Augustine: confessions



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CHAPTER XXI
30. But is it the same kind of memory as one who having seen Carthage remembers it? No, for the happy life is not visible to the eye, since it is not a physical object. Is it the sort of memory we have for numbers? No, for the man who has these in his understanding does not keep striving to attain more. Now we know something about the happy life and therefore we love it, but still we wish to go on striving for it that we may be happy. Is the memory of happiness, then, something like the memory of eloquence? No, for although some, when they hear the term eloquence, call the thing to mind, even if they are not themselves eloquent--and further, there are many people who would like to be eloquent, from which it follows that they must know something about it--nevertheless, these people have noticed through their senses that others are eloquent and have been delighted to observe this and long to be this way themselves. But they would not be delighted if it were not some interior knowledge; and they would not desire to be delighted unless they had been delighted. But as for a happy life, there is no physical perception by which we experience it in others.

Do we remember happiness, then, as we remember joy? It may be so, for I remember my joy even when I am sad, just as I remember a happy life when I am miserable. And I have never, through physical perception, either seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched my joy. But I have experienced it in my mind when I rejoiced; and the knowledge of it clung to my memory so that I can call it to mind, sometimes with disdain and at other times with longing, depending on the different kinds of things I now remember that I rejoiced in. For I have been bathed with a certain joy even by unclean things, which I now detest and execrate as I call them to mind. At other times, I call to mind with longing good and honest things, which are not any longer near at hand, and I am therefore saddened when I recall my former joy.

31. Where and when did I ever experience my happy life that I can call it to mind and love it and long for it? It is not I alone or even a few others who wish to be happy, but absolutely everybody. Unless we knew happiness by a knowledge that is certain, we should not wish for it with a will which is so certain. Take this example: If two men were asked whether they wished to serve as soldiers, one of them might reply that he would, and the other that he would not; but if they were asked whether they wished to be happy, both of them would unhesitatingly say that they would. But the first one would wish to serve as a soldier and the other would not wish to serve, both from no other motive than to be happy. Is it, perhaps, that one finds his joy in this and another in that? Thus they agree in their wish for happiness just as they would also agree, if asked, in wishing for joy. Is this joy what they call a happy life? Although one could choose his joy in this way and another in that, all have one goal which they strive to attain, namely, to have joy. This joy, then, being something that no one can say he has not experienced, is therefore found in the memory and it is recognized whenever the phrase “a happy life” is heard.

CHAPTER XXII


32. Forbid it, O Lord, put it far from the heart of thy servant, who confesses to thee--far be it from me to think I am happy because of any and all the joy I have. For there is a joy not granted to the wicked but only to those who worship thee thankfully--and this joy thou thyself art. The happy life is this--to rejoice to thee, in thee, and for thee. This it is and there is no other. But those who think there is another follow after other joys, and not the true one. But their will is still not moved except by some image or shadow of joy.

CHAPTER XXIII


33. Is it, then, uncertain that all men wish to be happy, since those who do not wish to find their joy in thee--which is alone the happy life--do not actually desire the happy life? Or, is it rather that all desire this, but because “the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh,” so that they “prevent you from doing what you would,”342 you fall to doing what you are able to do and are content with that. For you do not want to do what you cannot do urgently enough to make you able to do it.

Now I ask all men whether they would rather rejoice in truth or in falsehood. They will no more hesitate to answer, “In truth,” than to say that they wish to be happy. For a happy life is joy in the truth. Yet this is joy in thee, who art the Truth, O God my Light, “the health of my countenance and my God.”343 All wish for this happy life; all wish for this life which is the only happy one: joy in the truth is what all men wish.

I have had experience with many who wished to deceive, but not one who wished to be deceived.344 Where, then, did they ever know about this happy life, except where they knew also what the truth is? For they love it, too, since they are not willing to be deceived. And when they love the happy life, which is nothing else but joy in the truth, then certainly they also love the truth. And yet they would not love it if there were not some knowledge of it in the memory.

Why, then, do they not rejoice in it? Why are they not happy? Because they are so fully preoccupied with other things which do more to make them miserable than those which would make them happy, which they remember so little about. Yet there is a little light in men. Let them walk--let them walk in it, lest the darkness overtake them.

34. Why, then, does truth generate hatred, and why does thy servant who preaches the truth come to be an enemy to them who also love the happy life, which is nothing else than joy in the truth--unless it be that truth is loved in such a way that those who love something else besides her wish that to be the truth which they do love. Since they are unwilling to be deceived, they are unwilling to be convinced that they have been deceived. Therefore, they hate the truth for the sake of whatever it is that they love in place of the truth. They love truth when she shines on them; and hate her when she rebukes them. And since they are not willing to be deceived, but do wish to deceive, they love truth when she reveals herself and hate her when she reveals them. On this account, she will so repay them that those who are unwilling to be exposed by her she will indeed expose against their will, and yet will not disclose herself to them.

Thus, thus, truly thus: the human mind so blind and sick, so base and ill-mannered, desires to lie hidden, but does not wish that anything should be hidden from it. And yet the opposite is what happens--the mind itself is not hidden from the truth, but the truth is hidden from it. Yet even so, for all its wretchedness, it still prefers to rejoice in truth rather than in known falsehoods. It will, then, be happy only when without other distractions it comes to rejoice in that single Truth through which all things else are true.

CHAPTER XXIV
35. Behold how great a territory I have explored in my memory seeking thee, O Lord! And in it all I have still not found thee. Nor have I found anything about thee, except what I had already retained in my memory from the time I learned of thee. For where I found Truth, there found I my God, who is the Truth. From the time I learned this I have not forgotten. And thus since the time I learned of thee, thou hast dwelt in my memory, and it is there that I find thee whenever I call thee to remembrance, and delight in thee. These are my holy delights, which thou hast bestowed on me in thy mercy, mindful of my poverty.

CHAPTER XXV


36. But where in my memory dost thou abide, O Lord? Where dost thou dwell there? What sort of lodging hast thou made for thyself there? What kind of sanctuary hast thou built for thyself? Thou hast done this honor to my memory to take up thy abode in it, but I must consider further in what part of it thou dost abide. For in calling thee to mind, I soared beyond those parts of memory which the beasts also possess, because I did not find thee there among the images of corporeal things. From there I went on to those parts where I had stored the remembered affections of my mind, and I did not find thee there. And I entered into the inmost seat of my mind, which is in my memory, since the mind remembers itself also--and thou wast not there. For just as thou art not a bodily image, nor the emotion of a living creature (such as we feel when we rejoice or are grief-stricken, when we desire, or fear, or remember, or forget, or anything of that kind), so neither art thou the mind itself. For thou art the Lord God of the mind and of all these things that are mutable; but thou abidest immutable over all. Yet thou hast elected to dwell in my memory from the time I learned of thee. But why do I now inquire about the part of my memory thou dost dwell in, as if indeed there were separate parts in it? Assuredly, thou dwellest in it, since I have remembered thee from the time I learned of thee, and I find thee in my memory when I call thee to mind.

CHAPTER XXVI


37. Where, then, did I find thee so as to be able to learn of thee? For thou wast not in my memory before I learned of thee. Where, then, did I find thee so as to be able to learn of thee--save in thyself beyond me.345 Place there is none. We go “backward” and “forward” and there is no place. Everywhere and at once, O Truth, thou guidest all who consult thee, and simultaneously answerest all even though they consult thee on quite different things. Thou answerest clearly, though all do not hear in clarity. All take counsel of thee on whatever point they wish, though they do not always hear what they wish. He is thy best servant who does not look to hear from thee what he himself wills, but who wills rather to will what he hears from thee.

CHAPTER XXVII


38. Belatedly I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace.

CHAPTER XXVIII


39. When I come to be united to thee with all my being, then there will be no more pain and toil for me, and my life shall be a real life, being wholly filled by thee. But since he whom thou fillest is the one thou liftest up, I am still a burden to myself because I am not yet filled by thee. Joys of sorrow contend with sorrows of joy, and on which side the victory lies I do not know.

Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me; my evil sorrows contend with my good joys, and on which side the victory lies I do not know. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. Woe is me! Behold, I do not hide my wounds. Thou art the Physician, I am the sick man; thou art merciful, I need mercy. Is not the life of man on earth an ordeal? Who is he that wishes for vexations and difficulties? Thou commandest them to be endured, not to be loved. For no man loves what he endures, though he may love to endure. Yet even if he rejoices to endure, he would prefer that there were nothing for him to endure. In adversity, I desire prosperity; in prosperity, I fear adversity. What middle place is there, then, between these two, where human life is not an ordeal? There is woe in the prosperity of this world; there is woe in the fear of misfortune; there is woe in the distortion of joy. There is woe in the adversities of this world--a second woe, and a third, from the desire of prosperity--because adversity itself is a hard thing to bear and makes shipwreck of endurance. Is not the life of man upon the earth an ordeal, and that without surcease?

CHAPTER XXIX
40. My whole hope is in thy exceeding great mercy and that alone. Give what thou commandest and command what thou wilt. Thou commandest continence from us, and when I knew, as it is said, that no one could be continent unless God gave it to him, even this was a point of wisdom to know whose gift it was.346 For by continence we are bound up and brought back together in the One, whereas before we were scattered abroad among the many.347 For he loves thee too little who loves along with thee anything else that he does not love for thy sake, O Love, who dost burn forever and art never quenched. O Love, O my God, enkindle me! Thou commandest continence; give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.

CHAPTER XXX


41. Obviously thou commandest that I should be continent from “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”348 Thou commandest me to abstain from fornication, and as for marriage itself, thou hast counseled something better than what thou dost allow. And since thou gavest it, it was done--even before I became a minister of thy sacrament. But there still exist in my memory--of which I have spoken so much--the images of such things as my habits had fixed there. These things rush into my thoughts with no power when I am awake; but in sleep they rush in not only so as to give pleasure, but even to obtain consent and what very closely resembles the deed itself. Indeed, the illusion of the image prevails to such an extent, in both my soul and my flesh, that the illusion persuades me when sleeping to what the reality cannot do when I am awake. Am I not myself at such a time, O Lord my God? And is there so much of a difference between myself awake and myself in the moment when I pass from waking to sleeping, or return from sleeping to waking?

Where, then, is the power of reason which resists such suggestions when I am awake--for even if the things themselves be forced upon it I remain unmoved? Does reason cease when the eyes close? Is it put to sleep with the bodily senses? But in that case how does it come to pass that even in slumber we often resist, and with our conscious purposes in mind, continue most chastely in them, and yield no assent to such allurements? Yet there is at least this much difference: that when it happens otherwise in dreams, when we wake up, we return to peace of conscience. And it is by this difference between sleeping and waking that we discover that it was not we who did it, while we still feel sorry that in some way it was done in us.

42. Is not thy hand, O Almighty God, able to heal all the diseases of my soul and, by thy more and more abundant grace, to quench even the lascivious motions of my sleep? Thou wilt increase thy gifts in me more and more, O Lord, that my soul may follow me to thee, wrenched free from the sticky glue of lust so that it is no longer in rebellion against itself, even in dreams; that it neither commits nor consents to these debasing corruptions which come through sensual images and which result in the pollution of the flesh. For it is no great thing for the Almighty, who is “able to do . . . more than we can ask or think,”349 to bring it about that no such influence--not even one so slight that a nod might restrain it--should afford gratification to the feelings of a chaste person even when sleeping. This could come to pass not only in this life but even at my present age. But what I am still in this way of wickedness I have confessed unto my good Lord, rejoicing with trembling in what thou hast given me and grieving in myself for that in which I am still imperfect. I am trusting that thou wilt perfect thy mercies in me, to the fullness of that peace which both my inner and outward being shall have with thee when death is swallowed up in victory.350

CHAPTER XXXI


43. There is yet another “evil of the day”351 to which I wish I were sufficient. By eating and drinking we restore the daily losses of the body until that day when thou destroyest both food and stomach, when thou wilt destroy this emptiness with an amazing fullness and wilt clothe this corruptible with an eternal incorruption. But now the necessity of habit is sweet to me, and against this sweetness must I fight, lest I be enthralled by it. Thus I carry on a daily war by fasting, constantly “bringing my body into subjection,”352 after which my pains are banished by pleasure. For hunger and thirst are actual pain. They consume and destroy like fever does, unless the medicine of food is at hand to relieve us. And since this medicine at hand comes from the comfort we receive in thy gifts (by means of which land and water and air serve our infirmity), even our calamity is called pleasure.

44. This much thou hast taught me: that I should learn to take food as medicine. But during that time when I pass from the pinch of emptiness to the contentment of fullness, it is in that very moment that the snare of appetite lies baited for me. For the passage itself is pleasant; there is no other way of passing thither, and necessity compels us to pass. And while health is the reason for our eating and drinking, yet a perilous delight joins itself to them as a handmaid; and indeed, she tries to take precedence in order that I may want to do for her sake what I say I want to do for health’s sake. They do not both have the same limit either. What is sufficient for health is not enough for pleasure. And it is often a matter of doubt whether it is the needful care of the body that still calls for food or whether it is the sensual snare of desire still wanting to be served. In this uncertainty my unhappy soul rejoices, and uses it to prepare an excuse as a defense. It is glad that it is not clear as to what is sufficient for the moderation of health, so that under the pretense of health it may conceal its projects for pleasure. These temptations I daily endeavor to resist and I summon thy right hand to my help and cast my perplexities onto thee, for I have not yet reached a firm conclusion in this matter.

45. I hear the voice of my God commanding: “Let not your heart be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness.”353 Drunkenness is far from me. Thou wilt have mercy that it does not come near me. But “surfeiting” sometimes creeps upon thy servant. Thou wilt have mercy that it may be put far from me. For no man can be continent unless thou give it.354 Many things that we pray for thou givest us, and whatever good we receive before we prayed for it, we receive it from thee, so that we might afterward know that we did receive it from thee. I never was a drunkard, but I have known drunkards made into sober men by thee. It was also thy doing that those who never were drunkards have not been--and likewise, it was from thee that those who have been might not remain so always. And it was likewise from thee that both might know from whom all this came.

I heard another voice of thine: “Do not follow your lusts and refrain yourself from your pleasures.”355 And by thy favor I have also heard this saying in which I have taken much delight: “Neither if we eat are we the better; nor if we eat not are we the worse.”356 This is to say that neither shall the one make me to abound, nor the other to be wretched. I heard still another voice: “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know how to be abased and I know how to abound. . . . I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.”357 See here a soldier of the heavenly army; not the sort of dust we are. But remember, O Lord, “that we are dust”358 and that thou didst create man out of the dust,359 and that he “was lost, and is found.”360 Of course, he [the apostle Paul] could not do all this by his own power. He was of the same dust--he whom I loved so much and who spoke of these things through the afflatus of thy inspiration: “I can,” he said, “do all things through him who strengtheneth me.” Strengthen me, that I too may be able. Give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt. This man [Paul] confesses that he received the gift of grace and that, when he glories, he glories in the Lord. I have heard yet another voice praying that he might receive. “Take from me,” he said, “the greediness of the belly.”361 And from this it appears, O my holy God, that thou dost give it, when what thou commandest to be done is done.

46. Thou hast taught me, good Father, that “to the pure all things are pure”362; but “it is evil for that man who gives offense in eating”363; and that “every creature of thine is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving”364; and that “meat does not commend us to God”365; and that “no man should judge us in meat or in drink.”366 “Let not him who eats despise him who eats not, and let him that does not eat judge not him who does eat.”367 These things I have learned, thanks and praise be to thee, O my God and Master, who knockest at my ears and enlightenest my heart. Deliver me from all temptation!

It is not the uncleanness of meat that I fear, but the uncleanness of an incontinent appetite. I know that permission was granted Noah to eat every kind of flesh that was good for food; that Elijah was fed with flesh; that John, blessed with a wonderful abstinence, was not polluted by the living creatures (that is, the locusts) on which he fed. And I also know that Esau was deceived by his hungering after lentils and that David blamed himself for desiring water, and that our King was tempted not by flesh but by bread. And, thus, the people in the wilderness truly deserved their reproof, not because they desired meat, but because in their desire for food they murmured against the Lord.

47. Set down, then, in the midst of these temptations, I strive daily against my appetite for food and drink. For it is not the kind of appetite I am able to deal with by cutting it off once for all, and thereafter not touching it, as I was able to do with fornication. The bridle of the throat, therefore, must be held in the mean between slackness and tightness. 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.”368 Yet I too magnify thy name, for he who hath “overcome the world”369 intercedeth with thee for my sins, numbering me among the weak members of his body; for thy eyes did see what was imperfect in him, and in thy book all shall be written down.370

CHAPTER XXXII


48. I am not much troubled by the allurement of odors. When they are absent, I do not seek them; when they are present, I do not refuse them; and I am always prepared to go without them. At any rate, I appear thus to myself; it is quite possible that I am deceived. For there is a lamentable darkness in which my capabilities are concealed, so that when my mind inquires into itself concerning its own powers, it does not readily venture to believe itself, because what already is in it is largely concealed unless experience brings it to light. Thus no man ought to feel secure in this life, the whole of which is called an ordeal, ordered so that the man who could be made better from having been worse may not also from having been better become worse. Our sole hope, our sole confidence, our only assured promise, is thy mercy.

CHAPTER XXXIII


49. The delights of the ear drew and held me much more powerfully, but thou didst unbind and liberate me. In those melodies which thy words inspire when sung with a sweet and trained voice, I still find repose; yet not so as to cling to them, but always so as to be able to free myself as I wish. But it is because of the words which are their life that they gain entry into me and strive for a place of proper honor in my heart; and I can hardly assign them a fitting one. Sometimes, I seem to myself to give them more respect than is fitting, when I see that our minds are more devoutly and earnestly inflamed in piety by the holy words when they are sung than when they are not. And I recognize that all the diverse affections of our spirits have their appropriate measures in the voice and song, to which they are stimulated by I know not what secret correlation. But the pleasures of my flesh--to which the mind ought never to be surrendered nor by them enervated--often beguile me while physical sense does not attend on reason, to follow her patiently, but having once gained entry to help the reason, it strives to run on before her and be her leader. Thus in these things I sin unknowingly, but I come to know it afterward.

50. On the other hand, when I avoid very earnestly this kind of deception, I err out of too great austerity. Sometimes I go to the point of wishing that all the melodies of the pleasant songs to which David’s Psalter is adapted should be banished both from my ears and from those of the Church itself. In this mood, the safer way seemed to me the one I remember was once related to me concerning Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who required the readers of the psalm to use so slight an inflection of the voice that it was more like speaking than singing.

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