A SOUL SET FREE
(1) “O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant and the son of your handmaid. You have broken my bonds: I will sacrifice to you the sacrifice of praise.”1 Grant that my heart and my tongue may praise you. Grant that all my bones may say, “Lord who is like unto you?”2 Grant that they may speak, and deign to answer me and “say to my soul: I am your salvation.”3
Who am I, and what am I? Is there any evil that is not found in my acts, or if not in my acts, in my words, or if not in my words, in my will? But you, O Lord, are good and merciful, and your right hand has had regard for the depth of my death, and from the very bottom of my heart it has emptied out an abyss of corruption. This was the sum of it: not to will what I willed and to will what you willed.
But throughout these long years where was my free will? Out of what deep and hidden pit was it called forth in a single moment, wherein to bend my neck to your mild yoke and my shoulders to your light burden,4 O Christ Jesus,5 “my helper and my redeemer?”6 How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be free of the sweets of folly: things that I once feared to lose it was now joy to put away. You cast them forth from me, you the true and highest sweetness, you cast them forth, and in their stead you entered in, sweeter than every pleasure, but not to flesh and blood, brighter than every light, but deeper within me than any secret retreat, higher than every honor, but not to those who exalt themselves. Now was my mind free from the gnawing cares of favor-seeking, of striving for gain, of wallowing in the mire, and of scratching lust’s itchy sore. I spoke like a child to you, my light, my wealth, my salvation, my Lord God.
END OF A WORLDLY CAREER
(2) In your sight I resolved not to make a boisterous break, but gently to withdraw the service of my tongue from the language marts. Thus youths who did not meditate on your law,1 or on your peace, but on foolish lies and court quarrels, would no longer pry from my mouth weapons for their madness. Happily, very few days still remained before the vintage vacation.2 I resolved to endure them, so that I might leave in correct fashion, and, since I had now been ransomed by you, not to put myself up for sale again. Hence our plan was known to you, but it was not known to men, with the exception of our friends. We had agreed among ourselves, that it should not be spread everywhere, even though to us who were now mounting up from the vale of tears3 and were singing a gradual canticle4 you had given sharp arrows and consuming coals against a deceitful tongue.5 For such a tongue, while seeming to counsel us, would oppose us, and out of fondness would devour us, as it does its food.
(3) Your love pierced our heart like an arrow,6 and we bore within us your words, transfixing our inmost parts. The examples set by your servants, whom you had turned from black to shining bright, and from death to life, brought together in the bosom of our thought, set fire to our heavy torpor and burned it away, so that we would not turn towards lower things. So strong a fire did they enkindle in us that all the hostile blasts from deceitful tongues would only inflame us more fiercely and not put out that fire.
But truly for your name’s sake, which you have hallowed throughout the earth, our vow and our resolution might even find men to give them praise. Therefore, it seemed like outward show if we would not wait for the vacation time that was now so near, but would leave early a public profession, practiced before the eyes of all men. The result would be that all who regarded my act and noted how close was that day of the vintage holidays which I wished to anticipate, would do a great deal of talking, to the effect that I wanted to look like a big man. Further, what would it have profited me for them to think and argue about my state of mind and “for our good to be evil spoken of?”7
(4) Moreover, it happened that in that very summer, because of too much literary work, my lungs had begun to weaken and it was difficult for me to breathe deeply. By pains in my chest they showed that they were injured, and it was impossible to make clear or extended use of my voice. This fact first disturbed me, as it was forcing me almost of necessity to put down my burden of teaching, or surely, to interrupt it, even if I were to be cured and recover. But when a complete will to remain still and see that you are the Lord8 arose and was made firm in me—you know all this, my God—I even began to be glad that this not untrue excuse was at hand. It would lessen the opposition of men who, for the sake of their freeborn sons, were willing that I should never be free. Full of such joy, then, I endured that space of time until it had run its course—whether there were twenty days I am not sure—yet they were endured by sheer strength. The desire for profit, by which I used to bear this heavy trial, was gone from me, and I would have continued in it completely crushed if patience had not succeeded to it. Some of your servants, my brethren, may say that I sinned in this matter, in that, with a heart now completely in your service, I allowed myself to sit for even a single hour in that chair of lies. I do not debate with them on this. But have not you, most merciful Lord, by your sacred waters pardoned and wiped away this sin along with my other horrid and deadly deeds?
CONVERSION AND DEATH OF VERECUNDUS AND NEBRIDIUS
(5) At the time this boon was granted to us, Verecundus was tortured with anxiety. Because of bonds by which he was most strictly held, he perceived that he would be bereft of our companionship. Not yet a Christian, but with a wife who was one of the faithful, he was held back from the path we were entering upon, by fetters more binding than any of the others. Nor would he be a Christian, he said, under any other condition than that which was impossible to him. However, he graciously allowed us to live in his house as long as we wished to remain there. Lord, you will reward him with the reward of the just, for you have already rewarded him with their lot. Although we were absent, for by then we were in Rome, he was seized by bodily illness and during it he became a Christian and one of the faithful, and he departed from this life. So you had mercy not only on him but also on us. For if we thought of this friend’s outstanding courtesy to us, and yet could not count him within your flock, we should have been tormented by unbearable grief. Thanks be to you, our God! We are yours. Your encouragement and your consolation have told us so. Faithful to your promises, in return for that country place of his at Cassiciacum,1 where far from the madding world we found rest in you, you gave to Verecundus delights in your paradise that are eternally fresh, for you forgave him his sins upon earth,2 in that mountain flowing with milk, your mountain, that richest mountain.3
(6) Therefore, at that time he was in anguish, but Nebridius rejoiced with us. Although he too was not yet a Christian and had fallen into that pit of most pernicious error, wherein he believed that the flesh of your Son, truth itself, was but a phantasm, yet he had emerged from it. He was thus placed: he had not as yet received any of your Church’s sacraments, but he was a most ardent searcher for the truth. This man, not long after our conversion and regeneration by your baptism, also became a faithful Catholic and served you in perfect chastity and continence among his own people in Africa, for his whole household through him became Christian, and you freed him from the flesh. Now he lives in Abraham’s bosom.4 Whatever is that abode signified by the word “bosom,” in it lives my Nebridius, my sweet friend, who from a freedman became your adopted son. There he lives. What other place is there for such a soul? There he lives, in that place of which he asked so many questions of me, a poor, ignorant man. No longer does he put his ear to my mouth, but he puts his spiritual mouth to your fountain, and in accordance with his desire he drinks in wisdom, as much as he can, endlessly happy. Nor do I think that he is so inebriated by that fountain of wisdom as to become forgetful of me, for you, O Lord, of whom he drinks, are mindful of us.
Such, then, were we. We consoled Verecundus, saddened because of our conversion, but with his friendship kept whole, and we exhorted him to accept the faith in his own station, namely, in married life. We looked forward to when Nebridius would follow us. The time when he would do so was near at hand, and now he was about to do it, for lo, those days rolled by at length. Many and long they seemed to be, because of my desire for liberty and leisure in which to sing to you out of my very marrow: “My heart has said to you: I have sought your face: your face, O Lord, will I require.”5
(7) The day came when I was actually set free from teaching rhetoric, although I had already been free from it in thought. Now it was done. You set free my tongue, as you had already freed my heart from that profession. I blessed you, and joyfully, together with all my household,1 I started out for that country place. As to what I did there by way of literary work, which was already in your service, although during this period as it were of rest it still breathed forth the school of pride, my books bear witness, both the ones that resulted from discussion with those present there2 and the ones made by myself alone before you.3 Letters record what things I discussed with Nebridius, who was absent.4 But when will there be time enough for me to commemorate all the great benefits that you showed to us at that time, especially since I now hasten on to other still greater benefits? For my memory calls me back, and it becomes sweet to me, O Lord, to confess to you by what inward goads you mastered me, and how you leveled me down by making low the mountains and the hills5 of my thoughts, how you made straight my crooked paths and smoothed the rough, and how you likewise subdued my heart’s brother, Alypius himself, to the name of your Only-begotten, “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”6 For at first he disdained to put that name into our writings,7 but wished rather to have them smell of those cedars of the schools which the Lord had now broken down,8 than of those healthful herbs which the Church provides against serpents.
(8) What cries did I send up to you, my God, when I read the psalms of David, those canticles of faith, those songs of devotion, which exclude a boastful mind, I who was but an uncouth beginner in your faithful love, a catechumen, having a season of rest in that country place, together with Alypius, another catechumen, and my mother, in a woman’s garb but with a man’s faith, clinging to us with an aged woman’s sure trust, a mother’s love, and a Christian’s devotion! What cries did I send up to you when reading those psalms! How was I set on fire for you by them and how did I burn to repeat them, if I but could, throughout the whole world against mankind’s pride! Yet they are sung through the whole world, and “there is no one that can hide himself from your heat.”9 With what strong and bitter sorrow did I wax angry at the Manicheans, yet I had pity on them again, because they did not know of those sacraments, those medicines, and raged madly against the antidote by which they could become sane! I wish that they had been somewhere near me at that time, while I did not know that they were there, so that they could see my face and hear my voice as I read Psalm 4 at that time of rest, and perceive what that psalm wrought within me. “When I called upon you, you heard me, O God of my justice! when I was in distress, you have enlarged me. Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.”10 Would that they could have heard me, while I did not know that they heard me, so that they would not think that I said for their benefit the things that I uttered along with the words of the psalm. For in truth I would not say those same words, nor would I say them in the same way, if I knew that I was being heard and seen by them. Even if I said them, they would not understand them in the way that I spoke them in your presence, by myself and to myself out of the closest feelings of my mind.
(9) I shook with fear, and at the same time I grew ardent with hope and exultation in your mercy,11 O Father. All these things issued from my eyes and my voice when your good Spirit turned towards us and said to us: “O you sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart? Why do you love vanity, and seek after lying?”12 For I had loved vanity and I had sought after lying. But you, O Lord, had already made your holy one great,13 raising him from the dead, and setting him at your right hand,14 from where he shall send from on high his promise, the Paraclete, the spirit of truth.15 He had already sent him, but I did not know it. He had sent him, because he had already been made great, rising from the dead and ascending into heaven. But before that, “as yet the Spirit was not given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”16 And the prophet cried out: “How long will you be dull of heart? Why do you love vanity, and seek after lying?” And, “Know you that the Lord has made great his holy one.”17 He cries out, “How long,” he cries out, “Know you,” but for so long a time I did not know, and I loved vanity, and I sought after lying. Therefore, I heard and I trembled, because this was said to such men as I remembered myself to have been. For in those phantoms which I had held for truth there were vanity and lying, and grievously and strongly did I utter many things in my sorrowful remembrance. Would that they who still love vanity and seek after lying could have heard these things. Perchance they would have been troubled and would have vomited it all forth, and you would have heard them when they cried out to you. For by a true death in the flesh did he die for us, “who makes intercession for us with you.”18
(10) I read on: “Be angry, and sin not.”19 How moved was I, my God, for I had now learned to be angry at myself for my past deeds, so that I would not sin in the future. With justice was I angry, for it was not another nature belonging to a race of darkness that sinned in me, as say those who do not grow angry at themselves, and thus treasure up for themselves “wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of your just judgment!”20 Now my good things were not in the outward world, nor were they sought with fleshly eyes under that outward sun. For those who wish to find joy in outward things quickly grow vain and spend themselves on the things that are seen and are temporal. In their hungry thoughts they lick the images of these things. Oh, if they would only grow weary of their hunger, and say, “Who will show us good things?”21 Then we would say, and then they would hear, “The light of your countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us,”22 for we are not “the light that enlightens every man,”23 but we are enlightened by you, so that we who were heretofore darkness may be light in you.24 Oh, if they would only see that inner eternal light, which I had tasted. I was sore grieved because I was not able to show it to them, even if they brought me their heart in those eyes of theirs that looked away from you, and if they said, “Who will show us good things?”
For there, within my chamber, where I was angry with myself, where I suffered compunction, where I made sacrifice, slaying my old self and, with initial meditations on my own renewal of life, hoping in you, there you began to grow sweet to me, and you joy to my heart.”25 I cried out, as I read those things outwardly and found them within myself. Nor did I wish to have earthly things made manifold for me, thus consuming time away and being consumed by time. For in your eternal simplicity I would possess other “corn, and wine, and oil.”26
(11) At the next verse I cried out with a deep cry from my heart, “Oh, in peace, oh, in the Selfsame!”27 Oh, why did he say: “I will fall asleep and I will take my sleep?”28 For who will hinder us when there “shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ”29You are surpassingly the Selfsame,30 you who change not, and in you there is rest, forgetful of all labor. For there is none other with you. Nor have you fashioned me to seek after those many other things, which are not what you are, but “you, O Lord, singularly have settled me in hope.”31This I read, and I burned with ardor, but I did not find what I should do for those deaf and dead, among whom I once had been, a diseased thing, a blind and bitter yapper against those writings which are honied over with the honey of heaven, which are luminous with your light,32 and I wasted away because of the enemies of this Scripture.33
(12) When shall I recall to mind all the things of those days of rest? I have not forgotten, nor will I keep silent concerning the sharpness of your scourge and the wonderful speed of your mercy. At that time you tortured me with pain in my teeth, and when it became so grievous that I could not speak, there rose up in my heart the thought of urging all my friends there present to beseech you, the God of every kind of health, in my behalf. I wrote this on wax and gave it to them to read. Immediately, when we bent our knees in devout supplication, that pain fled away. But what kind of pain was it? How did it flee away? I admit to you, my Lord, my God,34 that I was terrified. For from the first years of my life I had never felt such pain.35 Your decrees wound their way into the depths of my being: I rejoiced in the faith and I gave praise to your name. Nor did that faith let me be without care because of my past sins, for they had not yet been forgiven to me through your baptism.
RESIGNATION OF A PROFESSORSHIP
(13) When the vintage vacation was ended, I sent word to the citizens of Milan that they should arrange for another seller of words for their students. This was both because I had chosen to serve you and because I was no longer equal to that profession by reason of difficulty in breathing and the pain in my chest. By letters I made known to your bishop, Ambrose, that holy man, both my former errors and my present intention, so that he could advise me as to which of your books it would be best for me to read, to the end that I would become more prepared and better fitted to receive so great a grace. He recommended the prophet Isaias: I believe it was because he is a more manifest prophet of the gospel and of the calling of the Gentiles than are the other writers. But in fact I did not understand the first lesson in this book, and thinking the whole work to be similar, I put it aside to be taken up again when I was better accustomed to the Lord’s mode of speech.
BAPTISM, EASTER 387
(14) When the time arrived for me to give in my name,1 we left the country and returned to Milan.2 Alypius likewise resolved to be born again in you, in company with me, for he was now clothed with that humility which befits your sacraments. Valiantly had he brought his body into subjection, even to the point that, with unusual daring, he would tread the icy Italian ground with bare feet. We also joined to ourselves the boy Adeodatus, born of me in the flesh out of my sin. Well had you made him: he was almost fifteen years old, and in power of mind he surpassed many grave and learned men. O Lord my God, creator of all things and most powerful to reform our deformities, to you do I confess your gifts. For in that boy I owned nothing but the sin. That he was brought up by us in your discipline, to that you and none other inspired us. Your gifts I confess to you. There is one of our books which is entitled On the Teacher,3 and in it he speaks with me. You know that his are all the ideas which are inserted there, as from the person of the one talking with me, when he was in his sixteenth year. I had experience of many still more wonderful things in him. To me his power of mind was a source of awe. Who except you is the worker of such marvels?
Quickly you took his life away from the earth,4 and now I remember him with a more peaceful mind, for I have no fear for anything in his childhood or youth, and none at all for him as a man. We joined him to us, of equal age in your grace, to be instructed in your discipline. We were baptized,5 and anxiety over our past life fled away from us. In those days I could not take my fill of meditating with wondrous sweetness on the depths of your counsel concerning the salvation of mankind. How greatly did I weep during hymns and canticles, keenly affected by the voices of your sweet-singing Church! Those voices flowed into my ears, and your truth was distilled into my heart, and from that truth holy emotions overflowed, and the tears ran down, and amid those tears all was well with me.
SAINTS GERVASE AND PROTASE
(15) The Church in Milan had not long before begun to worship with this form of consolation and exhortation, wherein with great fervor the brethren sing together in voice and heart. For it was only a year, or not much more, since Justina, the mother of the boy king,1 Valentinian, had persecuted your man Ambrose in favor of her heresy, to which she had been seduced by the Arians.2 A devout people, who were prepared to suffer death together with their bishop, your servant, kept watch in the church. Therein, living in prayer, my mother, your handmaid, held a first place amid these cares and watchings. Ourselves, still cold to the warmth of your Spirit, were nevertheless stirred by the astonished and disturbed city. At that time it was established that, after the custom of the Eastern lands, hymns and canticles should be sung, so that the people would not become weak through the tedium and sorrow. From then up to the present day that custom has been maintained, with many, or almost all, of your congregations taking it up throughout other parts of the world.
(16) At that same time you revealed by a vision to your aforenamed prelate the place in which the bodies of the martyrs Protase and Gervase3 lay hidden, which for so many years you had stored away uncorrupted in your secret treasure house. In due time you would bring them forth from that place so as to restrain the mad rage of a woman, yes, a woman of royal rank. When they were discovered and dug up, and with fitting honors transferred into the Ambrosian basilica, not only were those tormented by unclean spirits healed, while those same demons confessed themselves, but also a certain citizen,4 very well known throughout the city, who had been blind for many years, asked and heard the reason for the people’s joy and tumult, and then leaped up and demanded that his guide lead him thither. Brought there, he begged to be admitted so that he might touch the bier with his handkerchief, for precious in your sight is the death of your saints.5 When he had done this and touched the cloth to his eyes, they were immediately opened. From that place the story spread abroad. From there, your praises grew bright and shone forth. From there, the mind of that hostile woman, although not turned to sound belief, was yet restrained from the fury of persecution. “Thanks be to you, my God.”6 Whence and whither have you led my recollection so that I confess also these things to you, mighty deeds that I had almost passed over in forgetfulness? Yet even then, when the odor of your ointments was so fragrant, we did not run after you.7Therefore, I wept the more at the singing of your hymns. For long had I sighed after you, and at length I breathed in you, as far as breath may enter into this house of grass.8
(17) You “who make men to dwell of one mind in a house,”1 joined with us Evodius,2 a young man of our own city, who had served as a special agent. He had been converted to you before we were, and he had been baptized. Having given up his secular service, he girded himself for yours. We were together, and we planned to dwell together in our holy resolution. We made investigations as to what place would be best fitted to us for your service, and together we were returning back to Africa.3 When we were at Ostia on the Tiber, my mother died.4
I omit many things, as I am making great haste. Accept my confessions and acts of thanksgiving, O my God, for countless things, even those I pass over in silence. But I will not pass over whatever my soul brings to birth concerning that handmaiden of yours, who brought me to birth, both in her flesh, so that I was born into this temporal light, and in her heart, that I might be born into eternal light. Not of her gifts, but of your gifts in her, will I speak. She neither made herself nor did she educate herself: you created her. Neither her father nor her mother knew what sort of woman would be made from them. The rod of your Christ, the rule of your only Son, in a faithful home, in a good member of your Church, instructed her “in your fear.”5 But for her training she was wont to praise not so much her mother’s diligence as that of a certain age-worn maidservant who had carried her father about when he was an infant, as little ones are usually carried on the backs of older girls. Because of this service and because of her advanced age and excellent habits, she was held in high esteem by the masters of a Christian house. For these reasons also she was put in charge of her master’s daughters and she took diligent care of them. When necessary, she restrained them strictly with a holy severity, and she taught them with prudence and sobriety. Outside the hours when they were properly fed at their parents’ table, she did not permit them to drink water, even though they were parched with thirst. She thus forestalled a bad habit, and she added these sound words: “You drink water now, because you cannot get at the wine. When you come to be married, and are made mistresses of storerooms and cellars, water will be distasteful to you, but the habit of drinking will persist.” By this form of teaching and by her authority to give orders, she restrained the greediness of their tender age and turned the girls’ thirst towards a virtuous moderation, so that even then they would not want to do what they should not do.
(18) Nevertheless, there crept on her, as your handmaid told me, her son, there crept on her a love of wine. For when her parents, according to custom, ordered her as a sober girl to fetch wine out of the cask, she would dip a cup into the opening at the top before she poured the wine into a pitcher. Then she would take just a little sip with the tip of her lips, since the taste kept her from taking more. She did this not out of a desire for drink, but from a sort of excess of those youthful spirits which blow off in absurd actions and which parental firmness usually suppresses in our childhood years. Thus by adding to that daily little bit each day another little bit—for “he who contemns small things falls by little and little”6—she had fallen into the habit of greedily drinking her little cups almost full up with wine. Where then was the wise old woman, and where was her stern prohibition? Did anything avail against a secret disease, Lord, unless your medicine kept watch over us?7 Father and mother and protectors are absent, yet you are present, you who have created us, who have called us, who work good towards the salvation of souls even through men placed over us. My God, what did you do at that time? How did you cure her? Whence did you heal her? Was it not that you brought out of another soul, a hard and sharp reproach, like a surgeon’s knife out of your secret stores, and by one stroke you cut away all that foul matter? A maidservant, with whom she used to go down to the cellar, quarreled with her little mistress, the two being all alone, as it so happened. She threw this fault at her with most bitter insults, and called her a winebibber. Wounded through and through by this taunt, she beheld her own foul state, and immediately condemned it and cast it off. Just as fawning friends pervert us, so also quarrelsome enemies often correct us. Yet you repay them, not according to what you did through them, but according to what they themselves had a will to do. For that wrathful servant desired to provoke her little mistress, not to cure her. Therefore, she did this in private, either because the time and place of the quarrel so found them or perhaps because she was afraid that she would get into trouble for reporting it so late. But you, O Lord, ruler of things in heaven and on earth, who turn to your uses the deeps of the torrent, and give order to the turbulent flood of the ages, by means of madness in one soul you even heal another. This is to the end that no man who observes this may attribute it to his own powers, when some other man, whom he wishes to correct, is corrected by his words.
MONICA, WIFE OF PATRICIUS
(19) Brought up modestly and soberly in this manner, and made subject by you to her parents rather than by her parents to you, when she arrived at a marriageable age, she was given to a husband and served “him as her lord.”1 She strove to win him to you,2speaking to him about you through her conduct, by which you made her beautiful, an object of reverent love, and a source of admiration to her husband. She endured offenses against her marriage bed in such wise that she never had a quarrel with her husband over this matter. She looked forward to seeing your mercy upon him, so that he would believe in you and be made chaste. But in addition to this, just as he was remarkable for kindness, so also was he given to violent anger. However, she had learned to avoid resisting her husband when he was angry, not only by deeds but even by words. When she saw that he had curbed his anger and become calm and that the time was opportune, then she explained what she had done, if he happened to have been inadvertently disturbed.
In fine, when many wives, who had better-tempered husbands but yet bore upon their faces signs of disgraceful beatings, in the course of friendly conversation criticized their husbands’ conduct, she would blame it all on their tongues. Thus she would give them serious advice in the guise of a joke. From the time, she said, they heard what are termed marriage contracts read to them, they should regard those documents as legal instruments making them slaves. Hence, being mindful of their condition, they should not rise up in pride against their lords. Women who knew what a sharp-tempered husband she had to put up with marveled that it was never reported or revealed by any sign that Patricius3 had beaten his wife or that they had differed with one another in a family quarrel, even for a single day. When they asked her confidentially why this was so, she told them of her policy, which I have described above. Those who acted upon it, found it to be good advice and were thankful for it; those who did not act upon it, were kept down and abused.
(20) By her good services and by perseverance in patience and meekness, she also won over her mother-in-law who at first was stirred up against her by the whispered stories of malicious servants. She told her son about the meddling tongues of the servants, by which peace within the house had been disturbed between herself and her daughter-in-law, and asked him to punish them. Afterwards, both to obey his mother and to improve discipline within his household and promote peace among its members, he punished by whippings the servants who had been exposed, in accordance with the advice of her who had exposed them. Afterwards she promised that the same reward might be expected by whoever tried to please her by telling any evil tale about her daughter-in-law. Since nobody thereafter dared to do this, they lived together with extraordinary harmony and good will.
(21) Moreover, upon that good handmaiden of yours, in whose womb you created me, “my God, my mercy,”4 you bestowed this great gift: wherever she could, she showed herself to be a great peacemaker between persons who were at odds and in disagreement. When she heard from either side many very bitter things, like something a swollen, undigested discord often vomits up, when a rough mass of hatred is belched out in biting talk to a present friend about an absent enemy, she would never betray a thing to either of them about the other except what would help towards their reconciliation. This might have seemed a small thing to me, if from sad experience I had not known unnumbered throngs who, through some kind of horrid wide-spreading sinful infection, not only report the words of angry enemies to angry enemies, but even add things they did not say. On the contrary, to a man who is a man it should be a little thing not to stir up or increase men’s enmities by evil speaking, or else he even strives to extinguish them by speaking well of others. Such was she, and she had you as her inward teacher in the school of her heart.
(22) Finally, towards the very end of his earthly life, she gained her husband for you. After he became one of the faithful, she did not have to complain of what she had endured from him when he was not yet a believer. She was also a servant of your servants.5Whosoever among them knew her greatly praised you, and honored you, and loved you in her, because they recognized your presence in her heart, for the fruit of her holy life bore witness to this. She had been the wife of one husband; she repaid the duty she owed to her parents; she had governed her house piously; she had testimony for her good works;6 she had brought up children, being as often in labor in birth of them7 as she saw them straying from you. Lastly, Lord, of all of us, your servants—for out of your gift you permit us to speak—who, before she fell asleep8 in you already lived together, having received the graces of your baptism, she took care as though she had been mother to us all, and she served us as though she had been a daughter to all of us.
THE VISION AT OSTIA
(23) With the approach of that day on which she was to depart from this life, a day that you knew, although it was unknown to us, it came about, as you yourself ordered it, so I believe, in your secret ways, that she and I stood leaning out from a certain window, where we could look into the garden within the house we had taken at Ostia on the Tiber, where, removed from crowds, we were resting up, after the hardships of a long journey, in preparation for the voyage. We were alone, conversing together most tenderly, “forgetting those things that are behind, and stretching forth to those that are before.”1 We inquired of one another “in the present truth,”2 which truth you are, as to what the eternal life of the saints would be like, “which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of a man.”3 But we were straining out with the heart’s mouth for those supernal streams flowing from your fountain, “the fountain of life,” which is “with you,”4 so that, being sprinkled with it according to our capacity, we might in some measure think upon so great a subject.
(24) When our discourse had been brought to the point that the highest delight of fleshly senses, in the brightest corporeal light, when set against the sweetness of that life seemed unworthy not merely of comparison with it, but even of remembrance, then, raising ourselves up with a more ardent love to the Selfsame, we proceeded step by step through all bodily things up to that heaven whence shine the sun and the moon and the stars down upon the earth. We ascended higher yet by means of inward thought and discourse and admiration of your works, and we came up to our own minds. We transcended them, so that we attained to the region of abundance that never fails,5 in which you feed Israel6 forever upon the food of truth, and where life is that Wisdom by which all these things are made, both which have been and which are to be. And this Wisdom itself is not made, but it is such as it was, and so it will be forever. Nay, rather, to have been and to be in the future do not belong to it, but only to be, for it is eternal. And while we discourse of this and pant after it, we attain to it in a slight degree by an effort of our whole heart. And we sighed for it, and we left behind, bound to it, “the first-fruits of the spirit,”7 and we turned back again to the noise of our mouths, where a word both begins and ends. But what is there like to your Word, our Lord, remaining in himself without growing old, and yet renewing all things?8
(25) Therefore we said: If for any man the tumult of the flesh fell silent, silent the images of earth, and of the waters, and of the air; silent the heavens; silent for him the very soul itself, and he should pass beyond himself by not thinking upon himself; silent his dreams and all imagined appearances, and every tongue, and every sign; and if all things that come to be through change should become wholly silent to him—for if any man can hear, then all these things say to him, “We did not make ourselves,”9 but he who endures forever made us10—if when they have said these words, they then become silent, for they have raised up his ear to him who made them, and God alone speaks, not through such things but through himself, so that we hear his Word, not uttered by a tongue of flesh, nor by an angel’s voice,11 “nor by the sound of thunder,”12 nor by the riddle of a similitude,13 but by himself whom we love in these things, himself we hear without their aid,—even as we then reached out and in swift thought attained to that eternal Wisdom which abides over all things—if this could be prolonged, and other visions of a far inferior kind could be withdrawn, and this one alone ravish, and absorb, and hide away its beholder within its deepest joys, so that sempiternal life might be such as was that moment of understanding for which we sighed, would it not be this: “Enter into the joy of your Lord?”14 When shall this be? When “we shall all rise again, but we shall not all be changed.”15
(26) Such things I said, although not in this manner and in these words. Yet, O Lord, you know that on that day when we were speaking of such things, and this world with all its delights became contemptible to us in the course of our words, my mother said: “Son, for my own part, I now find no delight in anything in this life. What I can still do here, and why I am here, I do not know, now that all my hopes in this world have been accomplished. One thing there was, for which I desired to linger a little while in this life, that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. God has granted this to me in more than abundance, for I see you his servant, with even earthly happiness held in contempt. What am I doing here?”
THE DEATH OF ST. MONICA
(27) What I said to her in answer to this I do not entirely recall, for scarcely five days later, or not much more, she fell sick of fever. One day, as she lay ill, she lost consciousness and for a little while she was withdrawn from all present things. We rushed to her, but she quickly regained her senses. She looked at me and my brother as we stood there, and said to us, after the manner of one seeking something, “Where was I?” Then, gazing at us who were struck dumb with grief, she said, “Here you put your mother.”1 I remained silent and stopped my weeping. But my brother said, as if wishing a happier lot for her, that she should die not in a foreign land but in her own country. When she heard this, she stared reproachfully at him with an anxious countenance, because he was concerned about such things. Then she looked at me and said, “See what he says!” Presently she said to both of us: “Put this body away anywhere. Don’t let care about it disturb you. I ask only this of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord, whereever you may be.” When she had expressed this wish in what words she could manage, she fell silent and was racked with increasing sickness.
(28) I thought of your gifts, O God unseen,2 which you instill into the hearts of your faithful and from which come wonderful fruits, and I rejoiced and gave thanks to you. I recalled what I already knew, how concerned she had always felt over her burial place, which she had arranged and prepared for herself next to her husband’s body. They had lived together in great harmony, and hence she wished—so little is the human mind able to grasp the things of God—this too to be added to her happiness and remembered by men: that after a journey across the sea it had been granted to her that the earth of the two wedded ones have a joint covering of earth.
At what time, out of the fullness of your bounty, this vain wish began to fade from her heart I do not know. I marveled and rejoiced over the fact that she had thus revealed it to me, although in our conversation at the window, when she said, “What do I still do here?” it did not appear that she wanted to die in her native land. I also heard later on that already, while we were at Ostia, one day when I was absent, she talked with a mother’s confidence to certain friends of mine about contempt of this life and the advantages of death. They were amazed at the woman’s strength, which you had given to her, and asked if she did not fear leaving her body so far from her own city. She replied, “Nothing is far from God. I need not fear that he will not know where to raise me up at the end of the world.”
So, on the ninth day of her illness, in the fifty-sixth year of her life and in the thirty-third year of mine, this devout and holy soul was set loose from the body.
MONICA’S BURIAL; AUGUSTINE’S GRIEF
(29) I closed her eyes, and a mighty sorrow welled up from the depths of my heart and overflowed into tears. At the same time, by a powerful command of my mind, my eyes drank up their source until it was dry. Most ill was it with me in such an agony! When she breathed her last, the boy Adeodatus burst out in lamentation, but he was hushed by all of us and fell silent. In like manner, something childish in me, which was slipping forth in tears, was by a youthful voice, my heart’s own voice, checked, and it grew silent. We did not think it fitting to solemnize that funeral with tearful cries and groans, for it is often the custom to bewail by such means the wretched lot of those who die, or even their complete extinction. But she did not die in misery, nor did she meet with total death.1 This we knew by sure evidence and proofs given by her good life and by her “unfeigned faith.”2
(30) What was it, therefore, that grieved me so heavily, if not the fresh wound wrought by the sudden rupture of our most sweet and dear way of life together? I took joy indeed from her testimony, when in that last illness she mingled her endearments with my dutiful deeds and called me a good son. With great love and affection she recalled that she had never heard me speak a harsh or disrespectful word to her. Yet, O my God who made us! what comparison was there between the honor she had from me and the services that she rendered to me? When I was bereft of such great consolation, my heart was wounded through and my life was as if ripped asunder. For out of her life and mine one life had been made.
(31) After the boy had been stopped from weeping, Evodius took up the psalter and began to sing a psalm. The whole household answered him in the psalm, “I will sing of mercy and judgment unto you, O Lord.”3 When they heard what had happened, many of the brethren and devout women gathered there. According to custom, those whose duty it was made ready the burial. At the same time, in that part of the house where I could do so, I discussed a subject suitable to such a time with those who thought that I should not be left alone. By so true a salve I soothed a torment known to me alone. The others knew nothing of it; they listened attentively to me, and they thought that I was free from all sense of sorrow. But in your ears, where none of them could hear, I upbraided the weakness of my affection, and I held back the flood of sorrow. It gave way a little before me, but I was again swept away by its violence, although not as far as to burst into tears, nor to any change of expression. But I knew what it was I crushed down within my heart. Because it distressed me greatly that these human feelings had such sway over me, for this needs must be according to due order and our allotted state, I sorrowed over my sorrow with an added sorrow,4 and I was torn by a twofold sadness.
(32) Lo, when her body was carried away, we went out,5 and we returned without tears. Not even in those prayers we poured forth to you when the sacrifice of our redemption was offered up in her behalf, with the corpse already placed beside the grave before being lowered into it, as is the custom of that place,6 not even during those prayers did I shed tears. But all day long in secret, heavy was my sorrow, and with a troubled mind I besought you as best I could to heal my anguish. You did not do so, and it was, I think, to impress upon my memory by this one lesson how strong is the bond of any habit, even upon a mind that no longer feeds upon deceptive words. I also thought it good to go and bathe, as I had heard that the baths (balnea) are so-called because the Greeks say , meaning that it drives anxiety from the mind. See, O Father of orphans, this fact too do I confess to your mercy, for after I had bathed I was the same as before I bathed. Bitter grief did not pour like sweat out of my heart. But then I slept, and I woke up, and I found that my sorrow had in no small part been eased. As I lay alone on my bed, I remembered those truthful verses of your own Ambrose. For you are
God, creator of all things, ruler of the sky,
Who clothe the day with beauteous light, the night with grateful sleep,
That rest may weakened limbs restore for labor’s needs,
And ease our weary minds, and free our worried hearts from grief.
(33) Little by little, I regained my former thoughts about your handmaid, about the devout life she led in you, about her sweet and holy care for us, of which I was so suddenly deprived. I took comfort in weeping in your sight over her and for her, over myself and for myself. I gave way to the tears that I had held back, so that they poured forth as much as they wished. I spread them beneath my heart, and it rested upon them, for at my heart were placed your ears, not the ears of a mere man, who would interpret with scorn my weeping.
Now, Lord, I confess to you in writing. Let him read it who wants to, let him interpret it as he wants. If he finds a sin in it, that I wept for my mother for a small part of an hour, for that mother now dead to my eyes who for so many years had wept for me so that I might live in your eyes, let him not laugh me to scorn. But rather, if he is a man of large charity, let him weep over my sins before you, the Father of all brothers of your Christ.
REMEMBRANCE IN PRAYER
(34) But now, with a heart healed from that wound, for which afterwards I blamed my merely natural feelings, I pour out to you, our God, in behalf of her who was your handmaid, a far different kind of tears. These tears flow from a spirit shaken by thought of the dangers besetting every soul “that dies in Adam.” She had been made to live in Christ1 even while not yet released from the flesh, and she had so lived as to give praise of your name by her faith and conduct. Still, I dare not say that from the time you regenerated her by baptism no word had issued from her mouth contrary to your commandment. By the Truth, your Son, it has been said, “Whosoever shall say to his brother, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”2 Woe even to such life of men as can be praised if you should set aside mercy and examine that life carefully.3 But because you are not rigorous in searching out sins, we confidently hope to find a place with you. Yet if a man numbers his true merits before you, what else does he number before you except your own gifts? Ah, if men would know themselves to be but men, and if he who glories would glory in the Lord.4
(35) Therefore, O my praise5 and my life, O God of my heart,6 I put aside for a while her good deeds, for which I give thanks to you with joy, and I now beseech you in behalf of my mother’s sins. Hear me for the sake of him who is the medicine of our wounds, of him who hung upon the tree, of him who now sits at your right hand and makes intercession for us.7 I know that she was merciful to others and that from her heart she forgave her debtors their debts. Do you also forgive her her debts,8 if she contracted any in so many years after receiving the water of salvation. Forgive her, Lord, forgive her, I beseech you. Enter not into judgment with her.9 Let your mercy be exalted above your justice,10 for your words are true, and you have promised mercy to the merciful.11 Such you made them to be, for you will have mercy on whom you will have mercy, and you will show mercy to whom you will show mercy.12
(36) I believe that you have already done what I ask, but accept, O Lord, “the free offerings of my mouth.”13 For when the day of her dissolution was at hand,14 she did not think of having her body richly clothed or embalmed with spices. She did not desire a carefully chosen monument, nor did she care for a grave in her own land. Such things she did not enjoin upon us, but she desired only that she be remembered at your altar, which she had served without the loss of a single day. For she knew that from it would be dispensed that holy Victim by whom “the handwriting of the decree that was against us, which was contrary to us,”15 was blotted out, through whose sacrifice was vanquished that enemy who counted up our offenses and sought what he could lay against us, but found nothing in him16 in whom we conquer. Who shall pour back into him his innocent blood? Who shall repay him the price by which he bought us, so as to take us from him? By the bond of faith your handmaid bound her soul to this sacrament of our redemption. Let no one sever her from your protection. Let neither the lion nor the dragon17 put himself between you and her by force or fraud. She will not answer that she owes no debt, lest she be convicted and seized by her crafty accuser. She will answer that her sins have been forgiven by him to whom no one can return that price which he who owed nothing returned for us.
(37) Therefore, may she rest in peace, together with that husband before whom and after whom she had no other, whom she obeyed with patience, bringing forth fruit18 to you so that she might win him also to you. Inspire, O my Lord, my God, inspire your servants my brethren, your sons my masters, whom with voice and heart and pen I serve, so that as many of them as read these words may at your altar remember Monica,19 your handmaid, together with Patricius, sometime her husband, by whose flesh you brought me into this life, how I know not. May they with devout affection remember them who were my parents in this passing light, my brethren under you our Father in our Catholic Mother, and my fellow citizens in that eternal Jerusalem, which your pilgrim people sigh after from their setting forth even to their return,20 so that, more abundantly than through my own prayers, my mother’s last request of me may be granted through the prayers of many, occasioned by these confessions.