(1) Accept the sacrifice of my confessions from the hand that is my tongue, which you have formed and aroused to confess to your name. Heal all my bones, and let them say, “Lord, who is like to you?”1 No man who makes confession to you teaches you what takes place within him, for a closed heart does not close out your eye, nor does man’s hardness turn back your hand. You loose it when you will, either in mercy or in vengeance, and there is no one that can hide himself from your heat.2 Let my soul praise you, so that it may love you, and let it confess your mercies before you, so that it may praise you. Your whole creation does not cease or keep silent from your praise, nor does every spirit through a mouth turned to you, nor do animals and corporeal things through the mouths of those who meditate upon them, so that our soul may arouse itself to you out of its weariness, resting first on the things that you have made, and passing on to you who made those things in so wonderful a way. For with you is refreshment and true strength.
THE RUGGED WAYS
(2) The wicked, who are without rest,1 may go their way and flee from you, but you see them and pierce the shadows. Behold, all things about them are beautiful, but they themselves are vile. How have they done injury to you, and in what way have they disfigured your sway, which is just and perfect from the heavens even down to the lowest depths? Whither did they flee, when they would flee from your face? Or where would you not find them out? But they fled away, so that they might not see you who see them always, and that, being blinded, they might stumble upon you—for you forsake nothing that you have made2—that they, the unjust, might stumble upon you, and thus be justly troubled, withdrawing themselves from your gentleness, stumbling against your righteousness, and falling upon your severity. In truth, they do not know that you are everywhere, for no place can enclose you, and that you alone are present even with those who have set themselves far from you. Let them be converted, then, and seek you, for you have not forsaken your creation, as they have forsaken you. Let them be converted, and behold, you are there within their hearts, within the hearts of those who confess to you, and cast themselves upon you, and weep upon your breast after all their rugged ways. When you gently wipe away their tears,3 they weep the more and rejoice in their weeping, for you, O Lord, and not a mere man of flesh and blood, you, O Lord, who made them, can remake them and give them consolation. Where was I, when I sought you? You were before me, but I had departed even from myself, and I did not find myself, and how much less you!
FAUSTUS THE MANICHEAN AND THE ASTRONOMERS
(3) I speak out in the sight of my God of the twenty-ninth year of my age. There had come to Carthage at that time a certain bishop of the Manichees, Faustus1 by name, a great snare of the devil,2 and in that snare many were entangled by the lure of his smooth language. Although I praised this latter, yet I was able to distinguish it from the truth of the things I was avid to learn about. I was concerned not with what vessel of discourse but with what knowledge this Faustus, so renowned among them, would put before me to eat. Report had sent me beforehand the story that he was most highly instructed in all genuine studies and especially skilled in the liberal arts.
Since I had read many doctrines of the philosophers and retained them in my memory, I compared certain of them with the long fables of the Manichees. I found much more probable the words of the philosophers who were “able to know so much as to make a judgment of the world,” although its Lord they did not find.3 For you are great, O Lord, and you look upon the lowly, but the high you know afar off.4 You do not draw near to any but the contrite of heart,5 and you are not found by the proud, not even if they could number with curious skill the stars and the sands, and measure the constellations, and plot the courses of the planets.
(4) By their own minds and by that ingenuity with which you endowed them, they investigated these matters and made many discoveries. Many years in advance they foretold eclipses of the great luminaries, the sun and the moon, telling on what day, at what hour, and to what extent they would be, and their calculations did not fail them. The event proved as they had foretold. The principles that they had discovered they put down in writing, and they are read to this day. According to these rules, predictions are made in what year, in what month of the year, on what day of the month, on what hour of the day, and in what part of its light the sun or moon is to be eclipsed, and so it comes to pass, as it is predicted. Men who do not understand such matters stand in amazement and wonder at all this; those who understand them exult and are elated. Out of an impious pride they fall back from you and suffer an eclipse of your light. So early can they foresee a coming eclipse of the sun, but their own present eclipse they do not see, for they do not seek with a devout mind whence it is that they possess this skill by which they seek out these things. But when they find this, because you have made them, they do not give themselves up to you, so that you may preserve what you have made, and they do not slay in sacrifice to you what they have made themselves to be. Nor do they slay their own prideful boasts, which are like the fowls of the air, or their selfish curiosity, which is like the fishes in the sea, by which they wander along the hidden paths of the deep, or their carnal indulgence, which is like the beasts of the field,6 so that you, O God, who are a devouring7 flame, may consume their dead cares and re-create them deathlessly.
(5) But they did not know the way, your Word, by which you made the things8 that they number off, and themselves who number, and the sense by which they discern what they number, and the intellect by which they number. To your wisdom there is no number.9 The Only-begotten himself “is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification,”10 and he has been numbered among us, and he has paid tribute to Caesar.11 They have not known this way by which they may descend from themselves to him, and through him ascend up to him. They have not known this way, and they think themselves to be lifted up to the stars and to be shining lights, and lo, they plunge down to earth, “and their foolish heart is darkened over.”12 They say many true things of your creation, but he who is truth, the artificer of creation, they do not seek in piety, and therefore they do not find him. Or if they do find him, and acknowledge him to be God, they do not honor him as God, or give him thanks. They become vain in their thoughts and “profess themselves to be wise,” by attributing to themselves the things that are yours. In this wise, in a most perverse blindness, they strive to attribute to you even their own deeds, that is, to put their lies upon you, who are the truth, to change “the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of a corruptible man, and of birds and four-footed beasts, and of creeping things.” They change your truth into a lie, and they worship and serve the creature rather than the creator.
(6) I kept in memory many true things said by these men concerning your creation, and I found proof for them, based on mathematical calculations, the orderly succession of the seasons, and the visible testimony of the stars. I compared them with the pronouncements of Mani,13 who in the course of his ravings had written very extensively on these matters, but in his works I found no explanation of solstices, equinoxes, or the eclipse of the greater lights, and nothing such as I had learned in the books on natural philosophy. But I was ordered to believe the things he wrote and this belief did not agree with those proofs established by mathematics and by my own eyes, but was far different.
KNOWLEDGE AND HAPPINESS
(7) Lord God of truth, is whoever knows these things by that fact pleasing to you? No, unhappy is the man who knows all this, but does not know you; happy is he who knows you, even if he does not know such things. Indeed, a man who knows both you and these things too is not the happier because of them, but because of you alone is he happy, if knowing you, he likewise glorifies you, gives thanks to you, and does not become vain in his own thoughts.1 A man who knows that he owns a tree, and gives thanks to you for its fruit, even though he may not know how many cubits high it is or how wide it spreads, is better than one who measures it and counts all its branches, but does not own it and does not know or love its creator. It is thus with the man of faith, to whom this whole rich world belongs, who, by cleaving to you whom all things serve, is as one having nothing yet possessing all things,2 although he does not know even the circles of the Great Bear. It is folly to doubt that he is far better than one who measures the skies, and counts the stars, and weighs the elements, but neglects you who have “ordered all things in measure, weight, and number.”3
THE CHARACTER AND DOCTRINE OF MANI
(8) Who was it that requested someone called Mani to write even about such things? Apart from knowledge in these matters, true piety can yet be learned. You have said to man, “Behold, piety is wisdom.”1 Of this Mani could be ignorant, even though he knew the other matters perfectly. But in truth because he did not know these subjects, and yet brazenly presumed to teach them, he plainly could not attain to knowledge of piety. It is vanity to make profession of these worldly subjects even when they are known, but it is piety to make confession to you. Hence this devious character spoke at length on natural philosophy only to this effect, that when refuted by others who had learned the truth concerning such things, they would clearly recognize what sort of knowledge he had of other more difficult subjects. He did not wish to be thought of small account, but tried to convince men that the Holy Spirit, the consoler and enricher of your faithful, was with full authority personally present in him. Therefore, when he was found out to have taught falsely about the heavens and the stars and the movements of the sun and the moon, although such things do not belong to religious doctrine, it would be quite clear that his were sacrilegious presumptions. For he would make pronouncements not only on things of which he knew nothing but even on things he falsified, with such mad pride and vanity that he tried to attribute them to himself as to a divine person.
(9) When I hear this or that brother Christian who is ignorant of these subjects and thinks one thing in place of another, I can regard such a man with patience as he gives his opinion. I cannot see how it will harm him if he is perhaps in ignorance with regard to the position or condition of some corporeal creature, as long as he does believe things unworthy of you, O Lord, creator of all things.2 However, it is harmful to him if he thinks that this belongs to the very essence of religious teaching and obstinately presumes to assert what he is ignorant of. Such weakness in the cradle days of a man’s faith is put up with by charity, our mother, until this new man grows up into “a perfect man,” no more “to be carried about with every wind of doctrine.”3 But as to that one4 who dared to become the teacher, and the authority and the leader, and the prince of those whom he could persuade to such things, so that his followers thought that they followed not a mere man but your Holy Spirit, who would not deem that in him such madness should be detested and totally rejected, when once he had been convicted of making false statements? But I had not as yet clearly determined whether the changes of the longer and shorter days and nights, and of day itself and night itself, and the waning of the stars, and any other things of this kind that I had read in other books, could also be explained in keeping with his words. For if by any chance they could, it would still be uncertain to me whether the things were so or not. However, because of the supposed sanctity of the man, I could advance his authority to support my belief.
FAUSTUS IN PERSON
(10) For almost nine years, during which my errant mind had hearkened to those men, I awaited with intense longing the coming of this Faustus. Others among them whom I chanced to meet failed to answer my questions and objections on these subjects, but they promised me that when he came and took part in the discussions, these problems, and even harder ones that I might present, would be easily and clearly settled. When he came, then, I found that he was gracious and pleasant in his conversation, and that on the topics on which they usually speak he could talk along much more agreeably. But how could the most comely cup-bearer help to slake my thirst for more precious drinks? My ears already had had enough of such things. They did not seem the better to me because better expressed, nor true because eloquent, nor was his soul wise because he looked that way and had a suitable flow of words. The men who had made me such promises about him were not good judges of things, and therefore he appeared wise and prudent to them because his speech was pleasing to them.
I came to know another type of men who even hold the truth in suspicion and refuse to accept it if it is presented to them in an elegant and copious style. But you, my God, had already taught me in wonderful and secret ways, and therefore I believe because you taught me. For your teaching is true, and besides you there is no other teacher of the truth, no matter at what time or in what place he may have fame. Already, therefore, I had learned from you that nothing should be held true merely because it is eloquently expressed, nor false because its signs sound harsh upon the lips. Again, I learned that a thing is not true because rudely uttered, nor is it false because its utterance is splendid. I learned that wisdom is like wholesome food and folly like unwholesome food: they can be set forth in language ornate or plain, just as both kinds of food can be served on rich dishes or on peasant ware.
(11) Therefore, that greed of mine, with which I had so long awaited the man, found delight in his lively manner and feeling in disputation and with his language, which was so appropriate and arose so easily to clothe his thoughts. I was delighted with him, and together with many others, indeed more so than many of them, I praised and extolled him. But I took it amiss that in the midst of a crowd of listeners I could not bring forward and share with him my own worrisome questions in personal conferences and by offering and receiving arguments. When I was able to do this, I began, together with some friends, to lay siege to his ears at a time when mutual discussion was not out of place. I set forth certain things that were disturbing me, and I saw at once that the man was unskilled in the liberal arts, with the exception of grammar, and with that only in an elementary way. But he had read some of Cicero’s orations, and a very few books of Seneca,1 certain things of the poets, and whatever volumes of his own sect that were written in Latin and were well composed, and he had daily practice in speaking. By such means he acquired a certain eloquence that became the more acceptable and the more seductive because kept within the limits of his abilities and because of a certain natural grace. Is it not thus as I recall it, O Lord my God, judge of my conscience? My heart and my remembrance lie open before you, who at that time worked upon me, out of the secret mystery of your providence, and turned my shameful errors before my face,2 so that I might see them and detest them.
FAUSTUS AS TEACHER
(12) After it had become quite clear to me that Faustus was not well equipped in those arts in which I had supposed him to be outstanding, I began to despair that he could ever explain and solve the things that perplexed me. A man ignorant of these subjects could yet hold fast to the truths of religion, but only on the condition that he were not a Manichean. In fact, their books are filled with long-spun-out tales of the heavens, the stars, the sun, and the moon. Having compared their accounts with the mathematical solutions that I had read elsewhere, I did not think that he was able to explain these matters with exactness or—and this was what I greatly desired—to show that they are such as is found in Mani’s books, or that an equally good solution could be drawn from those books. When I proposed these problems for consideration and discussion, he was properly modest and did not make bold to take up the burden. He knew that he did not know these subjects, and he was not ashamed to admit it. He was not one of those wordy fellows, from whom I had suffered much, who attempted to instruct me in these matters but said nothing. Although the man’s heart was not rightly disposed towards you,1 yet it was not altogether imprudent with regard to itself. He was not completely ignorant of his own ignorance, and he did not want to engage rashly in a discussion from which he had no way out or no easy way of retreat. He appealed to me the more for this: more beautiful than all those things I desired to know is the modest mind that admits its own limitations. Such I found him to be with regard to all the more difficult and abstruse questions.
(13) As a result, the zeal with which I had set out on the study of Mani’s books was much dulled, and I despaired all the more of learning anything from the rest of their teachers, since as regards the many problems that troubled me the famous Faustus had appeared in this light. However, I was thereafter much in his company in consequence of the enthusiasm with which he was inflamed for literature, which I, as a professor of rhetoric, was teaching young men at Carthage. I began to read with him books such as he had heard of and desired to read, or such as I thought proper to his abilities. But all my efforts by which I had determined to advance in that sect collapsed utterly as I came to know that man. I did not as yet break completely with them, but as if unable to find anything better than what I had in some way stumbled upon, I resolved to be content with it for the time being, unless something preferable should chance to appear. So this Faustus, who had been a fatal snare to so many men, now began, neither willing it nor knowing it, to loosen the snare in which I was caught. Your hands, my God, in the secret of your providence, did not forsake my soul. Out of the blood of my mother’s heart, through the tears she poured out by day and night, a sacrifice was offered up to you in my behalf, and you dealt with me in a wondrous way.2 This did you do, O my God. For “with the Lord are a man’s steps directed, and he well likes his way.”3For how shall we obtain salvation save from your hand, which makes anew what it has made?
A ROAD TO ROME
(14) You worked within me, then, so that I might be persuaded to go to Rome, and to teach there rather than at Carthage. How I was persuaded to do this I will not neglect to confess to you, for in all this both the most hidden depths of your providence and your mercy, most near at hand to give us help, must be thought upon and proclaimed. I did not want to go to Rome because greater stipends and greater honors were promised to me by friends who urged me on to this, although such things also influenced my mind at that time. The greatest and almost the sole reason was because I had heard that young men studied there in more a peaceful way and were kept quiet by the restraints of a better order and discipline.1 They were not allowed to rush insolently and at random into the classroom of a teacher with whom they were not enrolled, nor were they let in at all unless he gave permission. On the other hand, at Carthage there is a foul, unrestrained license among the students. They break in boldly and, looking almost like madmen, they disrupt whatever order a teacher has established for his students’ benefit. With strange recklessness they do many injurious things that would be punished by law, unless they had custom as their patron. This very custom displays them to be the more wretched in that they do, with permission as it were, what will never be permitted by your eternal law. They think that they act with impunity, whereas they are punished by the very blindness in which they act, and they suffer incomparably greater evils than they inflict. Thus, manners that I did not want for myself as a student I was forced to endure in others when I became a teacher. Hence I was pleased to go where such things were not done, as all who knew the situation told me. But you, “my hope and my portion in the land of the living,”2 to the end that I would change my residence on earth for the sake of my soul’s salvation, put goads to me at Carthage by which I would be turned away from there, and at Rome you set allurements before me by which I would be drawn thither. All this you did by means of men who loved a dead life, and in the one case did senseless deeds and in the other made empty promises. To correct my steps3 you secretly made use of both their perversity and my own. For those who disturbed my peace were blinded by a foul frenzy, and those who called me to another course savored of earth.4 But I myself, who in the one city detested true misery, in the other sought false felicity.
(15) Why I went from the one place and went to the other you knew, O God, but you did not reveal it to me or to my mother, who bitterly bewailed my journey and followed me even down to the seashore. But I deceived her, although she held onto me by force, so that she might either call me back or make the journey with me. I pretended that I had a friend whom I would not leave until a fair wind came and he could sail away. Thus I lied to my mother—to such a mother!—and slipped away from her. This deed also you have forgiven me in your mercy, and you preserved me, all full of execrable filth, from waters of the sea and kept me safe for the waters of your grace.5 For when I would be washed clean by that water, then also would be dried up those rivers flowing down from my mother’s eyes, by which, before you and in my behalf, she daily watered the ground beneath her face.
Yet she refused to return without me, and I was hardly able to persuade her to spend the night in a place close by our ship, an oratory built in memory of Blessed Cyprian.6 During the night I secretly set out; she did not, but remained behind, praying and weeping. What was it, my God, that she sought from you with so many tears, except that you would not let me sail away. But in your deepest counsels you heard the crux of her desire: you had no care for what she then sought, so that you might do for me what she forever sought. The wind blew and filled our sails, and the shore receded from our sight. On that shore in the morning she stood, wild with grief, and with complaints and groans she filled your ears. But you rejected such things, since you carried me away on my own desires so as to put an end to those desires, and thus the carnal affection that was in her was beaten by the just scourge of sorrow. For she loved me to be present with her, after the custom of mothers, but much more than many mothers. She did not know how great a joy you would fashion for her out of my absence. She knew nothing of this, and therefore she wept and lamented. By such torments the remnant of Eve within her was made manifest, and with groans she sought what she had brought forth with groans.7Yet after her denunciation of my falsity and cruelty, she turned again to beseech you in prayer for me. She went back home, and I went on to Rome.
SICKNESS AT ROME
(16) But behold, there I was caught under the scourge of bodily sickness, and I was on the verge of going down to hell, carrying with me all the sins that I had committed against you, against myself, and against others, many and great they were, and beyond that bond of original sin, in which we all die in Adam.1 You had not yet forgiven me any of them in Christ, nor had he destroyed upon his cross the enmities2 that I had contracted against you by my sins. How would he destroy them on the cross of a phantom, which was what I then believed him to be?3 As false, therefore, as his bodily death seemed to me, so true was the death of my soul. As true as was the death of his body, so false was the life of my soul, which did not believe in his bodily death.
My fever grew worse within me: I was now about to depart and to perish. Where would I have gone, if I had then left this world, except into the fire and torment that were worthy of my deeds, according to the truth of your dispensation? Of all this my mother knew nothing, yet far away she continued to pray for me. But you are present in all places, and you graciously heard her where she was, and you had mercy on me where I was, so that I regained my bodily health, although still diseased within my sacrilegious heart. Nor in so great a danger did I desire your baptism: I had been better disposed as a boy, when I had begged for it of my mother’s piety, as I have already recorded and confessed. But I had grown in my shame, and, a very madman, I scoffed at the healing remedies of you who did not let me as such a man die a twofold death.4 If my mother’s heart had been struck by that wound, it would never have been healed. I cannot tell clearly enough what love she had for me, and how with greater anguish she brought me forth in spirit than she had given me birth in the flesh.5
(17) Hence, I cannot see how she would ever have been healed, if my death in such a state had pierced through and through the bowels of her love.6 Where would have been such mighty prayers, sent up so often and without ceasing? Nowhere, except with you! But would you, O God of mercies, have despised the contrite and humbled heart7 of so chaste and sober a widow, generous in almsgiving, faithful and helpful to your holy ones, letting no day pass without an offering at your altar, going without fail to church twice a day, in the morning and at evening, not for empty stories and old wives’ tales, but that she might hear you in your instructions and that you might hear her in her prayers? Could you, by whose gift she was such, despise and reject from your help those tears, by which she sought from you not gold and silver or any changing, fleeting good but the salvation of her son’s soul? By no means, O Lord! Yes, you were present to help her, and you graciously heard her, and you did this in the order in which you had predestined it to be done. Far be it that you would deceive her by those visions and by your answers to her, both those I have already recounted and those I have not recounted. She kept them faithfully in her breast, and, always at prayer, she would urge them upon you as if they were your own signed bonds. For since your mercy endures forever,8 you vouchsafe, to those in whom you forgive all debts,9 to become even a debtor by your promises.
FALSE PHILOSOPHY AND FALSE THEOLOGY
(18) Therefore, you caused me to recover from that illness, and then also you healed the son of your handmaid1 for a time as to his body, so that he might live and you might give him a better and more certain health. Even then at Rome I associated with those false and falsifying holy ones: not merely with their hearers, among whom was numbered the man in whose house I had both fallen ill and recovered, but also with those whom they call the elect. I still thought that it was not ourselves who sin, but that some sort of different nature within us commits the sin. It gave joy to my pride to be above all guilt, and when I did an evil deed, not to confess that I myself had done it, so that you might heal my soul, since it had sinned against you.2 I loved to excuse myself, and to accuse I know not what other being that was present with me but yet was not I. But in truth I was the one whole being, and my own impiety had divided me against myself.3 That sin was the more incurable whereby I judged myself to be no sinner. Accursed is such iniquity, almighty God, by which I chose rather that you, you within me, should be overthrown unto my damnation, rather than that I should be conquered by you unto my salvation.
You had not yet “set a watch before my mouth, and a door” of continence “round about my lips,” so that my heart would not decline “to evil words, to make excuses in sins with men that work iniquity,”4 and therefore I still communicated with their elect. But since I despaired of making progress in that false doctrine, I now began to hold in a more loose and careless manner those very tenets with which, if I came upon nothing better, I had resolved to be content.
(19) The thought arose in me that those philosophers whom they call the Academics5 were wiser than the rest. They were of the opinion that all things are doubtful, and they decreed that no truth can be apprehended by man. To me they clearly seemed to believe this, as is commonly held, although I did not yet understand their meaning. I did not fail to restrain my host from overcredulity, which I knew him to have concerning those fabled topics with which the Manichean books are filled. Yet I lived in closer friendship with them than with other men who did not belong to that heresy. However, I did not defend it with my former ardor, but close association with them—Rome concealed many of them—made me more slothful to seek something different. This was especially so because I despaired, O Lord of heaven and earth, creator of all things visible and invisible, of finding the truth within your Church, from which they had averted me.
To me it seemed a most base thing to believe that you have the shape of our human flesh and are bounded by the outward lines of our bodily members. I wished to meditate upon my God, but I did not know how to think of him except as a vast corporeal mass, for I thought that anything not a body was nothing whatsoever. This was the greatest and almost the sole cause of my inevitable error.
(20) As a result, I believed that evil is some such substance and that it possesses its own foul and hideous mass, either gross, which they styled the earth, or thin and subtle, as is the body of the air, which they imagine to be a malignant mind stealing through the earth. Because some sort of reverence forced me to believe that a good God would create no evil nature, I postulated two masses opposed to one another, each of them infinite, but the evil one on a narrower scale, the good one larger. From this pestilential beginning other blasphemies pursued me. When my mind attempted to have recourse to the Catholic faith, it was struck back again, for the Catholic faith was not such as I thought it to be. My God, to whom your own mercies make confession out of my mouth, I thought myself to be more truly religious if I believed you to be infinite in other parts, even though I was forced to admit that you are finite in that part where the evil mass stands in opposition to you, than if I thought that in all your parts you were bounded by the form of the human body.
I thought it better to believe that you created nothing evil—which in my ignorance appeared to be not only some kind of substance but even a corporeal thing, since I could not think of mind except as a subtle body diffused throughout space—than to believe that a nature such as I thought evil to be could come from your hand. Our Savior himself, your Only-begotten, I so thought of as being something extruded out of the mass of your pellucid substance for our salvation, that I could believe nothing of him except what I could picture by my own vain powers. I judged that such a nature as his could never be born of the Virgin Mary, without becoming intermingled in the flesh. How such a thing as I had figured out for myself could be thus intermingled and yet undefiled I could not see. So I feared to believe that he was born in the flesh, lest I be forced to believe him defiled by the flesh. Now will your spiritual ones gently and lovingly smile at me if they should read these confessions of mine. But such was I at that time.
(21) Moreover, I did not think it possible to defend the things in your Scriptures to which those men had objected. Sometimes I desired greatly to discuss individual points with someone highly trained in those books and to find out what he thought of them. Already the statements of a certain Elpidius, who had spoken and disputed face to face against these same Manicheans, had begun to affect me even at Carthage, since he advanced such passages from the Scriptures as could not easily be refuted. I thought that their answer was a feeble one. They were not ready to state it publicly, but only to us in private, and then they would assert that the New Testament writings were falsified by some unknown persons who wished to implant the law of the Jews in the Christian faith.1 However, they themselves did not produce any uncorrupted copies.
But those two masses weighed down on me, caught fast and as it were suffocated, as I lay thinking only of corporeal things. Beneath them I gasped for the pure, clear air that is your truth, but I was unable to breathe it in.
DISHONEST STUDENTS AT ROME
(22) I began to devote myself busily to the purpose for which I had come to Rome, namely, to teach rhetoric. I first gathered together in the house some students with whom and through whom I began to gain a reputation. See now how I learned that certain things are done in Rome which I had not suffered from in Africa. It became manifest to me that the wreckage wrought there by abandoned young men was not done here. “But yet,” men told me, “to evade paying their teacher, many young men conspire together and all at once transfer themselves from one teacher to another. They are false to their own word, and out of love for money they hold justice in contempt.” My heart hated these men, but not with “a perfect hatred.”1 For perhaps I hated them because of what I was to suffer at their hands, rather than because they did unjust things to other men. In truth such men are vile in character; they fornicate against you2 out of love for passing, temporary trifles and filthy lucre, which defiles the hand that seizes it, and by embracing a fleeting world, and by despising you who abide forever, who call back to yourself and forgive the human soul, which though once sunk in harlotries has now returned to you.
But now I hate such depraved and perverse men, although I can love them when they have been corrected, so that they may prize above money the doctrine itself which they learn, and above that last, yourself, O God, the truth, and the fullness of all sure good, and peace most chaste. But at that time, because of self-regard, I was more unwilling to suffer at the hands of evil men than I was willing that they become good men for your sake.
A NEW CAREER AT MILAN
(23) Afterwards a message was sent from Milan1 to Rome, addressed to the prefect of the city, asking that a rhetoric master be secured for Milan and stating that his transportation would be at public expense. I applied for the position through the offices of those very men, drunk as they were with Manichean follies, to get free from whom I was leaving, although neither I nor they knew that. The result was that after I had been tested by a public discourse that had been prescribed, Symmachus,2 who was then prefect, sent me there. I came to Milan, and to Ambrose,3 its bishop, a man famed throughout the world as one of its very best men, and your devout worshiper. By his eloquent sermons in those days he zealously provided your people with the fat of your wheat,4 the gladness of your oil,5 and the sobering intoxication of your wine.6 All unknowing, I was led to him by you, so that through him I might be led, while fully knowing it, to you.
That man of God7 received me in fatherly fashion, and as an exemplary bishop he welcomed my pilgrimage. I began to love him, at first not as a teacher of the truth, which I utterly despaired of finding in your Church, but as a man who was kindly disposed towards me. I listened carefully to him as he preached to the people, not with the intention I should have had, but to try out his eloquence, as it were, and to see whether it came up to its reputation, or whether it flowed forth with greater or less power than was asserted of it. I hung eagerly on his words, but I remained uninterested in his subject matter or contemptuous of it. With the sweetness of his discourse I was delighted, which, although more learned, was less lively and entertaining than was that of Faustus. This applies to his style of speaking, for with regard to their subjects there was no comparison. The one man went wandering about among his Manichean fallacies, whereas the other taught salvation in a most salutary way. But “salvation is far from sinners,” and such was I at that time. Yet little by little I was drawing closer to you, although I did not know it.
THE INFLUENCE OF ST. AMBROSE’S PREACHING
(24) Although I was not anxious to learn what he said, but merely to hear how he said it—for such bootless concern remained with me, although I had no hope that any way lay open for a man to come to you—yet at the same time with the words, which I loved, there also entered into my mind the things themselves, to which I was indifferent. Nor was I able to separate them from one another, and when I opened up my heart to receive the eloquence with which he spoke, there likewise entered, although only by degrees, the truths that he spoke. At first it began to appear that what he said could be defended. I now judged that the Catholic faith, for which I had thought nothing could be said against the Manichean objectors, could be maintained without being ashamed of it. This was especially the case after I had heard various passages in the Old Testament explained most frequently by way of allegory, by which same passages I was killed when I had taken them literally.1 Hence when many passages in those books were explained spiritually, I now blamed my own despair, in which I had believed that the law and the prophets could in no way be upheld against those who hated them and scoffed at them.
(25) Yet for all that I did not think that the Catholic way must be held to by myself, even though it could have its learned defenders who would fully and not absurdly refute objections made to it. Nor did I think that what I had previously held was to be condemned, for both parties seemed to be equal in their defenses. Thus while the Catholic position did not seem to be overthrown, neither did it appear to be the victor. I then earnestly applied my mind to see if it were possible, by means of sure arguments, to convict the Manicheans of falsity. For if I were only able to conceive a spiritual substance, then forthwith all those stratagems would be foiled and cast out of my mind. But this I was unable to do.
But with regard to the structure of this world, and every nature that our bodily senses can perceive, as I more and more reflected on and compared things, I came to the conclusion that the philosophers had held much more probable opinions. After the manner of the Academics (as they supposedly are) I doubted everything and wavered in the midst of all things. Yet I resolved that the Manicheans must be abandoned. Even in my skeptical period I did not see how I could persist in a sect above which I now placed many philosophers. But because these philosophers were without the saving name of Christ, I refused utterly to commit the cure of my soul’s sickness to them. Therefore, I determined to continue as a catechumen2 in the Catholic Church, commended to me by my parents, until something certain would enlighten me, by which I might direct my course.