Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book V/Chapter 4

Chapter IV.—That the Knowledge of Terrestrial and Celestial Things Does Not Give Happiness, But the Knowledge of God Only.

7. Doth, then, O Lord God of truth, whosoever knoweth those things therefore please Thee? For unhappy is the man who knoweth all those things, but knoweth Thee not; but happy is he who knoweth Thee, though these he may not know.[1] But he who knoweth both Thee and them is not the happier on account of them, but is happy on account of Thee only, if knowing Thee he glorify Thee as God, and gives thanks, and becomes not vain in his thoughts.[2] But as he is happier who knows how to possess a tree, and for the use thereof renders thanks to Thee, although he may not know how many cubits high it is, or how wide it spreads, than he that measures it and counts all its branches, and neither owns it nor knows or loves its Creator; so a just man, whose is the entire world of wealth,[3] and who, as having nothing, yet possesseth all things[4] by cleaving unto Thee, to whom all things are subservient, though he know not even the circles of the Great Bear, yet it is foolish to doubt but that he may verily be better than he who can measure the heavens, and number the stars, and weigh the elements, but is forgetful of Thee, “who hast set in order all things in number, weight, and measure.”[5]


  1. What a contrast does his attitude here present to his supreme regard for secular learning before his conversion! We have constantly in his writings expressions of the same kind. On Psalm ciii. he dilates lovingly on the fount of happiness the word of God is, as compared with the writings of Cicero, Tully, and Plato; and again on Psalm xxxviii. he shows that the word is the source of all true joy. So likewise in De Trin. iv. 1: “That mind is more praiseworthy which knows even its own weakness, than that which, without regard to this, searches out and even comes to know the ways of the stars, or which holds fast such knowledge already acquired, while ignorant of the way by which itself to enter into its own proper health and strength.…Such a one has preferred to know his own weakness, rather than to know the walls of the world, the foundations of the earth, and the pinnacles of heaven.” See iii. sec. 9, note, above.
  2. Rom. i. 21.
  3. Prov. xvii. 6, in the LXX.
  4. 2 Cor. vi. 10.
  5. Wisd. xi. 20.