Saint Augustine (Bishop of Hippo.).

A Library of fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, anterior to the division of the East and West: online

. (page 60 of 73)
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number are needed, that any poet whatever may be under-
stood, whose strains seem to court even the applause of the
theatre ; do you in the case of those books, which, however
they may be, yet by the confession of well-nigh the whole
human race are commonly reported to be sacred and full of
divine things^ rush upon them without a guide, and dare to
deliver an opinion on them without a teacher ; and, if there
meet you any matters, which seem absurd, do not accuse
rather your own dulness, and mind decayed by the cor-
ruption of this world, such as is that of all that are foolish,
than those [books] which haply cannot be understood by such
persons ! You should seek some one at once pious and learned^
or who by consent of many was said to be such, that you might
be both bettered by his advice, and instructed by his learning.
Was he not easy to find ? He should be searched out with
pains. Was there no one in the country in which you lived ?
What cause could more profitably force to travel ? Was he
ieiltT^' ^^^ hidden, or did he not exist on the 'continent? One

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Good imtruciton in Helicon worth pains and risk. 595

ghould cross the sea* If across the sea he was not found in db
any place near to us, you should proceed even as far as those t^^k'
lands, in which the ihines related in those books are said to crb-

have taken place. What, Honoratus, have we done of this -

kind ? And yet a religion perhaps the most holy, (for as yet
I am speaking as though it were matter of doubt,) the opinion
whereof hath by this time taken possession of the whole world,
we wretched boys condemned at our own discretion and
sentence. What if those things which in those same Scrip-
tures seem to offend some unlearned persons, were so set
there for this purpose, that when things were read of such
as are abhorrent from the feeling of ordinary men, not to
say of wise and holy men, we might with much more
earnestness seek the hidden meaning. Perceive you not
how the Catamite of the Bucolics, for whom the rough Virg.
shepherd gushed forth into tears, men essay to interpret, and '
affirm that the boy Alexis, on whom Plato also is said to
have composed a love strain, hath some great meaning or
other, but escapes the judgment of the unlearned; whereas
without any sacrilege a poet however rich may seem to have
published wanton songs ?

18. But in truth was there either decree of any law, or
power of gainsayers, or vile character of persons consecrated,
or shameful report, or newness of institution, or hidden
profession, to recal us from, and forbid us, the search?
There is nothing of these. All laws divine and human allow
us to seek the Catholic Faith ; but to hold and exercise it is
allowed us at any rate by human law, even iC so long as we
are in error there be a doubt concerning divine law ; no
enemy alarms our weakness, (although truth and the salvation
of the soul, in case being diligently sought it be not found
where it may with most safety, ought to be sought at any
risk) ; the degrees of all ranks and powers most devotedly
minister to this divine worship ; the name of religion is most
honourable and most famous. What, I pray, hinders to
search out and discuss with pious and careful enquiry,
whether there be here that which it must needs be few know
and guard in entire purity, although the good-will and
affection of all nations conspire in its favour ?

19. The case standing thus, suppose, as I said, that we are


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596 Prima facie claims of the Catholic Church.

DB Qow for the first time seeking anto what religion we shall
tatb' <^li^'6i^ up our souls, for it to cleanse and renew them ;
CRE- without doubt we must begin with the Catholic Church.

DBNDI. 11.. 1 -TNI..- 1 ./.I

For by this time there are more Christians, than if the

Jews and idolaters be added together. But of these same
Christians, whereas there are several heresies, and all wish
to appear Catholics, and call all others besides themselves
heretics, there is one Church, as all allow : if you consider
the whole world, more full filled in number ; but, as they who
know affirm, more pure also in tmth than all the rest. But the
question of truth is another ; but, what is enough for such as
are in search, there is one Catholic, to which different heresies
give different names, whereas they themselves are called each
by names of their own, which they dare not deny. From
which may be understood, by judgment of umpires who are
hindered by no favour, to which is to be assigned the name
Catholic, which all covet. But, that no one may suppose
that it is to be made matter of over garrulous or unnecessary
discussion, this is at any rate one, in which human laws
themselves also are m a certain way Christian. I do not
wish any prejudgment to be formed firom this fact, but I
account it a most favourable commencement for enquiry.
For we are not to fear lest the true worship of God, resting
on no strength of its own, seem to need to be supported by
them whom it ought to support : but, at any rate, it is perfect
happiness, if the truth may be there found, where it is most
safe both to search for it and to hold it : in case it cannot,
then at length, at whatever risk, we must go and search some
other where,
viii. 20. Having then laid down these principles, which, as I
think, are so just that I ought to win this cause before you,
let who will be my adversary, I will set forth to you, as I am
able, what way 1 followed, when I was searching after true
religion in that spirit, in which I have now set forth that it
ought to be sought For upon leaving you and crossing the
sea, now delaying and hesitating, what I ought to hold, what
to let go ; which delay rose upon me every day the more,
from the time that I was a hearer of that man**, whose coming
was promised to us, as you know, as if from heaven, to
<* i. e. Faustus. v. Conf. b, v. §. vi, al. 10.

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How the Writer himself became a Catechumen. 697

explain all things which moved us, and found him, with the de
exception of a certain eloquence, such as the rest ; being now ^tili-
settled in Italy, I reasoned and deliberated greatly with crb-
myself, not whether 1 should continue in that sect, into °^^°^*
which I was sorry that I had fallen, but in what way I was
to find the truth, my sighs through love of which are known
to no one better than to yourself. Often it seemed to
me that it could not be found, and huge waves of my
thoughts would roll toward deciding in favour of the
Academics. Often again, with what power I had, looking
into the human soul, with so much life, with so much in-
telligence, with so much clearness, I thought that the truth
lay not hid, save that in it the way of search lay hid, and
that this same way must be taken from some divine
authority. It remained to enquire what was that authority,
where in so great dissensions each promised that he would
deliver it. Thus there met me a wood, out of which there
was no way, which I was very loath to be involved in : and
amid these things, without any rest, my mind was agitated
through desire of finding the truth. However, 1 continued
to unsew myself more and more from those whom now I
had proposed to leave. But there remained nothing else, in
so great dangers, than with words full of tears and sorrow to
entreat the Divine Providence to help me. And this I was
content to do : and now certain disputations of the Bishop
of Milan' had almost moved me to desire, not without some
hope, to enquire into many things concerning the Old
Testament itself, which, as you know, we used to view as
accursed, having been ill commended to us. And 1 had de-
cided to be a Catechumen in the Church, unto which I had
been delivered, by my parents, until such time as 1 should
either find what I wished, or should persuade myself that it
needed not to be sought. Therefore had there been one who
could teach me, he would find me at a very critical moment
most fervently disposed and very apt to learn. If you see that
you too have been long affected in this way, therefote, and with
a like care for thy soul, and if now you seem to yourself to have
been tossed to an(i^ firo enough, and wish to put an end to
labours of this kind^ follow the pathway of Catholic teaching,

. • i. e. S. Ambrose, r. Conf. b. v. §. xiii. xiv. a1. 23. 24. 25.

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598 Heretics distipiguished by promising reasons/or all things.

DB which halh flowed down from Christ Himself through the
^ate' Apostles even unto us^and will hereafter flow down to posterity.
CRE- 21. This, you will say, is ridiculous, whereas all profess
'to hold and teach (his: all heretics make this profession,
I cannot deny it ; but so, as that they promise to those
whom they entice, that they will give them a reason con-
cerning matters the most obscure : and on this account
chiefly charge the Catholic [Church], that they who come to
her are enjoined to believe; but they make it their boast,
that they impose not a yoke of believing, but open a fount of
teaching. You answer. What could be said, that should
pertain more to their praise ? It is not so. For this they do,
without being endued with any strength, but in order to
conciliate to themselves a crowd by the name of reason :
on the promise of which the human soul naturally is pleased,
and, without considering its own strength and state of health,
by seeking the food of the sound, which is ill entrusted save
to such as are in health, rushes upon the poisons of them
who deceive. For true religion, unless those things 'be
believed, which each one after, if he shall conduct himself
well and shall be worthy, attains unto and understands, and
altogether without a certain weighty power of authority, can
in no way be rightly entered upon.

*22. But perhaps you seek to have some reason given you
on this very point, such as may persuade you, that you
ought not to be taught by reason before faith. Which
may easily be done, if only you make yourself a fair hearer.
fiut, in order that it may be done suitably, I wish you as it
were to answer my questions ; and, first, to tell me, why you
think that one ought not to believe. Because, you say,
credulity, from which men are called credulous, in itself,
seems to me to be a certain fault : otherwise we should not
use to cast this as a term of reproach. For if a suspicious
man is in fault, in that he suspects things not ascertained;
how much more a credulous man, who herein differs firom a
suspicious man, that the one allows some doubt, the other
none, in matters which he knows not. In the mean while
I accept this opinion and distinction. But you know that
we are not wont to call a person even curious without some
reproach ; but we call him studious even with praise.

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I)efinUionsqf^curiosiipy^sludiousnesSy^8fc. corrected. 599

Wherefore observe, if you please, what seems to you to be db
the difference between these two. This surely, you answer, ^"xb"
that, although both be led by great desire to know, yet the <'»*•

curious man seeks after things that no way pertain to him, but

the studious man, on the contrary, seeks after what pertain
to him. But, l)ecause we deny not thai "a man's wife and
children, and their health, pertain unto him; if any one,
being settled abroad, were to be careful to ask all comers,
how his wife and children are and fare, he is surely led
by great desire to know, and yet we call not this man
studious, who both exceedingly wishes to know, and that (in)
matters which very greatly pertain unto him. Wherefore
you now understand that the definition of a studious person
falters in this point, that every studious person wishes to
know what pertain to himself, and yet not every one, who
makes this his business, is to be called studious; but he who
with all earnestness seeks those things which pertain unto
the liberal culture and adornment of the mind. Yet we
rightly call. him one who studies', especially if we add what^stu-
he studies* to hear. For we may call him even studious ®°*^™
of his own (family) if he love only his own (family), we
do not however, without some addition, think him worthy of
the common name of the studious. But one who was
desirous to hear how his fiunily were I should not call
studious of hearing, unless taking pleasure in the good
report, he should wish to hear it again and again : but one
who studied, even if only once. Now return to the curious
person, and tell me, if any one should be willing to listen to
some tale, such as would no way profit him, that is, of matters
that pertain not to him: and that not in an offensive way and
fi^quently, but very seldom and with great moderation,
either at a feast, or in some company, or meeting of any
kind ; would he seem to you curious ? I think not : but at
any rate he would certainly seem to have a care for that
matter, to which he was willing to listen. Wherefore the
definition of a curious person also must be corrected by the
same rule as that of a studious person. Consider therefore
whether the former statements also do not need to be
corrected. For why should not both he, who at some time
suspects something, be unworthy the name of a suspicious

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600 No credulity in believing Reliffi6n on authoriiy.

DB person ; and he who at some time believes something, of
^atb' * credulous person ? Thus as there is very great difference
csB- between one who studies any matter, and the absolutely
°^''"^' studious ; and again between him who. hath a care and
the curious ; so is there between him who believes and the
^« 23. But you will say, consider now whether we ought
to believe in religion. For, although we grant that it is one
thing to believe, another to be credulous, it does not follow-
that it is no fault to believe in matters of religion. For what
if it be a fault both to believe and to be credulous, as (it is)
both to be drunk and to be a drunkard ? Now he who thinks
this certain, it seems to me can have no friend ; for, if it is
base to believe any thing, either he acts basely who believes
a friend, or in nothing believing a friend I see not how-
he can call either him or himself a friend. Here perhaps
you may say, I grant that we must believe something at
some time ; now make plain, how in the case of religion it
be not base to believe before one knows. I will do so, if
I can. Wherefore I ask of you, which you esteem the gi'aver
fault, to deliver religion to one unworthy, or to believe what
is said by them who deliver it. If you understand not whom
I call unworthy, I call him, who approaches with feigned
breast. You grant, as I suppose, that it is more blameable
to unfold unto such an one whatever holy secrets there are,
than to believe religious men affirming any thing on the
matter of religion itself. For it would be unbecoming you
to make any other answer. Wherefore now suppose him
present, who is about to deliver to you a religion, in what
way shall you assure him, that you approach with a true
mind, and that, so far as this matter is concerned, there
is in you no fraud or feigning? You will say, your own
good conscience that you are no way feigning, asserting this
with words as strong as you can, but yet with words. For
you cannot lay open man to man the hiding places of your
soul, so that you may be thoroughly known. But if he
shall say, Lo, I believe you, but is it not more fair that you
also believe me, when, if I hold any truth, you are about to
receive, I about to give, a benefit ? what will you answer,
save that you must believe ?

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Learning by faith needful to samey no harm to any: 601

24. But you say, Were it not better that you should give m
me a reason, that, wherever that shall lead me, I may follow ^"^ib'
without any rashness? Perhaps it were: but, it being so orb-
great a matter, that you are by reason to come to the know- -*

ledge of God, do you think that all are qualified to under-
stand the reasons, by which the human soul is led to know
God, or many, or few ? Few I think, you say. Do you believe
that you are in the number of these ? It is not for me, you
say, to answer this. Therefore you think it is for him to
believe you in this also : and this indeed he does : only do
you remember, that he hath already twice believed you saying
things uncertain ; that you are unwilling to believe him even
once admonishing you in a religious spirit. But suppose
that it is so, and that you approach with a true mind to
receive religion, and that you are one of few men in such
sense as to be able to take in thcreasons by which the Divine ▼»
Power is brought into certain knowledge; what? do you think *^*°*
that other men, who are not endued with so serene a disposi-
tion, are to be denied religion? or do you think that they are
to be led gradually by certain steps unto those highest inner
recesses ? You see clearly which is the more religious. For
you cannot think that any one whatever in a case where
he desires so great a thing, ought by any means to be aban-
doned or rejected. But do you not think, that, unless he do
first believe that he shall attain unto that which he purposes;
and do yield his mind as a suppliant; and, submitting to
certain great and necessary precepts, do by a certain coarse
of life throughly cleanse it, that he will not otherwise attain
the things that are purely true ? Certainly you think so. What,
then, is the case of those, (of whom I already believe you to
be one,) who are able most easily to receive divine secrets by
sure reason, will it, I ask, be to them any hindrance at all, if
they so come as they who at the first believe ? I think not
But yet, you say, what need to delay them ? Because
although they will in no way harm themselves by what is
done, yet they will harm the rest by the precedent. For
there is hardly one who has a just notion of his own power :
but he who has a less notion must be roused ; he who has
a greater notion must be checked : that neither the one be
broken by despair, nor the other carried headlong by rash-

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602 Even the teacher has to believe his pupil.

DB ness. And this is easily done, if even they, who are able to
^'^E- ^y> (^^** ^^*^y ^^ ^^^ alluring the occasion of any into
ORE- danger,) are forced for a short time to walk where the rest

" also may walk with safety. This is the forethought of true

religion: this the command of God: this what hath been
handed down from our blessed forefathers, this what hath
been preserved even unto us : to wish to distrust and overthrow
this, is nothing else than to seek a sacrilegious way unto
true religion. And whoso do this, not even if what they wish
be granted to them are they able to arrive at the point at
which they aim. For whatever kind of excellent genius they
have, unless God be present, they creep on the ground.
But He is then present, if they, who are aiming at God,
have a regard for their fellow men. Than which step there
can be found nothing more sure Heavenward. I for my part
cannot resist this reasoning, for how can I say that we are to
believe nothing without certain knowledge? whereas both
there can be no friendship at all, unless there be believed
something which cannot be proved by some reason, and
often stewards, who are slaves, are trusted by their masters
without any fault on their part* But in religion what can
uitis- there be more unfair than that the ministers of God believe
us when we promise an unfeigned mind, and we are unwilling
to believe them when they enjoin us any thing. Lastly,
what way can there be more healthful, than for a man to
become fitted to receive the truth by believing those things,
which have been appointed by God to serve for the previous
culture and treatment of the mind? Or, if yon be alre^idy
altogether fitted, rather to make some little circuit where it
is safest to tread, than both to cause yourself danger, and
to be a precedent for rashness to other men ?
XI. 26. Wherefore it now remains to consider, in what manner
we ought not to follow these, who profess that they will
lead by reason. For how we may without fault follow those
who bid us to believe, hath been already said: but unto
these who make promises of reason certain think that they
come, not only without blame, but also with some praise:
but it is not so. For there are two (classes of) persons,
praiseworthy in religion; one of those who have already found,
whom also we must needs judge most blessed ; another of

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Understanding^ helief^ opinion^ distinguished. 608

those who are seeking with all earnestness and in the right db
way. The first, therefore, are already in very possession, the ^^^.^
other on the way, yet on that way whereby ihey are most crb-

sure to arrive ^ There are three other kinds of men altogether

to be disapproved of and detested. One is of those who hold
an opinion, that is, of those who think that they know whatopinan*
they know not. Another is of those who are indeed aware
that they know not, but do not so seek as to be able to find*
A third is of those who neither think that they know, nor
wish to seek. There are also three things, as it were .
bordering upon one another, in the minds of men well worth
distinguishing; understanding, belief, opinion. And, if these
be considered by themselves, the first is always without
fault, the second sometimes with fault, the tliird never with-
out fault. For the understanding of matters great, and
honourable, and even divine, is most blessed*. But the
understanding of things unnecessary is no injury; but
perhaps the learning was an injury, in that it took up the
time of necessary matters. But on the matters themselves

f cf. Xtetract b. i. oh. 14. 2. << I also
said, ' For there are two Sec.* In these
words of mine if * those who have already
found,' whom we have said to be ' now
in possession,' are in such sort under-
stood to be * most happy,' as that they
are so not in this life, bat in that we
hope for, and aim at by the path of
faith, the meaning is free fiom error:
for they are to be judged to have found
that which is to be sought, who are
now there, whither we by seeking and
believing, that is by keeping the path
of faith, do seek to come. But if they
are thought to be or to have been such
in this life, that seems to me not to be
true : not that in this life no truth at all
can be found that can be discerned by the
mind, not believed on faith ; but because
it is but so much, what there is of it, as
not to make men *• most blessed.' For
neither is that which the Apostle says.
We tee now through a glass in a riddle,
and, n w I know in party (1 Cor. 13,
12.) incapable of being discerned by the
mind. It is discerned, clearly, but
does not yet make us most blessed.
For that makes men most blessed which
he saith, but then face to face, and,
then I shall know even as I am known.
They that have found this, they are to
be said to stand in possession of bliss,

to which leads that path of faith
which we keep, and whither we desire
to arrive by believing. But who are
those most blessed, who are already in
that possession whither this path leads,
is a great question. And for the holy
Angels indeed, there is no question but
-they be there. But of holy men already
departed, whether so much may yet be
said of them as that they stand already
in that possession, is fairly made a
question. For they are already freed
n-om the corruptible body that weigheth
down the soul, (Wisd. 9.) but they still
wait for the redemption of their body,
(Rom. 8.) and their flesh resteth in hope,
nor is yet glorified in the incorruption
that is to come. (Ps. 1 6.) But whethef
for all that they are none the less quali-
fied to contemplate the truth with the
eyes of the heart, as it is said, Face to
face, there is not space to discuss here.''
r of. Retract, b. i. ch. 14. 3. << Also
what I said, ' for to know great and
noble and even divine things,' we
should refer to the same blessedness.
For in this life whatsoever there be of
it known amounts not to perfect bliss,
because that part of it which remains
unknown is far more wifliout all oom-

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604 Opinion faulty y error of taking it for knowledge.

rB that are injurious, it is not the understanding, but the doin^
tate"^^ suffering them, that is wretched. For not, iu case any
cRE- understand how an enemy may be slain without danger to
^^^^* himself, is he guilty from the mere understanding, not

Online LibrarySaint Augustine (Bishop of Hippo.)A Library of fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, anterior to the division of the East and West: → online text (page 60 of 73)