GOD AND THE SOUL
(1) You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and to your wisdom there is no limit.1 And man, who is a part of your creation, wishes to praise you, man who bears about within himself his mortality, who bears about within himself testimony to his sin and testimony that you resist the proud.2 Yet man, this part of your creation, wishes to praise you. You arouse him to take joy in praising you, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.3 Lord, grant me to know and understand which is first, to call upon you or to praise you, and also which is first, to know you or to call upon you? But how does one who does not know you call upon you? For one who does not know you might call upon another instead of you. Or must you rather be called upon so that you may be known? Yet “how shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?”4 “And they shall praise the Lord that seek him,”5 for they that seek him find him,6and finding him they shall praise him. Lord, let me seek you by calling upon you, and let me call upon you by believing in you, for you have been preached to us. Lord, my faith calls upon you, that faith which you have given to me, which you have breathed into me by the incarnation of your Son and through the ministry of your preacher.7
(2) How shall I call upon my God, my God and my Lord, since, in truth, when I call upon him, I call him into myself? What place is there within me where my God can come? How can God come into me, God who made heaven and earth?1 O Lord my God, is there anything in me that can contain you? In truth, can heaven and earth, which you have made and in which you have made me, contain you? Or because without you whatever is would not be, does it hold that whatever exists contains you? Since I do indeed exist, and yet would not be unless you were in me, why do I beg that you come to me? I am not now in hell, yet you are even there. For “if I descend into hell, you are present.”2 Therefore, my God, I would not be, I would in no wise be, unless you were in me. Or rather, I would not be unless I were in you, “from whom, by whom, and in whom are all things.”3 Even so, O Lord, even so. To what place do I call you, since I am in you? Or from what place can you come to me? Where can I go beyond heaven and earth, so that there you may come to me, my God, who have said, “I fill heaven and earth?”4
(3) Do heaven and hell therefore contain you, since you fill them? Or do you fill them, and does there yet remain something further, since they do not contain you? Where then do you diffuse what remains of you after heaven and hell have been filled? Or do you who contain all things have no need to be contained by anything further, since you fill all the things you fill by containing them? The vessels that are filled by you do not restrict you, for even if they are shattered, you are not poured forth. When you are poured upon us,1 you are not cast down, but you raise us up;2 you are not scattered about, but you gather us up. You fill all things, and you fill them all with your entire self. But since all things cannot contain you in your entirety, do they then contain a part of you, and do all things simultaneously contain the same part? Or do single things contain single parts, greater things containing greater parts and smaller things smaller parts? Is one part of you greater, therefore, and another smaller? Or are you entire in all places, and does no one thing contain you in your entirety?
(4) What, then, is my God? What, I ask, unless the Lord God? Who is Lord but the Lord? Or who is God but our God?1
Most high, most good, most mighty, most almighty; most merciful and most just; most hidden and most present; most beautiful and most strong; stable and incomprehensible; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, and never old, yet renewing all things;2 leading proud men into senility, although they know it not;3 ever active, and ever at rest; gathering in, yet needing nothing; supporting, fulfilling, and protecting things; creating, nourishing, and perfecting them; searching them out, although nothing is lacking in you.
You love, but are not inflamed with passion; you are jealous, yet free from care; you repent, but do not sorrow; you grow angry, but remain tranquil. You change your works, but do not change your plan; you take back what you find, although you never lost it; you are never in want, but you rejoice in gain; you are never covetous, yet you exact usury. Excessive payments are made to you, so that you may be our debtor—yet who has anything that is not yours? You pay debts, although you owe no man anything; you cancel debts, and lose nothing. What have we said, my God, my life, my holy delight? Or what does any man say when he speaks of you? Yet woe to those who keep silent concerning you, since even those who speak much are as the dumb.
(5) Who will give me help, so that I may rest in you? Who will help me, so that you will come into my heart and inebriate it, to the end that I may forget my evils and embrace you, my one good? What are you to me? Have pity on me, so that I may speak! What am I myself to you, that you command me to love you, and grow angry and threaten me with mighty woes unless I do? Is it but a small affliction if I do not love you? Unhappy man that I am, in your mercy, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. “Say to my soul: I am your salvation.”1 Say this, so that I may hear you. Behold, my heart’s ears are turned to you, O Lord: open them, and “say to my soul: I am your salvation.” I will run after that voice, and I will catch hold of you. Do not hide your face from me.2Lest I die, let me die, so that I may see it.
(6) Too narrow is the house of my soul for you to enter into it: let it be enlarged by you. It lies in ruins; build it up again. I confess and I know that it contains things that offend your eyes. Yet who will cleanse it? Or upon what other than you shall I call? “From my secret sins cleanse me, O Lord, and from those of others spare your servant.”3 I believe, and therefore I speak out.4 Lord, all this you know. Have I not accused myself to you, my God, of my sins, and have you not forgiven the iniquity of my heart?5 I do not contend in judgment with you6 who are truth itself. I do not deceive myself, lest my iniquity lie to itself.7 Therefore, I do not contend in judgment with you, for “if you, O Lord, will mark iniquities: Lord, who shall stand it?”8
THE INFANT AUGUSTINE
(7) Yet grant me to plead before your mercy, grant me who am dust and ashes1 to speak, for behold, it is not a man who makes mock of me but your mercy that I address. Perhaps even you deride me, but when you have turned towards me, you will have mercy on me.2 What do I want to say, Lord, except that I do not know whence I came into what I may call a mortal life or a living death. Whence I know not. Your consolation and your mercies3 have raised me up, as I have heard from the parents of my flesh, for by one and in the other you fashioned me in time. I myself do not remember this. Therefore, the comfort of human milk nourished me, but neither my mother nor my nurses filled their own breasts. Rather, through them you gave me an infant’s food in accordance with your law and out of the riches that you have distributed even down to the lowest level of things. You gave me to want no more than you gave, and you gave to those who nursed me the will to give what you gave to them. By an orderly affection they willingly gave me what they possessed so abundantly from you. It was good for them that my good should come from them; yet it was not from them but through them. For from you, O God, come all good things, and from you, my God, comes all my salvation. This I afterwards observed when you cried out to me by means of those things which you bestow both inwardly and outwardly. For at that time I knew how to seek the breast, to be satisfied with pleasant things, and to cry at my bodily hurts, but nothing more.
(8) Later on, I began to laugh, at first when asleep and then when awake. This has been told to me concerning myself, and I believe it, since we see other infants acting thus, although I do not remember such acts of my own. Then little by little I perceived where I was, and I wished to make my wants known to those who could satisfy them. Yet I could not do so, because the wants were within me, while those outside could by no sensible means penetrate into my soul. So I tossed my limbs about and uttered sounds, thus making such few signs similar to my wishes as I could, and in such fashion as I could, although they were not like the truth. When they would not obey me, either because they did not understand or because it would be harmful, I grew angry at older ones who were not subject to me and at children for not waiting on me, and took it out on them by crying.4 That infants are of this sort I have since learned from those whom I have been able to observe. That I was such a one they have unwittingly taught me better than my nurses who knew me.
(9) But see, my infancy is dead long ago, and I still live. Lord, you who live forever and in whom nothing dies—since before the beginning of the ages, and before anything that can even be called “before,” you are, and you are God and Lord of all that you have created, and with you stand the causes of all impermanent things and with you abide the unchanging sources of all changing things, and in you live the sempiternal reasons of all unreasoning and temporal things—tell to me, your suppliant, O God, in your mercy, tell to me, your wretched servant, whether my infancy followed another age of mine that was already dead. Or was it that time which I passed within my mother’s womb? Of that time something has been told to me, and I have seen pregnant women. What was there even before this, my joy, my God? Was I anywhere, or anyone? I have no one to tell me this, neither father nor mother could do so, nor the experience of others, nor my own memory. Do you laugh at me for questioning you of such things? Do you command me to praise you and confess to you only for what I know?
(10) I confess to you, O Lord of heaven and earth,5 and I utter praise to you for my first being and my infancy, which I do not remember. You have endowed man so that he can gather these things concerning himself from others, and even on the words of weak women believe much about himself. For even then I had being and lived, and already at the close of my infancy I looked for signs by which I could make known my meanings to others. Where except from you, O Lord, could come such a living being? Who has the art and power to make himself? Is there any channel, through which being and life flow into us, that comes from any source but you, Lord, who have made us? In you being and life are not different things, because supreme being and supreme life are one and the same. You are supreme and you are not changed.6 Nor is this present day spent in you—and yet it is spent in you, for in you are all these times. Unless you contained them, they would have no way of passing on. And because your years do not fail,7 your years are this every day. No matter how many have already been our days and the days of our fathers, they have all passed through this single present day of yours, and from it they have taken their measures and their manner of being. And others still shall also pass away and receive their measures and their manner of being. “But you are the Selfsame,”8 and all things of tomorrow and all beyond, and all things of yesterday and all things before, you shall make into today, and you have already made them into today.
What matters it to me if someone does not understand this? Let him too rejoice and say, “What is this?”9 Let him rejoice even at this, and let him love to find you while not finding it out, rather than, while finding it out, not to find you.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INFANCY
(11) Graciously hear me, O God. Woe to the sins of men! Yet a man says this, and you have mercy upon him, for you have made him, but the sin that is in him you have not made. Who will bring to my mind the sins of my infancy? For in your sight no man is clean of sin,1 not even the infant who has lived but a day upon earth. Who will bring this to my mind? Does not each little child now do this, for in him I now perceive what I do not remember about myself? How then did I sin at that age? Was it because I cried out as I tried to mouth the breast? Indeed if I did so now—not of course as one gaping for the breast, but for food fitting to my years—I would be laughed at and most justly blamed. Hence at that time I did reprehensible things, but because I could not understand why anyone should blame me, neither custom nor reason allowed me to be blamed. As we grow up, we root out such things and throw them aside. Yet I have never seen anyone knowingly throw aside the good when he purges away the bad.
But even then were these things good: to try to get by crying even what would be harmful if it were given to me, to be bitterly resentful at freemen, elders, my parents, and many other prudent people who would not indulge my whims, when I struck at them and tried to hurt them as far as I could because they did not obey orders that would be obeyed only to my harm? Thus it is not the infant’s will that is harmless, but the weakness of infant limbs. I myself have seen and have had experience with a jealous little one; it was not yet able to speak, but it was pale and bitter in face as it looked at another child nursing at the same breast.
Who is unaware of such things? Mothers and nurses claim to make up for them by some sort of correctives. Yet is it really innocence not to allow another child to share in that richly flowing fountain of milk, although it is in great need of help and derives life from that sole source of food? These things are easily put up with, not because they are of little or no account, but because they will disappear with increase in age. This you can prove from the fact that the same things cannot be borne with patience when detected in an older person.
(12) Therefore, O Lord my God, you have given to the infant life and a body, which, as we see, you have thus furnished with senses, equipped with limbs, beautified with a shapely form, and, for its complete good and protection, have endowed with all the powers of a living being. For all such things you command me to praise you and to confess you, and to “sing to your name, O Most High.”2 For you are God, all-powerful and good, even if you made only such things. For no other can do this but you, the One, from whom is every measure, you, the absolute Form,3 who give form to all things and govern all things by your law.
Therefore, O Lord, this age which I do not remember to have lived, which I have taken on trust from others, which I conclude myself to have passed from observing other infants, although such testimonies are most probable, this age I hesitate to join to this life of mine which I have lived in this world. In so far as it belongs to the dark regions of forgetfulness, it is like that which I lived in my mother’s womb. But “if I was conceived in iniquity,” and if my mother nourished me within her womb in sins,4 where, I beseech you, O Lord my God, where or when was your servant innocent? But, see, I now set aside that period. What matters that now to me of which I recall no trace?
THE GROWTH OF SPEECH
(13) Did I not advance from infancy and come into boyhood? Or rather, did it not come upon me and succeed to my infancy? Yet infancy did not depart: for where did it go? Still, it was no more, for I was no longer an infant, one who could not speak, but now I was a chattering boy. I remembered this, and afterwards I reflected on how I learned to talk. Grown up men did not teach me by presenting me with words in any orderly form of instruction, as they did my letters a little later. But I myself, with that mind which you, my God, gave me, wished by means of various cries and sounds and movements of my limbs to express my heart’s feelings, so that my will would be obeyed. However, I was unable to express all that I wished or to all to whom I wished. I pondered over this in memory: when they named a certain thing and, at that name, made a gesture towards the object, I observed that object and inferred that it was called by the name they uttered when they wished to show it to me. That they meant this was apparent by their bodily gestures, as it were by words natural to all men, which are made by change of countenance, nods, movements of the eyes and other bodily members, and sounds of the voice, which indicate the affections of the mind in seeking, possessing, rejecting, or avoiding things. So little by little I inferred that the words set in their proper places in different sentences, that I heard frequently, were signs of things. When my mouth had become accustomed to these signs, I expressed by means of them my own wishes. Thus to those among whom I was I communicated the signs of what I wished to express. I entered more deeply into the stormy society of human life, although still dependent on my parents’ authority and the will of my elders.
ADULT CRUELTY AND FOLLY
(14) O God, my God, great was the misery and great the deception that I met with when it was impressed upon me that, to behave properly as a boy, I must obey my teachers. This was all that I might succeed in this world and excel in those arts of speech which would serve to bring honor among men and to gain deceitful riches. Hence I was sent to school to acquire learning, the utility of which, wretched child that I was, I did not know. Yet if I was slow at learning, I was beaten. This method was praised by our forebears, many of whom had passed through this life before us and had laid out the hard paths that we were forced to follow. Thus were both toil and sorrow multiplied for the sons of Adam.
We discovered, Lord, that certain men prayed to you and we learned from them, and imagined you, as far as we could, as some sort of mighty one who could hear us and help us, even though not appearing before our senses. While still a boy, I began to pray to you, my help and my refuge,1and in praying to you I broke the knots that tied my tongue. A little one, but with no little feeling, I prayed to you that I would not be beaten at school. When you did not hear me—and it was “not to be reputed folly in me”2—my punishments, which were then a huge and heavy evil to me, were laughed at by older men, and even by my own parents who wished no harm to befall me.
(15) Lord, is there any man of so great a soul, who clings to you with so mighty love, is there anyone, I ask you—for indeed a certain type of stolidity is capable of this—is there anyone who so devoutly clings to you and is thus so deeply affected that he deems of little consequence the rack, the hook, and similar tools of torture—to be saved from which men throughout the whole world pray to you with great fear—although he loves those who dread such things most bitterly? If there is such a man, he acts in the way in which our parents laughed at the torments we boys suffered from our teachers.3 In no less measure did we fear our punishments, and no less did we beseech you to let us escape.
Yet we sinned by writing, reading, and thinking over our lessons less than was required of us. Lord, there was in us no lack of memory or intelligence, for you willed that we should have them in sufficient measure for our years. Yet we loved to play, and this was punished in us by men who did the same things themselves. However, the trivial concerns of adults are called business, while such things in children are punished by adults.4 Yet no one has pity on either children or grown-up men, or on both. Perhaps some fine judge of things approves my beatings. For I played ball as a child; by such play I was kept from quickly learning arts by which, as an adult, I would disport myself in a still more unseemly fashion. Did the very man who beat me act different from me? If he was outdone by a fellow teacher in some trifling discussion, he was more tormented by anger and envy than I was when beaten by my playmate in a ball game.
THE ATTRACTION OF SHOWS
(16) Yet I sinned, O Lord my God, ruler and creator of all natural things, but of sins only the ruler.1 I sinned, O Lord my God, by going against the commands of my parents and of those teachers. Later on, indeed, I could put to good use the learning that they wanted me to acquire, no matter with what purpose in my regard. I was disobedient, not out of a desire for better things, but out of love for play. I loved to win proud victories in our contests, and to have my ears tickled by false stories, so that they would itch all the more intensely for them, with the same kind of curiosity glittering more and more in my eyes for shows, the games of grown-up men. For their producers are invested with such honor that almost all parents desire it for their children. Hence they gladly let them be beaten if, by attending just such shows, they are kept from studies by which their parents wish them to rise to putting on similar plays. Lord, in your mercy look down upon these things and deliver us who now call upon you. Deliver also those who do not yet call upon you, so that they may call upon you and you may deliver them.2
(17) While still a boy, I had heard of that eternal life promised to us through the humility of the Lord our God, who lowered himself to our pride. I was signed with the sign of his cross, and seasoned with his salt,1 as soon as I issued from my mother’s womb, for she trusted greatly in you. Lord, you saw how, one day when I was still a child, I suddenly burned with fever from a stomach affliction and was very close to death. You saw, my God, for you were already my keeper,2 with what effort of mind and with what faith I entreated the mercy of my own mother and of the Church, the mother of us all, for the baptism of your Christ, my God and Lord. The mother of my flesh was distraught—for she most lovingly was bringing forth3 my eternal salvation in her chaste heart and in faith in thee—and would have at once hastened to arrange that I be initiated into the sacraments of salvation and be washed in them,4 I first confessing you, Lord Jesus, for the remission of my sins. However, I immediately recovered from that illness. So my cleansing was delayed, as if it must needs be that I would become yet more defiled if I lived, for indeed the guilt and defilement of sins committed after that cleansing would be greater and more dangerous. Thus I already believed, as did also my mother and the whole household, except my father alone.5 Still he did not overthrow in me the authority of my mother’s devotion, so that I would not believe in Christ, even as he did not yet believe in him. For she strove in every way that you, my God, would be my father rather than he. In this you aided her, so that she overcame her husband, to whom she, the better partner, was subject. For in this she assuredly was serving you who ordered her to do so.
(18) I beseech you, my God, for I wish to know this, if you likewise wish me to know it, to what purpose was my baptism delayed at that time? Was it for my good that the reins of sin should be laid loose upon me, as it were, or were they not laid loose for my own good? How then is it that even now there rings in my ears from all sides, concerning one thing and another, the cry, “Let him be! Let him do it! He is not yet baptized!” Yet with regard to bodily health we do not say, “Let him be wounded still more! He is not yet healed!” How much better were it, then, if I had been quickly healed, and it had resulted, through my friends’ diligence and my own, that my soul’s health, which I had thus received, would be kept safe under the protection of you who gave it to me! Better in truth would this have been! But how many and how great seemed the waves of temptation that threatened me after my childhood! My mother already knew them well, and she wished to commit to them that clay of which I was later to be formed rather than the actual image itself.6
GOOD OUT OF EVIL
(19) In boyhood itself, when there was less to be feared in my regard than from youth, I did not love study and hated to be driven to it. Yet I was driven to it, and good was thus done to me, but I myself did not do good. I would have learned nothing unless forced to it. No one does good against his will, even if what he does is good. Nor did those who drove me on do well: the good was done to me by you, my God. They did not see to what use I would put what they forced me to learn, beyond satisfying the insatiable desires of a rich beggary and a base glory. But you, before whom the hairs of our head are numbered,1 turned to my advantage the error of all those who kept me at my studies. The error of myself, who did not want to study, you used for my chastisement. For I, so small a boy and yet so great a sinner, was not unworthy of punishment. Thus by means of men who did not do well you did well for me, and out of my sinning you justly imposed punishment on me. You have ordered it, and so it is, that every disordered mind should be its own punishment.
STUDIES IN GREEK AND LATIN
(20) Why I detested the Greek language when I was taught it as a little boy I have not yet fully discovered. I liked Latin very much, not the parts given by our first teachers but what the men called grammarians teach us.1 The first stages of our education, when we learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, I considered no less a burden and punishment than all the Greek courses. Since I was but “flesh, and a wind that goes and does not return,”2 where could this come from except from sin and vanity of life? Better indeed, because more certain, were those first studies by which there was formed and is formed in me what I still possess, the ability to read what I find written down and to write what I want to, than the later studies wherein I was required to learn by heart I know not how many of Aeneas’s wanderings, although forgetful of my own, and to weep over Dido’s death, because she killed herself for love, when all the while amid such things, dying to you, O God my life, I most wretchedly bore myself about with dry eyes.
(21) Who can be more wretched than the wretched one who takes no pity on himself, who weeps over Dido’s death, which she brought to pass by love for Aeneas,3 and who does not weep over his own death, brought to pass by not loving you, O God, light of my heart, bread for the inner mouth of my soul, power wedding together my mind and the bosom of my thoughts? I did not love you, and I committed fornication against you,4 and amid my fornications from all sides there sounded the words, “Well done! Well done!”5 Love of this world is fornication against you,6 but “Well done! Well done!” is said, so that it will be shameful for a man to be otherwise. I did not weep over these facts, but I wept over the dead Dido “who sought her end by the sword.”7 I forsook you, and I followed after your lowest creatures, I who was earth, turning to earth. If I had been forbidden to read those tales, I would have grieved because I could not read what would cause me to grieve. Such folly is deemed a higher and more profitable study than that by which I learned to read and write.
(22) Now let my God cry out in my soul, and let your truth say to me, “It is not so. It is not so.” Far better is that earlier teaching. See how I am readier to forget the wanderings of Aeneas and all such tales than to read and write. True it is that curtains hang before the doors of the grammar schools, but they do not symbolize some honored mystery but rather a cloak for error. Let not men whom I no longer fear inveigh against me when I confess to you, my God, what my soul desires, and when I acquiesce in a condemnation of my evil ways, so that I may love your ways, which are good.8 Let not these buyers and sellers of literature inveigh against me if I put this question to them: “Did Aeneas ever come to Carthage, as the poet says?” For if I do, the more unlearned will answer that they do not know; the more learned will even deny that it is true. But if I ask them with what letters the name Aeneas is spelled, all who have learned this much will give the right answer in accordance with that agreement and convention by which men have established these characters among themselves. Again, if I should ask which of these would be forgotten with greater inconvenience to our life, to read and write or those poetic fables, who does not discern the answer of every man who has not completely lost his mind? Therefore, as a boy I sinned when I preferred these inane tales to more useful studies, or rather when I hated the one and loved the other. But then, “One and one are two, and two and two are four” was for me a hateful chant, while the wooden horse full of armed men, the burning of Troy, and Creusa’s ghost9 were most sweet but empty spectacles.
A DISLIKE FOR GREEK
(23) Why then did I also hate Greek literature, which sings such things? For Homer was skilled at weaving such fictions and is most sweetly deceptive, but still he was bitter to me as a boy. I think that to Greek boys Vergil must be the same, since they are forced to study him just as I was Homer. Therein lay the difficulty, the great difficulty of learning a foreign language: it sprinkled gall, as it were, over all the Greek delights of those mythical stories.1 I understood none of the words, but with cruel threats and punishments they ruthlessly pushed me on to understand them. At one time, indeed, as an infant, I understood no Latin words either,2 but by paying attention I learned them without any fear and torture, even in the midst of my nurses’ caresses, the little stories of those smiling around me, and the happy games with playmates. I learned those Latin words without any load of punishment from others urging me on, for my own heart urged me on to bring forth its thoughts. This would not have been unless I had learned some words from those who were not teaching me but talking to me and in whose hearing I brought forth whatever I thought. Hence it is plain enough that for learning a language free interest has greater power than frightening constraint. Yet this second restrains the flow of the other, in keeping with your laws, O God, your laws, which extend from the schoolmaster’s rod to the martyr’s ordeal, your laws that have power to fashion what is bitter but salutary and to recall us to you from that pestilential pleasure by which we fell away from you.
A PRAYER FOR GOD’S HELP
(24) Graciously hear my prayer,1 O Lord, lest my soul falter under your correction, lest I falter in confessing to you your mercies, by which you have delivered me out of all my most wicked ways. Grant this, so that you may grow sweet to me above all the allurements that I followed after. May I love you most ardently, may I cling to your hand with all my heart. Do you deliver me from all temptation even to the end.2
Behold, O Lord, you are “my king and my God.”3 Grant that whatsoever useful thing I learned as a child may be put to your service. May whatever I speak and write, whatever I read and calculate, serve you. For when I learned vain things, you gave instruction to me. You forgave me my sin of delight in those vanities. I learned many useful words in such studies, but they could have been learned from things that were not vain. This last is the safe way in which children should walk.
THE INFLUENCE OF IMMORAL LITERATURE
(25) Woe to you, O torrent of men’s ways! Who will stand against you? How long will it be until you are dried up? How long will you sweep the sons of Eve down into that mighty and hideous ocean, over which even they who are borne upon the Tree can hardly cross? Have I not read in you of Jove, both thunderer and adulterer? In truth, he could not be both of these, but the story is told so that authority would be provided to imitate the true adultery while the false thunder cloaks it over. Yet who among our begowned masters can listen patiently to a man made of the same dust as he cries out and speaks thus? He says: “Homer made up these things, and assigned human attributes to the gods. I would that he had assigned divine attributes to us.”1 But with more truth it is asserted that he did indeed make up these tales, but he attributed divine powers to vicious men so that debauchery might not be accounted debauchery, and so that whoever does such things would seem to imitate not profligate men but the gods of heaven.
(26) Nevertheless, O hellish flood, the sons of men are thrown into you with fees paid, so that they may learn these fables. A great thing is made of it when some of this is acted out publicly in the forum, supervised by laws decreeing salaries over and above the students’ fees. You dash against your rocks, you roar and say: “Here is learned the use of words! Here eloquence is acquired, most necessary for winning cases and expressing thoughts!” But for this would we never have understood the words “golden shower,” “lap,” “deceit,” “temples of heaven,” and the others written in the same place, unless Terence had brought a depraved youth upon the stage who took Jove as his model in adultery? All the while he looks at a picture painted on the wall in which is shown the tale of how Jove rains a golden shower into Danaë’s lap and thus tricks the girl.2 See how he arouses himself to lust, as if by heavenly instruction, as he says
“Ah, what a God!
He shakes the highest heavens with his thunder!
Shall I, poor mortal man, not do the same?
I’ve done it, and with all my heart, I’m glad.”3
In no way, in no way whatsoever, are these words used here learned more easily because of this filthy scene, but because of these words that vile deed is more boldly perpetrated. I do not condemn the words, which are as it were choice and precious vessels, but that wine of error which through them was proffered to us by drunken teachers. Unless we drank it, we were flogged, and we had no freedom of appeal to any sober judge. Yet, O my God, in whose sight I now safely recall this, in my wretchedness I willingly learned these things and took delight in them. For this I was called a boy of great promise.
A TWOFOLD PRIZE
(27) Grant me, my God, to speak a little about my own abilities, your gift to me, and of the foolish things on which they were squandered. A task was assigned to me that disturbed my mind, either by reason of the praise or disgrace to be awarded or for fear of a flogging. I was to speak Juno’s words, as she expresses both anger and sorrow because she could not “turn back the Trojan king from going to Italy.”1 I had heard that Juno never spoke these words, yet we were compelled to wander off and follow in the steps of these poetic fictions, and to put into prose what the poet had spoken in verse. The boy spoke in the most praiseworthy way in whom, in keeping with the rank of the character he played, such emotions as anger and sorrow stood forth, clothed with appropriate language.
What did all this matter to me, my God, my true life? For what good was I, for my declamation, acclaimed above so many of my schoolmates and boys of the same age? What was all this but smoke and wind? Was there no other subject on which to exercise my talents and my tongue? Your praises, Lord, your praises, set forth in your Scriptures, would have held up my heart’s young vine, so that it would not have been snatched away by empty trifles, the filthy prey of flying creatures. In more ways than one is sacrifice offered to the transgressor angels.2
ERRORS OF SPEECH AND ACTS OF MALICE
(28) What wonder was it that I was thus carried away into vain practices and went far from you, my God? For the men set up for my models were utterly dejected when caught in a barbarism or solecism while telling about some of their own acts, even though the acts themselves were not bad. But if they would describe some of their lustful deeds in detail and good order and with correct and well-placed words, did they not glory in the praise they got? Lord, you who are long-suffering, most merciful, and most truthful, you see these things, and yet you remain silent.1 But will you keep silent forever? Even now you will draw out of this most terrible pit the soul2 that seeks you and thirsts for your delights, and whose heart says to you, “I have sought your face; your face, Lord, will I seek.”3 I was far from your face in the darkness of my passions. Not on foot, and not by distance of place do we depart from you or return to you. That younger son of yours did not look for horses or chariots or ships; he did not fly away on visible wings; he did not make a journey on foot, so that by living a prodigal’s life in a far country he could waste the substance that you had given him as he started out.4 For you were a loving father because you gave this to him, but still more loving when he came back in want. Therefore, he departed from you by lustful affections, that is, by dark-some affections, and this is to be far from your face.
(29) Regard, O Lord my God, patiently regard, as is your wont, how carefully the sons of men observe the proprieties as to letters and syllables received from former speakers, and how they neglect everlasting covenants of eternal salvation which they have received from you. Thus if a man who accepts or teaches the ancient conventional forms of pronunciation violates the rules of grammar, and utters the word homo (man) without sounding the “h” in the first syllable,5 he will offend men more than if, contrary to your laws, he who is a man himself would hate another man. It is as if he thought an enemy more pernicious to him than his own hatred by which he is aroused against the other. Or as if he thought that he could do more damage to another by persecuting him than he does to his own heart by this hostility. Certainly, no knowledge of letters is more interior to us than that written in conscience: that one does to another what he himself does not want to suffer.6
How hidden you are, you who dwell on high in silence, you the sole great God! By unwearying law you impose the penalty of blindness upon unlawful desires. When a man who seeks fame for eloquence stands before a human judge, with a throng of men standing about him, and inveighs against his opponent with most savage hatred, he guards most watchfully lest by a slip of the tongue he should say inter ’omines. But he takes no care lest by his furious spirit he cause a man to be taken away from among men.7
A PASSION TO SHINE
(30) On the threshold of such customs lay I, a wretched boy, and this was the stage and arena where I was more fearful of committing a barbarism than I was on guard, if I did commit one, against envying those who did not. I state these things and confess them to you, my God, because for such things I was praised by men, to please whom was for me at that time to live a life of honor. I did not see the whirlpool of filth into which I was “cast away from before your eyes.”1 For in your eyes what was then more vile than I? By my deeds I even displeased such men, by countless lies deceiving tutor and masters and parents out of love for play, desire to see frivolous shows, and restless hope of imitating the stage.
I also committed thefts from my parents’ cellar and table, either under the sway of greediness or to have something to offer other boys who would sell me their playthings, in which, of course, they took equal delight. Often beaten at games, out of a vain desire for distinction I tried even there for dishonest victories. And what was I so loath to put up with, and what did I so fiercely denounce, if I caught others at it, as what I did to them? If I was caught and argued with, I chose to fight rather than to give in.
Is this boyish innocence? It is not, O Lord, it is not: I pray you, my God, that I may say it. For these are the practices that pass from tutors and teachers, and from nuts and balls and birds, to governors and kings, and to money and estates and slaves. These very things pass on, as older years come in their turn, just as heavier punishments succeed the birch rod. Therefore, it was the symbol of humility found in the child’s estate that you, our King, approved when you said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”2
A PRAYER OF THANKS
(31) But yet, Lord, thanks must be given to you, our God, the most excellent and best creator and ruler of the universe, even if you had willed only to bring me to childhood. Even then I existed, had life and feeling, had care for my own well-being, which is a trace of your own most mysterious unity from which I took my being. By my inner sense I guarded the integrity of my outer senses, and I delighted in truth, in such little things and in thoughts about such little things. I did not want to err; I was endowed with a strong memory; I was well instructed in speech; I was refined by friendship. I shunned sadness, dejection, and ignorance. What was there that was not wonderful and praiseworthy in such a living being?
All these things are the gifts of my God: I did not give them to myself. These things are good, and they all made up my being. Therefore, he who made me is good, and he is my good. Before him I rejoice for all these goods out of which I had my being even as a child. But in this was my sin, that not in him but in his creatures, in myself and others, did I seek pleasure, honors, and truths. So it was that I rushed into sorrow, conflict, and error. Let there be thanks to you, my sweetness, my honor, my trust, my God, let there be thanks to you for your gifts. Keep them for me. Thus you will keep me, and the things that you gave me will be both increased and perfected, and I will be with you, for you have also given it to me that I exist.