Chapter 9.—Augustin Deceived by Familiarity with the Manichæans, and by the Succession of Victories Over Ignorant Christians Reported by Them. The Manichæans are Likewise Easily Refuted from the Knowledge of Sin and the Will.
But two things especially, which easily lay hold upon that unwary age, urged me through wonderful circuits. One of these was familiarity, suddenly, by a certain false semblance of goodness, wrapped many times around my neck as a certain sinuous chain. The other was, that I was almost always noxiously victorious in arguing with ignorant Christians who yet eagerly attempted, each as he could, to defend their faith. 209 By which frequent success the ardor of youth was kindled, and by its own impulse rashly verged upon the great evil of stubbornness. For this kind of wrangling, after I had become an auditor among them, whatever I was able to do either by my own genius, such as it was, or by reading the works of others, I most gladly devoted to them alone. Accordingly from their speeches ardor in disputations was daily increased, from success in disputations love for them [the Manichæans]. Whence it resulted that whatever they said, as if affected by certain strange disorders, I approved of as true, not because I knew it to be true, but because I wished it to be. So it came about that, however slowly and cautiously, yet for a long time I followed men that preferred a sleek straw to a living soul.
12. So be it, I was not able at that time to distinguish and discern sensible from intelligible things, carnal forsooth from spiritual. It did not belong to age, nor to discipline, nor even to any habit, nor, finally, to any deserts; for it is a matter of no small joy and felicitation: had I not thus been able at length even to grasp that which in the judgment of all men nature itself by the laws of the most High God has established?
Nothing is more certain than that Christianity has suffered more at the hands of injudicious and ignorant defenders than from its most astute and determined foes. Little attention would be paid to the blatant infidels of the present day were it not for the interest aroused and sustained by weak attempts to refute their arguments. And as the youthful, ardent Augustin was encouraged and confirmed in his errors by the inability of his opponents, so are errors confirmed at the present day. The philosophical defence of Christianity is a matter of the utmost delicacy, and should be undertaken with fear and trembling.—A.H.N.