Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Confessions: Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXI.—About to Speak of the Temptations of the Lust of the Flesh, He First Complains of the Lust of Eating and Drinking.
43. There is another evil of the day that I would were “sufficient” unto it. 887 For by eating and drinking we repair the daily decays of the body, until Thou destroyest both food and stomach, when Thou shall destroy my want with an amazing satiety, and shalt clothe this corruptible with an eternal incorruption. 888 But now is necessity sweet unto me, and against this sweetness do I fight, lest I be enthralled; and I carry on a daily war by fasting, 889 oftentimes “bringing my body into subjection,” 890 and my pains are expelled by pleasure. For hunger and thirst are in some sort pains; they consume and destroy like unto a fever, unless the medicine of nourishment relieve us. The which, since it is at hand through the comfort we receive of Thy gifts, with which land and water and air serve our infirmity, our calamity is called pleasure.
44. This much hast Thou taught me, that I should bring myself to take food as medicine. But during the time that I am passing from the uneasiness of want to the calmness of satiety, even in the very passage doth that snare of concupiscence lie in wait for me. For the passage itself is pleasure, nor is there any other way of passing thither, whither necessity compels us to pass. And whereas health is the reason of eating and drinking, there joineth itself as an hand-maid a perilous delight, which mostly tries to precede it, in order that I may do for her sake what I say I do, or desire to do, for healths sake. Nor have both the same limit; for what is sufficient for health is too little for pleasure. And oftentimes it is doubtful whether it be the necessary care of the body which still asks nourishment, or whether a sensual snare of desire offers its ministry. In this uncertainty does my unhappy soul rejoice, and therein prepares an excuse as a defence, glad that it doth not appear what may be Sufficient for the moderation of health, that so under the pretence of health it may conceal the business of pleasure. These temptations do I daily endeavour to resist, and I summon Thy right hand to my help, and refer my excitements to Thee, because as yet I have no resolve in this matter.
45. I hear the voice of my God commanding, let not “your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness.” 891 “Drunkenness,” it is far from me; Thou wilt have mercy, that it approach not near unto me. But “surfeiting” sometimes creepeth upon Thy servant; Thou wilt have mercy, that it may be far from me. For no man can be continent unless Thou give it. 892 Many things which we pray for dost p. 155 Thou give us; and what good soever we receive before we prayed for it, do we receive from Thee, and that we might afterwards know this did we receive it from Thee. Drunkard was I never, but I have known drunkards to be made sober men by Thee. Thy doing, then, was it, that they who never were such might not be so, as from Thee it was that they who have been so heretofore might not remain so always; and from Thee, too was it, that both might know from whom it was. I heard another voice of Thine, “Go not after thy lusts, but refrain thyself from thine appetites.” 893 And by Thy favour have I heard this saying likewise, which I have much delighted in, “Neither if we eat, are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse;” 894 which is to say, that neither shall the one make me to abound, nor the other to be wretched. I heard also another voice, “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content, I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound . . . I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” 895 Lo! a soldier of the celestial camp—not dust as we are. But remember, O Lord, “that we are dust,” 896 and that of dust Thou hast created man; 897 and he “was lost, and is found.” 898 Nor could he do this of his own power, seeing that he whom I so loved, saying these things through the afflatus of Thy inspiration, was of that same dust. “I can,” saith he, “do all things through Him which strengtheneth me.” 899 Strengthen me, that I may be able. Give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt. 900 He confesses to have received, and when he glorieth, he glorieth in the Lord. 901 Another have I heard entreating that he might receive,—“Take from me,” saith he, “the greediness of the belly;” 902 by which it appeareth, O my holy God, that Thou givest when what Thou commandest to be done is done.
46. Thou hast taught me, good Father, that “unto the pure all things are pure;” 903 but “it is evil for that man who eateth with offence;” 904 “and that every creature of Thine is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with, thanksgiving;” 905 and that “meat commendeth us not to God;” 906 and that no man should “judge us in meat or in drink;” 907 and that he that eateth, let him not despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not judge him that eateth. 908 These things have I learned, thanks and praise be unto Thee, O my God and Master, who dost knock at my ears and enlighten my heart; deliver me out of all temptation. It is not the uncleanness of meat that I fear, but the uncleanness of lusting. I know that permission was granted unto Noah to eat every kind of flesh 909 that was good for food; 910 that Elias was fed with flesh; 911 that John, endued with a wonderful abstinence, was not polluted by the living creatures (that is, the locusts 912 ) which he fed on. I know, too, that Esau was deceived by a longing for lentiles, 913 and that David took blame to himself for desiring water, 914 and that our King was tempted not by flesh but bread. 915 And the people in the wilderness, therefore, also deserved reproof, not because they desired flesh, but because, in their desire for food, they murmured against the Lord. 916
47. Placed, then, in the midst of these temptations, I strive daily against longing for food and drink. For it is not of such a nature as that I am able to resolve to cut it off once for all, and not touch it afterwards, as I was able to do with concubinage. The bridle of the throat, therefore, is to be held in the mean of slackness and tightness. 917 And who, O Lord, is he who is not in some degree carried away beyond the bounds of necessity? Whoever he is, he is great; let him magnify Thy name. But I am not such a one, “for I am a sinful man.” 918 Yet do I also magnify Thy name; and He who hath “overcome the world” 919 maketh intercession to Thee for my sins, 920 accounting me among the “feeble members” of His body, 921 because Thine eyes saw that of him which was imperfect; and in Thy book all shall be written. 922
1 Cor. 15.54.154:889
In Augustins time, and indeed till the Council of Orleans, A.D. 538, fasting appears to have been left pretty much to the individual conscience. We find Tertullian in his De Jejunio lamenting the slight observance it received during his day. We learn, however, from the passage in Justin Martyr, quoted in note 4, on p. 118, above, that in his time it was enjoined as a preparation for Baptism.154:890
1 Cor. 9.27.154:891
1 Cor. 8.8.155:895
In his De Dono Persev. sec. 53, he tells us that these words were quoted to Pelagius, when at Rome, by a certain bishop, and that they excited him to contradict them so warmly as nearly to result in a rupture between Pelagius and the bishop.155:901
1 Cor. 1.31.155:902
1 Tim. 4.4.155:906
1 Cor. 8.8.155:907
He here refers to the doctrine of the Manichæans in the matter of eating flesh. In his De Mor. Manich. secs. 36, 37, he discusses the prohibition of flesh to the “Elect.” From Ep. ccxxxvi. we find that the “Hearers” had not to practice abstinence from marriage and from eating flesh. For other information on this subject, see notes, pp. 66 and 83.155:910
1 Kings 17.6.155:912
2 Sam. 23.15-17.155:915
So all Gods gifts are to be used, but not abused; and those who deny the right use of any, do so by virtually accepting the principle of asceticism. As Augustin, in his De Mor. Ecc. Cath. sec. 39, says of all transient things, we “should use them as far as is required for the purposes and duties of life, with the moderation of an employer instead of the ardour of a lover.”155:918
1 Cor. 12.22.155:922
Ps. 139.16; he similarly applies this passage when commenting on it in Ps. cxxxviii. 21, and also in Serm. cxxxv.
Next: Chapter XXXII
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