Book 3




(1) I came to Carthage, where a caldron of shameful loves seethed and sounded about me on every side.1 I was not yet in love, but I was in love with love, and by a more hidden want I hated myself for wanting little. I sought for something to love, for I was in love with love; I hated security, and a path free from snares.2 For there was a hunger within me from a lack of that inner food, which is yourself, my God. Yet by that hunger I did not hunger, but was without desire for incorruptible food, not because I was already filled with it, but because the more empty I was, the more distaste I had for it. Therefore, my soul did not grow healthy, but it was ulcered over, and it cast outside itself and in its misery was avid to be scratched by the things of sense,3 things that would not be loved if they lacked all soul. To love and to be loved was sweet to me, and all the more if I enjoyed my loved one’s body.

Therefore, I defiled the very source of friendship by the filth of concupiscence, and its clear waters I befouled with the lust of hell. Yet foul and vicious as I was, with overflowing vanity, I took pride in being refined and cultured. I plunged headlong into love, whose captive I desired to be. But my God, my mercy, with how much gall did you sprinkle all that sweetness of mine, and how good you were to do it!4 For I was loved, and I had gained love’s bond of joy. But in my joy I was bound about with painful chains of iron, so that I might be scourged by burning rods of jealousy, and suspicion, and fear, and anger, and quarreling.



(2) The theater enraptured me, for its shows were filled with pictures of my own miseries and with tinder for my fires. Why is it that a man likes to grieve over doleful and tragic events which he would not want to happen to himself? The spectator likes to experience grief at such scenes, and this very sorrow is a pleasure to him. What is this but a pitiable folly? For the more a man is moved by these things, the less free is he from such passions. However, when he himself experiences it, it is usually called misery; when he experiences it with regard to others, it is called mercy.1But what sort of mercy is to be shown to these unreal things upon the stage? The auditor is not aroused to go to the aid of the others; he is only asked to grieve over them. Moreover, he will show greater approval of the author of such representations, the greater the grief he feels. But if men’s misfortunes, whether fictitious or of ancient times, are put on in such manner that the spectator does not feel sorrow, then he leaves in disgust and with disapproval. If grief is aroused in him, he remains in the theater, full of attention and enjoying himself.

(3) Tears and sorrow, therefore, are objects of love. Certainly, every man likes to enjoy himself. But while no man wants to be wretched, does he nevertheless want to be merciful? Now since mercy cannot exist apart from grief, is it for this sole reason that grief is loved? This also has friendship as its source and channel. But where does it go? Where does it flow? Why does it run down into a torrent of boiling pitch,2 into those immense surges of loathsome lusts? For into these it is changed, and by its own choice it is turned from the purity of heaven into something distorted and base. Shall mercy, therefore, be cast aside? By no means. At certain times, therefore, sorrows may be loved. But shun uncleanness, O my soul! With God as my keeper, the God of our fathers, worthy to be praised and exalted above all forever,3 shun uncleanness!

Today still I feel compassion, but in those days at the theater I felt joy together with the lovers when by shameful means they had joy in one another, although those things were only pretended in the show, and when they lost each other, I became sad like one who feels compassion. Both situations gave me delight. But now I have more pity for one who rejoices in a shameful deed than for one who has suffered, so to speak, damage to a pernicious pleasure or loss of some vile joy. This is surely the truer mercy, and sorrow finds no delight in it. Although any man who sorrows over a sinner is commended for his act of charity, yet one who shows fraternal mercy prefers rather that there be no occasion for his sorrow. If there is a good will that is at the same time bad-willed, which cannot be, then only a truly and sincerely merciful man can wish that there might be some unfortunates, so that he could show mercy to them. Hence, a certain kind of sorrow can be commended, but none can be loved. Such mercy is yours, O Lord God, for you love our souls with a purity of love more deep and wide than that we have for ourselves, and you are unalterably merciful, because you suffer no wound from sorrow. “And for these things who is sufficient.”4

(4) But in my wretchedness at that time I loved to feel sorrow, and I sought out opportunities for sorrow. In the false misery of another man as it was mimicked on the stage, that actor’s playing pleased me most and had the strongest attraction for me which struck tears from my eyes. What wonder was it that I, an unhappy sheep straying from your flock and impatient of your protection, should be infected with loathsome sores? Hence came my love for such sorrows, by which I was not pierced deep down—for I did not like to suffer such things, but only to look at them—and by which, when they were heard and performed, I was scratched lightly, as it were. As a result, as though from scratches made by fingernails, there followed a burning tumor and horrid pus and wasting away. Such was my life, but was it truly life, my God?



(5) Your faithful mercy hovered above me but from afar. Upon what great evils did I waste myself, and what a sacrilegious desire for knowledge did I pursue, so that it might bring me, a deserter from you, down into the depths of apostasy and into the deceitful service of demons! To them I made a sacrifice of my evil deeds, by all of which you scourged me. Even during the celebration of your mysteries, within the walls of your church, I dared to desire and to arrange an affair for procuring the fruit of death. Hence you scourged me with heavy punishments, but nothing in proportion to my faults, O you my most mighty mercy, my God, my refuge from those terrible dangers amid which I wandered, too proud of neck, so that I might depart far from you, loving my own ways and not yours, loving a fugitive’s freedom!

(6) Moreover, my studies, which were called honorable, were directed to the practice of law, so that I might excel at it and become so much the more distinguished because so much the more crafty. So great is the blindness of men, who even glory in their blindness! I was already the leading student in the school of rhetoric, and in my pride I rejoiced and I was swollen up with vanity. However, I was much more reserved than others, as you know, O Lord. I kept entirely apart from the acts of wreckage which were perpetrated by the wreckers1—this cruel and diabolical name is a sort of emblem of their sophistication—among whom I lived with a sort of shameless shame, since I was not one of them. I associated with them and sometimes took pleasure in their friendship. But I always abhorred their deeds, that is, their acts of wreckage, by which they wantonly mocked at the natural shyness of the new students. By their coarse tricks they overturned this modesty, and thus they provided for their own perverted fun. Nothing is more like the acts of demons than their conduct. How could they be better named than as wreckers? For they themselves had been altogether overturned and perverted in the first instance by devils who laugh at them and through trickery secretly seduce them in the very way in which they love to deride and trick others.



(7) Among such associates of my callow youth I studied the treatises on eloquence, in which I desired to shine, for a damnable and inflated purpose, directed towards empty human joys. In the ordinary course of study I came upon a book by a certain Cicero,1whose tongue almost all men admire but not his heart. This work contains his exhortation to philosophy and is called Hortensius. This book changed my affections. It turned my prayers to you, Lord, and caused me to have different purposes and desires. All my vain hopes forthwith became worthless to me, and with incredible ardor of heart I desired undying wisdom. I began to rise up,2 so that I might return to you. I did not use that book to sharpen my tongue: that I seemed to purchase with the money my mother gave to me, since I was in my nineteenth year and my father had died two years before. I did not use it, then, to sharpen my tongue, nor did it impress me by its way of speaking but rather by what it spoke.

(8) How I burned, O my God, how I burned with desire to fly away from earthly things and upwards to you, and yet I did not know what you would do with me! For with you there is wisdom.3 Love of wisdom has the name philosophy in Greek, and that book set me on fire for it. There are some who may lead others astray by means of philosophy, coloring and falsifying their errors with that great, and beauteous, and honest name. Almost all such men, both of Cicero’s time and of earlier periods, are marked out and refuted in that book. There also he makes clear the salutary warning of your Spirit, given to us through your good and devout servant: “Beware lest any man deceive you through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of man, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ: For in him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead corporeally.”4 At that time, as you, the light of my heart, do know, these apostolic words were not yet known to me. But I was delighted with the exhortation only because by its argument I was stirred up and enkindled and set aflame to love, and pursue, and attain and catch hold of, and strongly embrace not this or that sect, but wisdom itself, whatsoever it might be. In so great a blaze only this checked me, that Christ’s name was not in it. For this name, O Lord, according to your mercy,5 this name of my Savior, your Son, my tender heart had holily drunken in with my mother’s milk and kept deep down within itself. Whatever lacked this name, no matter how learned and polished and veracious it was, could not wholly capture me.



(9) I accordingly decided to turn my mind to the Holy Scriptures and to see what they were like. And behold, I see something within them that was neither revealed to the proud nor made plain to children, that was lowly on one’s entrance but lofty on further advance, and that was veiled over in mysteries. None such as I was at that time could enter into it, nor could I bend my neck for its passageways. When I first turned to that Scripture, I did not feel towards it as I am speaking now, but it seemed to me unworthy of comparison with the nobility of Cicero’s writings. My swelling pride turned away from its humble style, and my sharp gaze did not penetrate into its inner meaning. But in truth it was of its nature that its meaning would increase together with your little ones, whereas I disdained to be a little child and, puffed up with pride, I considered myself to be a great fellow.



(10) And so I fell in with certain men,1 doting in their pride, too carnal-minded and glib of speech, in whose mouth were the snares of the devil2 and a very birdlime confected by mixing together the syllables of your name, and the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the name of the Paraclete, our comforter, the Holy Spirit.3 These names were never absent from their mouths, but were only the tongue’s sound and datter, while their hearts were empty of truth. Yet they were always saying, “Truth! Truth!” Many times they said it to me, but it was never inside them. They spoke falsehoods, not only of you, who are truly truth, but even of the elements of this world, your creation. With regard to such matters, for love of you, O my Father, supremely good, beauty of all things beautiful,4 I should have given over even those philosophers who speak the truth. O Truth, Truth, how intimately did even the very marrow of my mind sigh for you, while these men boomed forth your name at me so many times and in so many ways, by the voice alone and by books many and huge! Such were the platters on which the sun and the moon, your beauteous works, but still only your works and not you yourself, and not even chief among your works, were brought to me while I hungered for you. For your spiritual works are above those corporeal things. bright and heavenly though these latter be.

But I hungered and thirsted not for those higher works, but for yourself, O Truth, “with whom there is no change or shadow of alteration.”5 But still they put before me on those platters splendid fantasies. Far better were it to love the sun itself, for the sun is at least true to our eyes, than those false images which deceive the mind by means of our eyes. Yet because I thought that they were you, I fed upon them, not avidly indeed, because you did not taste in my mouth as you are in truth—for you were not those empty figments—nor did I receive nourishment from them, but rather was I myself exhausted by them. Food in dreams is very like the food of waking men, but sleepers are not fed by it: they merely sleep. But those fantasies were in nowise similar to you, as you have now told me, because they were corporeal fantasies, false bodies, and real bodies, whether in the heavens or on earth, which we see by bodily sight, are more certain than they. These things we behold in common with beasts of the field and birds of the air, and they are more certain than those which we conjure up in imagination. Again, there is more certainty when we fashion mental images of these real things than when by means of them we picture other vaster and unlimited bodies that do not exist at all. On such empty phantoms was I fed—and yet I was not fed.

But you, my Love, for whom I faint so that I may be made strong, you are not these bodies which we look upon, even though they be in the heavens; nor are you such things as we do not see up there. For you have created all these things, but still you do not hold them among your greatest works. How far, therefore, are you removed from those fantasies of mine, fantasies of bodies that in no wise exist! Fantasies of bodies that exist are more certain than those others, and bodies are more certain than the images of them. Yet you are not those bodies. Nor are you the soul, which is the life of bodies, and therefore the life of bodies is better and more certain than the bodies. But you are the life of souls, the life of lives, living yourself, and you, O life of my soul, are never changed!

(11) Where, therefore, were you, and at what distance from me? I had wandered far from you, and I was held back even from the husks of the swine to whom I was feeding husks.6 How much better were the fables of the grammarians and the poets than these booby traps! For a verse and a song and Medea flying aloft7 were surely more useful than “the five elements,”8 severally devised because of “the five dens of darkness,” which are completely non-existent but yet can kill one who believes in them. For I can turn verse and song into good food. Again, although I sang of Medea flying aloft, I did not assert that it was a fact; although I heard it sung, I did not believe it. But I did believe in those fantasies. Woe! Woe! By what steps was I led down into the depths of hell, struggling and burning for want of the truth! For then I sought for you, my God—I confess it to you who had mercy on me, even when I was not yet contrite—then I sought for you, not according to intellectual understanding, by which you willed to raise me above brute beasts, but according to carnal sense. But you were more inward than my inmost self, and superior to my highest being.

I met with that bold woman, void of prudence, Solomon’s riddle, seated on a stool at her doorway and saying to me, “Freely eat you of secret bread and drink of sweet stolen waters!”9 She seduced me, for she found me dwelling outside myself in my fleshly eye, and chewing over within myself such things as I had devoured through it.



(12) For I did not know that other being, that which truly is, and I was as it were subtly moved to agree with those dull deceivers when they put their questions to me: “Whence is evil?” “Is God confined within a corporeal form?” “Does he have hair and nails?” “Are those to be judged just men who had many wives, killed other men, and offered sacrifices of animals?” Ignorant in such matters, I was disturbed by these questions, and while actually receding from the truth, I thought I was moving towards it. The reason was that I did not know that evil is only the privation of a good, even to the point of complete nonenity. How could I see this, when with eyes I could see only bodies, and with my soul only phantasms? I did not know that God is a spirit, in whom there are no members having length and breadth and in whom there is no mass. For mass is less in each part than in its whole, and if it is unlimited, it is then less in any spatially definite part than in its unlimited extent. It is never everywhere whole and complete, as is a spirit, as is God. Further, I was absolutely ignorant as to what it is in ourselves that makes us be, or how in the Scriptures we are said to be made to the image of God.1

(13) I did not know that true interior justice, which judges not according to custom but by the most righteous law of almighty God. By this law the customs of various regions and times were adapted to times and places. But the law itself is everywhere and always the same; it is never one thing in one place and different in another. According to that law, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and David, and all those others who found praise in God’s mouth, were just men. But by ignorant men, who judged by man’s day2 and measured the ways of all mankind by their own particular customs, they were judged to be unrighteous. It is as if a man who knew nothing of armor, and could not tell what piece is made for what member, would try to cover his head with a greave or put a helmet on his leg, and then would complain that it did not fit properly. Or it is as if on a certain day when business was forbidden in the afternoon, someone would grow angry because he was not allowed to sell goods as he had in the morning. Or as if one notes in a house how some vessel is handled by a certain slave while it is not allowed to the wine bearer to do so. Again, as if a certain thing is permitted out behind the stable which is forbidden at the table, and one became indignant, because while it is but one dwelling of one family, the same thing is not allowed to all the members and in all places.

Such are all those who complain when they hear that a certain thing was licit for the righteous in another age, whereas it is not permitted to them in our time, because God commanded one thing for some men and something else for others, for certain temporary reasons, although those of both ages were subject to the same justice. Indeed, they can see that in one man, and on one day, and within one house different things are proper to different members; that a thing is permitted up to now which an hour later will not be permitted, and that something is allowed or commanded in one part of the country while it is forbidden and punished in another near by. Is justice therefore at variance with itself and changeable? No, rather the times which it rules over are not identical, for the very reason that they are times. But men, whose life upon the earth is short, because their senses are not able to harmonize the causes prevailing in earlier times and among other peoples, with which they are unacquainted, with those with which they are acquainted, can easily observe in a single body, or on one day, or in a given house, what is proper to each member, at what moment, and for which parts or persons. They find difficulty with the former, but give approval to the latter.

(14) I did not know these things at that time, nor did I advert to them. They beat upon my eyes on every side, and yet I did not see them. I composed poems, and it was not permissible for me to place any foot wherever I wished, but different kinds in different meters and never in any given verse the same foot in all places alike. The very art by which I composed poems did not have different laws in different places, but was always all the same. I did not perceive how justice, to which good and holy men submit, contains in a far more excellent and sublime manner at one and the same time all that it commands, and still is in no part at variance with itself, and how, at various times and not all at once, it distributes and commands what is proper. In my blindness I blamed the holy fathers not only for using present things, as God ordered and inspired them to do, but even for foretelling future things, as God had revealed to them.



(15) Can it be wrong for any of us at any time or in any place to love God with his whole heart, and with his whole soul, and with his whole mind, and to love his neighbor as himself?1 Therefore, vicious deeds that are contrary to nature, are everywhere and always detested and punished, such as were those of the men of Sodom.2 Even if all nations should do these deeds, they would all be held in equal guilt under the divine law, for it has not made men in such fashion that they should use one another in this way. For in truth society itself, which must obtain between God and us, is violated, when the nature of which he is author is polluted by a perverted lust. But those base deeds which are contrary to human customs must be avoided according to the diversity of customs, so that what has been agreed upon among men by the custom of a city or nation, or established by law, may not be violated at the will of a citizen or traveler. Every part that is not in harmony with its whole is a vile thing.

But when God commands something contrary to the customs or laws of a people, it must be done, even if it has never been done before; if it has been neglected, it must be restored; and if it has never been established, it must be established. If it is lawful for a king to command within the city over which he rules something that neither he nor any predecessor had ever ordered, and if it is not against social principles for him to be obeyed, or rather if it be against the principles of society for him not to be obeyed—for it is a general law of human society for men to obey their rulers—how much more must God, ruler of all creation, be obeyed without hesitation in whatever he imposes upon it! Just as among the authorities in human society the greater authority is set above the lesser in the order of obedience, so God stands above all others.

(16) This also holds among crimes where there is a lust to do injury, either by abusive language or by violence. Each of these can be for the sake of revenge, as in the case of enemy against enemy, or for the sake of gaining some external profit, as in the case of the bandit against the traveler; or for the sake of escaping evil, as with a man who is an object of fear; or out of envy, as when a less fortunate man envies another who is happier, or when a man who has prospered in some fashion fears he will be equaled by another, or regrets that the other is already such; or out of sheer pleasure at another’s evil, as with those looking at gladiators or those who deride others or play jokes on them.

These are the chief kinds of iniquity, and they spring forth from lust for power, of the eyes, or of sensuality, whether from one of these, or two, or all three together.3 Thus a man lives contrary to three and seven, the ten-stringed psaltery,4 your ten commandments, O God most high and most sweet. But what shameful deeds can affect you who are incorruptible? Or what crimes can weigh against you, to whom injury can never be done? What you take vengeance on is what men inflict on themselves, for even when they sin against you, they do evil to their own souls. Man’s iniquity lies to itself,5 whether by corrupting and perverting their own nature, which you have made and set in order, or by an immoderate use of things permitted to men, or with regard to things not granted to them by a burning lust for that use which is contrary to nature.6 Or they are held guilty for raging in mind and word against you and for kicking against the goad,7 or when they break the limits of human society and boldly rejoice in their own private schemes and sects with regard to whatever pleases them or offends them. Such things are done, when you are forsaken,8 O fountain of life, who are the sole and true creator and ruler of the universe, and when by personal pride a false unity is loved in the part.9

Therefore, by humble devotion return is made to you, and you cleanse us from our evil ways, and are merciful to the sins of those who confess to you, and graciously hear the groans of those shackled by sin, and you free them from the chains that we have made for ourselves. This you do, if we do not raise up against you the horns10 of a false liberty, in avarice of having more and in danger of losing everything, and in putting more love upon our own personal good than upon you, the good of all that is.



(17) Along with base deeds and crimes and so many other iniquities there are the sins of those who are making progress. These sins are reprehended by good judges in the light of the rule of perfection, but they are praised out of a hope of fruit, as is the blade for the grain. There are certain things that seem like vice or crime, but are not sins, because they neither offend you, our Lord God, nor human society. Instances are when a man gathers for a time certain things suitable to his needs, and it is uncertain whether he does this out of greediness; or when certain acts are punished by proper authority with a view to correcting them, and it is uncertain whether this was done out of a desire to inflict harm. Hence many things which would seem fit to be disapproved by men have been approved by your testimony, and many things praised by men have been condemned by you as judge. For often the outward appearance of the deed is one thing, while the mind of the doer and unknown circumstances at the time are another. But when you suddenly command some unusual and unforeseen deed, even one you had once forbidden, and although you for a time keep secret the reason for your command, who can doubt that it must be done, although it may be against the law of some human society, since only that human society which serves you is just? Happy are they who know that it was you who gave the command. For by your servants all things are done either to show what is needful at present or to foretell the future.



(18) I was ignorant of such things, and I mocked at those holy men, your servants and prophets. But what did I accomplish when I derided them, except that I should become a thing of scorn to you? For slowly, little by little, I was led on to such follies as to believe that a fig weeps when it is plucked and that the mother tree sheds milky tears. And if some “saint”1 ate this fig—providing, forsooth, that it was picked not by his but by another’s sinful hand—then he would digest it in his stomach, and from it he would breathe forth angels! While he groaned and retched in prayer, he would even breathe forth bits of God! And those bits of the most high and true God would have remained bound up in that piece of fruit, unless they had been let loose by the teeth and belly of an elected saint! In my wretched state I believed that more mercy should be shown to the fruits of the earth than to men, for whose sake they were brought forth. If a non-Manichee who was sorely hungry begged a mouthful I would think it was like condemning it to capital punishment to give it to him.



(19) “You put forth your hand from on high,”1 and you drew my soul out2 of that pit of darkness, when before you my mother, your faithful servant, wept more for me than mothers weep over their children’s dead bodies. By that spirit of faith which she had from you, she saw my death, and you graciously heard her, O Lord. Graciously you heard her, and you did not despise her tears when they flowed down from her eyes and watered the earth beneath, in whatsoever place she prayed. Graciously you heard her. For whence was that dream by which you consoled her, so that she consented to live with me and to share the same table with me in my home? For this she had begun to be unwilling to do, turning her back on my errors and detesting them. She saw herself standing upon a certain wooden rule,3 and coming towards her a young man, splendid, joyful, and smiling upon her, although she grieved and was crushed with grief. When he asked her the reasons for her sorrow and her daily tears—he asked, as is the custom, not for the sake of learning but of teaching4—she replied that she lamented for my perdition. Then he bade her rest secure, and instructed her that she should attend and see that where she was, there was I also. And when she looked there she saw me standing on the same rule. Whence was this, but that your ears were inclined towards her heart,5 O you, the good omnipotent, who so care for each one of us as if you care for him alone, and who care for all as for each single person?

(20) Whence too was this, that when she had narrated the vision to me and I attempted to distort it to mean rather that she should not despair of becoming what I already was, she immediately replied without any hesitation: “No!” she said. “It was not said to me, ‘Where he is, there also are you,’ but ‘Where you are, there also is he.’ ” I confess to you, Lord, that my memory of this, as best I can recall it, and I often spoke of it, is that I was more disturbed by your answer to me through my mother—for she was not disturbed by the likely-seeming falsity of my interpretation and quickly saw what was to be seen, which I certainly did not see before she spoke—than by the dream itself. By this dream the joy of that holy woman, to be fulfilled so long afterwards, was predicted much beforehand so as to bring consolation in her then present solicitude. For almost nine years passed, in which I wallowed “in the mire of the deep”6 and in the darkness of error, and although I often strove to rise out of it, I was all the more grievously thrust down again. But all the while, that chaste, devout, and sober widow, one such as those you love, already livelier in hope, but no less assiduous in weeping and mourning, ceased not in all her hours of prayer to lament over me before you. Her prayers entered into your sight,7 but you still abandoned me to turn and turn yet again in that darkness.



(21) Meanwhile you gave my mother another answer that I recall, although I pass over many things because I hasten to those which most urge me to confess to you, and there are many things that I do not remember. You gave her another answer, then, through one of your priests, a certain bishop brought up in the Church and well trained in your books. When that woman besought him that he would deign to talk with me, refute my errors, correct my evil beliefs, and teach me good ones—for he was accustomed to do this for those whom he found to be properly disposed—he refused, very prudently indeed, as I later understood. He told her that I was as yet lacking in docility, that I was puffed up by the novelty of that heresy, and that I had already unsettled many unlearned men with numerous trifling questions, just as she had indicated to him. “But let him be,” he said. “Only pray to the Lord in his behalf. He will find out by reading what is the character of that error and how great is its impiety.”

At the same time also, he narrated how he himself as a little child had been handed over to the Manichees by his deluded mother, and how he had not only read through almost all their books but had even copied them out, and how it had appeared to him, although he had no one to argue with him and convince him, that he must flee from this sect, and so he had fled from it. When he had spoken these words, and she still would not keep quiet, but by her entreaties and flowing tears urged him all the more to see me and discuss matters with me, he became a little vexed and said: “Go away from me now. As you live, it is impossible that the son of such tears should perish.” As she was often wont to recall in her conversations with me, she took this as if it had sounded forth from heaven.

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