they were muttering behind my back, and as if they were furtively picking at me as I left them, to make me look back again. Yet they did delay me, for I hesitated to tear myself away, and shake myself free of them, and leap over to that place where I was called to be. For an overpowering habit kept saying to me, “Do you think that you can live without them?”
(27) But now it asked this in a very feeble voice. For from that way in which I had set my face and where I trembled to pass, there appeared to me the chaste dignity of continence, serene and joyous, but in no wanton fashion, virtuously alluring, so that I would come to her and hesitate no longer. To lift me up and embrace me, she stretched forth her holy hands, filled with varied kinds of good examples. Many were the boys and girls, there too a host of youths, men and women of every age, grave widows and aged virgins, and in all these continence herself was in no wise barren but a fruitful mother4 of children, of joys born of you, O Lord, her spouse.
She smiled upon me with an enheartening mockery, as if to say: “Cannot you do what these youths and these maidens do? Or can these youths and these maidens do this of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand on yourself, and thus stand not at all? Cast yourself on him. Have no fear. He will not draw back and let you fall. Cast yourself trustfully on him: he will receive you and he will heal you.” I felt great shame, for I still heard the murmurings of those trifles, and still I delayed and hung there in suspense. Again she smiled, as if to say: “Turn deaf ears to those unclean members of yours upon the earth, so that they may be mortified. They tell you of delights, but not as does the law of the Lord your God.”5This debate within my heart was solely of myself against myself. But Alypius, standing close by my side, silently awaited the outcome of my strange emotion.
THE VOICE AS OF A CHILD
(28) But when deep reflection had dredged out of the secret recesses of my soul all my misery and heaped it up in full view of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, bringing with it a mighty downpour of tears. That I might pour it all forth with its own proper sounds, I arose from Alypius’s side—to be alone seemed more proper to this ordeal of weeping—and went farther apart, so that not even his presence would be a hindrance to me. Such was I at that moment, and he sensed it, for I suppose that I had said something in which the sound of my voice already appeared to be choked with weeping. So I had arisen, while he, in deep wonder, remained there where we were sitting. I flung myself down, how I do not know, under a certain fig tree, and gave free rein to my tears.1 The floods burst from my eyes, an acceptable sacrifice to you.2 Not indeed in these very words but to this effect I spoke many things to you: “And you, O Lord, how long?3 How long, O Lord, will you be angry forever?4 Remember not our past iniquities.”5 For I felt that I was held by them, and I gasped forth these mournful words, “How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not in this very hour an end to my uncleanness?”
(29) Such words I spoke, and with most bitter contrition I wept within my heart. And lo, I heard from a nearby house, a voice like that of a boy or a girl, I know not which, chanting and repeating over and over, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” Instantly, with altered countenance, I began to think most intently whether children made use of any such chant in some kind of game, but I could not recall hearing it anywhere. I checked the flow of my tears and got up, for I interpreted this solely as a command given to me by God to open the book and read the first chapter I should come upon. For I had heard how Anthony had been admonished by a reading from the Gospel at which he chanced to be present, as if the words read were addressed to him: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me,”6and that by such a portent he was immediately converted to you.
So I hurried back to the spot where Alypius was sitting, for I had put there the volume of the apostle when I got up and left him. I snatched it up, opened it, and read in silence the chapter on which my eyes first fell:7 “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in strife and envying; but put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.”8 No further wished I to read, nor was there need to do so. Instantly, in truth, at the end of this sentence, as if before a peaceful light streaming into my heart, all the dark shadows of doubt fled away.
(30) Then, having inserted my finger, or with some other mark, I closed the book, and, with a countenance now calm, I told it all to Alypius. What had taken place in him, which I did not know about, he then made known to me. He asked to see what I had read: I showed it to him, and he looked also at what came after what I had read for I did not know what followed. It was this that followed: “Now him that is weak in the faith take unto you,”9 which he applied to himself and disclosed to me. By this admonition he was strengthened, and by a good resolution and purpose, which were entirely in keeping with his character, wherein both for a long time and for the better he had greatly differed from me, he joined me without any painful hesitation.
Thereupon we went in to my mother; we told her the story, and she rejoiced. We related just how it happened. She was filled with exultation and triumph, and she blessed you, “who are able to do above that which we ask or think.”10 She saw that through me you had given her far more than she had long begged for by her piteous tears and groans. For you had converted me to yourself, so that I would seek neither wife nor ambition in this world, for I would stand on that rule of faith where, so many years before, you had showed me to her.11 You turned her mourning into a joy12far richer than that she had desired, far dearer and purer than that she had sought in grandchildren born of my flesh.13