Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book V/Chapter 2

Chapter II.—On the Vanity of Those Who Wished to Escape the Omnipotent God.

2. Let the restless and the unjust depart and flee from Thee. Thou both seest them and distinguishest the shadows. And lo! all things with them are fair, yet are they themselves foul.[1] And how have they injured Thee?[2] Or in what have they disgraced Thy government, which is just and perfect from heaven even to the lowest parts of the earth. For whither fled they when they fled from Thy presence?[3] Or where dost Thou not find them? But they fled that they might not see Thee seeing them, and blinded might stumble against Thee;[4] since Thou forsakest nothing that Thou hast made[5]—that the unjust might stumble against Thee, and justly be hurt,[6] withdrawing themselves from Thy gentleness, and stumbling against Thine uprightness, and falling upon their own roughness. Forsooth, they know not that Thou art everywhere whom no place encompasseth, and that Thou alone art near even to those that remove far from Thee.[7] Let them, then, be converted and seek Thee; because not as they have forsaken their Creator hast Thou forsaken Thy creature. Let them be converted and seek Thee; and behold, Thou art there in their hearts, in the hearts of those who confess to Thee, and cast themselves upon Thee, and weep on Thy bosom after their obdurate ways, even Thou gently wiping away their tears. And they weep the more, and rejoice in weeping, since Thou, O Lord, not man, flesh and blood, but Thou, Lord, who didst make, remakest and comfortest them. And where was I when I was seeking Thee? And Thou wert before me, but I had gone away even from myself; nor did I find myself, much less Thee!


  1. Augustin frequently recurs to the idea, that in God’s overruling Providence, the foulness and sin of man does not disturb the order and fairness of the universe. He illustrates the idea by reference to music, painting, and oratory. “For as the beauty of a picture is increased by well-managed shadows, so, to the eye that has skill to discern it, the universe is beautified even by sinners, though, considered by themselves, their deformity is a sad blemish” (De Civ. Dei, xi. 23). So again, he says, God would never have created angels or men whose future wickedness he foreknew, unless He could turn them to the use of the good, “thus embellishing the course of the ages as it were an exquisite poem set off with antitheses” (ibid. xi. 18); and further on, in the same section, “as the oppositions of contraries lend beauty to language, so the beauty of the course of this world is achieved by the opposition of contraries, arranged, as it were, by an eloquence not of words, but of things.” These reflections affected Augustin’s views as to the last things. They seemed to him to render the idea entertained by Origen (De Princ. i. 6) and other Fathers as to a general restoration [ἀποκατάστασις] unnecessary. See Hagenbach’s Hist. of Doct. etc. i. 383 (Clark).
  2. “In Scripture they are called God’s enemies who oppose His rule not by nature but by vice, having no power to hurt Him, but only themselves. For they are His enemies not through their power to hurt, but by their will to oppose Him. For God is unchangeable, and wholly proof against injury” (De Civ. Dei, xii. 3).
  3. Ps. cxxxix. 7.
  4. Gen. xvi. 13, 14.
  5. Wisd. ii. 26. Old ver.
  6. He also refers to the injury man does himself by sin in ii. sec. 13, above; and elsewhere he suggests the law which underlies it: “The vice which makes those who are called God’s enemies resist Him, is an evil not to God but to themselves. And to them it is an evil solely because it corrupts the good of their nature.” And when we suffer for our sins we should thank God that we are not unpunished (De Civ. Dei, xii. 3). But if, when God punishes us, we still continue in our sin, we shall be more confirmed in habits of sin, and then, as Augustin in another place (in Ps. vii. 15) warns us, “our facility in sinning will be the punishment of God for our former yieldings to sin.” See also Butler’s Analogy, Pt. i. ch. 5, “On a state of probation as intended for moral discipline and improvement.”
  7. Ps. lxxiii. 27.