Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book IV/Chapter 3
Chapter III.—Not Even the Most Experienced Men Could Persuade Him of the Vanity of Astrology to Which He Was Devoted.
4. Those impostors, then, whom they designate Mathematicians, I consulted without hesitation, because they used no sacrifices, and invoked the aid of no spirit for their divinations, which art Christian and true piety fitly rejects and condemns. For good it is to confess unto Thee, and to say, “Be merciful unto me, heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee;” and not to abuse Thy goodness for a license to sin, but to remember the words of the Lord, “Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” All of which salutary advice they endeavour to destroy when they say, “The cause of thy sin is inevitably determined in heaven;” and, “This did Venus, or Saturn, or Mars;” in order that man, forsooth, flesh and blood, and proud corruption, may be blameless, while the Creator and Ordainer of heaven and stars is to bear the blame. And who is this but Thee, our God, the sweetness and well-spring of righteousness, who renderest “to every man according to his deeds,” and despisest not “a broken and a contrite heart!”
5. There was in those days a wise man, very skilful in medicine, and much renowned therein, who had with his own proconsular hand put the Agonistic garland upon my distempered head, not, though, as a physician; for this disease Thou alone healest, who resistest the proud, and givest grace to the humble. But didst Thou fail me even by that old man, or forbear from healing my soul? For when I had become more familiar with him, and hung assiduously and fixedly on his conversation (for though couched in simple language, it was replete with vivacity, life, and earnestness), when he had perceived from my discourse that I was given to books of the horoscope-casters, he, in a kind and fatherly manner, advised me to throw them away, and not vainly bestow the care and labour necessary for useful things upon these vanities; saying that he himself in his earlier years had studied that art with a view to gaining his living by following it as a profession, and that, as he had understood Hippocrates, he would soon have understood this, and yet he had given it up, and followed medicine, for no other reason than that he discovered it to be utterly false, and he, being a man of character, would not gain his living by beguiling people. “But thou,” saith he, “who hast rhetoric to support thyself by, so that thou followest this of free will, not of necessity—all the more, then, oughtest thou to give me credit herein, who laboured to attain it so perfectly, as I wished to gain my living by it alone.” When I asked him to account for so many true things being foretold by it, he answered me (as he could) “that the force of chance, diffused throughout the whole order of nature, brought this about. For if when a man by accident opens the leaves of some poet, who sang and intended something far different, a verse oftentimes fell out wondrously apposite to the present business, it were not to be wondered at,” he continued, “if out of the soul of man, by some higher instinct, not knowing what goes on within itself, an answer should be given by chance, not art, which should coincide with the business and actions of the questioner.”
6. And thus truly, either by or through him, Thou didst look after me. And Thou didst delineate in my memory what I might afterwards search out for myself. But at that time neither he, nor my most dear Nebridius, a youth most good and most circumspect, who scoffed at that whole stock of divination, could persuade me to forsake it, the authority of the authors influencing me still more; and as yet I had lighted upon no certain proof—such as I sought—whereby it might without doubt appear that what had been truly foretold by those consulted was by accident or chance, not by the art of the star-gazers.
- Augustin classes the votaries of both wizards and astrologers (De Doctr. Christ. ii. 23; and De Civ. Dei, x. 9; compare also Justin Martyr, Apol. ii. c. 5) as alike “deluded and imposed on by the false angels, to whom the lowest part of the world has been put in subjection by the law of God’s providence;” and he says, “All arts of this sort are either nullities, or are part of a guilty superstition springing out of a baleful fellowship between men and devils, and are to be utterly repudiated and avoided by the Christian, as the covenants of a false and treacherous friendship.” It is remarkable that though these arts were strongly denounced in the Pentateuch, the Jews—acquiring them from the surrounding Gentile nations—have embedded them deeply in their oral law, said also to be given by Moses (e.g. in Moed Katon 28, and Shabbath 156, prosperity comes from the influence of the stars; in Shabbath 61 it is a question whether the influence of the stars or a charm has been effective; and in Sanhedrin 17 magic is one of the qualifications for the Sanhedrim). It might have been expected that the Christians, if only from that reaction against Judaism which shows itself in Origen’s disparagement of the letter of the Old Testament Scriptures (see De Princip. iv. 15, 16), would have shrunk from such strange arts. But the influx of pagans, who had practiced them, into the Christian Church appears gradually to have leavened it in no slight degree. This is not only true of the Valentinians (see Kaye’s Clement of Alex. vi.) and other heretics, but the influence of these contacts is seen even in the writings of the “orthodox.” Those who can read between the lines will find no slight trace of this (after separating what they would conceive to be true from what is manifestly false) in the story told by Zonaras, in his Annals, of the controversy between the Rabbis and Sylvester, Bishop of Rome, before Constantine. The Jews were worsted in argument, and evidently thought an appeal to miracles might, from the Emperor’s education, bring him over to their side. An ox is brought forth. The Jewish wonder-worker whispers a mystic name into its ear, and it falls dead; but Sylvester, according to the story, is quite equal to the occasion, and restores the animal to life again by uttering the name of the Redeemer. It may have been that the cessation of miracles may have gradually led unstable professors of Christianity to invent miracles; and, as Bishop Kaye observes (Tertullian, p. 95), “the success of the first attempts naturally encouraged others to practice similar impositions on the credulity of mankind.” As to the time of the cessation of miracles, comparison may be profitably made of the views of Kaye, in the early part of c. ii. of his Tertullian, and of Blunt, in his Right Use of the Early Fathers, series ii. lecture 6.
- Ps. xli. 4.
- John v. 14.
- Rom. ii. 6, and Matt. xvi. 27.
- Ps. li. 17.
This physician was Vindicianus, the “acute old
man” mentioned in vii. sec. 8, below, and again in Ep.
138, as “the most eminent physician of his day.” Augustin’s
disease, however, could not be reached by his remedies. We are
irresistibly reminded of the words of our great poet:—
“Canst thou minister to a mind diseased;
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow;
Raze out the written troubles of the brain;
And, with some sweet oblivious antidote,
Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous
Which weighs upon the heart!”
—Macbeth, act. v. scene 3.
- 1 Pet. v. 5, and Jas. iv. 6.