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Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:
The Confessions: Chapter IV

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter IV.—In the Nineteenth Year of His Age (His Father Having Died Two Years Before) He is Led by the “Hortensius” Of Cicero to “Philosophy,” To God, and a Better Mode of Thinking.

7. Among such as these, at that unstable period of my life, I studied books of eloquence, wherein I was eager to be eminent from a damnable and inflated purpose, even a delight in human vanity. In the ordinary course of study, I lighted upon a certain book of Cicero, whose language, though not his heart, almost all admire. This book of his contains an exhortation to philosophy, and is called Hortensius. This book, in truth, changed my affections, and turned my prayers to Thyself, O Lord, and made me have other hopes and desires. Worthless suddenly became every vain hope to me; and, with an incredible warmth of heart, I p. 62 yearned for an immortality of wisdom, 224 and began now to arise 225 that I might return to Thee. Not, then, to improve my language—which I appeared to be purchasing with my mother’s means, in that my nineteenth year, my father having died two years before—not to improve my language did I have recourse to that book; nor did it persuade me by its style, but its matter.

8. How ardent was I then, my God, how ardent to fly from earthly things to Thee! Nor did I know how Thou wouldst deal with me. For with Thee is wisdom. In Greek the love of wisdom is called “philosophy,” 226 with which that book inflamed me. There be some who seduce through philosophy, under a great, and alluring, and honourable name colouring and adorning their own errors. And almost all who in that and former times were such, are in that book censured and pointed out. There is also disclosed that most salutary admonition of Thy Spirit, by Thy good and pious servant: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ: for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” 227 And since at that time (as Thou, O Light of my heart, knowest) the words of the apostle were unknown to me, I was delighted with that exhortation, in so far only as I was thereby stimulated, and enkindled, and inflamed to love, seek, obtain, hold, and embrace, not this or that sect, but wisdom itself, whatever it were; and this alone checked me thus ardent, that the name of Christ was not in it. For this name, according to Thy mercy, O Lord, this name of my Saviour Thy Son, had my tender heart piously drunk in, deeply treasured even with my mother’s milk; and whatsoever was without that name, though never so erudite, polished, and truthful, took not complete hold of me.



Up to the time of Cicero the Romans employed the term sapientia for φιλοσοφία (Monboddo’s Ancient Metaphys. i. 5). It is interesting to watch the effect of the philosophy in which they had been trained on the writings of some of the Fathers. Even Justin Martyr, the first after the “Apostolic,” has traces of this influence. See the account of his search for “wisdom,” and conversion, in his Dialogue with Trypho, ii. and iii.


Luke 15.18.


See above, note 1.


Col. 2:8, 9.

Next: Chapter V

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