Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Confessions: Chapter VI
Chapter VI.—Deceived by His Own Fault, He Falls into the Errors of the Manichæans, Who Gloried in the True Knowledge of God and in a Thorough Examination of Things.
10. Therefore I fell among men proudly raving, very carnal, and voluble, in whose mouths were the snares of the devil—the birdlime being composed of a mixture of the syllables of Thy name, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. 230 These names departed not out of their mouths, but so far forth as the sound only and the clatter of the tongue, for the heart was empty of truth. Still they cried, “Truth, Truth,” and spoke much about it to me, “yet was it not in them;” 231 but they spake falsely not of Thee only—who, verily, art the Truth—but also of these elements of this world, Thy p. 63 creatures. And I, in truth, should have passed by philosophers, even when speaking truth concerning them, for love of Thee, my Father, supremely good, beauty of all things beautiful. O Truth, Truth! how inwardly even then did the marrow of my soul pant after Thee, when they frequently, and in a multiplicity of ways, and in numerous and huge books, sounded out Thy name to me, though it was but a voice! 232 And these were the dishes in which to me, hungering for Thee, they, instead of Thee, served up the sun and moon, Thy beauteous works—but yet Thy works, not Thyself, nay, nor Thy first works. For before these corporeal works are Thy spiritual ones, celestial and shining though they be. But I hungered and thirsted not even after those first works of Thine, but after Thee Thyself, the Truth, “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning;” 233 yet they still served up to me in those dishes glowing phantasies, than which better were it to love this very sun (which, at least, is true to our sight), than those illusions which deceive the mind through the eye. And yet, because I supposed them to be Thee, I fed upon them; not with avidity, for Thou didst not taste to my mouth as Thou art, for Thou wast not these empty fictions; neither was I nourished by them, but the rather exhausted. Food in our sleep appears like our food awake; yet the sleepers are not nourished by it, for they are asleep. But those things were not in any way like unto Thee as Thou hast now spoken unto me, in that those were corporeal phantasies, false bodies, than which these true bodies, whether celestial or terrestrial, which we perceive with our fleshly sight, are much more certain. These things the very beasts and birds perceive as well as we, and they are more certain than when we imagine them. And again, we do with more certainty imagine them, than by them conceive of other greater and infinite bodies which have no existence. With such empty husks was I then fed, and was not fed. But Thou, my Love, in looking for whom I fail 234 that I may be strong, art neither those bodies that we see, although in heaven, nor art Thou those which we see not there; for Thou hast created them, nor dost Thou reckon them amongst Thy greatest works. How far, then, art Thou from those phantasies of mine, phantasies of bodies which are not at all, than which the images of those bodies which are, are more certain, and still more certain the bodies themselves, which yet Thou art not; nay, nor yet the soul, which is the life of the bodies. Better, then, and more certain is the life of bodies than the bodies themselves. But Thou art the life of souls, the life of lives, having life in Thyself; and Thou changest not, O Life of my soul.
11. Where, then, wert Thou then to me, and how far from me? Far, indeed, was I wandering away from Thee, being even shut out from the very husks of the swine, whom with husks I fed. 235 For how much better, then, are the fables of the grammarians and poets than these snares! For verses, and poems, and Medea flying, are more profitable truly than these mens five elements, variously painted, to answer to the five caves of darkness, 236 none of which exist, and which slay the believer. For verses and poems I can turn into 237 true food, but the “Medea flying,” though I sang, I maintained it not; though I heard it sung, I believed it not; but those things I did believe. Woe, woe, by what steps was I dragged down “to the depths of hell!” 238 —toiling and turmoiling through want of Truth, when I sought after Thee, my God,—to Thee I confess it, who hadst mercy on me when I had not yet confessed,—sought after Thee not according to the understanding of the mind, in which Thou desiredst that I should excel the beasts, but according to the sense of the flesh! Thou wert more inward to me than my most inward part; and higher than my highest. I came upon that bold woman, who “is simple, and knoweth nothing,” 239 the enigma of Solomon, sitting “at the door of the house on a seat,” and saying, “Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” 240 This woman seduced me, because she found my soul beyond its portals, dwelling in the eye of my flesh, and thinking on such food as through it I had devoured.
So, in Book xxii. sec. 13 of his reply to Faustus, he charges them with “professing to believe the New Testament in order to entrap the unwary;” and again, in sec. 15, he says: “ They claim the impious liberty of holding and teaching, that whatever they deem favourable to their heresy was said by Christ and the apostles; while they have the profane boldness to say, that whatever in the same writings is unfavourable to them is a spurious interpolation.” They professed to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, but affirmed (ibid. xx. 6) “that the Father dwells in a secret light, the power of the Son in the sun, and His wisdom in the moon, and the Holy Spirit in the air.” It was this employment of the phraseology of Scripture to convey doctrines utterly unscriptural that rendered their teaching such a snare to the unwary. See also below, v. 12, note.62:231
1 John 2.4.63:232
There was something peculiarly enthralling to an ardent mind like Augustins in the Manichæan system. That system was kindred in many ways to modern Rationalism. Reason was exalted at the expense of faith. Nothing was received on mere authority, and the disciples inner consciousness was the touchstone of truth. The result of this is well pointed out by Augustin (Con. Faust, xxxii. sec. 19): “Your design, clearly, is to deprive Scripture of all authority, and to make every mans mind the judge what passage of Scripture he is to approve of, and what to disapprove of. This is not to be subject to Scripture in matters of faith, but to make Scripture subject to you. Instead of making the high authority of Scripture the reason of approval, every man makes his approval the reason for thinking a passage correct.” Compare also Con. Faust, xi. sec. 2, and xxxii. sec. 16.63:233
Luke 15.16; and see below, vi. sec. 3, note.63:236
See below, xii. sec. 6, note.63:237
“Of this passage St. Augustin is probably speaking when he says, Praises bestowed on bread in simplicity of heart, let him (Petilian) defame, if he will, by the ludicrous title of poisoning and corrupting frenzy. Augustin meant in mockery, that by verses he could get his bread; his calumniator seems to have twisted the word to signify a love-potion.—Con. Lit. Petiliani, iii. 16.”—E. B. P.63:238
Prov. 9:14, 17.
Next: Chapter VII
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