Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book X/Chapter 37
Chapter XXXVII.—He is Forcibly Goaded on by the Love of Praise.
60. By these temptations, O Lord, are we daily tried; yea, unceasingly are we tried. Our daily “furnace” is the human tongue. And in this respect also dost Thou command us to be continent. Give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt. Regarding this matter, Thou knowest the groans of my heart, and the rivers of mine eyes. For I am not able to ascertain how far I am clean of this plague, and I stand in great fear of my “secret faults,” which Thine eyes perceive, though mine do not. For in other kinds of temptations I have some sort of power of examining myself; but in this, hardly any. For, both as regards the pleasures of the flesh and an idle curiosity, I see how far I have been able to hold my mind in check when I do without them, either voluntarily or by reason of their not being at hand; for then I inquire of myself how much more or less troublesome it is to me not to have them. Riches truly which are sought for in order that they may minister to some one of these three “lusts,” or to two, or the whole of them, if the mind be not able to see clearly whether, when it hath them, it despiseth them, they may be cast on one side, that so it may prove itself. But if we desire to test our power of doing without praise, need we live ill, and that so flagitiously and immoderately as that every one who knows us shall detest us? What greater madness than this can be either said or conceived? But if praise both is wont and ought to be the companion of a good life and of good works, we should as little forego its companionship as a good life itself. But unless a thing be absent, I do not know whether I shall be contented or troubled at being without it.
61. What, then, do I confess unto Thee, O Lord, in this kind of temptation? What, save that I am delighted with praise, but more with the truth itself than with praise? For were I to have my choice, whether I had rather, being mad, or astray on all things, be praised by all men, or, being firm and well-assured in the truth, be blamed by all, I see which I should choose. Yet would I be unwilling that the approval of another should even add to my joy for any good I have. Yet I admit that it doth increase it, and, more than that, that dispraise doth diminish it. And when I am disquieted at this misery of mine, an excuse presents itself to me, the value of which Thou, God, knowest, for it renders me uncertain. For since it is not continency alone that Thou hast enjoined upon us, that is, from what things to hold back our love, but righteousness also, that is, upon what to bestow it, and hast wished us to love not Thee only, but also our neighbour,—often, when gratified by intelligent praise, I appear to myself to be gratified by the proficiency or towardliness of my neighbour, and again to be sorry for evil in him when I hear him dispraise either that which he understands not, or is good. For I am sometimes grieved at mine own praise, either when those things which I am displeased at in myself be praised in me, or even lesser and trifling goods are more valued than they should be. But, again, how do I know whether I am thus affected, because I am unwilling that he who praiseth me should differ from me concerning myself—not as being moved with consideration for him, but because the same good things which please me in myself are more pleasing to me when they also please another? For, in a sort, I am not praised when my judgment of myself is not praised; since either those things which are displeasing to me are praised, or those more so which are less pleasing to me. Am I then uncertain of myself in this matter?
62. Behold, O Truth, in Thee do I see that I ought not to be moved at my own praises for my own sake, but for my neighbour’s good. And whether it be so, in truth I know not. For concerning this I know less of myself than dost Thou. I beseech Thee now, O my God, to reveal to me myself also, that I may confess unto my brethren, who are to pray for me, what I find in myself weak. Once again let me more diligently examine myself. If, in mine own praise, I am moved with consideration for my neighbour, why am I less moved if some other man be unjustly dispraised than if it be myself? Why am I more irritated at that reproach which is cast upon myself, than at that which is with equal injustice cast upon another in my presence? Am I ignorant of this also? or does it remain that I deceive myself, and do not the “truth” before Thee in my heart and tongue? Put such madness far from me, O Lord, lest my mouth be to me the oil of sinners, to anoint my head.
- Isa. xlviii. 10, and Prov. xxvii. 21.
- Lam. iii. 48.
- Ps. xix. 12. See note 5, page 47, above.
- In his De Vera Relig. sec. 92, he points out that adversity also, when it comes to a good man, will disclose to him how far his heart is set on worldly things: “Hoc enim sine amore nostro aderat, quod sine dolore discedit.”
- 1 John ii. 16. See beginning of sec. 41, above.
- Lev. xix. 18. See book xii. secs. 35, 41, below.
- It may be well, in connection with the striking piece of soul-anatomy in this and the last two sections, to advert to other passages in which Augustin speaks of the temptation arising from the praise of men. In Serm. cccxxxix. 1, he says that he does not altogether dislike praise when it comes from the good, though feeling it to be a snare, and does not reject it: “Ne ingrati sint quibus prædico.” That is, as he says above, he accepted it for his “neighbour’s good,” since, had his neighbour not been ready to give praise, it would have indicated a wrong condition of heart in him. We are, therefore, as he argues in his De Serm. Dom. in Mon. ii. 1, 2, 6, to see that the design of our acts be not that men should see and praise us (compare also Enarr. in Ps. lxv. 2). If they praise us it is well, since it shows that their heart is right; but if we “act rightly only because of the praise of men” (Matt. vi. 2, 5), we seek our own glory and not that of God. See also Serms. xciii. 9, clix. 10, etc.; and De Civ. Dei, v. 13, 14.
- Gal. vi. 3.
- 1 John i. 8.
- Ps. cxli. 5, according to the Vulg. and LXX. The Authorized Version (with which the Targum is in accord) gives the more probable sense, when it makes the oil to be that of the righteous and not that of the sinner: “Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.”