Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Confessions: Chapter VI
Chapter VI.—He Describes His Infancy, and Lauds the Protection and Eternal Providence of God.
7. Still suffer me to speak before Thy mercy—me, “dust and ashes.” 146 Suffer me to speak, for, behold, it is Thy mercy I address, and not derisive man. Yet perhaps even Thou deridest me; but when Thou art turned to me Thou wilt have compassion on me. 147 For what do I wish to say, O Lord my God, but that I know not whence I came hither into this—shall I call it dying life or living death? Yet, as I have heard from my parents, from whose substance Thou didst form me,—for I myself cannot remember it,—Thy merciful comforts sustained me. Thus it was that the comforts of a womans milk entertained me; for neither my mother nor my nurses filled their own breasts, but Thou by them didst give me the nourishment of infancy according to Thy ordinance and that bounty of Thine which underlieth all things. For Thou didst cause me not to want more than Thou gavest, and those who nourished me willingly to give me what Thou gavest them. For they, by an instinctive affection, were anxious to give me what Thou hadst abundantly supplied. It was, in truth, good for them that my good should come from them, though, indeed, it was not from them, but by them; for from Thee, O God, are all good things, and from my God is all my safety. 148 This is what I have since discovered, as Thou hast declared Thyself to me by the blessings both within me and without me which Thou hast bestowed upon me. For at that time I knew how to suck, to be satisfied when comfortable, and to cry when in pain—nothing beyond.
8. Afterwards I began to laugh,—at first in sleep, then when waking. For this I have heard mentioned of myself, and I believe it (though I cannot remember it), for we see the same in other infants. And now little by little I realized where I was, and wished to tell my wishes to those who might satisfy them, but I could not; for my wants were within me, while they were without, and could not by any faculty of theirs enter into my soul. So I cast about limbs and voice, making the few and feeble signs I could, like, though indeed not much like, unto what I wished; and when I was not satisfied—either not being understood, or because it would have been injurious to me—I grew indignant that my elders were not subject unto me, and that those on whom I had no claim did not wait on me, and avenged myself on them by tears. That infants are such I have been able to learn by watching them; and they, though unknowing, have better shown me that I was such an one than my nurses who knew it.
9. And, behold, my infancy died long ago, and I live. But Thou, O Lord, who ever livest, and in whom nothing dies (since before the world was, and indeed before all that can be called “before,” Thou existest, and art the God and Lord of all Thy creatures; and with Thee fixedly abide the causes of all unstable things, the unchanging sources of all things changeable, and the eternal reasons of all things unreasoning and temporal), tell me, Thy suppliant, O God; tell, O merciful One, Thy miserable servant 149 —tell me whether my infancy succeeded another age of mine which had at that time perished. Was it that which I passed in my mothers womb? For of that something has been made known to me, and I have myself seen women with child. And what, O God, my joy, preceded that life? Was I, indeed, anywhere, or anybody? For no one can tell me these things, neither father nor mother, nor the experience of others, nor my own memory. Dost Thou laugh at me for asking such things, and command me to praise and confess Thee for what I know?
10. I give thanks to Thee, Lord of heaven and earth, giving praise to Thee for that my first being and infancy, of which I have no memory; for Thou hast granted to man that from others he should come to conclusions as to himself, and that he should believe many things concerning himself on the authority of feeble women. Even then I had life and being; and p. 48 as my infancy closed I was already seeking for signs by which my feelings might be made known to others. Whence could such a creature come but from Thee, O Lord? Or shall any man be skilful enough to fashion himself? Or is there any other vein by which being and life runs into us save this, that “Thou, O Lord, hast made us,” 150 with whom being and life are one, because Thou Thyself art being and life in the highest? Thou art the highest, “Thou changest not,” 151 neither in Thee doth this present day come to an end, though it doth end in Thee, since in Thee all such things are; for they would have no way of passing away unless Thou sustainedst them. And since “Thy years shall have no end,” 152 Thy years are an ever present day. And how many of ours and our fathers days have passed through this Thy day, and received from it their measure and fashion of being, and others yet to come shall so receive and pass away! “But Thou art the same;” 153 and all the things of to-morrow and the days yet to come, and all of yesterday and the days that are past, Thou wilt do to-day, Thou hast done to-day. What is it to me if any understand not? Let him still rejoice and say, “What is this?” 154 Let him rejoice even so, and rather love to discover in failing to discover, than in discovering not to discover Thee.
“Mercy,” says Binning, “hath but its name from misery, and is no other thing than to lay anothers misery to heart.”48:150
Ex. 16.15. This is one of the alternative translations put against “it is manna” in the margin of the authorized version. It is the literal significance of the Hebrew, and is so translated in most of the old English versions. Augustin indicates thereby the attitude of faith. Many things we are called on to believe (to use the illustration of Locke) which are above reason, but none that are contrary to reason. We are but as children in relation to God, and may therefore only expect to know “parts of His ways.” Even in the difficulties of Scripture he sees the goodness of God. “God,” he says, “has in Scripture clothed His mysteries with clouds, that mans love of truth might be inflamed by the difficulty of finding them out. For if they were only such as were readily understood, truth would not be eagerly sought, nor would it give pleasure when found.”—De Ver. Relig. c. 17.
Next: Chapter VII
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