Chapter XI.—Being Troubled by His Grievous Errors, He Meditates Entering on a New Life.
18. And I, puzzling over and reviewing these things, most marvelled at the length of time from that my nineteenth year, wherein I began to be inflamed with the desire of wisdom, resolving, when I had found her, to forsake all the empty hopes and lying insanities of vain desires. And behold, I was now getting on to my thirtieth year, sticking in the same mire, eager for the enjoyment of things present, which fly away and destroy me, whilst I say, “Tomorrow I shall discover it; behold, it will appear plainly, and I shall seize it; behold, Faustus will come and explain everything! O ye great men, ye Academicians, it is then true that nothing certain for the ordering of life can be attained! Nay, let us search the more diligently, and let us not despair. Lo, the things in the ecclesiastical books, which appeared to us absurd aforetime, do not appear so now, and may be otherwise and honestly interpreted. I will set my feet upon that step, where, as a child, my parents placed me, until the clear truth be discovered. But where and when shall it be sought? Ambrose has no leisure,—we have no leisure to read. Where are we to find the books? Whence or when procure them? From whom borrow them? Let set times be appointed, and certain hours be set apart for the health of the soul. Great hope has risen upon us, the Catholic faith doth not teach what we conceived, and vainly accused it of. Her learned ones hold it as an abomination to believe that God is limited by the form of a human body. And do we doubt to knock, in order that the rest may be opened? 468 The mornings are taken up by our scholars; how do we employ the rest of the day? Why do we not set about this? But when, then, pay our respects to our great friends, of whose favours we stand in need? When prepare what our scholars buy from us? When recreate ourselves, relaxing our minds from the pressure of care?”
19. “Perish everything, and let us dismiss these empty vanities, and betake ourselves solely to the search after truth! Life is miserable, death uncertain. If it creeps upon us suddenly, in what state shall we depart hence, and where shall we learn what we have neglected here? Or rather shall we not suffer the punishment of this negligence? What if death itself should cut off and put an end to all care and feeling? This also, then, must be inquired into. But God forbid that it should be so. It is not without reason, it is no empty thing, that the so eminent height of the authority of the Christian faith is diffused throughout the entire world. Never would such and so great things be wrought for us, if, by the death of the body, the life of the soul were destroyed. Why, therefore, do we delay to abandon our hopes of this world, and give ourselves wholly to seek after God and the blessed life? But stay! Even those things are enjoyable; and they possess some and no little sweetness. We must not abandon them lightly, for it would be a shame to return to them again. Behold, now is it a great matter to obtain some post of honour! And what more could we desire? We have crowds of influential friends, though we have nothing else, and if we make haste a presidentship may be offered us; and a wife with some money, that she increase not our expenses; and this shall be the height of desire. Many men, who are great and worthy of imitation, have applied themselves to the study of wisdom in the marriage state.”
20. Whilst I talked of these things, and these winds veered about and tossed my heart hither and thither, the time passed on; but I was slow to turn to the Lord, and from day to day deferred to live in Thee, and deferred not daily to die in myself. Being enamoured of a happy life, I yet feared it in its own abode, and, fleeing from it, sought after it. I conceived that I should be too unhappy were I deprived of the embracements of a woman; 469 and of Thy merciful medicine to cure that infirmity I thought not, not having tried it. As regards continency, I imagined it to be under the control of our own strength (though in myself I found it not), being so foolish as not to know what is written, that none can be continent unless Thou give it; 470 and that Thou wouldst give it, if with heartfelt groaning I should knock at Thine ears, and should with firm faith cast my care upon Thee.
“I was entangled in the life of this world, clinging to dull hopes of a beauteous wife, the pomp of riches, the emptiness of honours, and the other hurtful and destructive pleasures” (Aug. De Util. Credendi, sec. 3). “After I had shaken off the Manichæans and escaped, especially when I had crossed the sea, the Academics long detained me tossing in the waves, winds from all quarters beating against my helm. And so I came to this shore, and there found a pole-star to whom to entrust myself. For I often observed in the discourses of our priest [Ambrose], and sometimes in yours [Theodorus], that you had no corporeal notions when you thought of God, or even of the soul, which of all things is next to God. But I was withheld, I own, from casting myself speedily into the bosom of true wisdom by the alluring hopes of marriage and honours; meaning, when I had obtained these, to press (as few singularly happy, had before me) with oar and sail into that haven, and there rest” (Aug. De Vita Beata, sec. 4).—E. B. P.98:470
Wisd. 8.2, Vulg.