| print this
God's searching presence, Augustine undertakes to plumb
the depths of his memory to trace the mysterious pilgrimage
of grace which his life has been--and to praise God for
his constant and omnipotent grace. In a mood of sustained
prayer, he recalls what he can of his infancy, his learning
to speak, and his childhood experiences in school. He concludes
with a paean of grateful praise to God.
"Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great
is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom."
And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy
creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries
the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist
the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who
is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted
him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast
made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it
comes to rest in thee. Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand
whether first to invoke thee or to praise thee; whether
first to know thee or call upon thee. But who can invoke
thee, knowing thee not? For he who knows thee not may
invoke thee as another than thou art. It may be that we
should invoke thee in order that we may come to know thee.
But "how shall they call on him in whom they have not
believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?"
Now, "they shall praise the Lord who seek him,"
for "those who seek shall find him,"
and, finding him, shall praise him. I will seek thee,
O Lord, and call upon thee. I call upon thee, O Lord,
in my faith which thou hast given me, which thou hast
inspired in me through the humanity of thy Son, and through
the ministry of thy preacher.
And how shall I call upon my God--my God and my Lord?
For when I call on him I ask him to come into me. And
what place is there in me into which my God can come?
How could God, the God who made both heaven and earth,
come into me? Is there anything in me, O Lord my God,
that can contain thee? Do even the heaven and the earth,
which thou hast made, and in which thou didst make me,
contain thee? Is it possible that, since without thee
nothing would be which does exist, thou didst make it
so that whatever exists has some capacity to receive thee?
Why, then, do I ask thee to come into me, since I also
am and could not be if thou wert not in me? For I am not,
after all, in hell--and yet thou art there too, for "if
I go down into hell, thou art there." Therefore I would not exist--I would
simply not be at all--unless I exist in thee, from whom
and by whom and in whom all things are. Even so, Lord;
even so. Where do I call thee to, when I am already in
thee? Or from whence wouldst thou come into me? Where,
beyond heaven and earth, could I go that there my God
might come to me--he who hath said, "I fill heaven and
3. Since, then, thou dost fill the heaven and earth, do
they contain thee? Or, dost thou fill and overflow them,
because they cannot contain thee? And where dost thou pour
out what remains of thee after heaven and earth are full?
Or, indeed, is there no need that thou, who dost contain
all things, shouldst be contained by any, since those things
which thou dost fill thou fillest by containing them? For
the vessels which thou dost fill do not confine thee, since
even if they were broken, thou wouldst not be poured out.
And, when thou art poured out on us, thou art not thereby
brought down; rather, we are uplifted. Thou art not scattered;
rather, thou dost gather us together. But when thou dost
fill all things, dost thou fill them with thy whole being?
Or, since not even all things together could contain thee
altogether, does any one thing contain a single part, and
do all things contain that same part at the same time? Do
singulars contain thee singly? Do greater things contain
more of thee, and smaller things less? Or, is it not rather
that thou art wholly present everywhere, yet in such a way
that nothing contains thee wholly?
What, therefore, is my God? What, I ask, but the Lord God?
"For who is Lord but the Lord himself, or who is God besides
Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent;
most merciful and most just; most secret and most truly
present; most beautiful and most strong; stable, yet not
supported; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never
new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old
age upon the proud, and they know it not; always working,
ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining,
pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing;
seeking, and yet possessing all things. Thou dost love,
but without passion; art jealous, yet free from care; dost
repent without remorse; art angry, yet remainest serene.
Thou changest thy ways, leaving thy plans unchanged; thou
recoverest what thou hast never really lost. Thou art never
in need but still thou dost rejoice at thy gains; art never
greedy, yet demandest dividends. Men pay more than is required
so that thou dost become a debtor; yet who can possess anything
at all which is not already thine? Thou owest men nothing,
yet payest out to them as if in debt to thy creature, and
when thou dost cancel debts thou losest nothing thereby.
Yet, O my God, my life, my holy Joy, what is this that I
have said? What can any man say when he speaks of thee?
But woe to them that keep silence--since even those who
say most are dumb.
Who shall bring me to rest in thee? Who will send thee into
my heart so to overwhelm it that my sins shall be blotted
out and I may embrace thee, my only good? What art thou
to me? Have mercy that I may speak. What am I to thee that
thou shouldst command me to love thee, and if I do it not,
art angry and threatenest vast misery? Is it, then, a trifling
sorrow not to love thee? It is not so to me. Tell me, by
thy mercy, O Lord, my God, what thou art to me. "Say to
my soul, I am your salvation."
So speak that I may hear. Behold, the ears of my heart are
before thee, O Lord; open them and "say to my soul, I am
your salvation." I will hasten after that voice, and I will
lay hold upon thee. Hide not thy face from me. Even if I
die, let me see thy face lest I die.
6. The house of my soul is too narrow for thee to come in
to me; let it be enlarged by thee. It is in ruins; do thou
restore it. There is much about it which must offend thy
eyes; I confess and know it. But who will cleanse it? Or,
to whom shall I cry but to thee? "Cleanse thou me from my
secret faults," O Lord, "and keep back thy servant from
"I believe, and therefore do I speak."
But thou, O Lord, thou knowest. Have I not confessed my
transgressions unto thee, O my God; and hast thou not put
away the iniquity of my heart?
I do not contend in judgment with thee,
who art truth itself; and I would not deceive myself, lest
my iniquity lie even to itself. I do not, therefore, contend
in judgment with thee, for "if thou, Lord, shouldst mark
iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?"
Still, dust and ashes as I am, allow me to speak before
thy mercy. Allow me to speak, for, behold, it is to thy
mercy that I speak and not to a man who scorns me. Yet perhaps
even thou mightest scorn me; but when thou dost turn and
attend to me, thou wilt have mercy upon me. For what do
I wish to say, O Lord my God, but that I know not whence
I came hither into this life-in-death. Or should I call
it death-in-life? I do not know. And yet the consolations
of thy mercy have sustained me from the very beginning,
as I have heard from my fleshly parents, from whom and in
whom thou didst form me in time--for I cannot myself remember.
Thus even though they sustained me by the consolation of
woman's milk, neither my mother nor my nurses filled their
own breasts but thou, through them, didst give me the food
of infancy according to thy ordinance and thy bounty which
underlie all things. For it was thou who didst cause me
not to want more than thou gavest and it was thou who gavest
to those who nourished me the will to give me what thou
didst give them. And they, by an instinctive affection,
were willing to give me what thou hadst supplied abundantly.
It was, indeed, good for them that my good should come through
them, though, in truth, it was not from them but by them.
For it is from thee, O God, that all good things come--and
from my God is all my health. This is what I have since
learned, as thou hast made it abundantly clear by all that
I have seen thee give, both to me and to those around me.
For even at the very first I knew how to suck, to lie quiet
when I was full, and to cry when in pain--nothing more.
8. Afterward I began to laugh--at first in my sleep, then
when waking. For this I have been told about myself and
I believe it--though I cannot remember it--for I see the
same things in other infants. Then, little by little, I
realized where I was and wished to tell my wishes to those
who might satisfy them, but I could not! For my wants were
inside me, and they were outside, and they could not by
any power of theirs come into my soul. And so I would fling
my arms and legs about and cry, making the few and feeble
gestures that I could, though indeed the signs were not
much like what I inwardly desired and when I was not satisfied--either
from not being understood or because what I got was not
good for me--I grew indignant that my elders were not subject
to me and that those on whom I actually had no claim did
not wait on me as slaves--and I avenged myself on them by
crying. That infants are like this, I have myself been able
to learn by watching them; and they, though they knew me
not, have shown me better what I was like than my own nurses
who knew me.
9. And, behold, my infancy died long ago, but I am still
living. But thou, O Lord, whose life is forever and in whom
nothing dies--since before the world was, indeed, before
all that can be called "before," thou wast, and thou art
the God and Lord of all thy creatures; and with thee abide
all the stable causes of all unstable things, the unchanging
sources of all changeable things, and the eternal reasons
of all non-rational and temporal things--tell me, thy suppliant,
O God, tell me, O merciful One, in pity tell a pitiful creature
whether my infancy followed yet an earlier age of my life
that had already passed away before it. Was it such another
age which I spent in my mother's womb? For something of
that sort has been suggested to me, and I have myself seen
pregnant women. But what, O God, my Joy, preceded that
period of life? Was I, indeed, anywhere, or anybody? No
one can explain these things to me, neither father nor mother,
nor the experience of others, nor my own memory. Dost thou
laugh at me for asking such things? Or dost thou command
me to praise and confess unto thee only what I know?
10. I give thanks to thee, O Lord of heaven and earth, giving
praise to thee for that first being and my infancy of which
I have no memory. For thou hast granted to man that he should
come to self-knowledge through the knowledge of others,
and that he should believe many things about himself on
the authority of the womenfolk. Now, clearly, I had life
and being; and, as my infancy closed, I was already learning
signs by which my feelings could be communicated to others.
Whence could such a creature come but from thee, O Lord?
Is any man skillful enough to have fashioned himself? Or
is there any other source from which being and life could
flow into us, save this, that thou, O Lord, hast made us--thou
with whom being and life are one, since thou thyself art
supreme being and supreme life both together. For thou art
infinite and in thee there is no change, nor an end to this
present day--although there is a sense in which it ends
in thee since all things are in thee and there would be
no such thing as days passing away unless thou didst sustain
them. And since "thy years shall have no end,"
thy years are an ever-present day. And how many of ours
and our fathers' days have passed through this thy day and
have received from it what measure and fashion of being
they had? And all the days to come shall so receive and
so pass away. "But thou art the same"! And all the things of tomorrow and
the days yet to come, and all of yesterday and the days
that are past, thou wilt gather into this thy day. What
is it to me if someone does not understand this? Let him
still rejoice and continue to ask, "What is this?" Let him
also rejoice and prefer to seek thee, even if he fails to
find an answer, rather than to seek an answer and not find
"Hear me, O God! Woe to the sins of men!" When a man cries
thus, thou showest him mercy, for thou didst create the
man but not the sin in him. Who brings to remembrance the
sins of my infancy? For in thy sight there is none free
from sin, not even the infant who has lived but a day upon
this earth. Who brings this to my remembrance? Does not
each little one, in whom I now observe what I no longer
remember of myself? In what ways, in that time, did I sin?
Was it that I cried for the breast? If I should now so cry--not
indeed for the breast, but for food suitable to my condition--I
should be most justly laughed at and rebuked. What I did
then deserved rebuke but, since I could not understand those
who rebuked me, neither custom nor common sense permitted
me to be rebuked. As we grow we root out and cast away from
us such childish habits. Yet I have not seen anyone who
is wise who cast away the good when trying to purge the
bad. Nor was it good, even in that time, to strive to get
by crying what, if it had been given me, would have been
hurtful; or to be bitterly indignant at those who, because
they were older--not slaves, either, but free--and wiser
than I, would not indulge my capricious desires. Was it
a good thing for me to try, by struggling as hard as I could,
to harm them for not obeying me, even when it would have
done me harm to have been obeyed? Thus, the infant's innocence
lies in the weakness of his body and not in the infant mind.
I have myself observed a baby to be jealous, though it could
not speak; it was livid as it watched another infant at
Who is ignorant of this? Mothers and nurses tell us that
they cure these things by I know not what remedies. But
is this innocence, when the fountain of milk is flowing
fresh and abundant, that another who needs it should not
be allowed to share it, even though he requires such nourishment
to sustain his life? Yet we look leniently on such things,
not because they are not faults, or even small faults, but
because they will vanish as the years pass. For, although
we allow for such things in an infant, the same things could
not be tolerated patiently in an adult.
12. Therefore, O Lord my God, thou who gavest life to the
infant, and a body which, as we see, thou hast furnished
with senses, shaped with limbs, beautified with form, and
endowed with all vital energies for its well-being and health--thou
dost command me to praise thee for these things, to give
thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praise unto his name,
O Most High. For thou art God, omnipotent and good,
even if thou hadst done no more than these things, which
no other but thou canst do--thou alone who madest all things
fair and didst order everything according to thy law.
I am loath to dwell on this part of my life of which, O
Lord, I have no remembrance, about which I must trust the
word of others and what I can surmise from observing other
infants, even if such guesses are trustworthy. For it lies
in the deep murk of my forgetfulness and thus is like the
period which I passed in my mother's womb. But if "I was
conceived in iniquity, and in sin my mother nourished me
in her womb,"
where, I pray thee, O my God, where, O Lord, or when was
I, thy servant, ever innocent? But see now, I pass over
that period, for what have I to do with a time from which
I can recall no memories?
Did I not, then, as I grew out of infancy, come next to
boyhood, or rather did it not come to me and succeed my
infancy? My infancy did not go away (for where would it
go?). It was simply no longer present; and I was no longer
an infant who could not speak, but now a chattering boy.
I remember this, and I have since observed how I learned
to speak. My elders did not teach me words by rote, as they
taught me my letters afterward. But I myself, when I was
unable to communicate all I wished to say to whomever I
wished by means of whimperings and grunts and various gestures
of my limbs (which I used to reinforce my demands), I myself
repeated the sounds already stored in my memory by the mind
which thou, O my God, hadst given me. When they called some
thing by name and pointed it out while they spoke, I saw
it and realized that the thing they wished to indicate was
called by the name they then uttered. And what they meant
was made plain by the gestures of their bodies, by a kind
of natural language, common to all nations, which expresses
itself through changes of countenance, glances of the eye,
gestures and intonations which indicate a disposition and
attitude--either to seek or to possess, to reject or to
avoid. So it was that by frequently hearing words, in different
phrases, I gradually identified the objects which the words
stood for and, having formed my mouth to repeat these signs,
I was thereby able to express my will. Thus I exchanged
with those about me the verbal signs by which we express
our wishes and advanced deeper into the stormy fellowship
of human life, depending all the while upon the authority
of my parents and the behest of my elders.
O my God! What miseries and mockeries did I then experience
when it was impressed on me that obedience to my teachers
was proper to my boyhood estate if I was to flourish in
this world and distinguish myself in those tricks of speech
which would gain honor for me among men, and deceitful riches!
To this end I was sent to school to get learning, the value
of which I knew not--wretch that I was. Yet if I was slow
to learn, I was flogged. For this was deemed praiseworthy
by our forefathers and many had passed before us in the
same course, and thus had built up the precedent for the
sorrowful road on which we too were compelled to travel,
multiplying labor and sorrow upon the sons of Adam. About
this time, O Lord, I observed men praying to thee, and I
learned from them to conceive thee--after my capacity for
understanding as it was then--to be some great Being, who,
though not visible to our senses, was able to hear and help
us. Thus as a boy I began to pray to thee, my Help and my
Refuge, and, in calling on thee, broke the bands of my tongue.
Small as I was, I prayed with no slight earnestness that
I might not be beaten at school. And when thou didst not
heed me--for that would have been giving me over to my folly--my
elders and even my parents too, who wished me no ill, treated
my stripes as a joke, though they were then a great and
grievous ill to me.
15. Is there anyone, O Lord, with a spirit so great, who
cleaves to thee with such steadfast affection (or is there
even a kind of obtuseness that has the same effect)--is
there any man who, by cleaving devoutly to thee, is endowed
with so great a courage that he can regard indifferently
those racks and hooks and other torture weapons from which
men throughout the world pray so fervently to be spared;
and can they scorn those who so greatly fear these torments,
just as my parents were amused at the torments with which
our teachers punished us boys? For we were no less afraid
of our pains, nor did we beseech thee less to escape them.
Yet, even so, we were sinning by writing or reading or studying
less than our assigned lessons.
For I did not, O Lord, lack memory or capacity, for, by
thy will, I possessed enough for my age. However, my mind
was absorbed only in play, and I was punished for this by
those who were doing the same things themselves. But the
idling of our elders is called business; the idling of boys,
though quite like it, is punished by those same elders,
and no one pities either the boys or the men. For will any
common sense observer agree that I was rightly punished
as a boy for playing ball--just because this hindered me
from learning more quickly those lessons by means of which,
as a man, I could play at more shameful games? And did he
by whom I was beaten do anything different? When he was
worsted in some small controversy with a fellow teacher,
he was more tormented by anger and envy than I was when
beaten by a playmate in the ball game.
And yet I sinned, O Lord my God, thou ruler and creator
of all natural things--but of sins only the ruler--I sinned,
O Lord my God, in acting against the precepts of my parents
and of those teachers. For this learning which they wished
me to acquire--no matter what their motives were--I might
have put to good account afterward. I disobeyed them, not
because I had chosen a better way, but from a sheer love
of play. I loved the vanity of victory, and I loved to have
my ears tickled with lying fables, which made them itch
even more ardently, and a similar curiosity glowed more
and more in my eyes for the shows and sports of my elders.
Yet those who put on such shows are held in such high repute
that almost all desire the same for their children. They
are therefore willing to have them beaten, if their childhood
games keep them from the studies by which their parents
desire them to grow up to be able to give such shows. Look
down on these things with mercy, O Lord, and deliver us
who now call upon thee; deliver those also who do not call
upon thee, that they may call upon thee, and thou mayest
Even as a boy I had heard of eternal life promised to us
through the humility of the Lord our God, who came down
to visit us in our pride, and I was signed with the sign
of his cross, and was seasoned with his salt even from the
womb of my mother, who greatly trusted in thee. Thou didst
see, O Lord, how, once, while I was still a child, I was
suddenly seized with stomach pains and was at the point
of death--thou didst see, O my God, for even then thou wast
my keeper, with what agitation and with what faith I solicited
from the piety of my mother and from thy Church (which is
the mother of us all) the baptism of thy Christ, my Lord
and my God. The mother of my flesh was much perplexed, for,
with a heart pure in thy faith, she was always in deep travail
for my eternal salvation. If I had not quickly recovered,
she would have provided forthwith for my initiation and
washing by thy life-giving sacraments, confessing thee,
O Lord Jesus, for the forgiveness of sins. So my cleansing
was deferred, as if it were inevitable that, if I should
live, I would be further polluted; and, further, because
the guilt contracted by sin after baptism would be still
greater and more perilous.
Thus, at that time, I "believed" along with my mother and
the whole household, except my father. But he did not overcome
the influence of my mother's piety in me, nor did he prevent
my believing in Christ, although he had not yet believed
in him. For it was her desire, O my God, that I should acknowledge
thee as my Father rather than him. In this thou didst aid
her to overcome her husband, to whom, though his superior,
she yielded obedience. In this way she also yielded obedience
to thee, who dost so command.
18. I ask thee, O my God, for I would gladly know if it
be thy will, to what good end my baptism was deferred at
that time? Was it indeed for my good that the reins were
slackened, as it were, to encourage me in sin? Or, were
they not slackened? If not, then why is it still dinned
into our ears on all sides, "Let him alone, let him do as
he pleases, for he is not yet baptized"? In the matter of
bodily health, no one says, "Let him alone; let him be worse
wounded; for he is not yet cured"! How much better, then,
would it have been for me to have been cured at once--and
if thereafter, through the diligent care of friends and
myself, my soul's restored health had been kept safe in
thy keeping, who gave it in the first place! This would
have been far better, in truth. But how many and great the
waves of temptation which appeared to hang over me as I
grew out of childhood! These were foreseen by my mother,
and she preferred that the unformed clay should be risked
to them rather than the clay molded after Christ's image.
But in this time of childhood--which was far less dreaded
for me than my adolescence--I had no love of learning, and
hated to be driven to it. Yet I was driven to it just the
same, and good was done for me, even though I did not do
it well, for I would not have learned if I had not been
forced to it. For no man does well against his will, even
if what he does is a good thing. Neither did they who forced
me do well, but the good that was done me came from thee,
my God. For they did not care about the way in which I would
use what they forced me to learn, and took it for granted
that it was to satisfy the inordinate desires of a rich
beggary and a shameful glory. But thou, Lord, by whom the
hairs of our head are numbered, didst use for my good the
error of all who pushed me on to study: but my error in
not being willing to learn thou didst use for my punishment.
And I--though so small a boy yet so great a sinner--was
not punished without warrant. Thus by the instrumentality
of those who did not do well, thou didst well for me; and
by my own sin thou didst justly punish me. For it is even
as thou hast ordained: that every inordinate affection brings
on its own punishment.
But what were the causes for my strong dislike of Greek
literature, which I studied from my boyhood? Even to this
day I have not fully understood them. For Latin I loved
exceedingly--not just the rudiments, but what the grammarians
teach. For those beginner's lessons in reading, writing,
and reckoning, I considered no less a burden and pain than
Greek. Yet whence came this, unless from the sin and vanity
of this life? For I was "but flesh, a wind that passeth
away and cometh not again."
Those first lessons were better, assuredly, because they
were more certain, and through them I acquired, and still
retain, the power of reading what I find written and of
writing for myself what I will. In the other subjects, however,
I was compelled to learn about the wanderings of a certain
Aeneas, oblivious of my own wanderings, and to weep for
Dido dead, who slew herself for love. And all this while
I bore with dry eyes my own wretched self dying to thee,
O God, my life, in the midst of these things.
21. For what can be more wretched than the wretch who has
no pity upon himself, who sheds tears over Dido, dead for
the love of Aeneas, but who sheds no tears for his own death
in not loving thee, O God, light of my heart, and bread
of the inner mouth of my soul, O power that links together
my mind with my inmost thoughts? I did not love thee, and
thus committed fornication against thee. Those around me, also sinning,
thus cried out: "Well done! Well done!" The friendship of
this world is fornication against thee; and "Well done!
Well done!" is cried until one feels ashamed not to show
himself a man in this way. For my own condition I shed no
tears, though I wept for Dido, who "sought death at the
while I myself was seeking the lowest rung of thy creation,
having forsaken thee; earth sinking back to earth again.
And, if I had been forbidden to read these poems, I would
have grieved that I was not allowed to read what grieved
me. This sort of madness is considered more honorable and
more fruitful learning than the beginner's course in which
I learned to read and write.
22. But now, O my God, cry unto my soul, and let thy truth
say to me: "Not so, not so! That first learning was far
better." For, obviously, I would rather forget the wanderings
of Aeneas, and all such things, than forget how to write
and read. Still, over the entrance of the grammar school
there hangs a veil. This is not so much the sign of a covering
for a mystery as a curtain for error. Let them exclaim against
me--those I no longer fear--while I confess to thee, my
God, what my soul desires, and let me find some rest, for
in blaming my own evil ways I may come to love thy holy
ways. Neither let those cry out against me who buy and sell
the baubles of literature. For if I ask them if it is true,
as the poet says, that Aeneas once came to Carthage, the
unlearned will reply that they do not know and the learned
will deny that it is true. But if I ask with what letters
the name Aeneas is written, all who have ever learned this
will answer correctly, in accordance with the conventional
understanding men have agreed upon as to these signs. Again,
if I should ask which would cause the greatest inconvenience
in our life, if it were forgotten: reading and writing,
or these poetical fictions, who does not see what everyone
would answer who had not entirely lost his own memory? I
erred, then, when as a boy I preferred those vain studies
to these more profitable ones, or rather loved the one and
hated the other. "One and one are two, two and two are four":
this was then a truly hateful song to me. But the wooden
horse full of its armed soldiers, and the holocaust of Troy,
and the spectral image of Creusa were all a most delightful--and
23. But why, then, did I dislike Greek learning, which was
full of such tales? For Homer was skillful in inventing
such poetic fictions and is most sweetly wanton; yet when
I was a boy, he was most disagreeable to me. I believe that
Virgil would have the same effect on Greek boys as Homer
did on me if they were forced to learn him. For the tedium
of learning a foreign language mingled gall into the sweetness
of those Grecian myths. For I did not understand a word
of the language, and yet I was driven with threats and cruel
punishments to learn it. There was also a time when, as
an infant, I knew no Latin; but this I acquired without
any fear or tormenting, but merely by being alert to the
blandishments of my nurses, the jests of those who smiled
on me, and the sportiveness of those who toyed with me.
I learned all this, indeed, without being urged by any pressure
of punishment, for my own heart urged me to bring forth
its own fashioning, which I could not do except by learning
words: not from those who taught me but those who talked
to me, into whose ears I could pour forth whatever I could
fashion. From this it is sufficiently clear that a free
curiosity is more effective in learning than a discipline
based on fear. Yet, by thy ordinance, O God, discipline
is given to restrain the excesses of freedom; this ranges
from the ferule of the schoolmaster to the trials of the
martyr and has the effect of mingling for us a wholesome
bitterness, which calls us back to thee from the poisonous
pleasures that first drew us from thee.
Hear my prayer, O Lord; let not my soul faint under thy
discipline, nor let me faint in confessing unto thee thy
mercies, whereby thou hast saved me from all my most wicked
ways till thou shouldst become sweet to me beyond all the
allurements that I used to follow. Let me come to love thee
wholly, and grasp thy hand with my whole heart that thou
mayest deliver me from every temptation, even unto the last.
And thus, O Lord, my King and my God, may all things useful
that I learned as a boy now be offered in thy service--let
it be that for thy service I now speak and write and reckon.
For when I was learning vain things, thou didst impose thy
discipline upon me: and thou hast forgiven me my sin of
delighting in those vanities. In those studies I learned
many a useful word, but these might have been learned in
matters not so vain; and surely that is the safe way for
youths to walk in.
But woe unto you, O torrent of human custom! Who shall stay
your course? When will you ever run dry? How long will you
carry down the sons of Eve into that vast and hideous ocean,
which even those who have the Tree (for an ark) can scarcely pass over? Do I not read
in you the stories of Jove the thunderer--and the adulterer?
How could he be both? But so it says, and the sham thunder
served as a cloak for him to play at real adultery. Yet
which of our gowned masters will give a tempered hearing
to a man trained in their own schools who cries out and
says: "These were Homer's fictions; he transfers things
human to the gods. I could have wished that he would transfer
divine things to us."
But it would have been more true if he said, "These are,
indeed, his fictions, but he attributed divine attributes
to sinful men, that crimes might not be accounted crimes,
and that whoever committed such crimes might appear to imitate
the celestial gods and not abandoned men."
And yet, O torrent of hell, the sons of men are still cast
into you, and they pay fees for learning all these things.
And much is made of it when this goes on in the forum under
the auspices of laws which give a salary over and above
the fees. And you beat against your rocky shore and roar:
"Here words may be learned; here you can attain the eloquence
which is so necessary to persuade people to your way of
thinking; so helpful in unfolding your opinions." Verily,
they seem to argue that we should never have understood
these words, "golden shower," "bosom," "intrigue," "highest
heavens," and other such words, if Terence had not introduced
a good-for-nothing youth upon the stage, setting up a picture
of Jove as his example of lewdness and telling the tale
Jove's descending in a golden shower
Into Danae's bosom...
With a woman to intrigue."
how he excites himself to lust, as if by a heavenly authority,
when he says:
Who shakes the highest heavens with his thunder;
Shall I, poor mortal man, not do the same?
I've done it, and with all my heart, I'm glad."
words are not learned one whit more easily because of this
vileness, but through them the vileness is more boldly perpetrated.
I do not blame the words, for they are, as it were, choice
and precious vessels, but I do deplore the wine of error
which was poured out to us by teachers already drunk. And,
unless we also drank we were beaten, without liberty of
appeal to a sober judge. And yet, O my God, in whose presence
I can now with security recall this, I learned these things
willingly and with delight, and for it I was called a boy
of good promise.
Bear with me, O my God, while I speak a little of those
talents, thy gifts, and of the follies on which I wasted
them. For a lesson was given me that sufficiently disturbed
my soul, for in it there was both hope of praise and fear
of shame or stripes. The assignment was that I should declaim
the words of Juno, as she raged and sorrowed that she could
From all the approaches of the Teucrian king."
had learned that Juno had never uttered these words. Yet
we were compelled to stray in the footsteps of these poetic
fictions, and to turn into prose what the poet had said
in verse. In the declamation, the boy won most applause
who most strikingly reproduced the passions of anger and
sorrow according to the "character" of the persons presented
and who clothed it all in the most suitable language. What
is it now to me, O my true Life, my God, that my declaiming
was applauded above that of many of my classmates and fellow
students? Actually, was not all that smoke and wind? Besides,
was there nothing else on which I could have exercised my
wit and tongue? Thy praise, O Lord, thy praises might have
propped up the tendrils of my heart by thy Scriptures; and
it would not have been dragged away by these empty trifles,
a shameful prey to the spirits of the air. For there is
more than one way in which men sacrifice to the fallen angels.
But it was no wonder that I was thus carried toward vanity
and was estranged from thee, O my God, when men were held
up as models to me who, when relating a deed of theirs--not
in itself evil--were covered with confusion if found guilty
of a barbarism or a solecism; but who could tell of their
own licentiousness and be applauded for it, so long as they
did it in a full and ornate oration of well-chosen words.
Thou seest all this, O Lord, and dost keep silence--"long-suffering,
and plenteous in mercy and truth" as thou art. Wilt thou keep silence
forever? Even now thou drawest from that vast deep the soul
that seeks thee and thirsts after thy delight, whose "heart
said unto thee, `I have sought thy face; thy face, Lord,
will I seek.'"
For I was far from thy face in the dark shadows of passion.
For it is not by our feet, nor by change of place, that
we either turn from thee or return to thee. That younger
son did not charter horses or chariots, or ships, or fly
away on visible wings, or journey by walking so that in
the far country he might prodigally waste all that thou
didst give him when he set out.
A kind Father when thou gavest; and kinder still when he
returned destitute! To be wanton, that is to say, to be
darkened in heart--this is to be far from thy face.
29. Look down, O Lord God, and see patiently, as thou art
wont to do, how diligently the sons of men observe the conventional
rules of letters and syllables, taught them by those who
learned their letters beforehand, while they neglect the
eternal rules of everlasting salvation taught by thee. They
carry it so far that if he who practices or teaches the
established rules of pronunciation should speak (contrary
to grammatical usage) without aspirating the first syllable
of "hominem" ["ominem," and thus make it "a
`uman being"], he will offend men more than if he, a human
being, were to hate another human being contrary
to thy commandments. It is as if he should feel that there
is an enemy who could be more destructive to himself than
that hatred which excites him against his fellow man; or
that he could destroy him whom he hates more completely
than he destroys his own soul by this same hatred. Now,
obviously, there is no knowledge of letters more innate
than the writing of conscience--against doing unto another
what one would not have done to himself.
How mysterious thou art, who "dwellest on high"
in silence. O thou, the only great God, who by an unwearied
law hurlest down the penalty of blindness to unlawful desire!
When a man seeking the reputation of eloquence stands before
a human judge, while a thronging multitude surrounds him,
and inveighs against his enemy with the most fierce hatred,
he takes most vigilant heed that his tongue does not slip
in a grammatical error, for example, and say inter hominibus
[instead of inter homines], but he takes no heed
lest, in the fury of his spirit, he cut off a man from his
fellow men [ex hominibus].
30. These were the customs in the midst of which I was cast,
an unhappy boy. This was the wrestling arena in which I
was more fearful of perpetrating a barbarism than, having
done so, of envying those who had not. These things I declare
and confess to thee, my God. I was applauded by those whom
I then thought it my whole duty to please, for I did not
perceive the gulf of infamy wherein I was cast away from
For in thy eyes, what was more infamous than I was already,
since I displeased even my own kind and deceived, with endless
lies, my tutor, my masters and parents--all from a love
of play, a craving for frivolous spectacles, a stage-struck
restlessness to imitate what I saw in these shows? I pilfered
from my parents' cellar and table, sometimes driven by gluttony,
sometimes just to have something to give to other boys in
exchange for their baubles, which they were prepared to
sell even though they liked them as well as I. Moreover,
in this kind of play, I often sought dishonest victories,
being myself conquered by the vain desire for pre-eminence.
And what was I so unwilling to endure, and what was it that
I censured so violently when I caught anyone, except the
very things I did to others? And, when I was myself detected
and censured, I preferred to quarrel rather than to yield.
Is this the innocence of childhood? It is not, O Lord, it
is not. I entreat thy mercy, O my God, for these same sins
as we grow older are transferred from tutors and masters;
they pass from nuts and balls and sparrows, to magistrates
and kings, to gold and lands and slaves, just as the rod
is succeeded by more severe chastisements. It was, then,
the fact of humility in childhood that thou, O our King,
didst approve as a symbol of humility when thou saidst,
"Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."
However, O Lord, to thee most excellent and most good, thou
Architect and Governor of the universe, thanks would be
due thee, O our God, even if thou hadst not willed that
I should survive my boyhood. For I existed even then; I
lived and felt and was solicitous about my own well-being--a
trace of that most mysterious unity from whence I had my
being.  I
kept watch, by my inner sense, over the integrity of my
outer senses, and even in these trifles and also in my thoughts
about trifles, I learned to take pleasure in truth. I was
averse to being deceived; I had a vigorous memory; I was
gifted with the power of speech, was softened by friendship,
shunned sorrow, meanness, ignorance. Is not such an animated
creature as this wonderful and praiseworthy? But all these
are gifts of my God; I did not give them to myself. Moreover,
they are good, and they all together constitute myself.
Good, then, is he that made me, and he is my God; and before
him will I rejoice exceedingly for every good gift which,
even as a boy, I had. But herein lay my sin, that it was
not in him, but in his creatures--myself and the rest--that
I sought for pleasures, honors, and truths. And I fell thereby
into sorrows, troubles, and errors. Thanks be to thee, my
joy, my pride, my confidence, my God--thanks be to thee
for thy gifts; but do thou preserve them in me. For thus
wilt thou preserve me; and those things which thou hast
given me shall be developed and perfected, and I myself
shall be with thee, for from thee is my being.