Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Confessions: Chapter II
Chapter II.—He Begs of God that Through the Holy Scriptures He May Be Led to Truth.
2. But when shall I suffice with the tongue of my pen to express all Thy exhortations, and all Thy terrors, and comforts, and guidances, whereby Thou hast led me to preach Thy Word and to dispense Thy Sacrament 1003 unto Thy people? And if I suffice to utter these things in order, the drops 1004 of time are dear to me. Long time have I burned to meditate in Thy law, and in it to confess to Thee my knowledge and ignorance, the beginning of Thine enlightening, and the remains of my darkness, until infirmity be swallowed up by strength. And I would not that to aught else those hours should flow away, which I find free from the necessities of refreshing my body, and the care of my mind, and of the service which we owe to men, and which, though we owe not, even yet we pay. 1005
3. O Lord my God, hear my prayer, and let Thy mercy regard my longing, since it bums not for myself alone, but because it desires to benefit brotherly charity; and Thou seest into my heart, that so it is. I would sacrifice to Thee the service of my thought and tongue; and do Thou give what I may offer unto Thee. For “I am poor and needy,” 1006 Thou rich unto all that call upon Thee, 1007 who free from care carest for us. Circumcise from all rashness and p. 164 from all lying my inward and outward lips. 1008 Let Thy Scriptures be my chaste delights. Neither let me be deceived in them, nor deceive out of them. 1009 Lord, hear and pity, O Lord my God, light of the blind, and strength of the weak; even also light of those that see, and strength of the strong, hearken unto my soul, and hear it crying “out of the depths.” 1010 For unless Thine ears be present in the depths also, whither shall we go? whither shall we cry? “The day is Thine, and the night also is Thine.” 1011 At Thy nod the moments flee by. Grant thereof space for our meditations amongst the hidden things of Thy law, nor close it against us who knock. For not in vain hast Thou willed that the obscure secret of so many pages should be written. Nor is it that those forests have not their harts, 1012 betaking themselves therein, and ranging, and walking, and feeding, lying down, and ruminating. Perfect me, O Lord, and reveal them unto me. Behold, Thy voice is my joy, Thy voice surpasseth the abundance of pleasures. Give that which I love, for I do love; and this hast Thou given. Abandon not Thine own gifts, nor despise Thy grass that thirsteth. Let me confess unto Thee whatsoever I shall have found in Thy books, and let me hear the voice of praise, and let me imbibe Thee, and reflect on the wonderful things of Thy law; 1013 even from the beginning, wherein Thou madest the heaven and the earth, unto the everlasting kingdom of Thy holy city that is with Thee.
4. Lord, have mercy on me and hear my desire. For I think that it is not of the earth, nor of gold and silver, and precious stones, nor gorgeous apparel, nor honours and powers, nor the pleasures of the flesh, nor necessaries for the body, and this life of our pilgrimage; all which are added to those that seek Thy kingdom and Thy righteousness. 1014 Behold, O Lord my God, whence is my desire. The unrighteous have told me of delights, but not such as Thy law, O Lord. 1015 Behold whence is my desire. Behold, Father, look and see, and approve; and let it be pleasing in the sight of Thy mercy, that I may find grace before Thee, that the secret things of Thy Word may be opened unto me when I knock. 1016 I beseech, by our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, “the Man of Thy right hand, the Son of man, whom Thou madest strong for Thyself,” 1017 as Thy Mediator and ours, through whom Thou hast sought us, although not seeking Thee, but didst seek us that we might seek Thee, 1018 —Thy Word through whom Thou hast made all things, 1019 and amongst them me also, Thy Only-begotten, through whom Thou hast called to adoption the believing people, and therein me also. I beseech Thee through Him, who sitteth at Thy right hand, and “maketh intercession for us,” 1020 “in whom are hid all treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” 1021 Him 1022 do I seek in Thy books. Of Him did Moses write; 1023 this saith Himself; this saith the Truth.
He very touchingly alludes in Serm. ccclv. 2 to the way in which he was forced against his will (as was frequently the custom in those days), first, to become a presbyter (A.D. 391), and, four years later, coadjutor to Valerius, Bishop of Hippo (Ep. xxxi. 4, and Ep. ccxiii. 4), whom on his death he succeeded. His own wish was to establish a monastery, and to this end he sold his patrimony, “which consisted of only a few small fields” (Ep. cxxvi. 7). He absolutely dreaded to become a bishop, and as he knew his name was highly esteemed in the Church, he avoided cities in which the see was vacant. His former backsliding had made him humble; and he tells us in the sermon above referred to, “Cavebam hoc, et agebam quantam poteram, ut in loco humili salvarer ne in alto periclitarer.” Augustin also alludes to his ordination in Ep. xxi., addressed to Bishop Valerius.163:1004
“He alludes to the hour-glasses of his time, which went by water, as ours do now by sand.”—W. W.163:1005
Augustin, in common with other bishops, had his time much invaded by those who sought his arbitration or judicial decision in secular matters, and in his De Op. Monach. sec. 37, he says, what many who have much mental toil will readily appreciate, that he would rather have spent the time not occupied in prayer and the study of the Scriptures in working with his hands, as did the monks, than have to bear these tumultuosissimas perplexitates. In the year 426 we find him (Ep. ccxiii) designating Eraclius, in public assembly, as his successor in the see, and to relieve him (though, meanwhile, remaining a presbyter) of these anxious duties. See vi. sec. 15, and note 1, above; and also ibid. sec. 3.163:1006
Augustin is always careful to distinguish between the certain truths of faith and doctrine which all may know, and the mysteries of Scripture which all have not the ability equally to apprehend. “Among the things,” he says (De Doctr. Christ. ii. 14), “that are plainly laid down in Scripture, are to be found all matters that concern faith, and the manner of life.” As to the Scriptures that are obscure, he is slow to come to conclusions, lest he should “be deceived in them or deceive out of them.” In his De Gen. ad Lit. i. 37, he gives a useful warning against forcing our own meaning on Scripture in doubtful questions, and, ibid. viii. 5, we have the memorable words: “Melius est dubitare de rebus occultis, quam litigare de incertis.” For examples of how careful he is in such matters not to go beyond what is written, see his answer to the question raised by Evodius,—a question which reminds us of certain modern speculations (see The Unseen Universe, arts. 61, 201, etc.),—whether the soul on departing from the body has not still a body of some kind, and at least some of the senses proper to a body; and also (Ep. clxiv.) his endeavours to unravel Evodius difficulties as to Christs preaching to the spirits in prison (1 Pet. iii. 18-21). Similarly, he says, as to the Antichrist of 2 Thess. ii. 1-7 (De Civ. Dei, xx. 19): “I frankly confess I know not what he means. I will, nevertheless, mention such conjectures as I have heard or read.” See notes, pp. 64 and 92, above.164:1010
Ps. 29.9. In his comment on this place as given in the Old Version, “vox Domini perficientis cervos,” he makes the forest with its thick darkness to symbolize the mysteries of Scripture, where the harts ruminating thereon represent the pious Christian meditating on those mysteries (see vi. sec. 3, note, above). In this same passage he speaks of those who are thus being perfected as overcoming the poisoned tongues. This is an allusion to the fabled power the stags had of enticing serpents from their holes by their breath, and then destroying them. Augustin is very fond of this kind of fable from natural history. In his Enarr. in Ps. cxxix. and cxli., we have similar allusions to the supposed habits of stags; and, ibid. ci., we have the well-known fable of the pelican in its charity reviving its young, and feeding them with its own blood. This use of fables was very common with the mediæval writers, and those familiar with the writings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries will recall many illustrations of it amongst the preachers of those days.164:1013
See p. 48, note 5, above.164:1017
See note 9, p. 74, above.164:1019
Many mss., however, read ipsos, and not ipsum.164:1023
Next: Chapter III
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