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

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter XVI.—He Very Easily Understood the Liberal Arts and the Categories of Aristotle, But Without True Fruit.

28. And what did it profit me that, when scarce twenty years old, a book of Aristotle’s, entitled The Ten Predicaments, fell into my hands,—on whose very name I hung as on something great and divine, when my rhetoric master of Carthage, and others who were esteemed learned, referred to it with cheeks swelling with pride,—I read it alone and understood it? And on my conferring with others, who said that with the assistance of very able masters—who not only explained it orally, but drew many things in the dust 341 —they scarcely understood it, and could tell me no more about it than I had acquired in reading it by myself alone? And the book appeared to me to speak plainly enough of substances, such as man is, and of their qualities,—such as the figure of a man, of what kind it is; and his stature, how many feet high; and his relationship, whose brother he is; or where placed, or when born; or whether he stands or sits, or is shod or armed, or does or suffers anything; and whatever innumerable things might be classed under these nine categories, 342 —of which I have given some examples,—or under that chief category of substance.

29. What did all this profit me, seeing it even hindered me, when, imagining that whatsoever existed was comprehended in those ten categories, I tried so to understand, O my God, Thy wonderful and unchangeable unity as if Thou also hadst been subjected to Thine own greatness or beauty, so that they should exist in Thee as their subject, like as in bodies, whereas Thou Thyself art Thy greatness and beauty? But a body is not great or fair because it is a body, seeing that, though it were less great or fair, it should nevertheless be a body. But that which I had conceived of Thee was falsehood, not truth,—fictions of my misery, not the supports of Thy blessedness. For Thou hadst commanded, and it was done in me, that the earth should bring forth briars and thorns to me, 343 and that with labour I should get my bread. 344

30. And what did it profit me that I, the base slave of vile affections, read unaided, and understood, all the books that I could get of the so-called liberal arts? And I took delight in them, but knew not whence came whatever in them was true and certain. For my back then was to the light, and my face towards the things enlightened; whence my face, with which I discerned the things enlightened, was not itself enlightened. Whatever was written either on rhetoric or logic, geometry, music, or arithmetic, did I, without any great difficulty, and without the teaching of any man, understand, as Thou knowest, O Lord my God, because both quickness of comprehension and acuteness of perception are Thy gifts. Yet did I not thereupon sacrifice to Thee. So, then, it served not to my use, but rather to my destruction, since I went about to get so good a portion of my substance 345 into my own power; and I kept not my strength for Thee, 346 but went away from Thee into a far country, to waste it upon harlotries. 347 For what did good abilities profit me, if I did not employ them to good uses? For I did not perceive that those arts were acquired with great difficulty, even by the studious and those gifted with genius, until I endeavoured to explain them to such; and he was the most proficient in them who followed my explanations not too slowly.

31. But what did this profit me, supposing that Thou, O Lord God, the Truth, wert a bright and vast body, 348 and I a piece of that body? Perverseness too great! But such was I. Nor do I blush, O my God, to confess to Thee Thy mercies towards me, and to call upon Thee—I, who blushed not then to avow before men my blasphemies, and to bark against Thee. What profited me then my nimble wit in those sciences and all those knotty volumes, disentangled by me without help from a human master, seeing that I erred so odiously, and with such sacrilegious baseness, in the doctrine of piety? Or what impediment was it to Thy p. 78 little ones to have a far slower wit, seeing that they departed not far from Thee, that in the nest of Thy Church they might safely become fledged, and nourish the wings of charity by the food of a sound faith? O Lord our God, under the shadow of Thy wings let us hope, 349 defend us, and carry us. Thou wilt carry us both when little, and even to grey hairs wilt Thou carry us; 350 for our firmness, when it is Thou, then is it firmness; but when it is our own, then it is infirmity. Our good lives always with Thee, from which when we are averted we are perverted. Let us now, O Lord, return, that we be not overturned, because with Thee our good lives without any eclipse, which good Thou Thyself art. 351 And we need not fear lest we should find no place unto which to return because we fell away from it; for when we were absent, our home—Thy Eternity—fell not.



As the mathematicians did their figures, in dust or sand.


“The categories enumerated by Aristotle are ὀυσία, πόσον, ποῖον, πρόστι, ποῦ, πότε, κείσθαι, ἔχειν, ποιεῖν, πάσχειν; which are usually rendered, as adequately as perhaps they can be in our language, substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, situation, possession, action, suffering. The catalogue (which certainly is but a very crude one) has been by some writers enlarged, as it is evident may easily be done by subdividing some of the heads; and by others curtailed, as it is no less evident that all may ultimately be referred to the two heads of substance and attribute, or, in the language of some logicians, ‘accident’” (Whately’s Logic, iv. 2, sec. 1, note). “These are called in Latin the prædicaments, because they can be said or predicated in the same sense of all other terms, as well as of all the objects denoted by them, whereas no other term can be correctly said of them, because no other is employed to express the full extent of their meaning” (Gillies, Analysis of Aristotle, c. 2).


Isa. 32.13.


Gen. 3.19.


Luke 15.12.


Ps. 59.9, Vulg.


Luke 15.13.


See iii. 12; iv. 3, 12; v. 19.


Ps. 36.7.


Isa. 46.4.


See xi. sec. 5, note, below.

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