“Confessions” by Augustine
I. [Addressed to God] You should be praised because of your infinite power and wisdom. Man is so little, sinful and proud. But at least we have the ability to look to you. You made us but you made our hearts restless. Should I call on you first or praise you first? Should I call on you to know you? There’s a lot to praise and believe about you. Faith is inspiring. I feel God because of Jesus and his teachings.
II. Is praising you bringing you into the room? Where would you be if you weren’t already there? Are you in me? You must be because you’re everywhere. I should stop looking then. What was going on with me before I didn’t believe? You were in me, because you’re everywhere, but I didn’t believe in you. I’m glad I’m not in hell but you’d be there too. God is everywhere at all times.
III. Are you in heaven and on earth? Can they contain you fully? If you’re infinite, then you must spill over into other places. If all things individually cannot contain you, then where’s the rest of you?
IV. What are you? What word could you use to describe God other than ‘God’? You are omnipotent, most good, most just, most hidden, most strong, most stable and unchangeable, all-changing, never new, never old, renewing, ever-working, ever-resting, always creating, nurturing, nourishing, maturing. You never grieve, always love but without passion. Always jealous but without anxiety. You always find but never lose, never need but always gain. It is good to have you around.
V. I’d like to take a nap on you. You’d come into my heart and inebriate me. I’d forget all the heavy shit of the world and embrace you. What is it about me that is actually you at work? I’d like you to teach me to know and to talk about it. What am I to you that you’d want my love? And when I don’t love you, why should that upset you? Speak to my soul about salvation and what you can do for me. Show yourself to me. I would give anything for that.
VI. Allow little ol’ me to ask for your mercy. I speak to you, not to shitty man. You might even hate what I am but you will do it anyway. You gave me life and nourishment through my parents. I realize now that you were working through them. You gave me everything when I was a baby, completely unable to understand you or even see you. When I was able to think and sense, I did not see you. I was barely able to think of anything other than what my bodily needs and desires were. You helped me to grow through the help of my parents and nurses.
Now my childhood has long since passed. But to you it must just seem like the blink of an eye has passed. You live through all time and it is nothing to you. But what was I before my infancy? What was before I was in my mother’s womb? Nobody’s been able to tell me anything about that. So, thank you, God, for allowing me to be born and grow up. Can a man truly be the maker of himself when you, the source of all life and wisdom, are around? Man must seem like a stream of short mortal nothings to you. What is time to you? We must be content just to know you exist, rather than know more about you because our brains are so tiny to understand.
VII. You made us but we humans are pretty sinful. But then who would remind someone of the sins of his infancy? What was my sin when I was a baby? That I cried when I wanted to be nursed? If I did something like that at my age, I’d be laughed at and ridiculed. What was it about my childhood that was so sinful? We don’t do that to child but at some point as a human grows, he is able to be criticized. As we age, we seem to throw away what is good. When we are infants, we are innocent but that is a weakness. I’ve seen babies get jealous and angry at those who do something to upset them. Some mothers and nurses know how to deal with this but I don’t. These evils might seem small but they tend to grow over time, as the child grows. So, you gave me childhood, senses and a tiny body. These were for my own good and commanded me to use them for my own good and to revel in your name and goodness and I did not do that. I can’t remember being this age so I have to rely on other people’s accounts of it. But if I was nasty as a baby, when was I ever guiltless and innocent?
VIII. On to boyhood. I don’t recall there being any discrete change from being a baby to being a boy. I remember learning to speak and learning new words. I wasn’t being taught explicitly but I learned from hearing others talk to me and talk to each other. When I was unable to understand things and unable to express myself, I reverted to my infantile behavior expressing desire, frustration, pain and jealousy the way a baby did. As I began to learn more, I was able to use language to communicate my needs, wants and emotions.
IX. But as I began to learn and master the science of the tongue, I began to use it for bad things – the praise of man and his accomplishments. When I was learning, I was praised when I succeed and beaten when I failed. This system is as old as time, all the way back to Adam. But when men called to you, they taught us to think of you, someone beyond our senses but that you could sense us. So, when I was a boy I learned to pray to you for help but mostly out of not wanting to be beaten at school.
Are we all just clinging to you and praying to you out of habit or are there really people so devoted to you that the thought of not having you is way more painful to them than any instrument of torture? We prayed to you to relieve us of our physical pain but so rarely do we do so for our spiritual pain. When we were children, we did not get any pleasure from prayer and your presence but from physical pleasure and playing. The pain is put upon us when we displease the elders. But when I was beaten for preferring to play ball instead of doing my studies, it only made me hate school more and enjoy playing more.
X. But I was a sinner. I sinned by not listening to my parents and teachers. Whatever their intentions were, I’m sure it was of some good. I disobeyed not because I had something better in mind but because I wanted to play, win in my games and hear stories rather than do work. Please forgive me for that. Please deliver those who ask for it and those who have not yet asked for it but help them to ask for it.
XI. As a boy, I had heard of eternal life offered to us by God, even stooping down to our pride, even in our mother’s womb. When I was born a cross was put on me with some holy salt. I was very sick as a child and my mother was about to rush my baptism when I suddenly recovered. It seems that because I had not been baptized yet, that the sins just kept piling up. Everybody in the family was a Christian at this point, except my father. Mom was definitely the more pious of the two. You helped her to prevail over Dad in my religious upbringing.
Why do you think my baptism was delayed? Was it good to expose me to a predilection to sin? Life was much better for me after my baptism. But I had a great deal of hangover from those times in my penchant for sinning. But Mom knew about this and it made me what I am today.
XII. I hated studying and hated even more to be forced to do it. It was for the best that I was forced because otherwise I would never have learned. It was good to be made to learn but that came from you rather than my teachers. They had requirements to fulfill and wanted to avoid the shame of failing at their jobs. But you actually wanted me to learn and helped the process along, didn’t you? When I was punished, I was done so justly.
XIII. I wonder why I hated studying Greek as a boy. I loved Latin but mostly for the grammar. I don’t think I hated anything more than Greek lessons. It must have been from sin and vanity. But once I was able to catch on to things, it got a lot better. I still remember the lessons to this day. I liked reading about Aeneas and but didn’t like reading that Dido killed herself out of love because that was very sad. It made me feel far from the joy of you, God. I feel a lot of shame of devoting myself so intensely to the Aeneid rather than to you. I suppose the grammar lessons went along with the reading but I probably shouldn’t have been such a little shit. I guess I’ll always be a sinner because I love the Aeneid so much. I guess the love for the book allowed me to overcome the sin of not doing my work by making me eager to do it.
XIV. I really hated Homer. I guess Greek kids would have a hard time with Virgil and would hate him as a consequence. Learning foreign languages is hard enough without the threat of beatings if I failed at it. How I really was able to master Latin, my native language, is through the day-to-day use of it. From my parents, nurses, friends and people around town. Very little of that was done in a class room and so there was less pressure on me. Usually force is a way to keep us from worldly pleasures and to maintain focus on God and his laws. So maybe the beatings were the only way to make sure I learned.
XV. Lord, listen. Please don’t let me collapse in your presence. Please don’t let me fail to bring myself away from all my wickedness, so I can love you as purely and completely as possible. Whatever your role was in my childhood it must have been you that really helped me to speak, read, hear and write. I’m sorry for reveling in my vanities. Please let what I have learned be useful to reach you.
XVI. I’ll bet you’re tired of people standing up to you. How long have people been trying to compare themselves to your greatness? I read about Jove (Jupiter/Zeus), the thunderer and adulterer. Our school masters told us that Homer wrote his stories to bring the divine to the people. But the problem with that is that gods seem to be imitating the wickedness usually found in men. But instilling wickedness in kids from the examples of the gods is the price we pay for drilling that crap into unwilling kids’ heads. If putting gods as lustful beings is really the only way to get kids to learn then we should rethink the school system.
XVII. Stay with me, God, while I big myself up a bit. But that’s mostly down to you giving me my talents (You see how that works? If I’m good at something it’s because you gave me that gift). One thing that bothered him was a speech that Juno gave in the Aeneid. I was able to remember that, with all the emotion and that. I won an award for that. I wonder why I was good at remembering that. But was there nothing else I could have used those talents for other than parroting the words of a bawdy poetry teaching kids that gods are wicked?
XVII. I must admit that I was very proud of myself for that. But isn’t it silly that the award was for being able to recite the text properly without any attention to horrible shit I was reciting? Something worthy of praise would be to speak the truth about God, how wonder you are. The only way that we really do ourselves any injury or pain is when we turn away from you, not speaking poorly. Some people pay attention to closely to rules and completely ignore the spirit of what is good and bad.
The focus on speech is a good example of that. We criticize people when they mispronounce words or use the wrong grammar. I know having speech all done nicely is a good thing but to reproach someone for slipping in his speech is out of line. Furthermore, you could say most hateful and horrible things but as long as they are said well, it seems that that is all that matters to people.
That was the world I lived in as a child. I was afraid of being seen as a barbarian, not being able to speak right, rather than concentrating on doing the right thing. I know you know all of this but it seems silly that I was so obsessed with being seen as a good boy rather than actually being one. Appearances were so important that I began to hide my sinful actions, like stealing envying others, lying to everyone around me, etc. When I was caught doing anything wrong, I chose to fight the fact rather than confessing what I had done and changing myself. But then again all of this sinful behavior was taught to me by everyone around me. I know that’s no excuse, but it’s good to get to the root of the problem to stop it from happening again.
I was as sinful when I was a kid as I am now. So, I won’t try to pass off all of this behavior as youthful follies. But the real point of all of this was that I did not know that what I was doing was sinful. Perhaps it was beyond my understanding. Perhaps I was just unable to see what I was doing wrong and how to fix it. But you gave me what I needed to change things. It wasn’t a bad childhood. The sin was in looking to understand things by looking everywhere else apart from you.
I. Let’s review how I’ve been a naughty boy. Not because I’m happy about what I’ve done but because I want to love you. I want to confess what I have done in my past in order to come clean to you.
II. What was it that I did that was so bad? I wanted to love and be loved. But the pleasures of the flesh definitely were more important to me than the joys of my heart. My wicked ways were mostly just about fornication. I wonder how it felt for you to watch all that and all the pain that it did to you. It was no way to live my life.
Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so bad if I had gotten married. Marriage tends to calm young guys down. It also would have allowed me to do the same thing I was doing but without the sinning because I’d be having sex in the way you had meant it to be: for procreation. I should have listened to all the warnings about the pleasures of the flesh and how they are sinful but I didn’t. I turned away from you and broke your rules. I know I was only 16 years old but that is old enough to overcome the temptation of lust.
III. It was that same year, when I was 16 years old, that my studies were interrupted. The cost of studying was a bit too much for the family so I had to take a break while my father could rustle up some more money so I could carry on. My father sent me to school so that I could be a better speaker. He didn’t really care how chaste I was or how close I was with God.
That 16th year I spent back with my parents. I didn’t have a whole lot to do. That idleness led directly to my horniness. Dad caught a peak of me sporting wood at a public. He was pretty happy about it because he thought that it would lead to him having grandkids. He told Mom about it and that got her fairly upset. I hadn’t been baptized yet and she was worried that all that sinning was going to be a bigger problem than if I had been baptized.
I wonder what this whole period of my life was all about. My mother was upset and warned me not to defile another man’s wife. It might have been my mother actually saying that but I know that that was really you. My friends and I would try to one-up each other bragging about our sins. I seemed to get more pleasure out of the bragging and praise than the actual act itself. In fact, this led me to make up some acts to my friends in order to not to be thought not manly enough. The goal was to be the least chaste as possible.
My friends and I walked the streets of “Babylon” and really reveled in the whole business. I was easy prey to all the sinful behavior. My mother tried to point me away from all this but wasn’t able. I wish that she had been more forceful with her opinions to convince me to do otherwise. She was thinking that marriage, which would have gotten me off this path, would have slowed my studies down. She’s right but stopping the sinning was more important than my studies.
IV. I was also a bit of a thief. I was more into the thrill of stealing than actually getting the thing I was taking. I didn’t actually need the things that I stole. I used to take pears from next door’s pear tree. They weren’t even that good. My buddies and I would go by late at night, steal bushels full, take one bite and fling the rest to the pigs. That was pretty fucked up for us to do. I was attracted to the sin itself, not the fruit of the sin.
V. Gold and silver have a special attractive quality about them. But they’re not really the most important thing. In trying to get these things, we must not deviate from our course to follow your rules. In between the lowest, worldly possessions, and the highest, being with God and following his rules, is human friendship and relations. So often the higher order goods are put in a lower preference behind the desire for lower goods. So many terrible acts and sins are committed for the sake of lower things. Murder and stealing a committed in order to maintain a status in society or in order to improve it. But that doesn’t make sense because one’s status is not as important as being with God. By committing sins, we are turning away from God, the highest good, in order to improve the lower goods.
VI. I really loved stealing. But I think that love for stealing had something deeper behind it. I wasn’t after the pears themselves. The sin of theft has got something in common with all the other types of sin. Pride is another one. Pride is merely the placing of oneself up high up near God. Proud people wish to have the height and the power of God. But let’s be honest, they’ll never get there. Curiosity is the desire to know, to become closer to the omniscience of God. But we’ll never get there. In fact, curiosity is a trait that borders on pride because we are trying to place ourselves higher and higher. Prodigality (wasteful excess) puts us on a level with God but nobody could ever become as lavish as God. Covetousness is the desire to have more and more, to have the abundance that God has. Envy is the push for excellence. But who could be more excellent than you? Anger is looking for revenge. But who could have better and more just vengeance than God? Grief is longing for something that has been lost. But without God, we have nothing. With God, we can never lose anything.
All of these feelings, all of these sins are the human’s attempt to place himself at God’s level. Since we are so lowly and imperfect, we can never be at God’s level. All of these sins and feelings are to be avoided if we wish to be closer to God and in his good graces.
VII. The only thing that we can give God is our love. In return for our love and devotion, he will give grace – the forgiveness of our sins. Keeping ourselves away from sinful acts allows us to experience God in as close to a pure form as possible. Finding God prevents us from committing sins. Forgiveness of sins is like being cured of a disease by a doctor. We can still thank the doctor for our good health even when we haven’t had a disease.
VIII. I really liked stealing those pears. Like I said earlier, it wasn’t so much the pears themselves that I enjoyed so much. It was more of the camaraderie I experienced with my fellow thieves. Perhaps I wouldn’t have stolen at all if I didn’t have friends around encouraging me to do so.
IX. I guess that the real sin was enjoying the sin of stealing. Why was that such a joy to me? If we had all just stayed alone, I doubt very much any one of us would have committed the sin in the first place. Friendship’s usually a good thing but it can cause you to do bad things.
X. How can you untangle all the knots of sin and where it leads you? I suppose it doesn’t matter because a man who finds God will follow a great path in life.
I. I went down to Carthage, that cesspool of sin. I went there looking for love, emotional and physical. As I think back on it now, I really had a hole inside of me. Everything that I indulged myself in was detrimental to the health of my soul. The more love I got the better it felt to me. But I realize now that this wasn’t really love in the true sense of the word. These were just sexual desires based in sin.
II. I also liked going to plays. I particularly liked tragedies. I think that is because watching them made me feel a great sense of pity for the characters. This pity made me feel good because it made me feel like a good person for feeling bad for someone going through a bad time. But that doesn’t make sense. We all hate going through that shit. So, why don’t we hate watching other go through it? The contradiction of that must mean that these sorts of plays and probably theater in general are pretty wicked. That is because it makes us delight in awful things and corrupts our souls.
III. I’m pretty lucky that you are merciful because boy, I sure loved to sin. I even did my sinning inside the church. I did suffer from time to time because of that and I deserved it. The studies that I was doing at the time were in law. I was really good at my studies. The fact that I was good at my studies got me heaps of praise. And that inevitably led my ego to become very inflated. There was a group of youngsters in Carthage called “the Subverters” I knew fairly well. I longed to be in their fold as they spent a lot of their free time attacking strangers and mocking others. They were horrible but, boy, did I want to be one of them.
IV. During those days of sin, I studied many great books. I was studying these things to inflate my ego, to get myself more praise and more attention. While reading all these big books, I stumbled across a book by Cicero. I instantly fell in love with it. The book was “Hortensius”. This started me down my path to you. It was this book that made me realize that wisdom was immortal and my heart should be filled with warmth and not vanity. My mother was taking care of me then because my father had died 2 years before. It was this book that not just filled me with the ability to speak well but I took the subject matter to heart.
This work got me on the road of philosophy and the search for the truth. We seek knowledge and the ability to speak not to fluff ourselves up but to build ourselves to understand the truth in its various forms. That led me to search for the truth, which led me to Christ and to you.
V. I began to read the scriptures. I’ll be completely honest with you, I wasn’t really that impressed with them. The language was mysterious and having to dig for deeper meanings was a bit strange. It definitely was nowhere near on the level of Cicero.
VI. I began to get involved with people who were looking for the truth, but it was an empty sort of truth. It was dividing the world into light and dark, representing good and evil. They were giving me a dish that was called the “truth” but it was not nourishing in the way only the truth can be. They relied on the sun and the moon as real divine bodies. These were just fantasies that they were projecting good and evil onto. It was a bit of a reach, honestly. You are a spiritual substance and not something specifically manifest in certain physical characteristics. I wonder what you were thinking about me in that phase of my life. I was better off being tortured by my Greek teachers in school than listening to that shit.
I much preferred the stories from mythology that you could draw lessons from without having to believe every single little detail. The strong fixation on tales being true and real were drawn from the Greek mythology, as well as the Book of Proverbs. Something you’ve got to be able to spot a metaphor when it’s used.
VII. I did have a lot of questions about you. I didn’t have any answers when the deceivers asked me where evil came from, what your body looks like, if you had hair and fingernails and if you were any holier if you had more wives and sacrificed animals. Rather than running away from that craziness, I ran towards it. It was all very new to me and very strange.
I didn’t know how to deal with what I read in the Old Testament. What I read about your relationship with Isaac and Moses didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But what I feel must be true is that as time moves on, your rules are like rooms of a house. When we pass from one room to another, the rules can change but that doesn’t stop it from being all one house. Justice itself doesn’t change over time but nations and society do. We must understand when the times change and the rules change.
Like I said, it was all very confusing to me. I didn’t see people following the laws of God but slavishly adhering to minor details that were often contradictory to each other as well as my perception of righteousness without the Scriptures.
VIII. Can you love your neighbor and love God completely and have that be unrighteous? That is not contradictory. But if the laws are established that they are contradictory, then the laws are wrong, not God’s laws. When earthly laws go against divine laws, the earthly laws are wrong. If a king changes the rules just to suit his own personal desires that doesn’t make them right. He’s fiddled with the definition of what’s legal but cannot change what’s moral.
Violence is also wrong. It’s not a direct attack on God and his laws but it is a form of lust and self-gratification because in acts of violence, we are feeding our desire to improve our status, our material wealth and we are harming the souls that God has created and given to others. It is an indirect attack on God by harming humanity. To love God is to love what he has created.
IX. God isn’t necessarily straightforward. That is, what he deems good or just may often conflict with our ideas of what is legal or moral in our society. It also works the other way around. What society allows us or even encourages us to do doesn’t necessarily fit into God’s definition of what is good and just. Every now and again, God will change what is good and just. When he does, we are now able to do some things weren’t allowed to do before and we are now forbidden to do things he was perfectly cool with before. God changes his mind and we just have to live with that.
X. The group I fell in with were a strange bunch. It was bad to them to harm trees and plants, even food. WTF? Only lesser members were tolerated for doing that. More mercy was to be shown to the fruits of the earth than to hungry men. That was really stupid of me to believe.
XI. At this point in my involvement with these characters, Mom became very upset with me. She had a dream that you came to her and listened to her and consoled her. You let her know that it was still cool to live with me and eat with me, even though she had begun to avoid me. She was sitting on a ruler and a man came to talk to her. He told her she was where she was and I was there too… Was this you trying to calm her down?
At first, I didn’t quite understand the meaning of this but, hey, dreams are weird and it seemed to make sense to Mom. It did the trick and she began to connect to you more strongly.
XII. Mom went to a bishop to ask him to talk to me about the weirdos I was involved with. He was to set me straight about all the bullshit I was starting to believe. I was still young and impressionable and he was supposed to dispel all that. He used to be in with the same group and eventually found out that they were full of shit. It was possible for him, why not for me?
He told her that because she was the type of mother she was to me that all of this would probably just be a passing phase and I’d come around after I woke up from it.
I. I stayed with those nut jobs for 9 years! From 19 to 28. We managed to fool a lot of people into our fucked up shit. But this religion allowed me to carrying on with my previous hobbies – going to theater and entering poetry contests. I must admit that I was on the lower rungs of this organization, which allowed me to pick fruit, something the higher ups weren’t allowed to do.
II. At the time, my job was teaching public speaking. Basically, what that meant was studying the laws, teaching people reason and how to apply the laws. Then they would be able to argue for or against something on that basis. Most of the people I taught were good, honest people. At the same time, there were a few bad apples among my students.
III. After those fuckers, I started hanging out with some astrologers. These guys believe that our destiny was written in the stars years and years ago and we’re all just living through that. I knew an old guy around the neighborhood, a doctor. He tried to warn me about hanging out with these characters. Did I listen? Of course, I didn’t. He said that I’d be better off doing medicine. It was his view that if the astrologers got anything right, it was purely out of luck. He started to convince me to leave but I wasn’t ready just yet.
IV. Back in my hometown, Thagaste, I had a very close friend. We were into the same crazy nonsense as each other. He had a fever and was at death’s door. When he was seemingly out of it, he was baptized. Eventually, he pulled through and I would razz him all the time about being baptized. But it turned out that after being baptized and his getting better, he actually turned into a Christian. Thought that it would pass after a while. It didn’t. His sickness came back and he died. This was a horrible experience for me. I can’t really explain how sad I was about his death. My soul just ached about this and I couldn’t figure out why. I realize today that it wasn’t until my soul started to trust God and stop grieving for my friend’s absence that I was able to move on.
V. What is it that makes us sad and grieve about life and loss? Are the tears about our experience or their loss?
VI. This whole episode in my life got me thinking about death a lot. If we know people and care about them, we will experience the loss of someone. It’s inevitable. Unlike Greek heroes, I am afraid of death. It stirs up a lot of other emotions. I feel angry because I was robbed of my friend. I felt so angry about his death toward to the stars or to God or wherever. It stirred emotions of hopelessness and unfairness. I still don’t understand it.
VII. All of these emotions created a need in me to get out of town. I needed a change in order to heal. I wasn’t looking for a retreat into nature or someplace to be alone with my thoughts. I also believed that part of my problem was that I was following the wrong religion. Astrology didn’t give me any comfort or healing. I began to realize that I was worshipping the wrong God. I decided that Carthage would be the best place for me.
VIII. Time has such a strange power over people. As time rolls on the heavy shit in life seems to have less of an effect on the mind and soul as when the grief initially hits. Time was a huge part of my healing process. Friends also helped. They distract you and help you talk about things. They replace the pain in your heart with love, laughter and fun.
IX. Friendship is really great. I think we all know that. But what makes friendships even better than what they are alone is having friendships while having God in your life. You can never lose your friend if both you and he have God in your lives. You can’t because, while you can lose your friend, you’ll always have God.
X. Time passes. Things change. People come and they go. We have things come into our lives and eventually they leave for one reason or another. There is one thing that never changes, never dies, and never leaves you: God. Holding onto things outside of a relationship with God will only leave us with sadness. Having God in our lives takes the ephemeral things in life and makes them permanent with us through God. Not having him will leave us with sadness of the changes and death.
XI. God puts everything together. Parts are made to be a part of the whole. When you put your trust in God, you are not limited in time or in body. Your experience is whole when you are with God. Ordinarily it is syllables uttered here and there. But with God, those syllables are put together in a whole sentence to make sense.
XII. You need to be careful about getting very attached to people and things. You have to see everyone and everything as an extension of God. When people die and things fall apart, they don’t truly disappear. Remember, in the frame work of God, these things are only changed and moved around because he wants them to. Also, when you cling, your focus is on the person and the thing, not God. People who think highly of themselves, their words and their actions, they are unjustifiably putting themselves at the same level as God. We need to be humble to keep ourselves grounded. Furthermore, you are a creation of God. If you’re so great, it’s only because he made you that way.
XIII. When I was younger, I didn’t really think about these things. I thought about beauty all of the time. That was the only thing of any importance. I even wrote a couple of books about that. Even beauty is temporary. Even my writing was temporary. I seemed to have lost my work and I don’t know how.
XIV. I’ve dedicated my book to Hierius, a Roman orator. I’ve never met the fellow but I’ve been inspired by him to write. I’m sort of struck by how much I like the guy even though I don’t know much about him personally. Everybody seems to think that he’s a good guy, so why wouldn’t he be? I do like some actors that I see on the stage. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to be them or be like them. I just enjoy their work and like to see it as often as I can. That’s pretty much why I think that Hierius is so great. In a roundabout sense, I admire him out of my own pride. I suppose that I wish for the greatness in him and the admiration people have for him for myself.
XV. All the physical beauty that I see around me clouds my vision. Because of it, I’m not very able to see the real truth, you. The more my focus is on these things; the more my feel for the truth is disrupted. True things have a sense of unity about them. The truth is interconnected. So, all the true things have something in common with the others. Untrue things do not have that sense of unity. They err from the truth in so many different ways that they don’t connect.
XVI. I was able to choke down Aristotle’s The Ten Predicaments in one gulp. I enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. I was really proud of myself for getting a lot out of it. But there I go again. It’s all pride going to my head. I am a fairly smart guy but I’ve been thinking about intelligence. It is really only useful if you can use it for God. Any tool or gift that you are given or acquire should be used to understand and be with God. Otherwise it is a waste of the gift because you aren’t using it for its highest good.
I. I hope that you accept my confessions. It really helps me out because nothing will really help me out like getting all this shit off of my chest. It’s not good to keep all that to yourself. When you don’t confess, you have all that heavy shit and you carry around with you. It slows you don’t from having a clear mind, open heart and a good relationship with God.
II. The bad and restless try to run from you. They run to the seediest places all to keep their shittiness from you and to themselves. But it’s impossible to do. You’re God. You are omniscient and omnipresent. You are everywhere and you know everything. So, it’s not like these fuckers can hide anywhere and keep their sins to themselves.
III. At the age of 29, I met the bishop, Faustus. He came to town and had a lot to see. Needless to say, I was pretty enthusiastic to hear what he had to say. The Manichæans were the first group I was involved in. This Faustus was one of their leaders. I still had sympathies toward them but wasn’t completely sold on them. It was at this point, I began to suspect that both he and the Manichæans were full of shit. But I had an open ear. I was leaning toward science but there were problems with that. Science is probably more on the path of truth but most scientists aren’t open to God. You can use science to understand the world but when you completely shut out God, you aren’t open to the absolute truth. Rather than using their science to understand God and his universe, they use science to build up their vanity and pride. That’s a sure-fire way to go away from the truth.
IV. Does people’s knowledge please you and bring you closer? It seems like people who learn a lot and know a lot seem unhappier. They might even not know it but it has to be the case. Because when a man learns and it inevitably builds up his pride and vanity, he must be moving away from you. That must make him less happy. All the knowledge and all the wealth in the world cannot make you as happy as when you are with God.
V. Manichaeus was the founder of the Manichæans. You’ve always said that a man ought to have piety and wisdom together. However, Manichaeus had neither of these. He was spouting bullshit and had absolutely no sense of piety. Whenever someone proved his teachings to be wrong, he would claim that he wasn’t wrong because everything that he said was when he was the Holy Spirit. Not very wise or pious. Whenever I hear someone spewing out random bullshit, I try to be patient with him. That’s usually because the person is not harmful. As long as these people aren’t blocking my path to God, I don’t really mind what they say. That’s my definition of harm.
VI. So, I sat back and listened to what the guy had to say. He seemed to me to be a good speaker and nice enough. But what was all that eloquence for if all he had to say was horse shit? Still, hearing a speech isn’t quite the same as a conversation with the guy. That was what I was really after. When we got to speak to the guy, we got the sense that he really didn’t know too much about the liberal sciences. In fact, the more he talked and answered our questions, the more I was convinced that the guy was talking out of his ass.
VII. One thing that I liked about Faustus was his admission of his ignorance. Many people get caught in their own ignorance and lie their way out of it. I liked him very much because of this. It’s not really that terrible to be ignorant. The real crime is being ignorant of your ignorance. There he was open to his lack of understanding. I think we were both happy to help each other fill our ignorance with knowledge. But because I challenged his beliefs systematically, I think he got nervous that we were trying to tear his beliefs apart. I think because although his ideas don’t really fit together, he keeps them because he doesn’t have much to replace them with. I think that if he were really convinced that he should explore knowledge and truth, that would have happened anyway. That’s mostly because he believed a bunch of shit. I suppose, God, that you can play a role in all this?
VIII. All of this debate got me thinking that it was high time that I went to Rome. Carthage isn’t the best place to learn. Rome really has that highly scholarly appeal to it. I figured that God pushes me to go where I need to go. Since I needed to educate myself religiously, I might as well go into the lion’s den. Mom wasn’t really cool with this. Rome is about a million miles away from home. I had to lie to her to get her off my back. I gave her the slip when I could. Mom lost it when I left. Maybe she forgot that this is all a part of God’s plan for me. I was going further and further down the path of Christianity by going.
IX. The moment my feet touched the ground I got some sort of illness. It nearly carried me off with it. I’m glad it didn’t. Not just because I’d have died but because my conversion wasn’t complete and I’d probably have gone to hell as a sinner. I pulled through. Hell, I wouldn’t have been here to write all of this. I’m also glad not to have died so that my mother didn’t have to go through the pain of my dying as a sinner.
X. Even when I got to Rome, I hung around with the Manichæans. Their belief is that the person is not the sinner but what is physically within them that controls their actions, which leads to sin. It was a nice thought that I was not a sinner but it was just what was inside of me. It just seemed a little too convenient. They began to try my patience. I started seeing guys called the Academics. Their idea was that people can’t really know what it is exactly that causes people to sin. Our minds are small and aren’t really equipped to understand it. One thing that puzzled me is that idea that God isn’t physical. I think I needed to understand this more before I started understanding the nature of sin. To my mind, God needed a physical presence and so did evil. If God is good, why did he create evil to undo all his good? The concepts of good and evil, in my mind at the time, were the stumbling block to me buying into Christianity. Also, the idea of Christ being related to God but not exactly God was weird. Never mind the virgin birth…
XI. It was interesting to hear the debates between the Manicheans and those who had a strong understanding of the Bible. A guy named Elpidius was someone who loved getting into these intellectual bouts. The problem he and the Manichæans had in public debates was that they tended to lose on a regular basis to other religious groups.
XII. Before I got to Rome, I had the impression that Carthage was a shithole… Fine, students in Rome weren’t as obnoxious, but boy did these Romans ever have the habit of stiffing me in my lessons. They really got to me. I began to hate them. But then I stopped myself. It wasn’t them whom I hated as such. It was the greed and the theft of my services that got to me. It was the sinning in these respects that really pissed me off.
XIII. I read somewhere that a teaching gig was open up in Milan. I snatched that up as soon as I could. It was also at this point where I lost touch with the Manichæans. When I got up to Milan, I got to meet Bishop Ambrose. My religious beliefs were beginning to follow the mainstream while I was out of touch with the whackos. I began to fall under the influence of Ambrose, not just because he was such a good speaker but because of what he said.
XIV. Ambrose’s wisdom began to have an effect on me. He began to answer my questions about the Old Testament. They weren’t literal stories as I had understood them before. They more allegorical. This basically killed any lingering effect the Manichæans had on my understanding of the Old Testament. Christianity had a bit more sense to it. I wasn’t totally on board yet but I was moving that way. I stilled had some things in common with the Academics. But anything I had with the Manichæans was long gone at this point.
I. Mom just couldn’t stand to be away from me, so she made her way up to Milan. She found out that I wasn’t with the Manichæans anymore and was a bit open to something else. She wasn’t as happy as I was expecting. She figured that it was just her prayers being answered. She was expectant of it, although it was only half of what she wanted. She wanted to see me make the full conversion over to Catholicism.
II. Back in Africa, Mom would bring food and wine to the Saints’ shrine on their feast days. I didn’t like the idea of her doing that here in Milan. People tend to use feast days as an excuse to get pissed up. I wasn’t sure if that’s what Mom was doing. Ambrose was also against the idea because it smacked of pagan rituals. We’re supposed to be getting away from all that.
III. At this time, Ambrose was getting to be very popular. I found it very difficult to get any time to talk with him. One of the things about Ambrose that blew me away about him is how he read. He read silently. Most of us read speaking. Not Ambrose. He looked like he was staring at the book, not speaking. Apparently you can read without speaking! It must have given him much more peace which is useful to understanding what you’re reading and thinking about. I would have done anything to get more time with him. As it was at this point, I had to get my time with him listening to his sermons on Sundays. I began to make peace with the purely spiritual aspect of God.
IV. It was also at this point where I began to understand how the Church functions. It was nothing at all like what I thought it was. It was really stupid of me to “know” everything about the Church because apparently I just invited it in my head. I am ashamed of that presumed knowledge, which was just jumping to conclusions. I wasn’t totally on Christianity at this point. I was still on a scientific bent and I wanted to be 100% sure about it. One of the things bothering me what was I could do with my soul in order to be a good person and do God’s will.
V. One of the main differences between the Church and the Manichæans was that the Church wanted believers to believe things that weren’t completely provable. Many things in life and things in the Church’s doctrine had to be accepted as a matter of faith, rather than proof. At first this was a bit hard to do, being scientifically oriented. But as I thought about it more and more, it didn’t seem like too much trouble at all. We believe all sorts of things outside of religion based on faith and not on proof.
VI. I was composing a speech about the Emperor. It was a praise to him but I knew it to be a lie as did anybody who was going to hear it. It was a huge moral conundrum for me. Here I was lying about something and then I was going to get heaps of praise from people who also believed it to be a lie. To take my mind off of this, I decided to go for a walk around town. I bumped into a beggar who seemed quite pleased with himself. I wonder why he was so happy and hopeful when it was as plain as day that he was a bum and didn’t have much to be happy about.
VII. One buddy of mine whom I taught back home, Alypius, was completely mad about the gladiator matches. His father and I didn’t really see eye to eye on everything so he stopped being one of my students. He would sneak away from his father and come listen to me at one of my public lectures. You’ll never guess where he ended up… As a Bishop! I may have had a small part in this because one time when he was at one of my lectures, I used gladiator matches as an example to go on about something in the Bible. I think he was thinking that I was directing this comment to him and it seemed to have struck a chord with him. He turned from gladiators to Biblical things.
VIII. Alypius went to Rome before I did. When he was there, some buddies of his goaded him into going to a gladiator match but he decided to stick to his guns. He ended up going anyway but kept his eyes closed the whole time. Every once in a while, the crowd would gasp or roar in response to whatever was going on in the ring at the time. The sounds made him open his eyes to see what he had been missing. Wouldn’t you know that he fell back into the worship of the fights?
IX. This wasn’t something that would totally be unproductive for a later use. Back in Carthage, while Alypius was out walking around some fellow was breaking into a silversmith’s shop. The owner hear something going on in his shop and sends some guards around to see what’s going on. Meanwhile, Alypius happened to be walking by and trips over the thief’s axe. He examines it and in come the guards to see him. He is arrested. An architect buddy of his find out that he’s been wrongly put in prison. He rounds up a mob to look for the criminal around his house. The thief’s slave rats him out.
X. In Rome, Alypius worked for the government. Unlike a lot of people in his position, he happened to be completely honest about his work. When people wanted him to look the other way or forge some document, he wouldn’t take any bribes. Some pretty high up people offered him big time cash to try to get him to be corrupt. The only thing that was remotely close to that was getting people to copy papers out for him to save himself time and getting recognition out of it. I suppose that it wasn’t that good but for the most part, he resisted the really big temptations thrown his way. I aspire to be so good.
Another guy I knew, Nebridius, came with me from Carthage to Rome. He also was on a quest for truth and knowledge. When the three of us get together we have a tough time trying to make sense of the world.
XI. So, all of this time, I spent going over my own life and examining it. Before, my quest for truth and knowledge was mostly about vanity, pride and greed. It was getting my knowledge and wisdom up so I could show it off to other people or just keep it to myself just to make me feel better. I knew that wisdom and knowledge came into play at any stage of my life and with any people in my life. The reasons for the search changed but the search itself kept on going. All the while, I knew that Christianity was hard to get around to. Because I was not really keen on the idea of celibacy, I kept delaying my conversion to it.
XII. Alypius and I talked at great length about marriage and wisdom and all that. Alypius had his own personal reasons for talking me out of marriage. While his outward reason was that he thought that it would distract me from my quest for knowledge, I really believe that he felt that my marriage to a lady would slow him down in fulfilling his own desires. It is always easier to go out and have fun when you’ve got a buddy to go along with you. It would slow him down in partying as well as having a conversation partner to discuss things. Really both of us had our own selfish reasons for wanting what we wanted. My lady friend and I had been together for 10 years at this point. I wanted to make this right in the eyes of God.
XIII. I finally got engaged. My mother was happy about the idea. Interestingly enough, the reason why she wasn’t absolutely over the moon about it was because she had never had any prophetic dreams about me getting married or me being married. The girl was two years too young to be married, so we decided to wait it out until everything was above board.
XIV. At this point, many people in the same group as me thought that it would be a good idea to get about 10 people together so we could all live together. There were some in this group with quite a bit of money. We had all the rules and ideas planned out but it eventually fell apart and nothing ever came of it.
XV. Talk about racking up the sins on the old sin-ometer. I was having a problem with my marriage being set up because of my mistress. That’s not unusual. My mistress left me and went back to Africa. However, she left our son with me. This wasn’t easy for me. So sad about this breakup, I decided to take on another mistress. I just couldn’t live without sex. However, I couldn’t really get over losing my first mistress.
XVI. All the sadness was mystifying to me. I was getting what I wanted physically, but it just didn’t seem to satisfy me. These emotions were clouding my mind. I began discussing the nature of good and evil, as well as mortality and immortality. All of this discussion was nice and all but I really couldn’t figure out what was truly bugging me.
I. It was still bothersome to me to talk about you as if you are there spiritually but you aren’t here physically. And then how can you be everyone and at one specific place all at once? I suppose that it’s like how air is everywhere and some specific place all at once. That might not work, now that I think about it. When you think about it, big things have more space than smaller things. But because they are bigger, they have more God in them than smaller things do. You can apply that to humans. Do larger people have more God in them than smaller people? Is God divisible?
II. Then I began to ponder the question whether you were corruptible or not. I was finding myself reverting to my Manichæan explanations of things. I couldn’t help myself. I just hadn’t had enough training outside of their bullshit. Eventually, my buddy, Nebridius was able to put all my theories to rest. He was able to explain that God was not corruptible. He is the source of all things and was completely benevolent. It made sense to me. Straying from God is the source of all corruption and malevolence.
III. I was having a hard time understanding where evil came from. My question was that if God is all that is good and he makes up everything, where does evil come from, if not from God. I figure that I do make my decisions and I have a free will. Whenever a person’s will strays from the will of God, it ends up in sin. Although I’m not sure what the point in making sinners in the first place. Is it a question of God allowing evil or man making it?
IV. God must not be corruptible. It’s in the definition of who you are. God is the source of all good. Moving away from God is the corruption of good. If you are in what is wholly good, moving away from it is a move away from perfect good. So, anything that is not good does not come from God.
V. Now the question of God and evil comes up. We see all the good that he creates. We experience them and in doing so, we experience God. But why does he allow evil to exist? Since he is all powerful and infinite, why should he allow evil to ruin all the great things he’s done? These questions I’ve been asking are the line that my search for truth and knowledge has taken me. They are something that I would like to find in Christ and the Church.
VI. While thinking about my astrologer buddies, some things come to mind. Many of my friends think that whenever astrologers get anything right, it’s purely by chance. I have a friend, Firminus who’s definitely fully gone with this. His father was deep into it too. He made records of the date and time of whenever anything happened and had a log of it. That sounds silly. But think of it. Two people born at the same moment. There are loads of people in the world and two of them must have been born at the same moment. There is no way that they could live the same lives, so it must be bullshit.
VII. The search for truth is a daunting task. I think that faith is something that allows the quest for truth and knowledge to carry on strongly. God is so constant, it is really me who is the biggest impediment to my own progress. Whenever I learn something or find something I have said to be smart or wise, it never goes toward my knowledge or wisdom but fuels my own pride. That doesn’t really help in my quest.
VIII. It’s amazing how God’s not constantly pissed off at us. It is always with your help that we move closer to the truth even though we probably don’t deserve it.
IX. You always help those who follow the right path but don’t necessarily shit on those who don’t completely stick to it. The Platonist books were a great source of pride for me. When thinking about the Bible, I am brought to the Word of God. Comparing the two is quite different. There is a difference between the act of worshipping idols and worshipping a concept of a wholly good God. To worship the idol is to worship one’s own pride. The concept, so long as it is pure, is the worship of all that is good and that is God.
X. When I think of God in the sense that I have recently got to know, I consider God to be the Unchangeable Light. You are my helper and the eye of my soul. You, God, are the eternal truth. I tremble with love and fear just at the thought of you.
XI. All things on earth are lesser than God. But then again, they are included in God. So how could he be something and be greater than it?
XII. Let’s think of things in the world that are good. All things are fairly good but these things are able to be corrupted. The fact that they can be brought down to a lower level shows that they are indeed at a high level. Evil isn’t actually anything in particular. It is the relative absence of good.
XIII. Everything that God has created is good. What is important to remember is that good is not all or nothing. Something that is considered evil could very well be considered less good than something else. Since evil is the absence or the relative absence of good, it is missing something of God in it.
XIV. The idea of two substances originally is an interesting one because the question will arise: which one is the originator and which is the subservient? That is to say, that if there was God and some other thing in the beginning, then there’s just God who’s one thing, not two. But there’s God and this other thing but God is in everything. So are both things God or is God really just one thing, unique?
XV. I think the way out of this conundrum is not to think of things in those terms. Rather, we should be looking at things existing not with God but in God. This allows for things to exist simultaneously and not have the issue of their godliness be a problem.
XVI. People who tend to gravitate toward the inferior parts of God’s creation are actually turning away from God. This is exactly what makes them lower and bad. Moving toward is what makes them higher and superior.
XVII. I was standing in wonder of you. I didn’t deserve the wonder or the beauty that you give but you gave it anyway. But your great things were being taken away from by my desires for baser things. It was out of carnal habit that I was unable to get very close to you. The lesser things began to get to my soul. When I did ponder the great things I was able to get to the truth which is through you. It was like this that my senses could get to the truth and to you. That is the connection between the physical world and the spiritual truth, you. This proved to be too much for me to do for too long.
XVIII. I wanted to get close to you but was unable until I accepted Jesus. I wasn’t really able to wrap my mind around him. Jesus seemed to be the physical connection between you and us.
XIX. I didn’t really see him as all that holy. He seemed more like a wise man born under unusual circumstances. He also appeared to be a fairly good leader and his teachings were pretty sound. One thing that troubled me is the saying that “the word was made flesh”. Here was a man prone to all sorts of problems of all men but he was the holy representative of God and the only way to connect to God. Alypius thought that Christ had a human brain and Catholics are wrong for actually calling him God.
XX. My goal is to be wise. I must confess that my pride is running this desire. As much as I have enjoyed the books of the Platonists, they say nothing about how to be charitable. That’s where they sort of leave me in the lurch. I want this because this is one of the major necessities of accepting Christ. I’m glad that I did read the Platonists before I read the Scriptures. Because there was that hole in their instruction, I would not have needed the Scriptures and it wouldn’t have led me to you.
XXI. I have to say that I enjoy reading the works about and by Paul. His words and all of his ideas about Jesus and you are touching to me. Also, his story includes a lot of introspection which is important to me in my conversion. Watching his process is inspirational to me. I also like his style and subject matters.
I. By the time I was 32, I was fully convinced by the Scriptures about you. However, at this point, I wasn’t able to commit myself fully to the life necessary to be a good Christian. I consulted a man named Simplicianus about this. He was much older than me and much wiser. I asked him for advice in this predicament. I saw that life in the Church would be full and that secular life wouldn’t be very nice. Life basking in your greatness would be much better than being further away. But I didn’t want stop having sex. On the other hand, I really didn’t like the idea of getting married.
II. Simplicianus helped Ambrose out when he was younger. Ambrose would consult him on matters. He told me a story about a fellow named Victorinus, who translated the Platonists from Greek into Latin. He was from Rome and really well connected. As was the fashion of the time, he worshipped Egyptian gods. He started getting into Christianity, but on the sly. Simplicianus told him that unless he participated in the Church, the belief wasn’t good enough. That got him worried that Christ would reject him if he didn’t start believing in public. That led him to come out about it.
III. One thing that Jesus harps on about in the Bible is the recapturing of lost souls being more important than those who had always been faithful. What is the meaning behind all that?
IV. With the example of Victorinus, there seems to be a bigger deal about the conversion of nobles. Take the example of Paul. It was a great thing when the biggest persecutor of Christians became the biggest proponent of them. That conversion not only got an eloquent speaker and writer in Christianity but he also was great in converting others.
V. I come back to Victorinus. I would love to follow his example of giving up all worldly possessions and follow God. One of the major stumbling blocks in this is my problem area of sin, lust. I find it curious that I have trouble giving up the one thing that is keeping me away from being closer to you. Why is it that I’ve fixated on lust when it’s so harmful to me?
VI. Nebridius landed a teaching gig that allowed him the time do Philosophy. Alypius and I would sit around talking when up comes Ponticianus. He saw Paul’s teachings on a table in front of us. He told us about the monastery in the countryside. Then he talked about two of his friends who visited a monastery and saw a book by Antony, a monk. One of them read it and thought that being an agent to the emperor must not be very much when you could do the same thing for God. Working for the bigger master would be a better job. They all stayed at the monastery, even their betrothed.
VII. I kept thinking about myself while listening to the story. I began to think of what a piece of shit I’ve been ever since I can remember. I started off on this path after reading Cicero. I began to search for truth and to be near you but my vices always got in the way. I prayed for chastity and continency but I didn’t want them then and there. I kept running into people who offered me ways to allow me to continue sinning and all in the name of being wise and knowledgeable. I’d been dicking around for over 10 years and I still haven’t been able to commit.
VIII. During my conversation with Alypius, I began to lose my shit. I flipped my lid and ran off. I had an absolute conniption. My body and my mind were fighting it out as to what we were going to do.
IX. Why is it so possible for us to control what our feet and hands do just on command but we can’t do the same with our minds and our wills? The internal struggle is fairly plain to see. Part of us wants to be good and part of us wants to be bad. The stronger one wins out.
X. There are those who say that we actually have two wills in us, good and bad. This idea isn’t very good. I think that it’s much better to admit to ourselves that we are the ones who must serve God. When we refuse to do so, we are engaging in a fight either to be near God or further away from him. I don’t think there are two wills.
XI. So, inside me are the two figurative sides pulling me apart. The worse side of me wonders if I can really give up sex and lust. The other, better side of me says that it’s completely within my abilities to do so. I really can get closer to the truth and please God by doing so.
XII. This conflict inside me makes me emotional and antsy around Alypius. I ran off to sit under a fig tree. When I began to cry, I heard singing off in the distance, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” This changed my feeling immediately. It seemed like this was a sign to go read Paul and see how he dealt with the conversion. This was the final straw. This is what pushed me completely into Christianity. He read a passage to Alypius and told him that he was ready to convert. Alypius was ready too. We went to tell Mom and she was over the moon.