NEW KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S TRUE NATURE
(1) My evil and abominable youth was now dead, and I was passing into early manhood.1 But the more advanced I was in age, so much the more was I defiled by vain things. I could conceive of no substantial being except such as those that I was wont to see with my own eyes. Yet from the time that I first began to learn anything of wisdom2 I did not think of you, O God, as being in the shape of the human body. Such a conception I always shunned, and I rejoiced to find that the faith of our spiritual mother, your Catholic Church, likewise shunned it. But what more I should think you to be, I did not know. I, a man—and such a man!—tried to think upon you, the supreme, the sole, and the true God,3 and I believed with all my soul that you are incorruptible, and inviolable, and immutable. Not knowing whence or how, I clearly saw and was certain that what can be corrupted is inferior to what cannot be corrupted, and what cannot be violated I unhesitatingly placed above what is violable, and what suffers no change I saw to be better than what can be changed.
My heart cried out violently against all my phantasms,4 and with one blow I tried to beat off the throng of unclean images fluttering5 before my mind’s eye. Yet they had scarcely been driven off, when, lo, in the twinkling of an eye, they came thronging back again, rushed before my sight, and clouded it over. Hence, although I did not think of you as being in the shape of a human body, I was forced to think of you as something corporeal, existent in space and place, either infused into the world or even diffused outside the world throughout infinite space. Even thus did I think of that very incorruptible and inviolable and immutable being which I set above the corruptible, the violable, and the mutable. For whatever I conceived as devoid of such spatial character seemed to me to be nothing, absolutely nothing, not even so much as an empty space. For if a body is removed from a place, and the place remains empty of any body whatsoever, whether earthly, watery, airy, or celestial,6 yet there remains that empty space, as it were a spacious nothing.
(2) So gross of heart was I,7 and I had no clear idea even of my own self, that whatever was not extended over, or diffused throughout, or compacted into, or projected up to definite measures of space, or did not or could not receive something of this kind, I thought to be completely non-existent. Just as my eyes were wont to move about among such forms, so also my heart moved about among similar images. I did not perceive that the mental power by which I formed these images was no such corporeal substance. Yet it could not form them unless it were itself some great thing. So also, I thought that you, the life of my life, were a great corporeal substance, existent everywhere throughout infinite space, which penetrates the whole world-mass, and spreads beyond it on every side throughout immense, limitless space. Thus the earth would have you, the heavens would have you, all things would have you: they would all be limited by you, but you would be limited nowhere. The body of the air—of that air which is above the earth—does not hinder the light of the sun from passing through it. The sun penetrates the air, not by breaking it up or cutting it apart, but by completely filling it. Just so, I thought that the bodies, not only of the heavens, and the air, and the sea, but even of the earth, are all subject to your passage and penetrable in all their parts, the greatest as well as the least, so that they may receive your presence, while all things, which you have created, are governed both inwardly and outwardly by your secret inspiration. Thus did I conjecture, because I could think of nothing different, but it was all false. In that theory, a larger part of the earth would hold a larger part of you, a lesser part, a smaller portion. Thus all things would be filled with you, in such wise that an elephant’s body would receive more of you than would a sparrow’s, in so far as it was bigger and occupied a bigger place. Thus you would cause your parts to be present as fragments, large parts in the large parts of the world and small parts in the small parts of the world. It is not so with you, but as yet you had not enlightened my darkness.8
A REFUTATION OF THE MANICHEES
(3) For me, O Lord, that was a sufficient answer to those men, themselves deceived and deceiving others, dumb yet talking much (for from them your Word did not sound forth)—that was indeed a sufficient answer which long ago, while we were still at Carthage, Nebridius used to propose, and which impressed all of us who heard it. He asked: “What would that unknown nation of darkness, which the Manichees are wont to postulate as a hostile mass, have done to you if you had refused to contend with it?” If it was answered that it would do you some injury, then you would be violable and corruptible. If it were said that it could not injure you, no reason would be offered for your fighting with it, fighting, too, in such wise that some portion and member of your being, or some offspring of your very substance, would be mingled with those opposing powers and natures which were not created by you. Thus it would be so far corrupted and changed for the worse, as to be turned from happiness to misery, and as to need some assistance by which it could be rescued and cleansed. They would hold that this offspring is the soul, to whose aid your Word would come: your utterance,1 which is free, pure, and without defect, would bring aid to the enslaved, the defiled, and the corrupt. Yet your utterance would itself be corruptible because it came from the same substance. Therefore, if they should affirm that whatever you are, that is, your substance, by which you are, is incorruptible, this whole tale is false and execrable. But if they should say that you are corruptible, that too is known to be false and abominable as soon as it is uttered. Sufficient, therefore, was his argument against those who on every count deserved to be spewed forth by a sickened stomach. For the men who thought and spoke of such things of you had no way of escape except by horrible blasphemies of both heart and tongue.
FREE WILL AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
(4) Up to this time, although I affirmed and firmly believed that you, our Lord, the true God, who made not only our souls but also our bodies, and not only our souls and bodies, but all men and all things, are inviolable and inalterable and in no way mutable, I still had no explicit and orderly knowledge of the cause of evil. Yet whatever it was, I saw that it must be sought out in such wise that I would not be constrained to believe that the immutable God is mutable, lest I myself become the very thing I was seeking to explain.1 Therefore, I felt safe in my search and certain that what those men,2 whom I fled from with all my soul, said was not the truth. I saw that in their search for the cause of evil they had become full of malice,3 and because of this they deemed that your substance is subject to evil, rather than that their own substance committed evil.
(5) I strove to understand what I often heard, that the will’s free decision is the cause of our doing evil, and that your just judgment is the cause of our suffering evil, but this I could not discern clearly. When I attempted to withdraw my mind’s eye out of those depths, I was plunged down into it again, and as often as I attempted it, I was plunged down again and again. But this raised me up towards your light; I knew just as surely that I had a will as that I was alive. I was absolutely certain when I willed a thing or refused to will it that it was I alone who willed or refused to will. Already I was beginning to see that therein lay the cause of my sin. I saw that what I did against my will was something done to me, rather than something I actually did. I concluded that it was not my fault, but my punishment, but I quickly confessed that I was not punished unjustly, for I thought of you as being just.
But then again I said: “Who made me? Was it not you, my God, who are not merely good, but goodness itself? Whence then comes it, then, that I will evil, and do not will the good? That there may be a reason why I should justly be punished? Who has placed this in me and ingrafted in me this seedbed of bitterness,4 since I have been fashioned whole and entire by my most sweet God? If the devil is its author, whence comes the devil himself? If he by his own perverse will was changed from a good angel into a devil, whence came that evil will in him by which he became a devil, when the whole angel was made by a supremely good creator?”
By such thoughts I was again crushed and stifled, but I was not brought down even into that hell of error, where no one makes confession5 to you, while they think that you suffer evil rather than that man commits it.
GOD THE ABSOLUTE GOOD
(6) In this manner I strove to establish further facts, just as I had already discovered that the incorruptible is better than the corruptible, and as a result confessed that you, whatever you are, are incorruptible. There never has been, nor will there be, a soul able to conceive anything better than you, who are the supreme and best good. But since it is of the utmost truth and certainty that the incorruptible is preferable to the corruptible, even as I already preferred it to be, I could now attain in thought to a being better than yourself, my God, if you were not incorruptible.1 Therefore, where I perceived that the incorruptible must be preferred to the corruptible, there ought I to seek you. There, too, ought I to observe where evil itself is, that is, whence comes that corruption, by which your substance can in no way be violated. For absolutely no corruption defiles our God: none from the will, none from necessity, none from any unforeseen chance. He is God, and what he wills for himself is good, and he himself is that same good, whereas to be corrupted is not good. Nor are you forced to do anything against your will, because your will is not greater than your power. But it would be greater if you were greater than yourself. God’s will and power are God himself. What is unforeseen by you who know all things? No nature exists, unless because you know it. But why should we ask many times, “Why may not that substance which is God be corruptible?” If it were, it would not be God.
GOD’S OMNIPOTENCE AND THE FACT OF EVIL
(7) I sought an answer to the question, “Whence is evil?” but I sought it in an evil way, and I did not see the evil in my very search. I placed before my spirit’s gaze the whole creation, whatever we can see in it, such as earth, and sea, and air, and stars, and trees, and mortal animals, and likewise whatever we do not see therein, such as the firmament of heaven above, and all the angels, and all its spiritual beings, but I set out even such things as if they were bodies arranged in such and such places, as my imagination dictated. I made your creation into a single great mass, arrayed with a variety of bodies, whether they were true bodies or bodies that I had feigned for the spiritual beings. I formed this huge mass, not as great as it actually was, which I could not know, but as great as I thought proper, yet finite in its every aspect. I imagined, Lord, that you encircled it on every side and penetrated it, but you remained everywhere infinite. It was as if there were a sea, one single sea, that was everywhere and on all sides infinite over boundless reaches. It held within itself a sort of sponge, huge indeed, but yet finite, and this sponge was filled in every part by that boundless sea.1 Thus did I conjecture that your finite creation was filled by you, the infinite, and I said:
“Behold God, and behold what God has created! God is good. Most mightily and most immeasurably does he surpass these things. But being good, he has created good things. Behold how he encircles and fills all things! Where then is evil, and whence and by what means has it crept in here? What is its root, and what is its seed? Or has it no being whatsoever? Why then do we fear and shun what does not exist? If we fear it without cause, that very fear is evil. By it our stricken hearts are goaded and tortured, and that evil is all the more serious in so far as what we fear does not exist, and still we are fearful of it. Therefore, either there is an evil that we fear, or the fact that we fear is itself an evil. Whence, therefore, is evil, since God the good has made all these things good? He, the greater, the supreme good, has made these lesser goods, yet both creator and all created things are good. Whence comes evil? Was there a certain evil matter, out of which he made these things? Did he form and fashion it, but yet leave within it something that he would not convert into good? Why would he do this? Was he powerless to turn and change all this matter, so that no evil would remain in it, even though he is all-powerful? Lastly, why should he will to make anything at all out of it, and not rather by that same omnipotence cause that it should not exist at all? Or forsooth, did it have the power to exist against his will? If it were eternal, why did he permit it to exist so far back throughout infinite ages of time? Why was he pleased so long after to fashion something out of it? Or if he now suddenly willed to take some action, would not the omnipotent cause rather it not to exist, and for himself alone to exist, the whole true and supreme and infinite good? Or if it were not good for him who is good to refrain from fashioning and creating something good, then, after that evil matter had been removed and reduced to nothing, would he not establish good matter, out of which he would create all things? He would not be omnipotent, if he were unable to create anything good, unless he were assisted by that matter which he had not created.”
Such things I turned over within my unhappy breast, over-laden with gnawing cares that came from the fear of death and from not finding the truth. Yet the faith of your Christ, our Lord and Savior,2 the faith that is in the Catholic Church, was firmly fixed within my heart. In many ways I was as yet unformed and I wavered from the rule of doctrine. But my mind did not depart from it, nay, rather, from day to day it drank in more and more of it.
ASTROLOGISTS AND HOROSCOPES
(8) By this time also I had rejected the deceitful divinations and impious ravings of the astrologists. For this too, O my God, let your own mercies confess to you from the deepest depths of my soul. For you, you alone—for who else calls us back from the death of every error except that life which cannot die, that wisdom which needs no light itself but enlightens every mind that needs it, by which the whole world is ruled, down even to the quivering leaves on the trees?—you alone had concern for my obstinacy, by which I struggled against Vindicianus,1 that keen old man, and Nebridius, a young man admirable in mind. The first affirmed vehemently and the second said frequently, although with some hesitation, that there is no art of foreseeing the future, and that men’s conjectures are often assisted by chance: for since they say many things, some of them actually come to pass, and apart from any knowledge in the speakers, they hit upon these things by the mere fact that they do not remain silent.
You provided me with a friend who was neither a foolish client of the astrologists nor one well versed in their studies, but, still, as I said, a curious consultor of them. Furthermore, he had some knowledge, which he said he had heard from his father, but he did not know how it would serve to topple over his belief in that art. This man, Firminus by name, who was possessed of a liberal education and well trained in rhetoric, consulted me, as one of his dearest friends, as to what I might think, in the light of his so-called constellations, about certain of his affairs, upon which his worldly ambitions were taking rise. I had already begun to incline towards Nebridius’s opinion in this matter, but I did not refuse to interpret them and to tell him what came into my mind, still undecided as it was. However, I submitted that I was now almost persuaded that these are empty and ridiculous fables. He then told me that his father was very much addicted to such books, and had a friend who studied them at the same time and with equal passion. By joint study and discussion they so fanned in their hearts the desire for such trifles that they even made observations on the moments when their dumb animals were born, if they were brought forth at home, and noted the position of the heavens at those times. From these things they would gather proofs for their so-called art.
He told me that he had heard from his father that, when his mother was carrying himself, Firminus, a servant of one of his father’s friends was likewise pregnant. This fact did not escape her master, who even took pains to know by very careful examination the time when his dogs littered. Thus, while the two men, one for his own wife, the other for his servant, by most painstaking observations, figured out the day, the hour, and the most minute particles of the hour, both women were delivered at the same time. As a result, they were compelled to draw up identical horoscopes, right down to the same minute, for each of the newborn infants, one man for his son, the other for his tiny slave. For when the women began to be in labor, each man indicated to the other what was happening in his home. They arranged to send messengers to each other, as soon as the expected birth was announced to them. Each man in his own estate easily provided for word to be sent immediately. The messengers sent by the two men met, he said, exactly at the midpoint between their houses, so that neither of them could determine a different position for the stars or different moments of time. However, Firminus, who was born to an ample estate within his own family, ran his course on life’s brighter paths, increased in wealth, and rose to places of honor, whereas that slave served his masters with never a lightening of the yoke of his condition, as I was told by Firminus, who knew him.
(9) After I had listened to and believed this story, for such a man had related it, all that reluctance of mine was dissolved and gave way. First, I attempted to recall Firminus from that fond study. I said to him that, after I had inspected his horoscope, if I were to make true predictions, I would surely have to see therein his parents, eminent among their fellow citizens, a family nobly placed in its city, gentle birth, good education, and liberal learning. But if that slave had consulted me about the same horoscope, for the two were identical, I ought again, so as to speak truly to him also, see therein a family most abjectly poor, a servile condition of life, and other things far different and far removed from the first. Hence it would be that from an inspection of the same horoscope I would state different things, if I were to speak the truth, but if I made identical statements, I would speak falsely. From this I gathered with absolute certainty that any true statements made after an inspection of such horoscopes would be uttered not by art but by luck, while false statements would be made not out of ignorance of the art but by the trickery of chance.
(10) Having taken this approach to the problem, I ruminated within myself upon related things. So that none of the dotards following such a trade, whom I longed to attack right off and to refute with ridicule, might object to me that either Firminus had given me a false account or his father had given him one, I turned my attention to those who are born twins. For the most part, one issues from the womb so close upon the other that that brief difference in time, however great the power they may claim it to have in the nature of things, cannot be determined by human observation, nor can it be written down at all in those tables which the astrologer must inspect in order to make true predictions. Yet they will never be true, for after inspecting the same tables, he must say the same things of both Esau and Jacob, although the same things did not befall both men. Therefore, he would make false statements; or if he made true ones, he would not be saying the same things. Yet he inspected the same tables. Not by art, therefore, but by chance would he make true statements.
For you, O Lord, most just ruler of the universe, while both those who consult and those who are consulted in this way know nothing of it, by a hidden inspiration bring it about that, according to the secret merits of men’s souls, the consultor may hear what he ought to hear out of the depths of your just judgment.2 Let no man say to you, “What is this?”3 or “Why is that?” Let him not say it, let him not say it, for he is man.
A SOUL STILL TORMENTED
(11) But now, O my helper,1 you had freed me from my chains, and still I asked, “Whence is evil?” but there was no way out. Yet in none of those wavering thoughts did you let me be carried away from that faith in which I believed both that you exist, and that your substance is unchangeable, and that you have care over men and pass judgment on them, and that in Christ, your Son, our Lord, and in the Holy Scriptures, which the authority of your Catholic Church approves, you have placed the way of man’s salvation unto that life which is to be after this death. These truths being made safe and fixed immovably in my mind, I asked uncertainly “Whence is evil?” What torments there were in my heart in its time of labor, O my God, what groans! Still were your ears turned to me, although I knew it not! When I sought an answer, bravely but in silence, the unspoken sufferings of my soul were mighty cries for your mercy. You knew what I suffered, but no man knew of it. How much of that torment did my tongue direct from there into the ears of my closest friends! Did my soul’s tumult, for which neither time nor my tongue sufficed, ever resound in their ears? But all that “I roared with the groaning of my hearts”2 went into your ears, and “my desire was before you, but the light of my eyes was not with me.”3 It was within; I was outside, but it was not in any place. I was intent on the things that are contained in places, but among them I found no place of rest, nor did they receive me, so that I might say, “It is enough, and it is well.” Nor did they permit me to return to where it would indeed be well with me. I was superior to those things, but inferior to you, for you are the true joy for me who am subject to you, and all those things which you have created inferior to me you have made subject to me.
This was the right mean, and the middle region of my salvation, to remain in your image, and by serving you to subdue my body. But when I would rise up in pride against you, and run against the Lord with the thick boss of my shield,4 even those lowest things were set against me and pressed down upon me, and there was never relief or breathing spell. From all sides they rushed upon me in hordes and heaps as I gazed at them, and as I took thought and turned back from them, the images of bodily things set upon me, as if to say, “Where are you going, O foul and unworthy man?” Such things grew out of my wound, for you humble the proud man, like one who has been wounded.5 By my swelling wound I was separated from you, and my badly bloated face closed up my eyes.
GOD’S HEALING HAND
(12) But you, O Lord, abide forever,1 and you will not be angry with us forever,2 for you have mercy on earth and ashes,3 and it has been pleasing in your sight to reform my deformities. By inner goads you aroused me,4 so that I did not rest until you stood plain before my inner sight. By the secret hand of your Physician5 my swelling wound subsided, and day by day my mind’s afflicted and darkened eyes grew sounder under the healing salve6 of sorrow.
SACRED SCRIPTURE AND PAGAN PHILOSOPHY’
(13) It was first your will to show me how you resist the proud and give grace to the humble,2 and how great is your mercy in showing men the way of humility, for the reason that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among” men.3 Therefore, by means of a certain man4 puffed up with most unnatural pride, you procured for me certain books of the Platonists5 that had been translated out of Greek into Latin.6 In them I read, not indeed in these words but much the same thought, enforced by many varied arguments, that
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him nothing was made. What was made, in him is life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”7
I read that the soul of man, although it gives testimony of the light, is not itself the light, but the Word, God himself, is “the true light, which enlightens every man that comes into this world,” and that “he was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.”
But that “he came unto his own, and his own did not receive him, but as many as received him, to them he gave power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name,”8 this I did not read in those books.
(14) Again, I read there that the Word, God, was born, not of the flesh, nor of blood, “nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God.” But I did not read there that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”9
I found out in those books, though it was said differently and in many ways, that the Son, “being in the form of the Father, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” for by nature he is the same with him. But those books do not have it that he “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man,” and that “he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also has exalted him” from the dead, “and has given him a name which is above all names: that in the name of Jesus every knee shall bend down of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus is in the glory of God the Father.”10
That before all times and above all times your Only-begotten Son remains unchangeably coeternal with you; and that souls receive “of his fulness,”11 so that they may be blessed; and that they are renewed by participation in the wisdom “remaining in herself,”12so as to be wise: these truths are found in those books.
But that “according to the time, he died for the ungodly,” and that “you spared not your only Son, but delivered him up for us all”13 is not there. For “you have hidden these things from the wise, and have revealed them to little ones,” so that they who labor and are burdened might come to him and he would refresh them. For he is meek and humble of heart,14 and he guides the meek in judgment, and he teaches the mild his ways, seeing our abjection and our labor, and forgiving all our sins.15 But those men who are raised up on the heights of some toplofty teaching do not hear him as he says, “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls.”16 “Although they know God, they do not glorify him, or give thanks, but become vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart is darkened; for professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”17
(15) Therefore I also read there that “they changed the glory of your incorruption” into idols and various images, “into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things,” namely, into the Egyptian food by which Esau lost his birthright. For the firstborn people worshiped the head of a fourfold beast instead of you, “and in their hearts turned back into Egypt,”18 and bent your image, their own souls, before “the likeness of a calf that eats hay.”19 These things I found there, but I did not feed upon them.
It pleased you, Lord, to remove the reproach of a lesser status from Jacob, so that “the elder should serve the younger,” and you called the Gentiles into your inheritance.20 I had come to you from among the Gentiles, and I set my mind on that gold which you willed your people to take out of Egypt, for it was yours wherever it was. To the Athenians you said through your Apostle that in you “we live, and move, and have our being,” as indeed some of them have said.21 In truth these books were from the Gentiles. But I did not set my mind upon the idols of the Egyptians, which they served with your gold, they “who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”22
THE INFINITE LIGHT
(16) Being thus admonished to return to myself, under your leadership I entered into my inmost being. This I could do, for you became my helper.1 I entered there, and by my soul’s eye, such as it was, I saw above that same eye of my soul, above my mind, an unchangeable light. It was not this common light, plain to all flesh, nor a greater light, as it were, of the same kind, as though that light would shine many, many times more bright, and by its great power fill the whole universe. Not such was that light, but different, far different from all other lights. Nor was it above my mind, as oil is above water, or sky above earth. It was above my mind, because it made me, and I was beneath it, because I was made by it. He who knows the truth, knows that light, and he who knows it knows eternity. Love knows it, O eternal truth, and true love, and beloved eternity! You are my God, and I sigh for you day and night!
When first I knew you, you took me up,2 so that I might see that there was something to see, but that I was not yet one able to see it. You beat back my feeble sight, sending down your beams most powerfully upon me, and I trembled with love and awe. I found myself to be far from you in a region of unlikeness, as though I heard your voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men. Grow, and you shall feed upon me. You will not change me into yourself, as you change food into your flesh, but you will be changed into me.” I knew that you have corrected man for iniquity, and you have made my soul to waste away like a spider,”3 and I said, “Is truth nothing, because it is diffused neither through finite nor through infinite space?” From afar you cried to me, “I am who am.”4 I heard, as one hears in his heart; there was no further place for doubt, for it would be easier for me to doubt that I live than that there is no truth, which is “clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”5
FINITE AND INFINITE
(17) I beheld other things below you, and I saw that they are not altogether existent nor altogether non-existent: they are, because they are from you; they are not, since they are not what you are. For that truly exists which endures unchangeably. “But it is good for me to adhere to my God,”1 for if I do not abide in him, neither will I be able to abide in myself. But he abides in himself, and he renews all things2 “You are my Lord, for you have no need of my goods.”3
EVERY BEING IS GOOD
(18) It was made manifest to me that beings that suffer corruption are nevertheless good. If they were supremely good, they could not be corrupted, but unless they were good, they could not be corrupted. If they were supremely good, they would be incorruptible, and if they were not good at all, there would be nothing in them to be corrupted. Corruption damages a thing, and it would not suffer damage unless its good were diminished. Therefore, either corruption damages nothing, and this cannot be, or whatever suffers corruption is deprived of some good, and this fact is most certain. If things are deprived of all good whatsoever, they will not exist at all. If they continue to be, and still continue incapable of suffering corruption, they will be better than before, because they will remain forever incorruptible.
What is more monstrous than to claim that things become better by losing all their good? Therefore, if they are deprived of all good, they will be absolutely nothing. Hence, as long as they exist, they are good. Therefore, whatsoever things exist are good. But evil, of which I asked “Whence is it?” is not a substance, for if it were a substance, it would be good. Either it would be an incorruptible substance, a great good indeed, or it would be a corruptible substance, and it would not be corruptible unless it were good. Hence I saw and it was made manifest to me that you have made all things good, and that there are no substances whatsoever that you have not made. Since you have not made all things equal, it follows that all things, taken one by one, are good, and all things, taken together, are very good. For our God has made all things very good.1
(19) To you, nothing whatsoever is evil, and not only to you but also to your whole creation, for outside of it there is nothing that can break in and disrupt the order that you have imposed upon it. Among its parts, certain things are thought to be evil because they do not agree with certain others. Yet these same beings agree with others still, and thus they are good, and they are also good in themselves. All these beings, which do not harmonize with one another, nevertheless are in keeping with that lower part of things, which we call the earth, which has a cloudy and windy sky of its own that is congruous to itself.
Let me never say, “These things should not be!” If I considered them alone, I might desire better things; but still for them alone I ought to praise you. That you must be praised all these show forth: from the earth, dragons, and all the deeps, fire, hail, snow, ice, stormy winds, which fulfill your word, mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, serpents and feathered fowls; kings of the earth and all people, princes and all judges of the earth, young men and maidens, the old with the younger; let them praise your name.1 And from the heavens also let these praise you, let these praise you, our God, in the high places, all your angels, all your hosts, the sun and the moon, all stars and light, the heavens of heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens, let them praise your name.2
No more did I long for better things, because I thought of all things, and with a sounder judgment I held that the higher things are indeed better than the lower, but that all things together are better than the higher things alone.
A RETURN TO IDOLATRY
(20) There is no health1 in them to whom any part of your creation is displeasing, nor was there health in me, when many of the things that you had made displeased me. Since my soul did not dare to be displeased at my God, it would not admit that anything displeasing to it was your work. From there it turned to the theory of two substances, but it found no rest in it, and uttered the errors of other men. Turning away from that belief, my soul fashioned for itself a god that filled all the places in infinite space. It thought that this god was you, and set it up in its heart. Thus it again became the temple of its own idol, a thing abominable before you. But afterwards you soothed my head, unknown to me, and closed my eyes, lest they see vanity,2 I turned3 a little from myself, and my madness was lulled to sleep. I awoke in you, and I saw that you are infinite, although in a different way, and this vision was not derived from the flesh.
THE TEMPORAL AND THE ETERNAL
(21) I looked back over other things, and I saw that they owe their being to you, and that all finite things are in you. They are there, not as though in a place, but in a different fashion, because you contain all things in your hand by your truth. All things are true, in so far as they have being, nor is there any falsity, except when that is thought to be which is not. I saw that all things are in harmony not only with their proper places, but also with their seasons. I saw that you, who alone are eternal, did not make a beginning to your works after innumerable ages had passed, because all ages, both those which have passed, and those which will come to pass, neither depart nor come to be except by your activity and your abiding presence.
THE RELATIVE AND THE ABSOLUTE
(22) From experience, I knew it is no strange thing that the bread that pleases a healthy appetite is offensive to one that is not healthy, and that light is hateful to sick eyes, but welcome to the well. Your justice offends the wicked, much more do the viper and the worm, which you have created good and in keeping with those lower parts of your creation, to which the wicked themselves are adapted. For they are in harmony with those lower things in so far as they are unlike you, but they are in harmony with higher things, in so far as they become liker to you.
I asked, “What is iniquity?” and I found that it is not a substance. It is perversity of will, twisted away from the supreme substance, yourself, O God, and towards lower things, and casting away its own bowels,1 and swelling beyond itself.
A MOMENTARY VISION
(23) I marveled that now I loved you, and not a phantom in your stead. Yet I was not steadfast in enjoyment of my God: I was borne up to you by your beauty, but soon I was borne down from you by my own weight, and with groaning, I plunged into the midst of those lower things. This weight was carnal custom. Still there remained within me remembrance of you: I did not doubt in any way that there was one to cleave to, nor did I doubt that I was not yet one who would cleave to him. “For the corruptible body is a load upon the soul, and the earthly habitation presses down upon the mind that muses upon many things.”1 Yet I was most certain that your “invisible things, from the foundation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,” your “eternal power also, and divinity.”2
Searching into why it was that I gave approval to the beauty of bodies, whether in the heavens or on earth, and what helped me to make sound judgments, and to say, “This should be thus and so, and that not,” searching, then, into why I passed such judgments, for I did pass them, I had found that immutable, true, and eternal truth which exists above my changeable mind. Thus I gradually passed from bodies to the soul, which perceives by means of the body, and thence to its interior power, to which the bodily senses present exterior things—beasts too are capable of doing this much—and thence again to the reasoning power, to which what is apprehended by the bodily senses is referred for judgment. When this power found itself to be in me a variable thing, it raised itself up to its own understanding. It removed its thought from the tyranny of habit, and withdrew itself from the throngs of contradictory phantasms. In this way it might find that light by which it was sprinkled, when it cried out, that beyond all doubt the immutable must be preferred to the mutable. Hence it might come to know this immutable being, for unless it could know it in some way, it could in no wise have set it with certainty above the mutable. Thus in a flash of its trembling sight it came to that which is. Then indeed I clearly saw your “invisible things, understood by the things which are made.” But I was unable to fix my gaze on them. In my frailty I was struck back, and I returned to my former ways. I took with me only a memory, loving and longing for what I had, as it were, caught the odor of, but was not yet able to feed upon.3
THE WAY OF HUMILITY
(24) I sought for a way of gaining strength sufficient for me to have joy in you, but I did not find it until I embraced “the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who is over all things, God blessed forever.”1 He called to me, and said, “I am the way of truth, and the life.”2 He mingled that food,3 which I was unable to receive, with our flesh, for “the Word was made flesh,”4 so that your Wisdom, by which you created all things, might provide milk for our infant condition. I did not hold fast to Jesus my God, a humble man clinging to him who was humble, nor did I know in what thing his lowliness would be my teacher. Your Word, eternal truth, surpassingly above the highest parts of your universe, raised up there to himself those who had been brought low. Amid the lower parts he has built for himself out of our clay a lowly dwelling, in which he would protect from themselves those ready to become submissive to him, and bring them to himself. He heals their swellings, and nourishes their love, so that they may not go on further in self-confidence, but rather become weak. For at their feet they see the Godhead, weak5 because of its participation in our “coats of skin,”6 and in their weariness they may cast themselves upon it, while it arises and lifts them up.
THE DIVINITY OF JESUS CHRIST
(25) But I had other thoughts:1 I conceived my Lord Christ only as a man of surpassing wisdom, whom no other man could equal. Above all, because he was born in a wondrous manner of the Virgin, to give us an example of despising temporal things in order to win immortality, he seemed by the godlike care that he had for us, to have merited such great authority as a teacher. But what mystery was contained within those words, “The Word was made flesh,”2 I could not conceive. But of what has been handed down in writing concerning him, namely, that he ate and drank, slept, walked about, was joyful, grew sad, and preached, I had learned only that that flesh did not cleave to your Word except together with a human soul and mind. Any man who has knowledge of the immutability of your Word knows this: I knew it at that time, as far as I could know it, and had no doubt whatsoever concerning it. Now to move one’s bodily members at the command of the will, and now not to move them; now to be affected by some emotion, and now not to be affected; now to utter wise judgments by means of signs, and now to remain silent—such things belong to a soul and a mind that are subject to change. If these things were written falsely of him, then all else would be in danger of being false, and no saving faith for mankind would remain in those Scriptures. But since the things written are true, I acknowledged that in Christ there was a complete man: not merely a man’s body, nor an animating principle in the body but without a mind, but a true man.3 I accounted him a person to be preferred above all other men, not as the person of Truth, but because of some great excellence of his human nature and a more perfect participation in wisdom.4
Alypius, on the other hand, thought that Catholics believed that God was clothed in flesh in such wise that in Christ there was no soul, in addition to his divinity and his body. Nor did he think that a human mind was attributed to him. Because he was firmly convinced that the deeds recorded of him could only be done by a creature possessed of life and reason, he moved more slowly towards the Christian faith. However, he learned later that this was the error of the Apollinarian heretics,5 and he was pleased with the Catholic faith and better disposed towards it. It was somewhat after this, I admit, that I learned how, with regard to those words, “The Word was made flesh,” Catholic truth is distinguished from the false teaching of Photinus.6 In fact, the refutation of heresies causes what your Church thinks, and what sound doctrine holds, to stand out.7 “For there must be heresies, so that those who are approved may become manifest among the weak.”8
THE SOUL’S TRUE COUNTRY
(26) At that time, after reading those books of the Platonists and being instructed by them to search for incorporeal truth, I clearly saw your invisible things which are understood by the things that are made.”1 Although pushed backwards in my search, I perceived what that was which, because of my mind’s darkness, I was not permitted to contemplate. I was made certain that you exist, that you are infinite, although not diffused throughout spaces, either finite or infinite, that you are truly he who is always the same, with no varied parts and changing movements, and that all other things are from you, as is known by one single most solid proof, the fact that they exist. Of these truths I was most certain, but I was too weak to find my joy in you. I prated as if I were well instructed, but I did not know enough to seek your way in Christ our Savior. I had not perished, but I was on the road to perdition.
Now I began to desire to appear wise. Filled up with punishment for my sins,2 I did not weep over them, but rather was I puffed up with knowledge. Where was that charity which builds upon the foundation of humility, which is Christ Jesus? When would those books teach it to me? It is for this reason, I believe, that you wished me to come upon those books before I read your Scriptures, so that the way I was affected by them might be stamped upon my memory. Hence, later on, when I was made gentle by your books, and my wounds had been treated by your soothing fingers, I would be able to detect and distinguish how great a difference lies between presumption and contrition, and between those who see where they must travel, but do not see the way, and those who see the way that leads not only to beholding our blessed fatherland but also to dwelling therein. If I had first been formed by your Sacred Scriptures and if you had grown sweet to me by my familiar use of them, and I had afterwards happened on those other volumes, they might have drawn me away from the solid foundation of religion. Or else, even if I had persisted in those salutary dispositions which I had drunk in, I might have thought that if a man studied those books alone, he could conceive the same thoughts from them.3
THE PILGRIM WAY
(27) So it was with the most intense desire that I seized upon the sacred writings of your Spirit, and especially the Apostle Paul. Those difficult passages,1 where at one time he seemed to me to contradict himself, and where the text of his discourse appeared to be at variance with the testimonies of the law and the prophets, melted away. I saw those pure writings as having one single aspect, and I learned to exult with joy.2 I made a beginning, and whatever truths I had read in those other works I here found to be uttered along with the praise of your grace, so that whosoever sees may not glory, as if he had not received3 not merely what he sees but also his very ability to see. For what does he possess which he has not received?4 Also, it is that he may be admonished not only to see you who are always the same,5 but also that he may be made strong to hold fast to you. Again, it is that he who cannot see from afar off may yet walk upon that way whereby he may come to you, and see you, and hold fast to you. For although a man may be delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man, what shall he do with that other law in his members, fighting against the law of his mind, and making him captive in the law of sin, which is in his members?6 For you are just, O Lord, but we have sinned, and committed iniquity, and have acted wickedly,7 and your hand is heavy upon us,8 and we have been justly delivered over to that ancient sinner, the lord of death,9 because he persuaded our wills to be like his will, whereby he stood not in the truth.10
What shall an unhappy man do? “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death,” unless it is by your grace, “through Jesus Christ, our Lord,”11 whom you have begotten coeternal with yourself, and created in the beginning of your ways,12 in whom the prince of this world found nothing worthy of death,13 and yet killed him? And the handwriting of the decree that was against us was blotted out.14
All this those writings of the Platonists do not have. Their pages do not have this face of piety, the tears of confession, your sacrifice, a troubled spirit, a contrite and a humbled heart,15 the salvation of your people, the city that is like a bride,16 the pledge of the spirit,17 the cup of our redemption. In those books no one sings: “Shall not my soul be subject to God? For he is my God and my savior, my protector. I shall be moved no more.”18 In them no man hears him calling to us: “Come unto me, all you that labor.”19They scorn to learn of him because he is meek and humble of heart. “For you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to little ones.”20
It is one thing to behold from a wooded mountain peak the land of peace,21 but to find no way to it, and to strive in vain towards it by unpassable ways, ambushed and beset by fugitives and deserters, under their leader, the lion and the dragon.22 It is a different thing to keep to the way that leads to that land, guarded by the protection of the heavenly commander, where no deserters from the heavenly army lie in wait like bandits. They shun that way, like a torture. In a wondrous way all these things penetrated my very vitals, when I read the words of that least of your apostles,23and meditated upon your works, and trembled at them.24