Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book V/Chapter 7
Chapter VII.—Clearly Seeing the Fallacies of the Manichæans, He Retires from Them, Being Remarkably Aided by God.
12. For when it became plain to me that he was ignorant of those arts in which I had believed him to excel, I began to despair of his clearing up and explaining all the perplexities which harassed me: though ignorant of these, however, he might still have held the truth of piety, had he not been a Manichæan. For their books are full of lengthy fables concerning the heaven and stars, the sun and moon, and I had ceased to think him able to decide in a satisfactory manner what I ardently desired,—whether, on comparing these things with the calculations I had read elsewhere, the explanations contained in the works of Manichæus were preferable, or at any rate equally sound? But when I proposed that these subjects should be deliberated upon and reasoned out, he very modestly did not dare to endure the burden. For he was aware that he had no knowledge of these things, and was not ashamed to confess it. For he was not one of those loquacious persons, many of whom I had been troubled with, who covenanted to teach me these things, and said nothing; but this man possessed a heart, which, though not right towards Thee, yet was not altogether false towards himself. For he was not altogether ignorant of his own ignorance, nor would he without due consideration be inveigled in a controversy, from which he could neither draw back nor extricate himself fairly. And for that I was even more pleased with him, for more beautiful is the modesty of an ingenuous mind than the acquisition of the knowledge I desired,—and such I found him to be in all the more abstruse and subtle questions.
13. My eagerness after the writings of Manichæus having thus received a check, and despairing even more of their other teachers,—seeing that in sundry things which puzzled me, he, so famous amongst them, had thus turned out,—I began to occupy myself with him in the study of that literature which he also much affected, and which I, as Professor of Rhetoric, was then engaged in teaching the young Carthaginian students, and in reading with him either what he expressed a wish to hear, or I deemed suited to his bent of mind. But all my endeavours by which I had concluded to improve in that sect, by acquaintance with that man, came completely to an end: not that I separated myself altogether from them, but, as one who could find nothing better, I determined in the meantime upon contenting myself with what I had in any way lighted upon, unless, by chance, something more desirable should present itself. Thus that Faustus, who had entrapped so many to their death,—neither willing nor witting it,—now began to loosen the snare in which I had been taken. For Thy hands, O my God, in the hidden design of Thy Providence, did not desert my soul; and out of the blood of my mother’s heart, through the tears that she poured out by day and by night, was a sacrifice offered unto Thee for me; and by marvellous ways didst Thou deal with me. It was Thou, O my God, who didst it, for the steps of a man are ordered by the Lord, and He shall dispose his way. Or how can we procure salvation but from Thy hand, remaking what it hath made?
- We have referred in the note on iii. sec. 10, above, to the way in which the Manichæans parodied Scripture names. In these “fables” this is remarkably evidenced. “To these filthy rags of yours,” says Augustin (Con. Faust. xx. 6), “you would unite the mystery of the Trinity; for you say that the Father dwells in a secret light, the power of the Son in the sun, and His wisdom in the moon, and the Holy Spirit in the air.” The Manichæan doctrine as to the mixture of the divine nature with the substance of evil, and the way in which that nature was released by the “elect,” has already been pointed out (see note iii. sec. 18, above). The part of sun and moon, also, in accomplishing this release, is alluded to in his De Mor. Manich. “This part of God,” he says (c. xxxvi.), “is daily being set free in all parts of the world, and restored to its own domain. But in its passage upwards as vapour from earth to heaven, it enters plants, because their roots are fixed in the earth, and so gives fertility and strength to all herbs and shrubs.” These parts of God, arrested in their rise by the vegetable world, were released, as above stated, by the “elect”. All that escaped from them in the act of eating, as well as what was set free by evaporation, passed into the sun and moon, as into a kind of purgatorial state—they being purer light than the only recently emancipated good nature. In his letter to Januarius (Ep. lv. 6), he tells us that the moon’s waxing and waning were said by the Manichæans to be caused by its receiving souls from matter as it were into a ship, and transferring them “into the sun as into another ship.” The sun was called Christ, and was worshipped; and accordingly we find Augustin, after alluding to these monstrous doctrines, saying (Con. Faust. v. 11): “If your affections were set upon spiritual and intellectual good instead of material forms, you would not pay homage to the material sun as a divine substance and as the light of wisdom.” Many other interesting quotations might be added, but we must content ourselves with the following. In his Reply to Faustus (xx. 6), he says: “You call the sun a ship, so that you are not only astray worlds off, as the saying is, but adrift. Next, while every one sees that the sun is round, which is the form corresponding from its perfection to his position among the heavenly bodies, you maintain that he is triangular [perhaps in allusion to the early symbol of the Trinity]; that is, that his light shines on the earth through a triangular window in heaven. Hence it is that you bend and bow your heads to the sun, while you worship not this visible sun, but some imaginary ship, which you suppose to be shining through a triangular opening.”
- Joel ii. 26.
- Ps. xxxvii. 23.