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concentrates here on his sixteenth year, a year of idleness, lust, and adolescent
mischief. The memory of stealing some pears prompts a deep probing of the
motives and aims of sinful acts. "I became to myself a wasteland."
1. I wish now to review in memory my past wickedness and the carnal corruptions
of my soul--not because I still love them, but that I may love thee, O my God.
For love of thy love I do this, recalling in the bitterness of self-examination
my wicked ways, that thou mayest grow sweet to me, thou sweetness without deception!
Thou sweetness happy and assured! Thus thou mayest gather me up out of those
fragments in which I was torn to pieces, while I turned away from thee, O Unity,
and lost myself among "the many."
For as I became a youth, I longed to be satisfied with worldly things, and I
dared to grow wild in a succession of various and shadowy loves. My form wasted
away, and I became corrupt in thy eyes, yet I was still pleasing to my own eyes--and
eager to please the eyes of men.
2. But what was it that delighted me save to love and to be loved? Still I did
not keep the moderate way of the love of mind to mind--the bright path of friendship.
Instead, the mists of passion steamed up out of the puddly concupiscence of
the flesh, and the hot imagination of puberty, and they so obscured and overcast
my heart that I was unable to distinguish pure affection from unholy desire.
Both boiled confusedly within me, and dragged my unstable youth down over the
cliffs of unchaste desires and plunged me into a gulf of infamy. Thy anger had
come upon me, and I knew it not. I had been deafened by the clanking of the
chains of my mortality, the punishment for my soul's pride, and I wandered farther
from thee, and thou didst permit me to do so. I was tossed to and fro, and wasted,
and poured out, and I boiled over in my fornications--and yet thou didst hold
thy peace, O my tardy Joy! Thou didst still hold thy peace, and I wandered still
farther from thee into more and yet more barren fields of sorrow, in proud dejection
and restless lassitude.
3. If only there had been someone to regulate my disorder and turn to my profit
the fleeting beauties of the things around me, and to fix a bound to their sweetness,
so that the tides of my youth might have spent themselves upon the shore of
marriage! Then they might have been tranquilized and satisfied with having children,
as thy law prescribes, O Lord--O thou who dost form the offspring of our death
and art able also with a tender hand to blunt the thorns which were excluded
from thy paradise! For thy omnipotence
is not far from us even when we are far from thee. Now, on the other hand, I
might have given more vigilant heed to the voice from the clouds: "Nevertheless,
such shall have trouble in the flesh, but I spare you," and, "It is good for a man not to
touch a woman," and, "He that is unmarried cares for
the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that
is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his
wife." I should have listened more attentively
to these words, and, thus having been "made a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven's
sake," I would have with greater happiness
expected thy embraces.
4. But, fool that I was, I foamed in my wickedness as the sea and, forsaking
thee, followed the rushing of my own tide, and burst out of all thy bounds.
But I did not escape thy scourges. For what mortal can do so? Thou wast always
by me, mercifully angry and flavoring all my unlawful pleasures with bitter
discontent, in order that I might seek pleasures free from discontent. But where
could I find such pleasure save in thee, O Lord--save in thee, who dost teach
us by sorrow, who woundest us to heal us, and dost kill us that we may not die
apart from thee. Where was I, and how far was I exiled from the delights of
thy house, in that sixteenth year of the age of my flesh, when the madness of
lust held full sway in me--that madness which grants indulgence to human shamelessness,
even though it is forbidden by thy laws--and I gave myself entirely to it? Meanwhile,
my family took no care to save me from ruin by marriage, for their sole care
was that I should learn how to make a powerful speech and become a persuasive
5. Now, in that year my studies were interrupted. I had come back from Madaura,
a neighboring city where I had
gone to study grammar and rhetoric; and the money for a further term at Carthage
was being got together for me. This project was more a matter of my father's
ambition than of his means, for he was only a poor citizen of Tagaste.
To whom am I narrating all this? Not to thee, O my God, but to my own kind in
thy presence--to that small part of the human race who may chance to come upon
these writings. And to what end? That I and all who read them may understand
what depths there are from which we are to cry unto thee. For what is more surely heard in thy
ear than a confessing heart and a faithful life?
Who did not extol and praise my father, because he went quite beyond his means
to supply his son with the necessary expenses for a far journey in the interest
of his education? For many far richer citizens did not do so much for their
children. Still, this same father troubled himself not at all as to how I was
progressing toward thee nor how chaste I was, just so long as I was skillful
in speaking--no matter how barren I was to thy tillage, O God, who art the one
true and good Lord of my heart, which is thy field.
6. During that sixteenth year of my age, I lived with my parents, having a holiday
from school for a time--this idleness imposed upon me by my parents' straitened
finances. The thornbushes of lust grew rank about my head, and there was no
hand to root them out. Indeed, when my father saw me one day at the baths and
perceived that I was becoming a man, and was showing the signs of adolescence,
he joyfully told my mother about it as if already looking forward to grandchildren,
rejoicing in that sort of inebriation in which the world so often forgets thee,
its Creator, and falls in love with thy creature instead of thee--the inebriation
of that invisible wine of a perverted will which turns and bows down to infamy.
But in my mother's breast thou hadst already begun to build thy temple and the
foundation of thy holy habitation--whereas my father was only a catechumen,
and that but recently. She was, therefore, startled with a holy fear and trembling:
for though I had not yet been baptized, she feared those crooked ways in which
they walk who turn their backs to thee and not their faces.
7. Woe is me! Do I dare affirm that thou didst hold thy peace, O my God, while
I wandered farther away from thee? Didst thou really then hold thy peace? Then
whose words were they but thine which by my mother, thy faithful handmaid, thou
didst pour into my ears? None of them, however, sank into my heart to make me
do anything. She deplored and, as I remember, warned me privately with great
solicitude, "not to commit fornication; but above all things never to defile
another man's wife." These appeared to me but womanish counsels, which I would
have blushed to obey. Yet they were from thee, and I knew it not. I thought
that thou wast silent and that it was only she who spoke. Yet it was through
her that thou didst not keep silence toward me; and in rejecting her counsel
I was rejecting thee--I, her son, "the son of thy handmaid, thy servant." But I did not realize this, and rushed
on headlong with such blindness that, among my friends, I was ashamed to be
less shameless than they, when I heard them boasting of their disgraceful exploits--yes,
and glorying all the more the worse their baseness was. What is worse, I took
pleasure in such exploits, not for the pleasure's sake only but mostly for praise.
What is worthy of vituperation except vice itself? Yet I made myself out worse
than I was, in order that I might not go lacking for praise. And when in anything
I had not sinned as the worst ones in the group, I would still say that I had
done what I had not done, in order not to appear contemptible because I was
more innocent than they; and not to drop in their esteem because I was more
8. Behold with what companions I walked the streets of Babylon! I rolled in
its mire and lolled about on it, as if on a bed of spices and precious ointments.
And, drawing me more closely to the very center of that city, my invisible enemy
trod me down and seduced me, for I was easy to seduce. My mother had already
fled out of the midst of Babylon
and was progressing, albeit slowly, toward its outskirts. For in counseling
me to chastity, she did not bear in mind what her husband had told her about
me. And although she knew that my passions were destructive even then and dangerous
for the future, she did not think they should be restrained by the bonds of
conjugal affection--if, indeed, they could not be cut away to the quick. She
took no heed of this, for she was afraid lest a wife should prove a hindrance
and a burden to my hopes. These were not her hopes of the world to come, which
my mother had in thee, but the hope of learning, which both my parents were
too anxious that I should acquire--my father, because he had little or no thought
of thee, and only vain thoughts for me; my mother, because she thought that
the usual course of study would not only be no hindrance but actually a furtherance
toward my eventual return to thee. This much I conjecture, recalling as well
as I can the temperaments of my parents. Meantime, the reins of discipline were
slackened on me, so that without the restraint of due severity, I might play
at whatsoever I fancied, even to the point of dissoluteness. And in all this
there was that mist which shut out from my sight the brightness of thy truth,
O my God; and my iniquity bulged out, as it were, with fatness!
9. Theft is punished by thy law, O Lord, and by the law written in men's hearts,
which not even ingrained wickedness can erase. For what thief will tolerate
another thief stealing from him? Even a rich thief will not tolerate a poor
thief who is driven to theft by want. Yet I had a desire to commit robbery,
and did so, compelled to it by neither hunger nor poverty, but through a contempt
for well-doing and a strong impulse to iniquity. For I pilfered something which
I already had in sufficient measure, and of much better quality. I did not desire
to enjoy what I stole, but only the theft and the sin itself.
There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which
was not tempting either for its color or for its flavor. Late one night--having
prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was--a group
of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried
off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs,
after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more
because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart--which
thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess
to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having
no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved
my own undoing. I loved my error--not that for which I erred but the error itself.
A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself,
seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.
10. Now there is a comeliness in all beautiful bodies, and in gold and silver
and all things. The sense of touch has its own power to please and the other
senses find their proper objects in physical sensation. Worldly honor also has
its own glory, and so do the powers to command and to overcome: and from these
there springs up the desire for revenge. Yet, in seeking these pleasures, we
must not depart from thee, O Lord, nor deviate from thy law. The life which
we live here has its own peculiar attractiveness because it has a certain measure
of comeliness of its own and a harmony with all these inferior values. The bond
of human friendship has a sweetness of its own, binding many souls together
as one. Yet because of these values, sin is committed, because we have an inordinate
preference for these goods of a lower order and neglect the better and the higher
good--neglecting thee, O our Lord God, and thy truth and thy law. For these
inferior values have their delights, but not at all equal to my God, who hath
made them all. For in him do the righteous delight and he is the sweetness of
the upright in heart.
11. When, therefore, we inquire why a crime was committed, we do not accept
the explanation unless it appears that there was the desire to obtain some of
those values which we designate inferior, or else a fear of losing them. For
truly they are beautiful and comely, though in comparison with the superior
and celestial goods they are abject and contemptible. A man has murdered another
man--what was his motive? Either he desired his wife or his property or else
he would steal to support himself; or else he was afraid of losing something
to him; or else, having been injured, he was burning to be revenged. Would a
man commit murder without a motive, taking delight simply in the act of murder?
Who would believe such a thing? Even for that savage and brutal man [Catiline],
of whom it was said that he was gratuitously wicked and cruel, there is still
a motive assigned to his deeds. "Lest through idleness," he says, "hand or heart
should grow inactive." And to
what purpose? Why, even this: that, having once got possession of the city through
his practice of his wicked ways, he might gain honors, empire, and wealth, and
thus be exempt from the fear of the laws and from financial difficulties in
supplying the needs of his family--and from the consciousness of his own wickedness.
So it seems that even Catiline himself loved not his own villainies, but something
else, and it was this that gave him the motive for his crimes.
12. What was it in you, O theft of mine, that I, poor wretch, doted on--you
deed of darkness--in that sixteenth year of my age? Beautiful you were not,
for you were a theft. But are you anything at all, so that I could analyze the
case with you? Those pears that we stole were fair to the sight because they
were thy creation, O Beauty beyond compare, O Creator of all, O thou good God--God
the highest good and my true good.
Those pears were truly pleasant to the sight, but it was not for them that my
miserable soul lusted, for I had an abundance of better pears. I stole those
simply that I might steal, for, having stolen them, I threw them away. My sole
gratification in them was my own sin, which I was pleased to enjoy; for, if
any one of these pears entered my mouth, the only good flavor it had was my
sin in eating it. And now, O Lord my God, I ask what it was in that theft of
mine that caused me such delight; for behold it had no beauty of its own--certainly
not the sort of beauty that exists in justice and wisdom, nor such as is in
the mind, memory senses, and the animal life of man; nor yet the kind that is
the glory and beauty of the stars in their courses; nor the beauty of the earth,
or the sea--teeming with spawning life, replacing in birth that which dies and
decays. Indeed, it did not have that false and shadowy beauty which attends
the deceptions of vice.
13. For thus we see pride wearing the mask of high-spiritedness, although only
thou, O God, art high above all. Ambition seeks honor and glory, whereas only
thou shouldst be honored above all, and glorified forever. The powerful man
seeks to be feared, because of his cruelty; but who ought really to be feared
but God only? What can be forced away or withdrawn out of his power--when or
where or whither or by whom? The enticements of the wanton claim the name of
love; and yet nothing is more enticing than thy love, nor is anything loved
more healthfully than thy truth, bright and beautiful above all. Curiosity prompts
a desire for knowledge, whereas it is only thou who knowest all things supremely.
Indeed, ignorance and foolishness themselves go masked under the names of simplicity
and innocence; yet there is no being that has true simplicity like thine, and
none is innocent as thou art. Thus it is that by a sinner's own deeds he is
himself harmed. Human sloth pretends to long for rest, but what sure rest is
there save in the Lord? Luxury would fain be called plenty and abundance; but
thou art the fullness and unfailing abundance of unfading joy. Prodigality presents
a show of liberality; but thou art the most lavish giver of all good things.
Covetousness desires to possess much; but thou art already the possessor of
all things. Envy contends that its aim is for excellence; but what is so excellent
as thou? Anger seeks revenge; but who avenges more justly than thou? Fear recoils
at the unfamiliar and the sudden changes which threaten things beloved, and
is wary for its own security; but what can happen that is unfamiliar or sudden
to thee? Or who can deprive thee of what thou lovest? Where, really, is there
unshaken security save with thee? Grief languishes for things lost in which
desire had taken delight, because it wills to have nothing taken from it, just
as nothing can be taken from thee.
14. Thus the soul commits fornication when she is turned from thee, and seeks apart from thee what she
cannot find pure and untainted until she returns to thee. All things thus imitate
thee--but pervertedly--when they separate themselves far from thee and raise
themselves up against thee. But, even in this act of perverse imitation, they
acknowledge thee to be the Creator of all nature, and recognize that there is
no place whither they can altogether separate themselves from thee. What was
it, then, that I loved in that theft? And wherein was I imitating my Lord, even
in a corrupted and perverted way? Did I wish, if only by gesture, to rebel against
thy law, even though I had no power to do so actually--so that, even as a captive,
I might produce a sort of counterfeit liberty, by doing with impunity deeds
that were forbidden, in a deluded sense of omnipotence? Behold this servant
of thine, fleeing from his Lord and following a shadow! O rottenness! O monstrousness
of life and abyss of death! Could I find pleasure only in what was unlawful,
and only because it was unlawful?
15. "What shall I render unto the Lord"
for the fact that while my memory recalls these things my soul no longer fears
them? I will love thee, O Lord, and thank thee, and confess to thy name, because
thou hast put away from me such wicked and evil deeds. To thy grace I attribute
it and to thy mercy, that thou hast melted away my sin as if it were ice. To
thy grace also I attribute whatsoever of evil I did not commit--for what
might I not have done, loving sin as I did, just for the sake of sinning? Yea,
all the sins that I confess now to have been forgiven me, both those which I
committed willfully and those which, by thy providence, I did not commit. What
man is there who, when reflecting upon his own infirmity, dares to ascribe his
chastity and innocence to his own powers, so that he should love thee less--as
if he were in less need of thy mercy in which thou forgivest the transgressions
of those that return to thee? As for that man who, when called by thee, obeyed
thy voice and shunned those things which he here reads of me as I recall and
confess them of myself, let him not despise me--for I, who was sick, have been
healed by the same Physician by whose aid it was that he did not fall sick,
or rather was less sick than I. And for this let him love thee just as much--indeed,
all the more--since he sees me restored from such a great weakness of sin by
the selfsame Saviour by whom he sees himself preserved from such a weakness.
16. What profit did I, a wretched one, receive from those things which, when
I remember them now, cause me shame--above all, from that theft, which I loved
only for the theft's sake? And, as the theft itself was nothing, I was all the
more wretched in that I loved it so. Yet by myself alone I would not have done
it--I still recall how I felt about this then--I could not have done it alone.
I loved it then because of the companionship of my accomplices with whom I did
it. I did not, therefore, love the theft alone--yet, indeed, it was only the
theft that I loved, for the companionship was nothing. What is this paradox?
Who is it that can explain it to me but God, who illumines my heart and searches
out the dark corners thereof? What is it that has prompted my mind to inquire
about it, to discuss and to reflect upon all this? For had I at that time loved
the pears that I stole and wished to enjoy them, I might have done so alone,
if I could have been satisfied with the mere act of theft by which my pleasure
was served. Nor did I need to have that itching of my own passions inflamed
by the encouragement of my accomplices. But since the pleasure I got was not
from the pears, it was in the crime itself, enhanced by the companionship of
my fellow sinners.
17. By what passion, then, was I animated? It was undoubtedly depraved and a
great misfortune for me to feel it. But still, what was it? "Who can understand
We laughed because our hearts were tickled at the thought of deceiving the owners,
who had no idea of what we were doing and would have strenuously objected. Yet,
again, why did I find such delight in doing this which I would not have done
alone? Is it that no one readily laughs alone? No one does so readily; but still
sometimes, when men are by themselves and no one else is about, a fit of laughter
will overcome them when something very droll presents itself to their sense
or mind. Yet alone I would not have done it--alone I could not have done it
Behold, my God, the lively review of my soul's career is laid bare before thee.
I would not have committed that theft alone. My pleasure in it was not what
I stole but, rather, the act of stealing. Nor would I have enjoyed doing it
alone--indeed I would not have done it! O friendship all unfriendly! You strange
seducer of the soul, who hungers for mischief from impulses of mirth and wantonness,
who craves another's loss without any desire for one's own profit or revenge--so
that, when they say, "Let's go, let's do it," we are ashamed not to be shameless.
18. Who can unravel such a twisted and tangled knottiness? It is unclean. I
hate to reflect upon it. I hate to look on it. But I do long for thee, O Righteousness
and Innocence, so beautiful and comely to all virtuous eyes--I long for thee
with an insatiable satiety. With thee is perfect rest, and life unchanging.
He who enters into thee enters into the joy of his Lord, and shall have no fear and shall achieve
excellence in the Excellent. I fell away from thee, O my God, and in my youth
I wandered too far from thee, my true support. And I became to myself a wasteland.