Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Confessions: Chapter III
Chapter III.—As Ambrose Was Occupied with Business and Study, Augustin Could Seldom Consult Him Concerning the Holy Scriptures.
3. Nor did I now groan in my prayers that Thou wouldest help me; but my mind was wholly intent on knowledge, and eager to dispute. And Ambrose himself I esteemed a happy man, as the world counted happiness, in that such great personages held him in honour; only his celibacy appeared to me a painful thing. But what hope he cherished, what struggles he had against the temptations that beset his very excellences, what solace in adversities, and what savoury joys Thy bread possessed for the hidden mouth of his heart when ruminating 443 on it, I could neither conjecture, nor had I experienced. Nor did he know my embarrassments, nor the pit of my danger. For I could not request of him what I wished as I wished, in that I was debarred from hearing and speaking to him by crowds of busy people, whose infirmities he devoted himself to. With whom when he was not engaged (which was but a little time), he either was refreshing his body with necessary sustenance, or his mind with reading. But while reading, his eyes glanced over the pages, and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent. Ofttimes, when we had come (for no one was forbidden to enter, nor was it his custom that the arrival of those who came should be announced to him), we saw him thus reading to himself, and never otherwise; and, having long sat in silence (for who durst interrupt one so intent?), we were fain to depart, inferring that in the little time he secured for the recruiting of his mind, free from the clamour of other mens business, he was unwilling to be taken off. And perchance he was fearful lest, if the author he studied should express aught vaguely, some doubtful and attentive hearer should ask him to expound it, or to discuss some of the more abstruse questions, as that, his time being thus occupied, he could not turn over as many volumes as he wished; although the preservation of his voice, which was very easily weakened, might be the truer reason for his reading to himself. But whatever was his motive in so doing, doubtless in such a man was a good one.
4. But verily no opportunity could I find of ascertaining what I desired from that Thy so holy oracle, his breast, unless the thing might be entered into briefly. But those surgings in me required to find him at full leisure, that I might pour them out to him, but never were they able to find him so; and I heard him, indeed, every Lords day, “rightly dividing the word of truth” 444 among the people; and I was all the more convinced that all those knots of crafty calumnies, which those deceivers of ours had knit against the divine books, could be unravelled. But so soon as I understood, withal, that man made “after the image of Him that created him” 445 was not so understood by Thy spiritual sons (whom of the Catholic mother Thou hadst begotten again through grace), as though they believed and imagined Thee to be bounded by human form,—although what was the nature of a spiritual substance 446 I had not the faintest or dimmest suspicion,—yet rejoicing, I blushed that for so many years I had barked, not against the Catholic faith, but against the fables of carnal imaginations. For I had been both impious and rash in this, that what I ought inquiring to have learnt, I had pronounced on condemning. For Thou, O most high and most near, most secret, yet most present, who hast not limbs some larger some smaller, but art wholly everywhere, and nowhere in space, nor art Thou of such corporeal form, yet hast Thou created man after Thine own image, and, behold, from head to foot is he confined by space.
In his Reply to Faustus (vi. 7), he, conformably with this idea, explains the division into clean and unclean beasts under the Levitical law symbolically. “No doubt,” he says, “the animal is pronounced unclean by the law because it does not chew the cud, which is not a fault, but its nature. But the men of whom this animal is a symbol are unclean, not by nature, but from their own fault; because, though they gladly hear the words of wisdom, they never reflect on them afterwards. For to recall, in quiet repose, some useful instruction from the stomach of memory to the mouth of reflection, is a kind of spiritual rumination. The animals above mentioned are a symbol of those people who do not do this. And the prohibition of the flesh of these animals is a warning against this fault. Another passage of Scripture (Prov. 21.20) speaks of the precious treasure of wisdom, and describes ruminating as clean, and not ruminating as unclean: A precious treasure resteth in the mouth of a wise man, but a foolish man swallows it up. Symbols of this kind, either in words or in things, give useful and pleasant exercise to intelligent minds in the way of inquiry and comparison.”91:444
2 Tim. 2.15.91:445
Col. 3.10, and Gen. 1:26, 27. And because we are created in the image of God, Augustin argues (Serm. lxxxviii. 6), we have the ability to see and know Him, just as, having eyes to see, we can look upon the sun. And hereafter, too (Ep. xcii. 3), “We shall see Him according to the measure in which we shall be like Him; because now the measure in which we do not see Him is according to the measure of our unlikeness to Him.”91:446
See iii. sec. 12, note, above.
Next: Chapter IV
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