Nor did I ever have enough in those days of the wondrous sweetness of meditating on the depth of thy counsels concerning the salvation of the human race. How freely did I weep in thy hymns and canticles; how deeply was I moved by the voices of thy sweet-speaking Church! The voices flowed into my ears; and the truth was poured forth into my heart, where the tide of my devotion overflowed, and my tears ran down, and I was happy in all these things.
15. The church of Milan had only recently begun to employ this mode of consolation and exaltation with all the brethren singing together with great earnestness of voice and heart. For it was only about a year--not much more--since Justina, the mother of the boy-emperor Valentinian, had persecuted thy servant Ambrose on behalf of her heresy, in which she had been seduced by the Arians. The devoted people kept guard in the church, prepared to die with their bishop, thy servant. Among them my mother, thy handmaid, taking a leading part in those anxieties and vigils, lived there in prayer. And even though we were still not wholly melted by the heat of thy Spirit, we were nevertheless excited by the alarmed and disturbed city.
This was the time that the custom began, after the manner of the Eastern Church, that hymns and psalms should be sung, so that the people would not be worn out with the tedium of lamentation. This custom, retained from then till now, has been imitated by many, indeed, by almost all thy congregations throughout the rest of the world.288
16. Then by a vision thou madest known to thy renowned bishop the spot where lay the bodies of Gervasius and Protasius, the martyrs, whom thou hadst preserved uncorrupted for so many years in thy secret storehouse, so that thou mightest produce them at a fit time to check a woman’s fury--a woman indeed, but also a queen! When they were discovered and dug up and brought with due honor to the basilica of Ambrose, as they were borne along the road many who were troubled by unclean spirits--the devils confessing themselves--were healed. And there was also a certain man, a well-known citizen of the city, blind many years, who, when he had asked and learned the reason for the people’s tumultuous joy, rushed out and begged his guide to lead him to the place. When he arrived there, he begged to be permitted to touch with his handkerchief the bier of thy saints, whose death is precious in thy sight. When he had done this, and put it to his eyes, they were immediately opened. The fame of all this spread abroad; from this thy glory shone more brightly. And also from this the mind of that angry woman, though not enlarged to the sanity of a full faith, was nevertheless restrained from the fury of persecution.
Thanks to thee, O my God. Whence and whither hast thou led my memory, that I should confess such things as these to thee--for great as they were, I had forgetfully passed them over? And yet at that time, when the sweet savor of thy ointment was so fragrant, I did not run after thee.289 Therefore, I wept more bitterly as I listened to thy hymns, having so long panted after thee. And now at length I could breathe as much as the space allows in this our straw house.290
17. Thou, O Lord, who makest men of one mind to dwell in a single house, also broughtest Evodius to join our company. He was a young man of our city, who, while serving as a secret service agent, was converted to thee and baptized before us. He had relinquished his secular service, and prepared himself for thine. We were together, and we were resolved to live together in our devout purpose.
We cast about for some place where we might be most useful in our service to thee, and had planned on going back together to Africa. And when we had got as far as Ostia on the Tiber, my mother died.
I am passing over many things, for I must hasten. Receive, O my God, my confessions and thanksgiving for the unnumbered things about which I am silent. But I will not omit anything my mind has brought back concerning thy handmaid who brought me forth--in her flesh, that I might be born into this world’s light, and in her heart, that I might be born to life eternal. I will not speak of her gifts, but of thy gift in her; for she neither made herself nor trained herself. Thou didst create her, and neither her father nor her mother knew what kind of being was to come forth from them. And it was the rod of thy Christ, the discipline of thy only Son, that trained her in thy fear, in the house of one of thy faithful ones who was a sound member of thy Church. Yet my mother did not attribute this good training of hers as much to the diligence of her own mother as to that of a certain elderly maidservant who had nursed her father, carrying him around on her back, as big girls carried babies. Because of her long-time service and also because of her extreme age and excellent character, she was much respected by the heads of that Christian household. The care of her master’s daughters was also committed to her, and she performed her task with diligence. She was quite earnest in restraining them with a holy severity when necessary and instructing them with a sober sagacity. Thus, except at mealtimes at their parents’ table--when they were fed very temperately--she would not allow them to drink even water, however parched they were with thirst. In this way she took precautions against an evil custom and added the wholesome advice: “You drink water now only because you don’t control the wine; but when you are married and mistresses of pantry and cellar, you may not care for water, but the habit of drinking will be fixed.” By such a method of instruction, and her authority, she restrained the longing of their tender age, and regulated even the thirst of the girls to such a decorous control that they no longer wanted what they ought not to have.
18. And yet, as thy handmaid related to me, her son, there had stolen upon her a love of wine. For, in the ordinary course of things, when her parents sent her as a sober maiden to draw wine from the cask, she would hold a cup under the tap; and then, before she poured the wine into the bottle, she would wet the tips of her lips with a little of it, for more than this her taste refused. She did not do this out of any craving for drink, but out of the overflowing buoyancy of her time of life, which bubbles up with sportiveness and youthful spirits, but is usually borne down by the gravity of the old folks. And so, adding daily a little to that little--for “he that contemns small things shall fall by a little here and a little there”291--she slipped into such a habit as to drink off eagerly her little cup nearly full of wine.
Where now was that wise old woman and her strict prohibition? Could anything prevail against our secret disease if thy medicine, O Lord, did not watch over us? Though father and mother and nurturers are absent, thou art present, who dost create, who callest, and who also workest some good for our salvation, through those who are set over us. What didst thou do at that time, O my God? How didst thou heal her? How didst thou make her whole? Didst thou not bring forth from another woman’s soul a hard and bitter insult, like a surgeon’s knife from thy secret store, and with one thrust drain off all that putrefaction? For the slave girl who used to accompany her to the cellar fell to quarreling with her little mistress, as it sometimes happened when she was alone with her, and cast in her teeth this vice of hers, along with a very bitter insult: calling her “a drunkard.” Stung by this taunt, my mother saw her own vileness and immediately condemned and renounced it.
As the flattery of friends corrupts, so often do the taunts of enemies instruct. Yet thou repayest them, not for the good thou workest through their means, but for the malice they intended. That angry slave girl wanted to infuriate her young mistress, not to cure her; and that is why she spoke up when they were alone. Or perhaps it was because their quarrel just happened to break out at that time and place; or perhaps she was afraid of punishment for having told of it so late.
But thou, O Lord, ruler of heaven and earth, who changest to thy purposes the deepest floods and controls the turbulent tide of the ages, thou healest one soul by the unsoundness of another; so that no man, when he hears of such a happening, should attribute it to his own power if another person whom he wishes to reform is reformed through a word of his.
19. Thus modestly and soberly brought up, she was made subject to her parents by thee, rather more than by her parents to thee. She arrived at a marriageable age, and she was given to a husband whom she served as her lord. And she busied herself to gain him to thee, preaching thee to him by her behavior, in which thou madest her fair and reverently amiable, and admirable to her husband. For she endured with patience his infidelity and never had any dissension with her husband on this account. For she waited for thy mercy upon him until, by believing in thee, he might become chaste.
Moreover, even though he was earnest in friendship, he was also violent in anger; but she had learned that an angry husband should not be resisted, either in deed or in word. But as soon as he had grown calm and was tranquil, and she saw a fitting moment, she would give him a reason for her conduct, if he had been excited unreasonably. As a result, while many matrons whose husbands were more gentle than hers bore the marks of blows on their disfigured faces, and would in private talk blame the behavior of their husbands, she would blame their tongues, admonishing them seriously--though in a jesting manner--that from the hour they heard what are called the matrimonial tablets read to them, they should think of them as instruments by which they were made servants. So, always being mindful of their condition, they ought not to set themselves up in opposition to their lords. And, knowing what a furious, bad-tempered husband she endured, they marveled that it had never been rumored, nor was there any mark to show, that Patricius had ever beaten his wife, or that there had been any domestic strife between them, even for a day. And when they asked her confidentially the reason for this, she taught them the rule I have mentioned. Those who observed it confirmed the wisdom of it and rejoiced; those who did not observe it were bullied and vexed.
20. Even her mother-in-law, who was at first prejudiced against her by the whisperings of malicious servants, she conquered by submission, persevering in it with patience and meekness; with the result that the mother-in-law told her son of the tales of the meddling servants which had disturbed the domestic peace between herself and her daughter-in-law and begged him to punish them for it. In conformity with his mother’s wish, and in the interest of family discipline to insure the future harmony of its members, he had those servants beaten who were pointed out by her who had discovered them; and she promised a similar reward to anyone else who, thinking to please her, should say anything evil of her daughter-in-law. After this no one dared to do so, and they lived together with a wonderful sweetness of mutual good will.
21. This other great gift thou also didst bestow, O my God, my Mercy, upon that good handmaid of thine, in whose womb thou didst create me. It was that whenever she could she acted as a peacemaker between any differing and discordant spirits, and when she heard very bitter things on either side of a controversy--the kind of bloated and undigested discord which often belches forth bitter words, when crude malice is breathed out by sharp tongues to a present friend against an absent enemy--she would disclose nothing about the one to the other except what might serve toward their reconciliation. This might seem a small good to me if I did not know to my sorrow countless persons who, through the horrid and far-spreading infection of sin, not only repeat to enemies mutually enraged things said in passion against each other, but also add some things that were never said at all. It ought not to be enough in a truly humane man merely not to incite or increase the enmities of men by evil-speaking; he ought likewise to endeavor by kind words to extinguish them. Such a one was she--and thou, her most intimate instructor, didst teach her in the school of her heart.
22. Finally, her own husband, now toward the end of his earthly existence, she won over to thee. Henceforth, she had no cause to complain of unfaithfulness in him, which she had endured before he became one of the faithful. She was also the servant of thy servants. All those who knew her greatly praised, honored, and loved thee in her because, through the witness of the fruits of a holy life, they recognized thee present in her heart. For she had “been the wife of one man,”292 had honored her parents, had guided her house in piety, was highly reputed for good works, and brought up her children, travailing in labor with them as often as she saw them swerving from thee. Lastly, to all of us, O Lord--since of thy favor thou allowest thy servants to speak--to all of us who lived together in that association before her death in thee she devoted such care as she might have if she had been mother of us all; she served us as if she had been the daughter of us all.
23. As the day now approached on which she was to depart this life--a day which thou knewest, but which we did not--it happened (though I believe it was by thy secret ways arranged) that she and I stood alone, leaning in a certain window from which the garden of the house we occupied at Ostia could be seen. Here in this place, removed from the crowd, we were resting ourselves for the voyage after the fatigues of a long journey.
We were conversing alone very pleasantly and “forgetting those things which are past, and reaching forward toward those things which are future.”293 We were in the present--and in the presence of Truth (which thou art)--discussing together what is the nature of the eternal life of the saints: which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man.294 We opened wide the mouth of our heart, thirsting for those supernal streams of thy fountain, “the fountain of life” which is with thee,295 that we might be sprinkled with its waters according to our capacity and might in some measure weigh the truth of so profound a mystery.
24. And when our conversation had brought us to the point where the very highest of physical sense and the most intense illumination of physical light seemed, in comparison with the sweetness of that life to come, not worthy of comparison, nor even of mention, we lifted ourselves with a more ardent love toward the Selfsame,296 and we gradually passed through all the levels of bodily objects, and even through the heaven itself, where the sun and moon and stars shine on the earth. Indeed, we soared higher yet by an inner musing, speaking and marveling at thy works.
And we came at last to our own minds and went beyond them, that we might climb as high as that region of unfailing plenty where thou feedest Israel forever with the food of truth, where life is that Wisdom by whom all things are made, both which have been and which are to be. Wisdom is not made, but is as she has been and forever shall be; for “to have been” and “to be hereafter” do not apply to her, but only “to be,” because she is eternal and “to have been” and “to be hereafter” are not eternal.
And while we were thus speaking and straining after her, we just barely touched her with the whole effort of our hearts. Then with a sigh, leaving the first fruits of the Spirit bound to that ecstasy, we returned to the sounds of our own tongue, where the spoken word had both beginning and end.297 But what is like to thy Word, our Lord, who remaineth in himself without becoming old, and “makes all things new”298?
25. What we said went something like this: “If to any man the tumult of the flesh were silenced; and the phantoms of earth and waters and air were silenced; and the poles were silent as well; indeed, if the very soul grew silent to herself, and went beyond herself by not thinking of herself; if fancies and imaginary revelations were silenced; if every tongue and every sign and every transient thing--for actually if any man could hear them, all these would say, ‘We did not create ourselves, but were created by Him who abides forever’--and if, having uttered this, they too should be silent, having stirred our ears to hear him who created them; and if then he alone spoke, not through them but by himself, that we might hear his word, not in fleshly tongue or angelic voice, nor sound of thunder, nor the obscurity of a parable, but might hear him--him for whose sake we love these things--if we could hear him without these, as we two now strained ourselves to do, we then with rapid thought might touch on that Eternal Wisdom which abides over all. And if this could be sustained, and other visions of a far different kind be taken away, and this one should so ravish and absorb and envelop its beholder in these inward joys that his life might be eternally like that one moment of knowledge which we now sighed after--would not this be the reality of the saying, ‘Enter into the joy of thy Lord’299? But when shall such a thing be? Shall it not be ‘when we all shall rise again,’ and shall it not be that ‘all things will be changed’300?”
26. Such a thought I was expressing, and if not in this manner and in these words, still, O Lord, thou knowest that on that day we were talking thus and that this world, with all its joys, seemed cheap to us even as we spoke. Then my mother said: “Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness. What more am I to do here?”
27. I do not well remember what reply I made to her about this. However, it was scarcely five days later--certainly not much more--that she was prostrated by fever. While she was sick, she fainted one day and was for a short time quite unconscious. We hurried to her, and when she soon regained her senses, she looked at me and my brother301 as we stood by her, and said, in inquiry, “Where was I?” Then looking intently at us, dumb in our grief, she said, “Here in this place shall you bury your mother.” I was silent and held back my tears; but my brother said something, wishing her the happier lot of dying in her own country and not abroad. When she heard this, she fixed him with her eye and an anxious countenance, because he savored of such earthly concerns, and then gazing at me she said, “See how he speaks.” Soon after, she said to us both: “Lay this body anywhere, and do not let the care of it be a trouble to you at all. Only this I ask: that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you are.” And when she had expressed her wish in such words as she could, she fell silent, in heavy pain with her increasing sickness.
28. But as I thought about thy gifts, O invisible God, which thou plantest in the heart of thy faithful ones, from which such marvelous fruits spring up, I rejoiced and gave thanks to thee, remembering what I had known of how she had always been much concerned about her burial place, which she had provided and prepared for herself by the body of her husband. For as they had lived very peacefully together, her desire had always been--so little is the human mind capable of grasping things divine--that this last should be added to all that happiness, and commented on by others: that, after her pilgrimage beyond the sea, it would be granted her that the two of them, so united on earth, should lie in the same grave.
When this vanity, through the bounty of thy goodness, had begun to be no longer in her heart, I do not know; but I joyfully marveled at what she had thus disclosed to me--though indeed in our conversation in the window, when she said, “What is there here for me to do any more?” she appeared not to desire to die in her own country. I heard later on that, during our stay in Ostia, she had been talking in maternal confidence to some of my friends about her contempt of this life and the blessing of death. When they were amazed at the courage which was given her, a woman, and had asked her whether she did not dread having her body buried so far from her own city, she replied: “Nothing is far from God. I do not fear that, at the end of time, he should not know the place whence he is to resurrect me.” And so on the ninth day of her sickness, in the fifty-sixth year of her life and the thirty-third of mine,302 that religious and devout soul was set loose from the body.
29. I closed her eyes; and there flowed in a great sadness on my heart and it was passing into tears, when at the strong behest of my mind my eyes sucked back the fountain dry, and sorrow was in me like a convulsion. As soon as she breathed her last, the boy Adeodatus burst out wailing; but he was checked by us all, and became quiet. Likewise, my own childish feeling which was, through the youthful voice of my heart, seeking escape in tears, was held back and silenced. For we did not consider it fitting to celebrate that death with tearful wails and groanings. This is the way those who die unhappy or are altogether dead are usually mourned. But she neither died unhappy nor did she altogether die.303 For of this we were assured by the witness of her good life, her “faith unfeigned,”304 and other manifest evidence.
30. What was it, then, that hurt me so grievously in my heart except the newly made wound, caused from having the sweet and dear habit of living together with her suddenly broken? I was full of joy because of her testimony in her last illness, when she praised my dutiful attention and called me kind, and recalled with great affection of love that she had never heard any harsh or reproachful sound from my mouth against her. But yet, O my God who made us, how can that honor I paid her be compared with her service to me? I was then left destitute of a great comfort in her, and my soul was stricken; and that life was torn apart, as it were, which had been made but one out of hers and mine together.305
31. When the boy was restrained from weeping, Evodius took up the Psalter and began to sing, with the whole household responding, the psalm, “I will sing of mercy and judgment unto thee, O Lord.”306 And when they heard what we were doing, many of the brethren and religious women came together. And while those whose office it was to prepare for the funeral went about their task according to custom, I discoursed in another part of the house, with those who thought I should not be left alone, on what was appropriate to the occasion. By this balm of truth, I softened the anguish known to thee. They were unconscious of it and listened intently and thought me free of any sense of sorrow. But in thy ears, where none of them heard, I reproached myself for the mildness of my feelings, and restrained the flow of my grief which bowed a little to my will. The paroxysm returned again, and I knew what I repressed in my heart, even though it did not make me burst forth into tears or even change my countenance; and I was greatly annoyed that these human things had such power over me, which in the due order and destiny of our natural condition must of necessity happen. And so with a new sorrow I sorrowed for my sorrow and was wasted with a twofold sadness.
32. So, when the body was carried forth, we both went and returned without tears. For neither in those prayers which we poured forth to thee, when the sacrifice of our redemption was offered up to thee for her--with the body placed by the side of the grave as the custom is there, before it is lowered down into it--neither in those prayers did I weep. But I was most grievously sad in secret all the day, and with a troubled mind entreated thee, as I could, to heal my sorrow; but thou didst not. I now believe that thou wast fixing in my memory, by this one lesson, the power of the bonds of all habit, even on a mind which now no longer feeds upon deception. It then occurred to me that it would be a good thing to go and bathe, for I had heard that the word for bath [balneum] took its name from the Greek balaneion [balaneion], because it washes anxiety from the mind. Now see, this also I confess to thy mercy, “O Father of the fatherless”307: I bathed and felt the same as I had done before. For the bitterness of my grief was not sweated from my heart.