Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book VIII/Chapter 11
Chapter XI.—In What Manner the Spirit Struggled with the Flesh, that It Might Be Freed from the Bondage of Vanity.
25. Thus was I sick and tormented, accusing myself far more severely than was my wont, tossing and turning me in my chain till that was utterly broken, whereby I now was but slightly, but still was held. And Thou, O Lord, pressedst upon me in my inward parts by a severe mercy, redoubling the lashes of fear and shame, lest I should again give way, and that same slender remaining tie not being broken off, it should recover strength, and enchain me the faster. For I said mentally, “Lo, let it be done now, let it be done now.” And as I spoke, I all but came to a resolve. I all but did it, yet I did it not. Yet fell I not back to my old condition, but took up my position hard by, and drew breath. And I tried again, and wanted but very little of reaching it, and somewhat less, and then all but touched and grasped it; and yet came not at it, nor touched, nor grasped it, hesitating to die unto death, and to live unto life; and the worse, whereto I had been habituated, prevailed more with me than the better, which I had not tried. And the very moment in which I was to become another man, the nearer it approached me, the greater horror did it strike into me; but it did not strike me back, nor turn me aside, but kept me in suspense.
26. The very toys of toys, and vanities of vanities, my old mistresses, still enthralled me; they shook my fleshly garment, and whispered softly, “Dost thou part with us? And from that moment shall we no more be with thee for ever? And from that moment shall not this or that be lawful for thee for ever?” And what did they suggest to me in the words “this or that?” What is it that they suggested, O my God? Let Thy mercy avert it from the soul of Thy servant. What impurities did they suggest! What shame! And now I far less than half heard them, not openly showing themselves and contradicting me, but muttering, as it were, behind my back, and furtively plucking me as I was departing, to make me look back upon them. Yet they did delay me, so that I hesitated to burst and shake myself free from them, and to leap over whither I was called,—an unruly habit saying to me, “Dost thou think thou canst live without them?”
27. But now it said this very faintly; for on that side towards which I had set my face, and whither I trembled to go, did the chaste dignity of Continence appear unto me, cheerful, but not dissolutely gay, honestly alluring me to come and doubt nothing, and extending her holy hands, full of a multiplicity of good examples, to receive and embrace me. There were there so many young men and maidens, a multitude of youth and every age, grave widows and ancient virgins, and Continence herself in all, not barren, but a fruitful mother of children of joys, by Thee, O Lord, her Husband. And she smiled on me with an encouraging mockery, as if to say, “Canst not thou do what these youths and maidens can? Or can one or other do it of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me unto them. Why standest thou in thine own strength, and so standest not? Cast thyself upon Him; fear not, He will not withdraw that thou shouldest fall; cast thyself upon Him without fear, He will receive thee, and heal thee.” And I blushed beyond measure, for I still heard the muttering of those toys, and hung in suspense. And she again seemed to say, “Shut up thine ears against those unclean members of thine upon the earth, that they may be mortified. They tell thee of delights, but not as doth the law of the Lord thy God.” This controversy in my heart was naught but self against self. But Alypius, sitting close by my side, awaited in silence the result of my unwonted emotion.
- Col. iii. 5.
- Ps. cxix. 85, Old ver.
- As in nature, the men of science tell us, no two atoms touch, but that, while an inner magnetism draws them together, a secret repulsion keeps them apart, so it is with human souls. Into our deepest feelings our dearest friends cannot enter. In the throes of conversion, for example, God’s ministering servants may assist, but He alone can bring the soul to the birth. So it was here in the case of Augustin. He felt that now even the presence of his dear friend would be a burden,—God alone could come near, so as to heal the sore wound of his spirit—and Alypius was a friend who knew how to keep silence, and to await the issue of his friend’s profound emotion. How comfortable a thing to find in those who would give consolation the spirit that animated the friends of Job, when “they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him; for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job ii. 13). Well has Rousseau said: “Les consolations indiscrètes ne font qu’ aigrir les violentes afflictions. L’ indifference et la froideur trouvent aisément des paroles, mais la tristesse et le silence sont alors le vrai langage de l’amitié.” A beautiful exemplification of this is found in Victor Hugo’s portrait of Bishop Myriel, in Les Misérables (c. iv.), from which we have quoted a few pages back:—“Il savait s’asseoir et se taire de longues heures auprès de l’homme que avait perdu la femme qu’ii aimait, de la mére qui avait perdu son enfant. Comme il savait le moment de se taire, il savait aussi le moment de parler. O admirable consolateur! il ne cherchait pas à effacer la douleur par l’oubli, mais à l’agrandir et à la dignifier par l’ésperance.”