February 15, 2008

I was saying:  Tomorrow I shall find it; see, it will become perfectly clear, and I shall have no more doubts.  Faustus will come and explain everything.  What great men the Academic philosophers were!  Nothing for the conduct of life can be matter of assured knowledge.  Yet let us seek more diligently and not lose heart.  The books of the Church we now know not to contain absurdities.  The thing which seemed absurd can also be understood in another way which is edifying.  Let me fix my feet on that step where as a boy I was placed by my parents, until clear truth is found.  But where may it be sought?

When can it be sought?  Ambrose has no time.  There is no time for reading.  Where should we look for the books we need?  Where and when can we obtain them?  From whom can we borrow them?  Fixed times must be kept free, hours appointed, for the health of the soul.  Great hope has been aroused.  The Catholic faith does not teach what we thought and we were mistaken in criticizing it.  The Church’s educated men think it wrong to believe that God is bounded by the shape of a human body.  Why do we hesitate to knock at the door which opens the way to all the rest?  Our pupils occupy our mornings; what should we do with the remaining hours?  Why do we not investigate our problem?  But then when should we go to pay respects to our more influential friends, whose patronage we need?  When are we to prepare what our students are paying for?  When are we to refresh ourselves by allowing the mind to relax from then tension of anxieties?

Let all that perish!  Let us set aside these vain and empty ambitions.  Let us concentrate ourselves exclusively on the investigation of the truth.  Life is a misery, death is uncertain.  It may suddenly carry us off.  In what state shall we depart this life?  Where are we to learn the things we have neglected here?  And must we not rather pay for this negligence with punishments?  What if death itself will cut off and end all anxiety by annihilating the mind?  This too, then, is a question needing scrutiny.

But put aside the idea that death can be like that.  It is not for nothing, not empty of significance, that the high authority of the Christian faith is diffused throughout the world.  The deity would not have done all that for us, in quality and in quantity, if with the body’s death the soul’s life were also destroyed.  Why then do we heistate to abandon secular hopes and to dedicate ourselves wholly to God and the happy life?

But wait a moment.  Secular successes are pleasant.  They have no small sweetness of their own.  Our motivation is not to be deflected from them by a superficial decision; for it would be a disgrace to return to the secular again.  It is a considerable thing to set out to obtain preferment to high office.  And what worldly prize could be more desirable?  We have plenty of influential friends.  Provided that we are single-minded and exert much pressure, it should be possible to obtain at least the governorship of a minor province.  It would be necessary to marry a wife with some money to avert the burden of heavy expenditure, and that would be the limit of our ambition.  Many great men entirely worthy of imitation have combined the married state with a dedication to the study of wisdom.

That was what I used to say.

Augustine, Confessions vi.18-19

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