Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book X/Chapter 34

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Chapter XXXIV.—Of the Very Dangerous Allurements of the Eyes; On Account of Beauty of Form, God, the Creator, is to Be Praised.

51. There remain the delights of these eyes of my flesh, concerning which to make my confessions in the hearing of the ears of Thy temple, those fraternal and devout ears; and so to conclude the temptations of “the lust of the flesh”[1] which still assail me, groaning and desiring to be clothed upon with my house from heaven.[2] The eyes delight in fair and varied forms, and bright and pleasing colours. Suffer not these to take possession of my soul; let God rather possess it, He who made these things “very good”[3] indeed; yet is He my good, not these. And these move me while awake, during the day; nor is rest from them granted me, as there is from the voices of melody, sometimes, in silence, from them all. For that queen of colours, the light, flooding all that we look upon, wherever I be during the day, gliding past me in manifold forms, doth soothe me when busied about other things, and not noticing it. And so strongly doth it insinuate itself, that if it be suddenly withdrawn it is looked for longingly, and if long absent doth sadden the mind.

52. O Thou Light, which Tobias saw,[4] when, his eyes being closed, he taught his son the way of life; himself going before with the feet of charity, never going astray. Or that which Isaac saw, when his fleshly “eyes were dim, so that he could not see”[5] by reason of old age; it was permitted him, not knowingly to bless his sons, but in blessing them to know them. Or that which Jacob saw, when he too, blind through great age, with an enlightened heart, in the persons of his own sons, threw light upon the races of the future people, presignified in them; and laid his hands, mystically crossed, upon his grandchildren by Joseph, not as their father, looking outwardly, corrected them, but as he himself distinguished them.[6] This is the light, the only one, and all those who see and love it are one. But that corporeal light of which I was speaking seasoneth the life of the world for her blind lovers, with a tempting and fatal sweetness. But they who know how to praise Thee for it, “O God, the world’s great Architect,”[7] take it up in Thy hymn, and are not taken up with it[8] in their sleep. Such desire I to be. I resist seductions of the eyes, lest my feet with which I advance on Thy way be entangled; and I raise my invisible eyes to Thee, that Thou wouldst be pleased to “pluck my feet out of the net.”[9] Thou dost continually pluck them out, for they are ensnared. Thou never ceasest to pluck them out, but I, constantly remain fast in the snares set all around me; because Thou “that keepest Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.”[10]

53. What numberless things, made by divers arts and manufactures, both in our apparel, shoes, vessels, and every kind of work, in pictures, too, and sundry images, and these going far beyond necessary and moderate use and holy signification, have men added for the enthralment of the eyes; following outwardly what they make, forsaking inwardly Him by whom they were made, yea, and destroying that which they themselves were made! But I, O my God and my Joy, do hence also sing a hymn unto Thee, and offer a sacrifice of praise unto my Sanctifier,[11] because those beautiful patterns, which through the medium of men’s souls are conveyed into their artistic hands,[12] emanate from that Beauty which is above our souls, which my soul sigheth after day and night. But as for the makers and followers of those outward beauties, they from thence derive the way of approving them, but not of using them.[13] And though they see Him not, yet is He there, that they might not go astray, but keep their strength for Thee,[14] and not dissipate it upon delicious lassitudes. And I, though I both say and perceive this, impede my course with such beauties, but Thou dost rescue me, O Lord, Thou dost rescue me; “for Thy loving-kindness is before mine eyes.”[15] For I am taken miserably, and Thou rescuest me mercifully; sometimes not perceiving it, in that I had come upon them hesitatingly; at other times with pain, because I was held fast by them.


  1. 1 John ii. 16.
  2. 2 Cor. v. 2.
  3. Gen. i. 31.
  4. Tobit iv.
  5. Gen. xxvii. 1.
  6. Gen. xlviii. 13–19.
  7. From the beginning of the hymn of St. Ambrose, part of which is quoted, ix. sec. 32, above.
  8. Assumunt eam, in hymno tuo, non absumuntur ab ea.
  9. Ps. xxv. 15.
  10. Ps. cxxi. 4.
  11. Sanctificatori meo, but some mss. have sacreficatori.
  12. See xi. sec. 7, and note, below.
  13. See note 6, sec. 40, above.
  14. Ps. lviii. 10, Vulg.
  15. Ps. xxvi. 3.