Augustine: confessions



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However, when I call to mind the tears I shed at the songs of thy Church at the outset of my recovered faith, and how even now I am moved, not by the singing but by what is sung (when they are sung with a clear and skillfully modulated voice), I then come to acknowledge the great utility of this custom. Thus I vacillate between dangerous pleasure and healthful exercise. I am inclined--though I pronounce no irrevocable opinion on the subject--to approve of the use of singing in the church, so that by the delights of the ear the weaker minds may be stimulated to a devotional mood.371 Yet when it happens that I am more moved by the singing than by what is sung, I confess myself to have sinned wickedly, and then I would rather not have heard the singing. See now what a condition I am in! Weep with me, and weep for me, those of you who can so control your inward feelings that good results always come forth. As for you who do not act this way at all, such things do not concern you. But do thou, O Lord, my God, give ear; look and see, and have mercy upon me; and heal me--thou, in whose sight I am become an enigma to myself; this itself is my weakness.

CHAPTER XXXIV


51. There remain the delights of these eyes of my flesh, about which I must make my confession in the hearing of the ears of thy temple, brotherly and pious ears. Thus I will finish the list of the temptations of carnal appetite which still assail me--groaning and desiring as I am to be clothed upon with my house from heaven.372

The eyes delight in fair and varied forms, and bright and pleasing colors. Let these not take possession of my soul! Rather let God possess it, he who didst make all these things very good indeed. He is still my good, and not these. The pleasures of sight affect me all the time I am awake. There is no rest from them given me, as there is from the voices of melody, which I can occasionally find in silence. For daylight, that queen of the colors, floods all that we look upon everywhere I go during the day. It flits about me in manifold forms and soothes me even when I am busy about other things, not noticing it. And it presents itself so forcibly that if it is suddenly withdrawn it is looked for with longing, and if it is long absent the mind is saddened.

52. O Light, which Tobit saw even with his eyes closed in blindness, when he taught his son the way of life--and went before him himself in the steps of love and never went astray373; or that Light which Isaac saw when his fleshly “eyes were dim, so that he could not see”374 because of old age, and it was permitted him unknowingly to bless his sons, but in the blessing of them to know them; or that Light which Jacob saw, when he too, blind in old age yet with an enlightened heart, threw light on the nation of men yet to come--presignified in the persons of his own sons--and laid his hands mystically crossed upon his grandchildren by Joseph (not as their father, who saw them from without, but as though he were within them), and distinguished them aright375: this is the true Light; it is one, and all are one who see and love it.

But that corporeal light, of which I was speaking, seasons the life of the world for her blind lovers with a tempting and fatal sweetness. Those who know how to praise thee for it, “O God, Creator of Us All,” take it up in thy hymn,376 and are not taken over by it in their sleep. Such a man I desire to be. I resist the seductions of my eyes, lest my feet be entangled as I go forward in thy way; and I raise my invisible eyes to thee, that thou wouldst be pleased to “pluck my feet out of the net.”377 Thou dost continually pluck them out, for they are easily ensnared. Thou ceasest not to pluck them out, but I constantly remain fast in the snares set all around me. However, thou who “keepest Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.”378

53. What numberless things there are: products of the various arts and manufactures in our clothes, shoes, vessels, and all such things; besides such things as pictures and statuary--and all these far beyond the necessary and moderate use of them or their significance for the life of piety--which men have added for the delight of the eye, copying the outward forms of the things they make; but inwardly forsaking Him by whom they were made and destroying what they themselves have been made to be!

And I, O my God and my Joy, I also raise a hymn to thee for all these things, and offer a sacrifice of praise to my Sanctifier, because those beautiful forms which pass through the medium of the human soul into the artist’s hands come from that beauty which is above our minds, which my soul sighs for day and night. But the craftsmen and devotees of these outward beauties discover the norm by which they judge them from that higher beauty, but not the measure of their use. Still, even if they do not see it, it is there nevertheless, to guard them from wandering astray, and to keep their strength for thee, and not dissipate it in delights that pass into boredom. And for myself, though I can see and understand this, I am still entangled in my own course with such beauty, but thou wilt rescue me, O Lord, thou wilt rescue me, “for thy loving-kindness is before my eyes.”379 For I am captivated in my weakness but thou in thy mercy dost rescue me: sometimes without my knowing it, because I had only lightly fallen; at other times, the rescue is painful because I was stuck fast.

CHAPTER XXXV
54. Besides this there is yet another form of temptation still more complex in its peril. For in addition to the fleshly appetite which strives for the gratification of all senses and pleasures--in which its slaves perish because they separate themselves from thee--there is also a certain vain and curious longing in the soul, rooted in the same bodily senses, which is cloaked under the name of knowledge and learning; not having pleasure in the flesh, but striving for new experiences through the flesh. This longing--since its origin is our appetite for learning, and since the sight is the chief of our senses in the acquisition of knowledge--is called in the divine language “the lust of the eyes.”380 For seeing is a function of the eyes; yet we also use this word for the other senses as well, when we exercise them in the search for knowledge. We do not say, “Listen how it glows,” “Smell how it glistens,” “Taste how it shines,” or “Feel how it flashes,” since all of these are said to be seen. And we do not simply say, “See how it shines,” which only the eyes can perceive; but we also say, “See how it sounds, see how it smells, see how it tastes, see how hard it is.” Thus, as we said before, the whole round of sensory experience is called “the lust of the eyes” because the function of seeing, in which the eyes have the principal role, is applied by analogy to the other senses when they are seeking after any kind of knowledge.

55. From this, then, one can the more clearly distinguish whether it is pleasure or curiosity that is being pursued by the senses. For pleasure pursues objects that are beautiful, melodious, fragrant, savory, soft. But curiosity, seeking new experiences, will even seek out the contrary of these, not with the purpose of experiencing the discomfort that often accompanies them, but out of a passion for experimenting and knowledge.

For what pleasure is there in the sight of a lacerated corpse, which makes you shudder? And yet if there is one lying close by we flock to it, as if to be made sad and pale. People fear lest they should see such a thing even in sleep, just as they would if, when awake, someone compelled them to go and see it or if some rumor of its beauty had attracted them.

This is also the case with the other senses; it would be tedious to pursue a complete analysis of it. This malady of curiosity is the reason for all those strange sights exhibited in the theater. It is also the reason why we proceed to search out the secret powers of nature--those which have nothing to do with our destiny--which do not profit us to know about, and concerning which men desire to know only for the sake of knowing. And it is with this same motive of perverted curiosity for knowledge that we consult the magical arts. Even in religion itself, this prompting drives us to make trial of God when signs and wonders are eagerly asked of him--not desired for any saving end, but only to make trial of him.

56. In such a wilderness so vast, crammed with snares and dangers, behold how many of them I have lopped off and cast from my heart, as thou, O God of my salvation, hast enabled me to do. And yet, when would I dare to say, since so many things of this sort still buzz around our daily lives--when would I dare to say that no such motive prompts my seeing or creates a vain curiosity in me? It is true that now the theaters never attract me, nor do I now care to inquire about the courses of the stars, and my soul has never sought answers from the departed spirits. All sacrilegious oaths I abhor. And yet, O Lord my God, to whom I owe all humble and singlehearted service, with what subtle suggestion the enemy still influences me to require some sign from thee! But by our King, and by Jerusalem, our pure and chaste homeland, I beseech thee that where any consenting to such thoughts is now far from me, so may it always be farther and farther. And when I entreat thee for the salvation of any man, the end I aim at is something more than the entreating: let it be that as thou dost what thou wilt, thou dost also give me the grace willingly to follow thy lead.

57. Now, really, in how many of the most minute and trivial things my curiosity is still daily tempted, and who can keep the tally on how often I succumb? How often, when people are telling idle tales, we begin by tolerating them lest we should give offense to the sensitive; and then gradually we come to listen willingly! I do not nowadays go to the circus to see a dog chase a rabbit, but if by chance I pass such a race in the fields, it quite easily distracts me even from some serious thought and draws me after it--not that I turn aside with my horse, but with the inclination of my mind. And unless, by showing me my weakness, thou dost speedily warn me to rise above such a sight to thee by a deliberate act of thought--or else to despise the whole thing and pass it by--then I become absorbed in the sight, vain creature that I am.

How is it that when I am sitting at home a lizard catching flies, or a spider entangling them as they fly into her webs, oftentimes arrests me? Is the feeling of curiosity not the same just because these are such tiny creatures? From them I proceed to praise thee, the wonderful Creator and Disposer of all things; but it is not this that first attracts my attention. It is one thing to get up quickly and another thing not to fall--and of both such things my life is full and my only hope is in thy exceeding great mercy. For when this heart of ours is made the depot of such things and is overrun by the throng of these abounding vanities, then our prayers are often interrupted and disturbed by them. Even while we are in thy presence and direct the voice of our hearts to thy ears, such a great business as this is broken off by the inroads of I know not what idle thoughts.

CHAPTER XXXVI


58. Shall we, then, also reckon this vain curiosity among the things that are to be but lightly esteemed? Shall anything restore us to hope except thy complete mercy since thou hast begun to change us? Thou knowest to what extent thou hast already changed me, for first of all thou didst heal me of the lust for vindicating myself, so that thou mightest then forgive all my remaining iniquities and heal all my diseases, and “redeem my life from corruption and crown me with loving-kindness and tender mercies, and satisfy my desires with good things.”381 It was thou who didst restrain my pride with thy fear, and bowed my neck to thy “yoke.”382 And now I bear the yoke and it is “light” to me, because thou didst promise it to be so, and hast made it to be so. And so in truth it was, though I knew it not when I feared to take it up.

59. But, O Lord--thou who alone reignest without pride, because thou alone art the true Lord, who hast no Lord--has this third kind of temptation left me, or can it leave me during this life: the desire to be feared and loved of men, with no other view than that I may find in it a joy that is no joy? It is, rather, a wretched life and an unseemly ostentation. It is a special reason why we do not love thee, nor devotedly fear thee. Therefore “thou resistest the proud but givest grace to the humble.”383 Thou thunderest down on the ambitious designs of the world, and “the foundations of the hills” tremble.384

And yet certain offices in human society require the officeholder to be loved and feared of men, and through this the adversary of our true blessedness presses hard upon us, scattering everywhere his snares of “well done, well done”; so that while we are eagerly picking them up, we may be caught unawares and split off our joy from thy truth and fix it on the deceits of men. In this way we come to take pleasure in being loved and feared, not for thy sake but in thy stead. By such means as this, the adversary makes men like himself, that he may have them as his own, not in the harmony of love, but in the fellowship of punishment--the one who aspired to exalt his throne in the north,385 that in the darkness and the cold men might have to serve him, mimicking thee in perverse and distorted ways.

But see, O Lord, we are thy little flock. Possess us, stretch thy wings above us, and let us take refuge under them. Be thou our glory; let us be loved for thy sake, and let thy word be feared in us. Those who desire to be commended by the men whom thou condemnest will not be defended by men when thou judgest, nor will they be delivered when thou dost condemn them. But when--not as a sinner is praised in the wicked desires of his soul nor when the unrighteous man is blessed in his unrighteousness--a man is praised for some gift that thou hast given him, and he is more gratified at the praise for himself than because he possesses the gift for which he is praised, such a one is praised while thou dost condemn him. In such a case the one who praised is truly better than the one who was praised. For the gift of God in man was pleasing to the one, while the other was better pleased with the gift of man than with the gift of God.

CHAPTER XXXVII
60. By these temptations we are daily tried, O Lord; we are tried unceasingly. Our daily “furnace” is the human tongue.386 And also in this respect thou commandest us to be continent. Give what thou commandest and command what thou wilt. In this matter, thou knowest the groans of my heart and the rivers of my eyes, for I am not able to know for certain how far I am clean of this plague; and I stand in great fear of my “secret faults,”387 which thy eyes perceive, though mine do not. For in respect of the pleasures of my flesh and of idle curiosity, I see how far I have been able to hold my mind in check when I abstain from them either by voluntary act of the will or because they simply are not at hand; for then I can inquire of myself how much more or less frustrating it is to me not to have them. This is also true about riches, which are sought for in order that they may minister to one of these three “lusts,” or two, or the whole complex of them. The mind is able to see clearly if, when it has them, it despises them so that they may be cast aside and it may prove itself.

But if we desire to test our power of doing without praise, must we then live wickedly or lead a life so atrocious and abandoned that everyone who knows us will detest us? What greater madness than this can be either said or conceived? And yet if praise, both by custom and right, is the companion of a good life and of good works, we should as little forgo its companionship as the good life itself. But unless a thing is absent I do not know whether I should be contented or troubled at having to do without it.

61. What is it, then, that I am confessing to thee, O Lord, concerning this sort of temptation? What else, than that I am delighted with praise, but more with the truth itself than with praise. For if I were to have any choice whether, if I were mad or utterly in the wrong, I would prefer to be praised by all men or, if I were steadily and fully confident in the truth, would prefer to be blamed by all, I see which I should choose. Yet I wish I were unwilling that the approval of others should add anything to my joy for any good I have. Yet I admit that it does increase it; and, more than that, dispraise diminishes it. Then, when I am disturbed over this wretchedness of mine, an excuse presents itself to me, the value of which thou knowest, O God, for it renders me uncertain. For since it is not only continence that thou hast enjoined on us--that is, what things to hold back our love from--but righteousness as well--that is, what to bestow our love upon--and hast wished us to love not only thee, but also our neighbor, it often turns out that when I am gratified by intelligent praise I seem to myself to be gratified by the competence or insight of my neighbor; or, on the other hand, I am sorry for the defect in him when I hear him dispraise either what he does not understand or what is good. For I am sometimes grieved at the praise I get, either when those things that displease me in myself are praised in me, or when lesser and trifling goods are valued more highly than they should be. But, again, how do I know whether I feel this way because I am unwilling that he who praises me should differ from me concerning myself not because I am moved with any consideration for him, but because the good things that please me in myself are more pleasing to me when they also please another? For in a way, I am not praised when my judgment of myself is not praised, since either those things which are displeasing to me are praised, or those things which are less pleasing to me are more praised. Am I not, then, quite uncertain of myself in this respect?

62. Behold, O Truth, it is in thee that I see that I ought not to be moved at my own praises for my own sake, but for the sake of my neighbor’s good. And whether this is actually my way, I truly do not know. On this score I know less of myself than thou dost. I beseech thee now, O my God, to reveal myself to me also, that I may confess to my brethren, who are to pray for me in those matters where I find myself weak.

Let me once again examine myself the more diligently. If, in my own praise, I am moved with concern for my neighbor, why am I less moved if some other man is unjustly dispraised than when it happens to me? Why am I more irritated at that reproach which is cast on me than at one which is, with equal injustice, cast upon another in my presence? Am I ignorant of this also? Or is it still true that I am deceiving myself, and do not keep the truth before thee in my heart and tongue? Put such madness far from me, O Lord, lest my mouth be to me “the oil of sinners, to anoint my head.”388

CHAPTER XXXVIII


63. “I am needy and poor.”389 Still, I am better when in secret groanings I displease myself and seek thy mercy until what is lacking in me is renewed and made complete for that peace which the eye of the proud does not know. The reports that come from the mouth and from actions known to men have in them a most perilous temptation to the love of praise. This love builds up a certain complacency in one’s own excellency, and then goes around collecting solicited compliments. It tempts me, even when I inwardly reprove myself for it, and this precisely because it is reproved. For a man may often glory vainly in the very scorn of vainglory--and in this case it is not any longer the scorn of vainglory in which he glories, for he does not truly despise it when he inwardly glories in it.

CHAPTER XXXIX


64. Within us there is yet another evil arising from the same sort of temptation. By it they become empty who please themselves in themselves, although they do not please or displease or aim at pleasing others. But in pleasing themselves they displease thee very much, not merely taking pleasure in things that are not good as if they were good, but taking pleasure in thy good things as if they were their own; or even as if they were thine but still as if they had received them through their own merit; or even as if they had them through thy grace, still without this grace with their friends, but as if they envied that grace to others. In all these and similar perils and labors, thou perceivest the agitation of my heart, and I would rather feel my wounds being cured by thee than not inflicted by me on myself.

CHAPTER XL


65. Where hast thou not accompanied me, O Truth, teaching me both what to avoid and what to desire, when I have submitted to thee what I could understand about matters here below, and have sought thy counsel about them?

With my external senses I have viewed the world as I was able and have noticed the life which my body derives from me and from these senses of mine. From that stage I advanced inwardly into the recesses of my memory--the manifold chambers of my mind, marvelously full of unmeasured wealth. And I reflected on this and was afraid, and could understand none of these things without thee and found thee to be none of them. Nor did I myself discover these things--I who went over them all and labored to distinguish and to value everything according to its dignity, accepting some things upon the report of my senses and questioning about others which I thought to be related to my inner self, distinguishing and numbering the reporters themselves; and in that vast storehouse of my memory, investigating some things, depositing other things, taking out still others. Neither was I myself when I did this--that is, that ability of mine by which I did it--nor was it thou, for thou art that never-failing light from which I took counsel about them all; whether they were what they were, and what was their real value. In all this I heard thee teaching and commanding me. And this I often do--and this is a delight to me--and as far as I can get relief from my necessary duties, I resort to this kind of pleasure. But in all these things which I review when I consult thee, I still do not find a secure place for my soul save in thee, in whom my scattered members may be gathered together and nothing of me escape from thee. And sometimes thou introducest me to a most rare and inward feeling, an inexplicable sweetness. If this were to come to perfection in me I do not know to what point life might not then arrive. But still, by these wretched weights of mine, I relapse into these common things, and am sucked in by my old customs and am held. I sorrow much, yet I am still closely held. To this extent, then, the burden of habit presses us down. I can exist in this fashion but I do not wish to do so. In that other way I wish I were, but cannot be--in both ways I am wretched.

CHAPTER XLI
66. And now I have thus considered the infirmities of my sins, under the headings of the three major “lusts,” and I have called thy right hand to my aid. For with a wounded heart I have seen thy brightness, and having been beaten back I cried: “Who can attain to it? I am cut off from before thy eyes.”390 Thou art the Truth, who presidest over all things, but I, because of my greed, did not wish to lose thee. But still, along with thee, I wished also to possess a lie--just as no one wishes to lie in such a way as to be ignorant of what is true. By this I lost thee, for thou wilt not condescend to be enjoyed along with a lie.

CHAPTER XLII


67. Whom could I find to reconcile me to thee? Should I have approached the angels? What kind of prayer? What kind of rites? Many who were striving to return to thee and were not able of themselves have, I am told, tried this and have fallen into a longing for curious visions and deserved to be deceived. Being exalted, they sought thee in their pride of learning, and they thrust themselves forward rather than beating their breasts.391 And so by a likeness of heart, they drew to themselves the princes of the air,392 their conspirators and companions in pride, by whom they were deceived by the power of magic. Thus they sought a mediator by whom they might be cleansed, but there was none. For the mediator they sought was the devil, disguising himself as an angel of light.393 And he allured their proud flesh the more because he had no fleshly body.

They were mortal and sinful, but thou, O Lord, to whom they arrogantly sought to be reconciled, art immortal and sinless. But a mediator between God and man ought to have something in him like God and something in him like man, lest in being like man he should be far from God, or if only like God he should be far from man, and so should not be a mediator. That deceitful mediator, then, by whom, by thy secret judgment, human pride deserves to be deceived, had one thing in common with man, that is, his sin. In another respect, he would seem to have something in common with God, for not being clothed with the mortality of the flesh, he could boast that he was immortal. But since “the wages of sin is death,”394 what he really has in common with men is that, together with them, he is condemned to death.

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