The Confessions of Saint Augustine HTML version

Book IV
For this space of nine years (from my nineteenth year to my eight-and-twentieth) we
lived seduced and seducing, deceived and deceiving, in divers lusts; openly, by sciences
which they call liberal; secretly, with a false-named religion; here proud, there
superstitious, every where vain. Here, hunting after the emptiness of popular praise, down
even to theatrical applauses, and poetic prizes, and strifes for grassy garlands, and the
follies of shows, and the intemperance of desires. There, desiring to be cleansed from
these defilements, by carrying food to those who were called "elect" and "holy," out of
which, in the workhouse of their stomachs, they should forge for us Angels and Gods, by
whom we might be cleansed. These things did I follow, and practise with my friends,
deceived by me, and with me. Let the arrogant mock me, and such as have not been, to
their soul's health, stricken and cast down by Thee, O my God; but I would still confess
to Thee mine own shame in Thy praise. Suffer me, I beseech Thee, and give me grace to
go over in my present remembrance the wanderings of my forepassed time, and to offer
unto Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving. For what am I to myself without Thee, but a
guide to mine own downfall? or what am I even at the best, but an infant sucking the milk
Thou givest, and feeding upon Thee, the food that perisheth not? But what sort of man is
any man, seeing he is but a man? Let now the strong and the mighty laugh at us, but let us
poor and needy confess unto Thee.
In those years I taught rhetoric, and, overcome by cupidity, made sale of a loquacity to
overcome by. Yet I preferred (Lord, Thou knowest) honest scholars (as they are
accounted), and these I, without artifice, taught artifices, not to be practised against the
life of the guiltless, though sometimes for the life of the guilty. And Thou, O God, from
afar perceivedst me stumbling in that slippery course, and amid much smoke sending out
some sparks of faithfulness, which I showed in that my guidance of such as loved vanity,
and sought after leasing, myself their companion. In those years I had one, -not in that
which is called lawful marriage, but whom I had found out in a wayward passion, void of
understanding; yet but one, remaining faithful even to her; in whom I in my own case
experienced what difference there is betwixt the self-restraint of the marriage-covenant,
for the sake of issue, and the bargain of a lustful love, where children are born against
their parents' will, although, once born, they constrain love.
I remember also, that when I had settled to enter the lists for a theatrical prize, some
wizard asked me what I would give him to win; but I, detesting and abhorring such foul
mysteries, answered, "Though the garland were of imperishable gold, I would not suffer a
fly to be killed to gain me it. " For he was to kill some living creatures in his sacrifices,
and by those honours to invite the devils to favour me. But this ill also I rejected, not out
of a pure love for Thee, O God of my heart; for I knew not how to love Thee, who knew
not how to conceive aught beyond a material brightness. And doth not a soul, sighing
after such fictions, commit fornication against Thee, trust in things unreal, and feed the
wind? Still I would not forsooth have sacrifices offered to devils for me, to whom I was
sacrificing myself by that superstition. For what else is it to feed the wind, but to feed
them, that is by going astray to become their pleasure and derision?