Augustine: confessions



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Then I slept, and when I awoke I found my grief not a little assuaged. And as I lay there on my bed, those true verses of Ambrose came to my mind, for thou art truly,
“Deus, creator omnium,

Polique rector, vestiens

Diem decoro lumine,

Noctem sopora gratia;

Artus solutos ut quies

Reddat laboris usui

Mentesque fessas allevet,

Luctusque solvat anxios.”


“O God, Creator of us all,

Guiding the orbs celestial,

Clothing the day with lovely light,

Appointing gracious sleep by night:


Thy grace our wearied limbs restore

To strengthened labor, as before,

And ease the grief of tired minds

From that deep torment which it finds.”308


33. And then, little by little, there came back to me my former memories of thy handmaid: her devout life toward thee, her holy tenderness and attentiveness toward us, which had suddenly been taken away from me--and it was a solace for me to weep in thy sight, for her and for myself, about her and about myself. Thus I set free the tears which before I repressed, that they might flow at will, spreading them out as a pillow beneath my heart. And it rested on them, for thy ears were near me--not those of a man, who would have made a scornful comment about my weeping. But now in writing I confess it to thee, O Lord! Read it who will, and comment how he will, and if he finds me to have sinned in weeping for my mother for part of an hour--that mother who was for a while dead to my eyes, who had for many years wept for me that I might live in thy eyes--let him not laugh at me; but if he be a man of generous love, let him weep for my sins against thee, the Father of all the brethren of thy Christ.

CHAPTER XIII


34. Now that my heart is healed of that wound--so far as it can be charged against me as a carnal affection--I pour out to thee, O our God, on behalf of thy handmaid, tears of a very different sort: those which flow from a spirit broken by the thoughts of the dangers of every soul that dies in Adam. And while she had been “made alive” in Christ309 even before she was freed from the flesh, and had so lived as to praise thy name both by her faith and by her life, yet I would not dare say that from the time thou didst regenerate her by baptism no word came out of her mouth against thy precepts. But it has been declared by thy Son, the Truth, that “whosoever shall say to his brother, You fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.”310 And there would be doom even for the life of a praiseworthy man if thou judgedst it with thy mercy set aside. But since thou dost not so stringently inquire after our sins, we hope with confidence to find some place in thy presence. But whoever recounts his actual and true merits to thee, what is he doing but recounting to thee thy own gifts? Oh, if only men would know themselves as men, then “he that glories” would “glory in the Lord”311!

35. Thus now, O my Praise and my Life, O God of my heart, forgetting for a little her good deeds for which I give joyful thanks to thee, I now beseech thee for the sins of my mother. Hearken unto me, through that Medicine of our wounds, who didst hang upon the tree and who sittest at thy right hand “making intercession for us.”312 I know that she acted in mercy, and from the heart forgave her debtors their debts.313 I beseech thee also to forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech thee; “enter not into judgment” with her.314 Let thy mercy be exalted above thy justice, for thy words are true and thou hast promised mercy to the merciful, that the merciful shall obtain mercy.315 This is thy gift, who hast mercy on whom thou wilt and who wilt have compassion on whom thou dost have compassion on.316

36. Indeed, I believe thou hast already done what I ask of thee, but “accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord.”317 For when the day of her dissolution was so close, she took no thought to have her body sumptuously wrapped or embalmed with spices. Nor did she covet a handsome monument, or even care to be buried in her own country. About these things she gave no commands at all, but only desired to have her name remembered at thy altar, where she had served without the omission of a single day, and where she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed by which that handwriting that was against us is blotted out; and that enemy vanquished who, when he summed up our offenses and searched for something to bring against us, could find nothing in Him, in whom we conquer.

Who will restore to him the innocent blood? Who will repay him the price with which he bought us, so as to take us from him? Thus to the sacrament of our redemption did thy hand maid bind her soul by the bond of faith. Let none separate her from thy protection. Let not the “lion” and “dragon” bar her way by force or fraud. For she will not reply that she owes nothing, lest she be convicted and duped by that cunning deceiver. Rather, she will answer that her sins are forgiven by Him to whom no one is able to repay the price which he, who owed us nothing, laid down for us all.

37. Therefore, let her rest in peace with her husband, before and after whom she was married to no other man; whom she obeyed with patience, bringing fruit to thee that she might also win him for thee. And inspire, O my Lord my God, inspire thy servants, my brothers; thy sons, my masters, who with voice and heart and writings I serve, that as many of them as shall read these confessions may also at thy altar remember Monica, thy handmaid, together with Patricius, once her husband; by whose flesh thou didst bring me into this life, in a manner I know not. May they with pious affection remember my parents in this transitory life, and remember my brothers under thee our Father in our Catholic mother; and remember my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which thy people sigh in their pilgrimage from birth until their return. So be fulfilled what my mother desired of me--more richly in the prayers of so many gained for her through these confessions of mine than by my prayers alone.

BOOK TEN
From autobiography to self-analysis. Augustine turns from his memories of the past to the inner mysteries of memory itself. In doing so, he reviews his motives for these written “confessions,” and seeks to chart the path by which men come to God. But this brings him into the intricate analysis of memory and its relation to the self and its powers. This done, he explores the meaning and mode of true prayer. In conclusion, he undertakes a detailed analysis of appetite and the temptations to which the flesh and the soul are heirs, and comes finally to see how necessary and right it was for the Mediator between God and man to have been the God-Man.

CHAPTER I
1. Let me know thee, O my Knower; let me know thee even as I am known.318 O Strength of my soul, enter it and prepare it for thyself that thou mayest have and hold it, without “spot or blemish.”319 This is my hope, therefore have I spoken; and in this hope I rejoice whenever I rejoice aright. But as for the other things of this life, they deserve our lamentations less, the more we lament them; and some should be lamented all the more, the less men care for them. For see, “Thou desirest truth”320 and “he who does the truth comes to the light.”321 This is what I wish to do through confession in my heart before thee, and in my writings before many witnesses.

CHAPTER II


2. And what is there in me that could be hidden from thee, Lord, to whose eyes the abysses of man’s conscience are naked, even if I were unwilling to confess it to thee? In doing so I would only hide thee from myself, not myself from thee. But now that my groaning is witness to the fact that I am dissatisfied with myself, thou shinest forth and satisfiest. Thou art beloved and desired; so that I blush for myself, and renounce myself and choose thee, for I can neither please thee nor myself except in thee. To thee, then, O Lord, I am laid bare, whatever I am, and I have already said with what profit I may confess to thee. I do not do it with words and sounds of the flesh but with the words of the soul, and with the sound of my thoughts, which thy ear knows. For when I am wicked, to confess to thee means nothing less than to be dissatisfied with myself; but when I am truly devout, it means nothing less than not to attribute my virtue to myself; because thou, O Lord, blessest the righteous, but first thou justifiest him while he is yet ungodly. My confession therefore, O my God, is made unto thee silently in thy sight--and yet not silently. As far as sound is concerned, it is silent. But in strong affection it cries aloud. For neither do I give voice to something that sounds right to men, which thou hast not heard from me before, nor dost thou hear anything of the kind from me which thou didst not first say to me.

CHAPTER III


3. What is it to me that men should hear my confessions as if it were they who were going to cure all my infirmities? People are curious to know the lives of others, but slow to correct their own. Why are they anxious to hear from me what I am, when they are unwilling to hear from thee what they are? And how can they tell when they hear what I say about myself whether I speak the truth, since no man knows what is in a man “save the spirit of man which is in him”322? But if they were to hear from thee something concerning themselves, they would not be able to say, “The Lord is lying.” For what does it mean to hear from thee about themselves but to know themselves? And who is he that knows himself and says, “This is false,” unless he himself is lying? But, because “love believes all things”323--at least among those who are bound together in love by its bonds--I confess to thee, O Lord, so that men may also hear; for if I cannot prove to them that I confess the truth, yet those whose ears love opens to me will believe me.

4. But wilt thou, O my inner Physician, make clear to me what profit I am to gain in doing this? For the confessions of my past sins (which thou hast “forgiven and covered”324 that thou mightest make me blessed in thee, transforming my soul by faith and thy sacrament), when they are read and heard, may stir up the heart so that it will stop dozing along in despair, saying, “I cannot”; but will instead awake in the love of thy mercy and the sweetness of thy grace, by which he that is weak is strong, provided he is made conscious of his own weakness. And it will please those who are good to hear about the past errors of those who are now freed from them. And they will take delight, not because they are errors, but because they were and are so no longer. What profit, then, O Lord my God--to whom my conscience makes her daily confession, far more confident in the hope of thy mercy than in her own innocence--what profit is there, I ask thee, in confessing to men in thy presence, through this book, both what I am now as well as what I have been? For I have seen and spoken of my harvest of things past. But what am I now, at this very moment of making my confessions? Many different people desire to know, both those who know me and those who do not know me. Some have heard about me or from me, but their ear is not close to my heart, where I am whatever it is that I am. They have the desire to hear me confess what I am within, where they can neither extend eye nor ear nor mind. They desire as those willing to believe--but will they understand? For the love by which they are good tells them that I am not lying in my confessions, and the love in them believes me.

CHAPTER IV
5. But for what profit do they desire this? Will they wish me happiness when they learn how near I have approached thee, by thy gifts? And will they pray for me when they learn how much I am still kept back by my own weight? To such as these I will declare myself. For it is no small profit, O Lord my God, that many people should give thanks to thee on my account and that many should entreat thee for my sake. Let the brotherly soul love in me what thou teachest him should be loved, and let him lament in me what thou teachest him should be lamented. Let it be the soul of a brother that does this, and not a stranger--not one of those “strange children, whose mouth speaks vanity, and whose right hand is the right hand of falsehood.”325 But let my brother do it who, when he approves of me, rejoices for me, but when he disapproves of me is sorry for me; because whether he approves or disapproves, he loves me. To such I will declare myself. Let them be refreshed by my good deeds and sigh over my evil ones. My good deeds are thy acts and thy gifts; my evil ones are my own faults and thy judgment. Let them breathe expansively at the one and sigh over the other. And let hymns and tears ascend in thy sight out of their brotherly hearts--which are thy censers.326 And, O Lord, who takest delight in the incense of thy holy temple, have mercy upon me according to thy great mercy, for thy name’s sake. And do not, on any account whatever, abandon what thou hast begun in me. Go on, rather, to complete what is yet imperfect in me.

6. This, then, is the fruit of my confessions (not of what I was, but of what I am), that I may not confess this before thee alone, in a secret exultation with trembling and a secret sorrow with hope, but also in the ears of the believing sons of men--who are the companions of my joy and sharers of my mortality, my fellow citizens and fellow pilgrims--those who have gone before and those who are to follow after, as well as the comrades of my present way. These are thy servants, my brothers, whom thou desirest to be thy sons. They are my masters, whom thou hast commanded me to serve if I desire to live with and in thee. But this thy Word would mean little to me if it commanded in words alone, without thy prevenient action. I do this, then, both in act and word. I do this under thy wings, in a danger too great to risk if it were not that under thy wings my soul is subject to thee, and my weakness known to thee. I am insufficient, but my Father liveth forever, and my Defender is sufficient for me. For he is the Selfsame who didst beget me and who watcheth over me; thou art the Selfsame who art all my good. Thou art the Omnipotent, who art with me, even before I am with thee. To those, therefore, whom thou commandest me to serve, I will declare, not what I was, but what I now am and what I will continue to be. But I do not judge myself. Thus, therefore, let me be heard.

CHAPTER V
7. For it is thou, O Lord, who judgest me. For although no man “knows the things of a man, save the spirit of the man which is in him,”327 yet there is something of man which “the spirit of the man which is in him” does not know itself. But thou, O Lord, who madest him, knowest him completely. And even I--though in thy sight I despise myself and count myself but dust and ashes--even I know something about thee which I do not know about myself. And it is certain that “now we see through a glass darkly,” not yet “face to face.”328 Therefore, as long as I journey away from thee, I am more present with myself than with thee. I know that thou canst not suffer violence, but I myself do not know what temptations I can resist, and what I cannot. But there is hope, because thou art faithful and thou wilt not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist, but wilt with the temptation also make a way of escape that we may be able to bear it. I would therefore confess what I know about myself; I will also confess what I do not know about myself. What I do know of myself, I know from thy enlightening of me; and what I do not know of myself, I will continue not to know until the time when my “darkness is as the noonday”329 in thy sight.

CHAPTER VI


8. It is not with a doubtful consciousness, but one fully certain that I love thee, O Lord. Thou hast smitten my heart with thy Word, and I have loved thee. And see also the heaven, and earth, and all that is in them--on every side they tell me to love thee, and they do not cease to tell this to all men, “so that they are without excuse.”330 Wherefore, still more deeply wilt thou have mercy on whom thou wilt have mercy, and compassion on whom thou wilt have compassion.331 For otherwise, both heaven and earth would tell abroad thy praises to deaf ears.

But what is it that I love in loving thee? Not physical beauty, nor the splendor of time, nor the radiance of the light--so pleasant to our eyes--nor the sweet melodies of the various kinds of songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers and ointments and spices; not manna and honey, not the limbs embraced in physical love--it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet it is true that I love a certain kind of light and sound and fragrance and food and embrace in loving my God, who is the light and sound and fragrance and food and embracement of my inner man--where that light shines into my soul which no place can contain, where time does not snatch away the lovely sound, where no breeze disperses the sweet fragrance, where no eating diminishes the food there provided, and where there is an embrace that no satiety comes to sunder. This is what I love when I love my God.

9. And what is this God? I asked the earth, and it answered, “I am not he”; and everything in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they replied, “We are not your God; seek above us.” I asked the fleeting winds, and the whole air with its inhabitants answered, “Anaximenes332 was deceived; I am not God.” I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars; and they answered, “Neither are we the God whom you seek.” And I replied to all these things which stand around the door of my flesh: “You have told me about my God, that you are not he. Tell me something about him.” And with a loud voice they all cried out, “He made us.” My question had come from my observation of them, and their reply came from their beauty of order. And I turned my thoughts into myself and said, “Who are you?” And I answered, “A man.” For see, there is in me both a body and a soul; the one without, the other within. In which of these should I have sought my God, whom I had already sought with my body from earth to heaven, as far as I was able to send those messengers--the beams of my eyes? But the inner part is the better part; for to it, as both ruler and judge, all these messengers of the senses report the answers of heaven and earth and all the things therein, who said, “We are not God, but he made us.” My inner man knew these things through the ministry of the outer man, and I, the inner man, knew all this--I, the soul, through the senses of my body.333 I asked the whole frame of earth about my God, and it answered, “I am not he, but he made me.”

10. Is not this beauty of form visible to all whose senses are unimpaired? Why, then, does it not say the same things to all? Animals, both small and great, see it but they are unable to interrogate its meaning, because their senses are not endowed with the reason that would enable them to judge the evidence which the senses report. But man can interrogate it, so that “the invisible things of him . . . are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”334 But men love these created things too much; they are brought into subjection to them--and, as subjects, are not able to judge. None of these created things reply to their questioners unless they can make rational judgments. The creatures will not alter their voice--that is, their beauty of form--if one man simply sees what another both sees and questions, so that the world appears one way to this man and another to that. It appears the same way to both; but it is mute to this one and it speaks to that one. Indeed, it actually speaks to all, but only they understand it who compare the voice received from without with the truth within. For the truth says to me, “Neither heaven nor earth nor anybody is your God.” Their very nature tells this to the one who beholds335 them. “They are a mass, less in part than the whole.” Now, O my soul, you are my better part, and to you I speak; since you animate the whole mass of your body, giving it life, whereas no body furnishes life to a body. But your God is the life of your life.

CHAPTER VII
11. What is it, then, that I love when I love my God? Who is he that is beyond the topmost point of my soul? Yet by this very soul will I mount up to him. I will soar beyond that power of mine by which I am united to the body, and by which the whole structure of it is filled with life. Yet it is not by that vital power that I find my God. For then “the horse and the mule, that have no understanding,”336 also might find him, since they have the same vital power, by which their bodies also live. But there is, besides the power by which I animate my body, another by which I endow my flesh with sense--a power that the Lord hath provided for me; commanding that the eye is not to hear and the ear is not to see, but that I am to see by the eye and to hear by the ear; and giving to each of the other senses its own proper place and function, through the diversity of which I, the single mind, act. I will soar also beyond this power of mine, for the horse and mule have this too, for they also perceive through their bodily senses.

CHAPTER VIII


12. I will soar, then, beyond this power of my nature also, still rising by degrees toward him who made me. And I enter the fields and spacious halls of memory, where are stored as treasures the countless images that have been brought into them from all manner of things by the senses. There, in the memory, is likewise stored what we cogitate, either by enlarging or reducing our perceptions, or by altering one way or another those things which the senses have made contact with; and everything else that has been entrusted to it and stored up in it, which oblivion has not yet swallowed up and buried.

When I go into this storehouse, I ask that what I want should be brought forth. Some things appear immediately, but others require to be searched for longer, and then dragged out, as it were, from some hidden recess. Other things hurry forth in crowds, on the other hand, and while something else is sought and inquired for, they leap into view as if to say, “Is it not we, perhaps?” These I brush away with the hand of my heart from the face of my memory, until finally the thing I want makes its appearance out of its secret cell. Some things suggest themselves without effort, and in continuous order, just as they are called for--the things that come first give place to those that follow, and in so doing are treasured up again to be forthcoming when I want them. All of this happens when I repeat a thing from memory.

13. All these things, each one of which came into memory in its own particular way, are stored up separately and under the general categories of understanding. For example, light and all colors and forms of bodies came in through the eyes; sounds of all kinds by the ears; all smells by the passages of the nostrils; all flavors by the gate of the mouth; by the sensation of the whole body, there is brought in what is hard or soft, hot or cold, smooth or rough, heavy or light, whether external or internal to the body. The vast cave of memory, with its numerous and mysterious recesses, receives all these things and stores them up, to be recalled and brought forth when required. Each experience enters by its own door, and is stored up in the memory. And yet the things themselves do not enter it, but only the images of the things perceived are there for thought to remember. And who can tell how these images are formed, even if it is evident which of the senses brought which perception in and stored it up? For even when I am in darkness and silence I can bring out colors in my memory if I wish, and discern between black and white and the other shades as I wish; and at the same time, sounds do not break in and disturb what is drawn in by my eyes, and which I am considering, because the sounds which are also there are stored up, as it were, apart. And these too I can summon if I please and they are immediately present in memory. And though my tongue is at rest and my throat silent, yet I can sing as I will; and those images of color, which are as truly present as before, do not interpose themselves or interrupt while another treasure which had flowed in through the ears is being thought about. Similarly all the other things that were brought in and heaped up by all the other senses, I can recall at my pleasure. And I distinguish the scent of lilies from that of violets while actually smelling nothing; and I prefer honey to mead, a smooth thing to a rough, even though I am neither tasting nor handling them, but only remembering them.

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