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

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter V.—Of the Causes Which Alienate Us from God.

10. But when that man of Thine, Simplicianus, related this to me about Victorinus, I burned to imitate him; and it was for this end he had related it. But when he had added this also, that in the time of the Emperor Julian, there was a law made by which Christians were forbidden to teach grammar and oratory, 641 and he, in obedience to this law, chose rather to abandon the wordy school than Thy word, by which Thou makest eloquent the tongues of the dumb, 642 —he appeared to me not more brave than happy, in having thus discovered an opportunity of waiting on Thee only, which thing I was sighing for, thus bound, not with the irons of another, but my own iron will. My will was the enemy master of, and thence had made a chain for me and bound me. Because of a perverse will was lust made; and lust indulged in became custom; and custom not resisted became necessity. By which links, as it were, joined together (whence I term it a “chain”), did a hard bondage hold me enthralled. 643 But that p. 121 new will which had begun to develope in me, freely to worship Thee, and to wish to enjoy Thee, O God, the only sure enjoyment, was not able as yet to overcome my former wilfulness, made strong by long indulgence. Thus did my two wills, one old and the other new, one carnal, the other spiritual, contend within me; and by their discord they unstrung my soul.

11. Thus came I to understand, from my own experience, what I had read, how that “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” 644 I verily lusted both ways; 645 yet more in that which I approved in myself, than in that which I disapproved in myself. For in this last it was now rather not “I,” 646 because in much I rather suffered against my will than did it willingly. And yet it was through me that custom became more combative against me, because I had come willingly whither I willed not. And who, then, can with any justice speak against it, when just punishment follows the sinner? 647 Nor had I now any longer my wonted excuse, that as yet I hesitated to be above the world and serve Thee, because my perception of the truth was uncertain; for now it was certain. But I, still bound to the earth, refused to be Thy soldier; and was as much afraid of being freed from all embarrassments, as we ought to fear to be embarrassed.

12. Thus with the baggage of the world was I sweetly burdened, as when in slumber; and the thoughts wherein I meditated upon Thee were like unto the efforts of those desiring to awake, who, still overpowered with a heavy drowsiness, are again steeped therein. And as no one desires to sleep always, and in the sober judgment of all waking is better, yet does a man generally defer to shake off drowsiness, when there is a heavy lethargy in all his limbs, and, though displeased, yet even after it is time to rise with pleasure yields to it, so was I assured that it were much better for me to give up myself to Thy charity, than to yield myself to my own cupidity; but the former course satisfied and vanquished me, the latter pleased me and fettered me. 648 Nor had I aught to answer Thee calling to me, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” 649 And to Thee showing me on every side, that what Thou saidst was true, I, convicted by the truth, had nothing at all to reply, but the drawling and drowsy words: “Presently, lo, presently;” “Leave me a little while.” But “presently, presently,” had no present; and my “leave me a little while” went on for a long while. 650 In vain did I “delight in Thy law after the inner man,” when “another law in my members warred against the law of my mind, and brought me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” For the law of sin is the violence of custom, whereby the mind is drawn and held, even against its will; deserving to be so held in that it so willingly falls into it. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death” but Thy grace only, through Jesus Christ our Lord? 651



During the reign of Constantius, laws of a persecuting character were enacted against Paganism, which led multitudes nominally to adopt the Christian faith. When Julian the Apostate came to the throne, he took steps immediately to reinstate Paganism in all its ancient splendour. His court was filled with Platonic philosophers and diviners, and he sacrificed daily to the gods. But, instead of imitating the example of his predecessor, and enacting laws against the Christians, he endeavoured by subtlety to destroy their faith. In addition to the measures mentioned by Augustin above, he endeavoured to foment divisions in the Church by recalling the banished Donatists, and stimulating them to disseminate their doctrines, and he himself wrote treatises against it. In order, if possible, to counteract the influence of Christianity, he instructed his priests to imitate the Christians in their relief of the poor and care for the sick. But while in every way enacting measures of disability against the Christians, he showed great favour to the Jews, and with the view of confuting the predictions of Christ, went so far as to encourage them to rebuild the Temple.


Wisd. 10.21.


There would appear to be a law at work in the moral and spiritual worlds similar to that of gravitation in the natural, which “acts inversely as the square of the distance.” As we are more affected, for example, by events that have taken place near us either in time or place, than by those which are more remote, so in spiritual things, the monitions of conscience would seem to become feeble with far greater rapidity than the continuance of our resistance would lead us to expect, while the power of sin, in like proportion, becomes strong. When tempted, men see not the end from the beginning. The allurement, however, which at first is but as a gossamer thread, is soon felt to have the strength of a cable. “Evil men and seducers wax worse and worse” (2 Tim. 3.13), and when it is too late they learn that the embrace of the siren is but the prelude to destruction. “Thus,”as Gurnall has it (The Christian in Complete Armour, vol. i. part 2), “Satan leads poor creatures down into the depths of sin by winding stairs, that let them not see the bottom whither they are going.…Many who at this day lie in open profaneness, never thought they should have rolled so far from their modest beginnings. O Christians, give not place to Satan, no, not an inch, in his first motions. He that is a beggar and a modest one without doors, will command the house if let in. Yield at first, and thou givest away thy strength to resist him in the rest; when the hem is worn, the whole garment will ravel out, if it be not mended by timely repentance.” See Müller, Lehre von der Sünde, book v., where the beginnings and alarming progress of evil in the soul are graphically described. See ix. sec. 18, note, below.


Gal. 5.17.


See iv. sec. 26, note, and v. sec. 18, above.


Rom 7.20.


See v. sec. 2, note 6, above.


Illud placebat et vincebat; hoc libebat et vinciebat. Watts renders freely, “But notwithstanding that former course pleased and overcame my reason, yet did this latter tickle and enthrall my senses.”


Eph. 5.14.


As Bishop Wilberforce, eloquently describing this condition of mind, says, in his sermon on The Almost Christian, “New, strange wishes were rising in his heart. The Mighty One was brooding over its currents, was stirring up its tides, was fain to overrule their troubled flow—to arise in open splendour on his eyes; to glorify his life with His own blessed presence. And he himself was evidently conscious of the struggle; he was almost won; he was drawn towards that mysterious birth, and he well-nigh yielded. He even knew what was passing within his soul; he could appreciate something of its importance, of the living value of that moment. If that conflict was indeed visible to higher powers around him; if they who longed to keep him in the kingdom of darkness, and they who were ready to rejoice at his repentance—if they could see the inner waters of that troubled heart, as they surged and eddied underneath these mighty influences, how must they have waited for the doubtful choice! how would they strain their observation to see if that Almost should turn into an Altogether, or die away again, and leave his heart harder than it had been before!”


Rom. 7.22-24. This difficilis et periculosus locus (Serm. cliv. 1) he interprets differently at different periods of his life. In this place, as elsewhere in his writings, he makes the passage refer (according to the general interpretation in the Church up to that time) to man convinced of sin under the influence of the law, but not under grace. In his Retractations, however (i. 23, sec. 1), he points out that he had found reason to interpret the passage not of man convinced of sin, but of man renewed and regenerated in Christ Jesus. This is the view constantly taken in his anti-Pelagian writings, which were published subsequently to the date of his Confessions; and indeed this change in interpretation probably arose from the pressure of the Pelagian controversy (see Con. Duas Ep. Pel. i. 10, secs. 18 and 22), and the fear lest the old view should too much favour the heretics, and their exaltation of the powers of the natural man to the disparagement of the influence of the grace of God.

Next: Chapter VI

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