37. If, then, we consider the nature of things, in their strictly literal sense, and not allegorically, the phrase, “Be fruitful and multiply,” applies to all things that are begotten by seed. But if we treat these words figuratively, as I judge that the Scripture intended them to be--since it cannot be for nothing that this blessing is attributed only to the offspring of marine life and man--then we discover that the characteristic of fecundity belongs also to the spiritual and physical creations (which are signified by “heaven and earth”), and also in righteous and unrighteous souls (which are signified by “light and darkness”) and in the sacred writers through whom the law is uttered (who are signified by “the firmament established between the waters and the waters”); and in the earthly commonwealth still steeped in their bitterness (which is signified by “the sea”); and in the zeal of holy souls (signified by “the dry land”); and the works of mercy done in this present life (signified by “the seed-bearing herbs and fruit-bearing trees”); and in spiritual gifts which shine out for our edification (signified by “the lights of heaven”); and to human affections ruled by temperance (signified by “the living soul”). In all these instances we meet with multiplicity and fertility and increase; but the particular way in which “Be fruitful and multiply” can be exemplified differs widely. Thus a single category may include many things, and we cannot discover them except through their signs displayed corporeally and by the things being excogitated by the mind.
We thus interpret the phrase, “The generation of the waters,” as referring to the corporeally expressed signs [of fecundity], since they are made necessary by the degree of our involvement in the flesh. But the power of human generation refers to the process of mental conception; this we see in the fruitfulness of reason. Therefore, we believe that to both of these two kinds it has been said by thee, O Lord, “Be fruitful and multiply.” In this blessing, I recognize that thou hast granted us the faculty and power not only to express what we understand by a single idea in many different ways but also to understand in many ways what we find expressed obscurely in a single statement. Thus the waters of the sea are replenished, and their waves are symbols of diverse meanings. And thus also the earth is also replenished with human offspring. Its dryness is the symbol of its thirst for truth, and of the fact that reason rules over it.
38. I also desire to say, O my Lord God, what the following Scripture suggests to me. Indeed, I will speak without fear, for I will speak the truth, as thou inspirest me to know what thou dost will that I should say concerning these words. For I do not believe I can speak the truth by any other inspiration than thine, since thou art the Truth, and every man a liar.634 Hence, he that speaks a lie, speaks out of himself. Therefore, if I am to speak the truth, I must speak of thy truth.
Behold, thou hast given us for our food every seed-bearing herb on the face of the earth, and all trees that bear in themselves seed of their own kind; and not to us only, but to all the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field and all creeping things.635 Still, thou hast not given these things to the fishes and great whales. We have said that by these fruits of the earth the works of mercy were signified and figured forth in an allegory: thus, from the fruitful earth, things are provided for the necessities of life. Such an “earth” was the godly Onesiphorus, to whose house thou gavest mercy because he often refreshed Paul and was not ashamed of his bonds.636 This was also the way of the brethren from Macedonia, who bore such fruit and supplied to him what he lacked. But notice how he grieves for certain “trees,” which did not give him the fruit that was due, when he said, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God, that it be not laid up to their charge.”637 For we owe “fruits” to those who minister spiritual doctrine to us through their understanding of the divine mysteries. We owe these to them as men. We owe these fruits, also, to “the living souls” since they offer themselves as examples for us in their own continence. And, finally, we owe them likewise to “the flying creatures” because of their blessings which are multiplied on the earth, for “their sound has gone forth into all the earth.”638
39. Those who find their joy in it are fed by these “fruits”; but those whose god is their belly find no joy in them. For in those who offer these fruits, it is not the fruit itself that matters, but the spirit in which they give them. Therefore, he who serves God and not his own belly may rejoice in them, and I plainly see why. I see it, and I rejoice with him greatly. For he [Paul] had received from the Philippians the things they had sent by Epaphroditus; yet I see why he rejoiced. He was fed by what he found his joy in; for, speaking truly, he says, “I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me has flourished again, in which you were once so careful, but it had become a weariness to you.639 These Philippians, in their extended period of weariness in well-doing, had become weak and were, so to say, dried up; they were no longer bringing forth the fruits of good works. And now Paul rejoices in them--and not just for himself alone--because they were flourishing again in ministering to his needs. Therefore he adds: “I do not speak in respect of my want, for I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased and how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.”640
40. Where do you find joy in all things, O great Paul? What is the cause of your joy? On what do you feed, O man, renewed now in the knowledge of God after the image of him who created you, O living soul of such great continence--O tongue like a winged bird, speaking mysteries? What food is owed such creatures; what is it that feeds you? It is joy! For hear what follows: “Nevertheless, you have done well in that you have shared with me in my affliction.”641 This is what he finds his joy in; this is what he feeds on. They have done well, not merely because his need had been relieved--for he says to them, “You have opened my heart when I was in distress”--but because he knew both how to abound and how to suffer need, in thee who didst strengthen him. And so he said, “You [Philippians] know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in regard to giving and receiving, except you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent time and time again, according to my need.”642 He now finds his joy in the fact that they have returned once again to these good works, and he is made glad that they are flourishing again, as a fruitful field when it recovers its fertility.
41. Was it on account of his own needs alone that he said, “You have sent me gifts according to my needs?” Does he find joy in that? Certainly not for that alone. But how do we know this? We know it because he himself adds, “Not because I desire a gift, but because I desire fruit.”643
Now I have learned from thee, O my God, how to distinguish between the terms “gift” and “fruit.” A “gift” is the thing itself, given by one who bestows life’s necessities on another--such as money, food, drink, clothing, shelter, and aid. But “the fruit” is the good and right will of the giver. For the good Teacher not only said, “He that receives a prophet,” but he added, “In the name of a prophet.” And he did not say only, “He who receives a righteous man,” but added, “In the name of a righteous man.”644 Thus, surely, the former shall receive the reward of a prophet; the latter, that of a righteous man. Nor did he say only, “Whoever shall give a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink,” but added, “In the name of a disciple”; and concluded, “Truly I tell you he shall not lose his reward.” The “gift” involves receiving a prophet, receiving a righteous man, handing a cup of cold water to a disciple: but the “fruit” is to do all this in the name of a prophet, in the name of a righteous man, in the name of a disciple. Elijah was fed by the widow with “fruit,” for she knew that she was feeding a man of God and this is why she fed him. But he was fed by the raven with a “gift.” The inner man of Elijah was not fed by this “gift,” but only the outer man, which otherwise might have perished from the lack of such food.
42. Therefore I will speak before thee, O Lord, what is true, in order that the uninstructed645 and the infidels, who require the mysteries of initiation and great works of miracles--which we believe are signified by the phrase, “Fishes and great whales”--may be helped in being gained [for the Church] when they endeavor to provide that thy servants are refreshed in body, or otherwise aided in this present life. For they do not really know why this should be done, and to what end. Thus the former do not feed the latter, and the latter do not feed the former; for neither do the former offer their “gifts” through a holy and right intent, nor do the others rejoice in the gifts of those who do not as yet see the “fruit.” For it is on the “fruit” that the mind is fed, and by which it is gladdened. And, therefore, fishes and whales are not fed on such food as the earth alone brings forth when they have been separated and divided from the bitterness of “the waters” of the sea.
43. And thou, O God, didst see everything that thou hadst made and, behold, it was very good.646 We also see the whole creation and, behold, it is all very good. In each separate kind of thy work, when thou didst say, “Let them be made,” and they were made, thou didst see that it was good. I have counted seven times where it is written that thou didst see what thou hadst made was “good.” And there is the eighth time when thou didst see all things that thou hadst made and, behold, they were not only good but also very good; for they were now seen as a totality. Individually they were only good; but taken as a totality they were both good and very good. Beautiful bodies express this truth; for a body which consists of several parts, each of which is beautiful, is itself far more beautiful than any of its individual parts separately, by whose well-ordered union the whole is completed even though these parts are separately beautiful.
44. And I looked attentively to find whether it was seven or eight times that thou didst see thy works were good, when they were pleasing to thee, but I found that there was no “time” in thy seeing which would help me to understand in what sense thou hadst looked so many “times” at what thou hadst made. And I said: “O Lord, is not this thy Scripture true, since thou art true, and thy truth doth set it forth? Why, then, dost thou say to me that in thy seeing there are no times, while this Scripture tells me that what thou madest each day thou didst see to be good; and when I counted them I found how many ‘times’?” To these things, thou didst reply to me, for thou art my God, and thou dost speak to thy servant with a strong voice in his inner ear, my deafness, and crying: “O man, what my Scripture says, I say. But it speaks in terms of time, whereas time does not affect my Word--my Word which exists coeternally with myself. Thus the things you see through my Spirit, I see; just as what you say through my Spirit, I say. But while you see those things in time, I do not see them in time; and when you speak those things in time, I do not speak them in time.”
45. And I heard this, O Lord my God, and drank up a drop of sweetness from thy truth, and understood that there are some men to whom thy works are displeasing, who say that many of them thou didst make under the compulsion of necessity--such as the pattern of the heavens and the courses of the stars--and that thou didst not make them out of what was thine, but that they were already created elsewhere and from other sources. It was thus [they say] that thou didst collect and fashion and weave them together, as if from thy conquered enemies thou didst raise up the walls of the universe; so that, built into the ramparts of the building, they might not be able a second time to rebel against thee. And, even of other things, they say that thou didst neither make them nor arrange them--for example, all flesh and all the very small living creatures, and all things fastened to the earth by their roots. But [they say] a hostile mind and an alien nature--not created by thee and in every way contrary to thee--begot and framed all these things in the nether parts of the world.647 They who speak thus are mad [insani], since they do not see thy works through thy Spirit, nor recognize thee in them.
46. But for those who see these things through thy Spirit, it is thou who seest them in them. When, therefore, they see that these things are good, it is thou who seest that they are good; and whatsoever things are pleasing because of thee, it is thou who dost give us pleasure in those things. Those things which please us through thy Spirit are pleasing to thee in us. “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of a man which is in him? Even so, no man knows the things of God, but the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us from God.”648 And I am admonished to say: “Yes, truly. No man knows the things of God, but the Spirit of God: but how, then, do we also know what things are given us by God?” The answer is given me: “Because we know these things by his Spirit; for no one knows but the Spirit of God.” But just as it is truly said to those who were to speak through the Spirit of God, “It is not you who speak,” so it is also truly said to them who know through the Spirit of God, “It is not you yourselves who know,” and just as rightly it may be said to those who perceive through the Spirit of God that a thing is good; it is not they who see, but God who seeth that it is good.
It is, therefore, one thing to think like the men who judge something to be bad when it is good, as do those whom we have already mentioned. It is quite another thing that a man should see as good what is good--as is the case with many whom thy creation pleases because it is good, yet what pleases them in it is not thee, and so they would prefer to find their joy in thy creatures rather than to find their joy in thee. It is still another thing that when a man sees a thing to be good, God should see in him that it is good--that truly he may be loved in what he hath made, he who cannot be loved except through the Holy Spirit which he hath given us: “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us.”649 It is by him that we see whatever we see to be good in any degree, since it is from him, who doth not exist in any particular degree but who simply is what he is.650
47. Thanks be to thee, O Lord! We see the heaven and the earth, either the corporeal part--higher and lower--or the spiritual and physical creation. And we see the light made and divided from the darkness for the adornment of these parts, from which the universal mass of the world or the universal creation is constituted. We see the firmament of heaven, either the original “body” of the world between the spiritual (higher) waters and the corporeal (lower) waters651 or the expanse of air--which is also called “heaven”--through which the fowls of heaven wander, between the waters which move in clouds above them and which drop down in dew on clear nights, and those waters which are heavy and flow along the earth. We see the waters gathered together in the vast plains of the sea; and the dry land, first bare and then formed, so as to be visible and well-ordered; and the soil of herbs and trees. We see the light shining from above--the sun to serve the day, the moon and the stars to give cheer in the night; and we see by all these that the intervals of time are marked and noted. We see on every side the watery elements, fruitful with fishes, beasts, and birds--and we notice that the density of the atmosphere which supports the flights of birds is increased by the evaporation of the waters. We see the face of the earth, replete with earthly creatures; and man, created in thy image and likeness, in the very image and likeness of thee--that is, having the power of reason and understanding--by virtue of which he has been set over all irrational creatures. And just as there is in his soul one element which controls by its power of reflection and another which has been made subject so that it should obey, so also, physically, the woman was made for the man; for, although she had a like nature of rational intelligence in the mind, still in the sex of her body she should be similarly subject to the sex of her husband, as the appetite of action is subjected to the deliberation of the mind in order to conceive the rules of right action. These things we see, and each of them is good; and the whole is very good!
48. Let thy works praise thee, that we may love thee; and let us love thee that thy works may praise thee--those works which have a beginning and an end in time--a rising and a setting, a growth and a decay, a form and a privation. Thus, they have their successions of morning and evening, partly hidden, partly plain. For they were made from nothing by thee, and not from thyself, and not from any matter that is not thine, or that was created beforehand. They were created from concreated matter--that is, matter that was created by thee at the same time that thou didst form its formlessness, without any interval of time. Yet, since the matter of heaven and earth is one thing and the form of heaven and earth is another thing, thou didst create matter out of absolutely nothing (de omnino nihilo), but the form of the world thou didst form from formless matter (de informi materia). But both were done at the same time, so that form followed matter with no delaying interval.
49. We have also explored the question of what thou didst desire to figure forth, both in the creation and in the description of things in this particular order. And we have seen that things taken separately are good, and all things taken together are very good, both in heaven and earth. And we have seen that this was wrought through thy Word, thy only Son, the head and the body of the Church, and it signifies thy predestination before all times, without morning and evening. But when, in time, thou didst begin to unfold the things destined before time, so that thou mightest make hidden things manifest and mightest reorder our disorders--since our sins were over us and we had sunk into profound darkness away from thee, and thy good Spirit was moving over us to help us in due season--thou didst justify the ungodly and also didst divide them from the wicked; and thou madest the authority of thy Book a firmament between those above who would be amenable to thee and those beneath who would be subject to them. And thou didst gather the society of unbelievers652 into a conspiracy, in order that the zeal of the faithful might become manifest and that they might bring forth works of mercy unto thee, giving their earthly riches to the poor to obtain heavenly riches. Then thou didst kindle the lights in the firmament, which are thy holy ones, who have the Word of Life and who shine with an exalted authority, warranted to them by their spiritual gifts. And then, for the instruction of the unbelieving nations, thou didst out of physical matter produce the mysteries and the visible miracles and the sounds of words in harmony with the firmament of thy Book, through which the faithful should be blessed. After this thou didst form “the living soul” of the faithful, through the ordering of their passions by the strength of continence. And then thou didst renew, after thy image and likeness, the mind which is faithful to thee alone, which needs to imitate no human authority. Thus, thou didst subordinate rational action to the higher excellence of intelligence, as the woman is subordinate to the man. Finally, in all thy ministries which were needed to perfect the faithful in this life, thou didst will that these same faithful ones should themselves bring forth good things, profitable for their temporal use and fruitful for the life to come. We see all these things, and they are very good, because thou seest them thus in us--thou who hast given us thy Spirit, by which we may see them so and love thee in them.
50. O Lord God, grant us thy peace--for thou hast given us all things. Grant us the peace of quietness, the peace of the Sabbath, the peace without an evening. All this most beautiful array of things, all so very good, will pass away when all their courses are finished--for in them there is both morning and evening.
51. But the seventh day is without an evening, and it has no setting, for thou hast sanctified it with an everlasting duration. After all thy works of creation, which were very good, thou didst rest on the seventh day, although thou hadst created them all in unbroken rest--and this so that the voice of thy Book might speak to us with the prior assurance that after our works--and they also are very good because thou hast given them to us--we may find our rest in thee in the Sabbath of life eternal.653
52. For then also thou shalt so rest in us as now thou workest in us; and, thus, that will be thy rest through us, as these are thy works through us. But thou, O Lord, workest evermore and art always at rest. Thou seest not in time, thou movest not in time, thou restest not in time. And yet thou makest all those things which are seen in time--indeed, the very times themselves--and everything that proceeds in and from time.
53. We can see all those things which thou hast made because they are--but they are because thou seest them.654 And we see with our eyes that they are, and we see with our minds that they are good. But thou sawest them as made when thou sawest that they would be made.
And now, in this present time, we have been moved to do well, now that our heart has been quickened by thy Spirit; but in the former time, having forsaken thee, we were moved to do evil.655 But thou, O the one good God, hast never ceased to do good! And we have accomplished certain good works by thy good gifts, and even though they are not eternal, still we hope, after these things here, to find our rest in thy great sanctification. But thou art the Good, and needest no rest, and art always at rest, because thou thyself art thy own rest.
What man will teach men to understand this? And what angel will teach the angels? Or what angels will teach men? We must ask it of thee; we must seek it in thee; we must knock for it at thy door. Only thus shall we receive; only thus shall we find; only thus shall thy door be opened.656
1He had no models before him, for such earlier writings as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the autobiographical sections in Hilary of Poitiers and Cyprian of Carthage have only to be compared with the Confessions to see how different they are.
4Notice the echo here of Acts 9:1.
6Cf. Ps. 145:3 and Ps. 147:5.
10A reference to Bishop Ambrose of Milan; see Bk. V, Ch. XIII; Bk. VIII, Ch. 11, 3.
13Cf. Ps. 18:31.
15Cf. Ps. 19:12, 13.
17Cf. Ps. 32:5.
18Cf. Job 9:2.
22Cf. Ps. 92:1.
23Cf. Ps. 51:5.
24In baptism which, Augustine believed, established the