Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Confessions: Chapter IV
Chapter IV.—In the Country He Gives His Attention to Literature, and Explains the Fourth Psalm in Connection with the Happy Conversion of Alypius. He is Troubled with Toothache.
7. And the day arrived on which, in very deed, I was to be released from the Professorship of Rhetoric, from which in intention I had been already released. And done it was; and Thou didst deliver my tongue whence Thou hadst already delivered my heart; and full of joy I blessed Thee for it, and retired with all mine to the villa. 712 What I accomplished here in writing, which was now wholly devoted to Thy service, though still, in this pause as it were, panting from the school of pride, my books testify, 713 —those in which I disputed with my friends, and those with myself alone 714 before Thee; and what with the absent Nebridius, my letters 715 testify. And when can I find time to recount all Thy great benefits which Thou bestowedst upon us at that time, especially as I am hasting on to still greater mercies? For my memory calls upon me, and pleasant it is to me, O Lord, to confess unto Thee, by what inward goads Thou didst subdue me, and how Thou didst make me low, bringing down the mountains and hills of my imaginations, and didst straighten my crookedness, and smooth my rough ways; 716 and by what means Thou also didst subdue that brother of my heart, Alypius, unto the name of Thy only-begotten, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which he at first refused to have inserted in our writings. For he rather desired that they should savour of the “cedars” of the schools, which the Lord hath now broken down, 717 than of the wholesome herbs of the Church, hostile to serpents.
8. What utterances sent I up unto Thee, my God, when I read the Psalms of David, 718 those faithful songs and sounds of devotion which exclude all swelling of spirit, when new to Thy true love, at rest in the villa with Alypius, a catechumen like myself, my mother cleaving unto us,—in womans garb truly, but with a mans faith, with the peacefulness of age, full of motherly love and Christian piety! What utterances used I to send up unto Thee in those Psalms, and how was I inflamed towards Thee by them, and burned to rehearse them, if it p. 132 were possible, throughout the whole world, against the pride of the human race! And yet they are sung throughout the whole world, and none can hide himself from Thy heat. 719 With what vehement and bitter sorrow was I indignant at the Manichæans; whom yet again I pitied, for that they were ignorant of those sacraments, those medicaments, and were mad against the antidote which might have made them sane! I wished that they had been somewhere near me then, and, without my being aware of their presence, could have beheld my face, and heard my words, when I read the fourth Psalm in that time of my leisure,—how that Psalm wrought upon me. When I called upon Thee, Thou didst hear me, O God of my righteousness; Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer. 720 Oh that they might have heard what I uttered on these words, without my knowing whether they heard or no, lest they should think that I spake it because of them! For, of a truth, neither should I have said the same things, nor in the way I said them, if I had perceived that I was heard and seen by them; and had I spoken them, they would not so have received them as when I spake by and for myself before Thee, out of the private feelings of my soul.
9. I alternately quaked with fear, and warmed with hope, and with rejoicing in Thy mercy, O Father. And all these passed forth, both by mine eyes and voice, when Thy good Spirit, turning unto us, said, O ye sons of men, how long will ye be slow of heart? “How long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing?” 721 For I had loved vanity, and sought after leasing. And Thou, O Lord, hadst already magnified Thy Holy One, raising Him from the dead, and setting Him at Thy right hand, 722 whence from on high He should send His promise, 723 the Paraclete, “the Spirit of Truth.” 724 And He had already sent Him, 725 but I knew it not; He had sent Him, because He was now magnified, rising again from the dead, and ascending into heaven. For till then “the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” 726 And the prophet cries out, How long will ye be slow of heart? How long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Know this, that the Lord hath magnified His Holy One. He cries out, “How long?” He cries out, “Know this,” and I, so long ignorant, “loved vanity, and sought after leasing.” And therefore I heard and trembled, because these words were spoken unto such as I remembered that I myself had been. For in those phantasms which I once held for truths was there “vanity” and “leasing.” And I spake many things loudly and earnestly, in the sorrow of my remembrance, which, would that they who yet “love vanity and seek after leasing” had heard! They would perchance have been troubled, and have vomited it forth, and Thou wouldest hear them when they cried unto Thee; 727 for by a true 728 death in the flesh He died for us, who now maketh intercession for us 729 with Thee.
10. I read further, “Be ye angry, and sin not.” 730 And how was I moved, O my God, who had now learned to “be angry” with myself for the things past, so that in the future I might not sin! Yea, to be justly angry; for that it was not another nature of the race of darkness 731 which sinned for me, as they affirm it to be who are not angry with themselves, and who treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and of the revelation of Thy righteous judgment. 732 Nor were my good things 733 now without, nor were they sought after with eyes of flesh in that sun; 734 for they that would have joy from without easily sink into oblivion, and are wasted upon those things which are seen and temporal, and in their starving thoughts do lick their very shadows. Oh, if only they were wearied out with their fasting, and said, “Who will show us any good?” 735 And we would answer, and they hear, O Lord. The light of Thy countenance is lifted up upon us. 736 For we are not that Light, which lighteth every man, 737 but we are enlightened by Thee, that we, who were sometimes darkness, may be light in Thee. 738 Oh that they could behold the internal Eternal, 739 which having tasted I gnashed my teeth that I could not show It to them, while they brought me their heart in their eyes, roaming abroad from Thee, and said, “Who will show us any good?” But there, where I was angry with myself in my chamber, where I was inwardly pricked, where I had offered my “sacrifice,” slaying my old man, and beginning the resolution of a new life, putting my trust in Thee, 740 —there hadst Thou begun to grow sweet unto me, and to “put gladness in p. 133 my heart.” 741 And I cried out as I read this outwardly, and felt it inwardly. Nor would I be increased 742 with worldly goods, wasting time and being wasted by time; whereas I possessed in Thy eternal simplicity other corn, and wine, and oil. 743
11. And with a loud cry from my heart, I called out in the following verse, “Oh, in peace!” and “the self-same!” 744 Oh, what said he, “I will lay me down and sleep!” 745 For who shall hinder us, when “shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory?” 746 And Thou art in the highest degree “the self-same,” who changest not; and in Thee is the rest which forgetteth all labour, for there is no other beside Thee, nor ought we to seek after those many other things which are not what Thou art; but Thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in hope. 747 These things I read, and was inflamed; but discovered not what to do with those deaf and dead, of whom I had been a pestilent member,—a bitter and a blind declaimer against the writings be-honied with the honey of heaven and luminous with Thine own light; and I was consumed on account of the enemies of this Scripture.
12. When shall I call to mind all that took place in those holidays? Yet neither have I forgotten, nor will I be silent about the severity of Thy scourge, and the amazing quickness of Thy mercy. 748 Thou didst at that time torture me with toothache; 749 and when it had become so exceeding great that I was not able to speak, it came into my heart to urge all my friends who were present to pray for me to Thee, the God of all manner of health. And I wrote it down on wax, 750 and gave it to them to read. Presently, as with submissive desire we bowed our knees, that pain departed. But what pain? Or how did it depart? I confess to being much afraid, my Lord my God, seeing that from my earliest years I had not experienced such pain. And Thy purposes were profoundly impressed upon me; and, rejoicing in faith, I praised Thy name. And that faith suffered me not to be at rest in regard to my past sins, which were not yet forgiven me by Thy baptism.
As Christ went into the wilderness after His baptism (Matt. 4.1), and Paul into Arabia after his conversion (Gal. 1.17), so did Augustin here find in his retirement a preparation for his future work. He tells us of this time of his life (De Ordin. i. 6) that his habit was to spend the beginning or end, and often almost half the night, in watching and searching for truth, and says further (ibid. 29), that “he almost daily asked God with tears that his wounds might be healed, and often proved to himself that he was unworthy to be healed as soon as he wished.”131:713
These books are (Con. Acad. i. 4) his three disputations Against the Academics, his De Vita Beata, begun (ibid. 6) “Idibus Novembris die ejus natali;” and (Retract. i. 3) his two books De Ordine.131:714
That is, his two books of Soliloquies. In his Retractations, i. 4, sec 1, he tells us that in these books he held an argument,—me interrogans, mihique respondens, tanquam duo essemus, ratio et ego.131:715
Several of these letters to Nebridius will be found in the two vols. of Letters in this series.131:716
Reference may with advantage be made to Archbishop Trenchs Hulsean Lectures (1845), who in his third lect., on “The Manifoldness of Scripture,” adverts to this very passage, and shows in an interesting way how the Psalms have ever been to the saints of God, as Luther said, “a Bible in little,” affording satisfaction to their needs in every kind of trial, emergency, and experience.132:719
John 14:16, 17.132:725
See v. 16, note, above.132:729
See iv. 26, note, above.132:732
See v. 12, note, above.132:735
Internum æternum, but some mss. read internum lumen æternum.132:740
That is, lest they should distract him from the true riches. For, as he says in his exposition of the fourth Psalm, “Cum dedita temporalibus voluptatibus anima semper exardescit cupiditate, nec satiari potest.” He knew that the prosperity of the soul (3 John 2) might be injuriously affected by the prosperity of the body; and disregarding the lower life (βίος) and its “worldly goods,” he pressed on to increase the treasure he had within,—the true life (ζωή) which he had received from God. See also Enarr. in Ps. xxxviii. 6.133:743
Ps. 4.8, Vulg.133:745
Ps. 4.8; in his comment whereon, Augustin applies this passage as above.133:746
1 Cor. 15.54.133:747
Ps. 4.9, Vulg.133:748
Compare the beautiful Talmudical legend quoted by Jeremy Taylor (Works, viii. 397, Edens ed.), that of the two archangels, Gabriel and Michael, Gabriel has two wings that he may “fly swiftly” (Dan. 9.21) to bring the message of peace, while Michael has but one, that he may labour in his flight when he comes forth on his ministries of justice.133:749
In his Soliloquies (see note, sec. 7, above), he refers in i. 21 to this period. He there tells us that his pain was so great that it prevented his learning anything afresh, and only permitted him to revolve in his mind what he had already learnt. Compare De Quinceys description of the agonies he had to endure from tooth ache in his Confessions of an Opium Eater.133:750
That is, on the waxen tablet used by the ancients. The iron stilus, or pencil, used for writing, was pointed at one end and flattened at the other—the flattened circular end being used to erase the writing by smoothing down the wax. Hence vertere stilum signifies to put out or correct. See sec. 19, below.
Next: Chapter V
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