St. Augustine’s Confessions

I draw back in terror, I am on fire with longing: terror insofar as I am indifferent from it, longing in the degree of my likeness to it. It is Wisdom, Wisdom Itself, which in those moments shines upon me, cleaving through my cloud. And the cloud returns to wrap me round once more as my strength is beaten down under it’s darkness and the weight of my sins: for my strength is weakened by poverty, so that I can no longer support my good, until Thou, Lord who art merciful to my iniquities, shalt likewise heal my weakness: redeeming my life from corruption and crowning me with pity and compassion, and filling my desire with good things: my youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s. For we are saved by hope and we wait with patience for Thy promises. – Page 239.

That is just an example of the vivid and enthralling imagery used in Confessions. The Confessions of St. Augustine (translated by F.J. Sheed) take us through his tragedy-filled life with a soulful and poetic prose, questioning faith and the mind’s motivations. Such a beautiful book I have never read before, and it certainly deserves many more reads in the future. Although his explanations do drag on, he manages to address many aspects of the Catholic faith, and his journey through it, something wholly unknown of in the modern world. Apart from those meager sentences, it is very hard to describe the book. So I have picked out my favorite quotes from it so you can get a taste, and maybe even pick up the book for yourself.

The House of my soul is too small to receive Thee: let it be enlarged by Thee. It is all in ruins: do Thou repair it. There are things in it that must offend Thy gaze, I confess and know. – Page 5.

All this goes to prove that free curiosity is of more value to learning that harsh discipline. – Page 16.

With these men as companions of my immaturity, I was studying the books of eloquence; for in eloquence was my ambition to shine, all from a damnable vaingloriousness and for the satisfaction of human vanity. – Page 40.

Yet I walked through dark and slippery places, and I went out of myself to search for You, and did not find the God of my heart. I had come into the depths of the sea, and I had lost faith and all hope of discovering the truth. – Page 95.

But to You, O Fount of mercy, she multiplied her prayers and her tears that You should hasten Your help and enlighten my darkness: and she hastened to church more zealously than ever and drank in the words of Ambrose as a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting. – Page 96.

And he would go on to draw aside the veil of mystery and lay open the spiritual meaning of things which taken literally would have seemed to teach falsehood. – Page 99.

But as usually happens, the man who has tried a bad doctor is afraid to trust even a good one: so it was with the health of my soul, which could not be healed save by believing, and refused to be healed that way for fear of believing falsehood. – Page 99.

And amidst the bitter disappointments which through Your mercy followed all our worldly affairs, darkness clouded our souls as we tried to see why we suffered these things. – Page 108.

My heart which had held hear very dear was broken and wounded and shed blood. – Page 113.

But I asked further: “Who made me? Was it not my God, who is not only Good but Goodness itself? What root reason is there for my willing evil and failing to will good, which would make it just for me to be punished? Who was it that set and ingrafted in me this root of bitterness, since I was wholly made by my most loving God? If the devil is the author, where does the devil come from? And if by his own perverse will he was turned from a good angel into a devil, what was the origin in him of the perverse will by which he became a devil, since by the all-good Creator he was made wholly angel?” By such thoughts I was cast down again, and almost stifled; yet I was not brought down so far as the hell of that error, where no man confesses unto You, the error which holds rather that You sudder evil than that man does it. – Page 120.

Such thoughts I revolved in my unhappy heart, which was further burdened and gnawed at by the fear that I should die without having found the truth. But at least the faith of Your Christ, our Lord and Saviour, taught by the Catholic Church, stood firm in my heart, though on many points I was still uncertain and swerving from the norm of doctrine. Yet my mind did not forsake it, but drank more deeply with every day that passed. – Page 122.

And from the secret hand of Your healing my swollenness abated, and the troubled and darkened sight of my mind was daily made better by the stinging ointment of sorrow. – Page 126.

Now that my heart is healed of that wound in which there was perhaps too much of earthy affection, I pour forth to You, O our God, years of a very different sort for your handmaid – tears that flow from a spirit shaken by the thought of the perils there are for every soul that dies in Adam. – Page 183.

Let their breath come faster for the one, let them sigh for the other, and let the hymn of praise and the weeping rise up together in Your sight from Your censers which are the hearts of my brethren. – Page 191.

But what is it that I love when I love You? Not the beauty of any bodily thing, nor the order of the seasons, not the brightness of the light that rejoices the eye, nor the sweet melodies of all songs, nor the sweet fragrance of flowers and ointments and spices: not the manna nor honey, not the limbs that carnal love embraces. None of these things do I love when I love my God – the light and the voice and the fragrance and the food and the embrace in the soul, when that light shines upon my soul which no place can contain, that voice sounds which no time can take from me, I breathe that fragrance which no wind scatters, I eat the food which is not lessened by eating, and I lie in the embrace which satiety never comes to sunder. This is it that I love, when I love my God. – Page 193.

Thus, thus, even thus, does the human mind, blind and inert, vile and ill-behaved, desire to keep itself concealed, yet desire that nothing should be concealed from itself. – Page 209.

I draw back in terror, I am on fire with longing: terror insofar as I am indifferent from it, longing in the degree of my likeness to it. It is Wisdom, Wisdom Itself, which in those moments shines upon me, cleaving through my cloud. And the cloud returns to wrap me round once more as my strength is beaten down under it’s darkness and the weight of my sins: for my strength is weakened by poverty, so that I can no longer support my good, until Thou, Lord who art merciful to my iniquities, shalt likewise heal my weakness: redeeming my life from corruption and crowning me with pity and compassion, and filling my desire with good things: my youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s. For we are saved by hope and we wait with patience for Thy promises. – Page 239.

“What was God doing before He made heaven and earth?” I do not give a jesting answer – said to have been given by one who sought to evade the force of the question – “He was getting hell ready for people who pry too deep.” To poke fun at a questioneer is not to see the answer. My reply will be different, I would much rather say I don’t know when I don’t, than hold one up to ridicule who had asked a profound question and win applause for a worthless answer. – Page 241.

See me, O my God, I stand before You and I do not lie as my speech is, so is my heart. For Thou lightest my lamp, O Lord: O my God, enlighten my darkness. – Page 251.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s