Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book V/Chapter 10

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Chapter X.—When He Had Left the Manichæans, He Retained His Depraved Opinions Concerning Sin and the Origin of the Saviour.

18. Thou restoredst me then from that illness, and made sound the son of Thy hand-maid meanwhile in body, that he might live for Thee, to endow him with a higher and more enduring health. And even then at Rome I joined those deluding and deluded “saints;” not their “hearers” only,—of the number of whom was he in whose house I had fallen ill, and had recovered,—but those also whom they designate “The Elect.”[1] For it still seemed to me “that it was not we that sin, but that I know not what other nature sinned in us.”[2] And it gratified my pride to be free from blame and, after I had committed any fault, not to acknowledge that I had done any,—“that Thou mightest heal my soul because it had sinned against Thee;”[3] but I loved to excuse it, and to accuse something else (I wot not what) which was with me, but was not I. But assuredly it was wholly I, and my impiety had divided me against myself; and that sin was all the more incurable in that I did not deem myself a sinner. And execrable iniquity it was, O God omnipotent, that I would rather have Thee to be overcome in me to my destruction, than myself of Thee to salvation! Not yet, therefore, hadst Thou set a watch before my mouth, and kept the door of my lips, that my heart might not incline to wicked speeches, to make excuses of sins, with men that work iniquity[4]—and, therefore, was I still united with their “Elect.”

19. But now, hopeless of making proficiency in that false doctrine, even those things with which I had decided upon contenting myself, providing that I could find nothing better, I now held more loosely and negligently. For I was half inclined to believe that those philosophers whom they call “Academics”[5] were more sagacious than the rest, in that they held that we ought to doubt everything, and ruled that man had not the power of comprehending any truth; for so, not yet realizing their meaning, I also was fully persuaded that they thought just as they are commonly held to do. And I did not fail frankly to restrain in my host that assurance which I observed him to have in those fictions of which the works of Manichæus are full. Notwithstanding, I was on terms of more intimate friendship with them than with others who were not of this heresy. Nor did I defend it with my former ardour; still my familiarity with that sect (many of them being concealed in Rome) made me slower[6] to seek any other way,—particularly since I was hopeless of finding the truth, from which in Thy Church, O Lord of heaven and earth, Creator of all things visible and invisible, they had turned me aside,—and it seemed to me most unbecoming to believe Thee to have the form of human flesh, and to be bounded by the bodily lineaments of our members. And because, when I desired to meditate on my God, I knew not what to think of but a mass of bodies[7] (for what was not such did not seem to me to be), this was the greatest and almost sole cause of my inevitable error.

20. For hence I also believed evil to be a similar sort of substance, and to be possessed of its own foul and misshapen mass—whether dense, which they denominated earth, or thin and subtle, as is the body of the air, which they fancy some malignant spirit crawling through that earth. And because a piety—such as it was—compelled me to believe that the good God never created any evil nature, I conceived two masses, the one opposed to the other, both infinite, but the evil the more contracted, the good the more expansive. And from this mischievous commencement the other profanities followed on me. For when my mind tried to revert to the Catholic faith, I was cast back, since what I had held to be the Catholic faith was not so. And it appeared to me more devout to look upon Thee, my God,—to whom I make confession of Thy mercies,—as infinite, at least, on other sides, although on that side where the mass of evil was in opposition to Thee[8] I was compelled to confess Thee finite, that if on every side I should conceive Thee to be confined by the form of a human body. And better did it seem to me to believe that no evil had been created by Thee—which to me in my ignorance appeared not only some substance, but a bodily one, because I had no conception of the mind excepting as a subtle body, and that diffused in local spaces—than to believe that anything could emanate from Thee of such a kind as I considered the nature of evil to be. And our very Saviour Himself, also, Thine only-begotten,[9] I believed to have been reached forth, as it were, for our salvation out of the lump of Thy most effulgent mass, so as to believe nothing of Him but what I was able to imagine in my vanity. Such a nature, then, I thought could not be born of the Virgin Mary without being mingled with the flesh; and how that which I had thus figured to myself could be mingled without being contaminated, I saw not. I was afraid, therefore, to believe Him to be born in the flesh, lest I should be compelled to believe Him contaminated by the flesh.[10] Now will Thy spiritual ones blandly and lovingly smile at me if they shall read these my confessions; yet such was I.


  1. See iv. sec. 1, note, above.
  2. See iv. sec. 26, note 2, above.
  3. Ps. xli. 4.
  4. Ps. cxli. 3, 4, Old Vers. See also Augustin’s Commentary on the Psalms, where, using his Septuagint version, he applies this passage to the Manichæans.
  5. “Amongst these philosophers,” i.e. those who have founded their systems on denial, “some are satisfied with denying certainty, admitting at the same time probability, and these are the New Academics; the others, who are the Pyrrhonists, have denied even this probability, and have maintained that all things are equally certain and uncertain” (Port. Roy. Log. iv. 1). There are, according to the usual divisions, three Academies, the old, the middle, and the new; and some subdivide the middle and the new each into two schools, making five schools of thought in all. These begin with Plato, the founder (387 B.C.), and continue to the fifth school, founded by Antiochus (83 B.C.), who, by combining his teachings with that of Aristotle and Zeno, prepared the way for Neo-Platonism and its development of the dogmatic side of Plato’s teaching. In the second Academic school, founded by Arcesilas,—of whom Aristo, the Stoic, parodying the line in the Iliad (vi. 181), Πρόσθε λέων, ὄπιθεν δὲ δράκων, μέσσῃ δὲ χίμαιρα, said sarcastically he was “Plato in front, Pyrrho behind, and Diodorus in the middle,”—the “sceptical” tendency in Platonism began to develope itself, which, under Carneades, was expanded into the doctrine of the third Academic school. Arcesilas had been a pupil of Polemo when he was head of the old Academy. Zeno also, dissatisfied with the cynical philosophy of Crates, had learnt Platonic doctrine from Polemo, and was, as Cicero tells us (De Fin. iv. 16), greatly influenced by his teaching. Zeno, however, soon founded his own school of Stoical philosophy, which was violently opposed by Arcesilas (Cicero, Acad. Post. i. 12). Arcesilas, according to Cicero (ibid.), taught his pupils that we cannot know anything, not even that we are unable to know. It is exceedingly probable, however, that he taught esoterically the doctrines of Plato to those of his pupils he thought able to receive them, keeping them back from the multitude because of the prevalence of the new doctrine. This appears to have been Augustin’s view when he had arrived at a fuller knowledge of their doctrines than that he possessed at the time referred to in his Confessions. In his treatises against the Academicians (iii. 17) he maintains the wisdom of Arcesilas in this matter. He says: “As the multitude are prone to rush into false opinions, and, from being accustomed to bodies, readily, but to their hurt, believe everything to be corporeal, this most acute and learned man determined rather to unteach those who had suffered from bad teaching, than to teach those whom he did not think teachable.” Again, in the first of his Letters, alluding to these treatises, he says: “It seems to me to be suitable enough to the times in which they flourished, that whatever issued pure from the fountain-head of Platonic philosophy should be rather conducted into dark and thorny thickets for the refreshment of a very few men, than left to flow in open meadow-land, where it would be impossible to keep it clear and pure from the inroads of the vulgar herd. I use the word ‘herd’ advisedly, for what is more brutish than the opinion that the soul is material?” and more to the same purpose. In his De Civ. Dei, xix 18, he contrasts the uncertainty ascribed to the doctrines of these teachers with the certainty of the Christian faith. See Burton’s Bampton Lectures, note 33, and Archer Butler’s Ancient Philosophy, ii. 313, 348, etc. See also vii. sec. 13, note, below.
  6. See iii. sec. 21, above.
  7. See iv. secs. 3, 12, and 31, above.
  8. See iv. 26, note 2, above.
  9. See above, sec. 12, note.
  10. The dualistic belief of the Manichæan ever led him to contend that Christ only appeared in a resemblance of flesh, and did not touch its substance so as to be defiled. Hence Faustus characteristically speaks of the Incarnation (Con. Faust. xxxii. 7) as “the shameful birth of Jesus from a woman,” and when pressed (ibid. xi. 1) with such passages as, Christ was “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. i. 3), he would fall back upon what in these days we are familiar with as that “higher criticism,” which rejects such parts of Scripture as it is inconvenient to receive. Paul, he said, then only “spoke as a child” (1 Cor. xiii. 11), but when he became a man in doctrine, he put away childish things, and then declared, “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.” See above, sec. 16, note 3.