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Saint Augustin by Louis Bertrand

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The quotations from Saint Augustin's _Confessions_ are taken from Canon
Bigg's scholarly version, which seems to me the best in English. But there
are places where M. Bertrand's reading of the original text differs from
Dr. Bigg's, and in such cases I have felt myself obliged to follow the
author of this book. These differences never seriously affect the meaning
of a passage; sometimes it is a mere matter of choice, as with the word
_collactaneum_ (i, 7) which Dr. Bigg translates "twin," and M. Bertrand,
like Pusey, _frere de lait_, or "foster-brother." As a rule, Dr. Bigg
chooses the quietest terms, and M. Bertrand the most forcible. Those
curious in such matters may like to see an instance.

The original text runs:--

Avulsa a latere meo tanquam impedimento conjugii, cum qua cubare
solitus eram, cor ubi adhaerebat, concisum et vulneratum mihi erat, et
trahebat sanguinem.

(_Confessiones_, vi, 15.)

M. Bertrand translates:--

Quand on arracha de mes flancs, sous pretexte qu'elle empechait mon
mariage, celle avec qui j'avais coutume de dormir, depuis si longtemps,
la ou mon coeur etait attache au sien, il se dechira, et je trainais
mon sang avec ma blessure.

Canon Bigg's version is:--

My mistress was torn from my side as an obstacle to my marriage, and my
heart, which clung to her, was torn and wounded till it bled.

In this place, it will be observed that Dr. Bigg does not emphasize the
word _ubi_ which, as the reader will find on turning to page 185 of this
volume, M. Bertrand thinks so significant.

The remaining English versions of the writings of Saint Augustin and of the
other Latin authors quoted are my own, except the passages from _The City
of God_, including the verse translation of Persius, which are taken,
with some necessary alterations, from the Seventeenth century translation
ascribed to John Healey.

V. O'S.















































Inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.
"Our heart finds no rest until it rests in Thee."

_Confessions_, I, i.

Saint Augustin is now little more than a celebrated name. Outside of
learned or theological circles people no longer read him. Such is true
renown: we admire the saints, as we do great men, on trust. Even his
_Confessions_ are generally spoken of only from hearsay. By this neglect,
is he atoning for the renewal of glory in which he shone during the
seventeenth century, when the Jansenists, in their inveterate obstinacy,
identified him with the defence of their cause? The reputation of sour
austerity and of argumentative and tiresome prolixity which attaches to
the remembrance of all the writers of Port-Royal, save Pascal--has that
affected too the work of Augustin, enlisted in spite of himself in the
ranks of these pious schismatics? And yet, if there have ever been any
beings who do not resemble Augustin, and whom probably he would have
attacked with all his eloquence and all the force of his dialectic, they
are the Jansenists. Doubtless he would have said with contempt: "The party
of Jansen," even as in his own day, with his devotion to Catholic unity, he
said: "The party of Donatus."

It must be acknowledged also that the very sight of his works is
terrifying, whether we take the enormous folios in two columns of the
Benedictine edition, or the volumes, almost as compact, and much more
numerous, of recent editions. Behind such a rampart of printed matter he is
well defended against profane curiosity. It needs courage and perseverance
to penetrate into this labyrinth of text, all bristling with theology and
exegesis and metaphysics. But only cross the threshold of the repellent
enclosure, grow used to the order and shape of the building, and it will
not be long ere you are overcome by a warm sympathy, and then by a steadily
increasing admiration for the host who dwells there. The hieratic face
of the old bishop lights up, becomes strangely living, almost modern, in
expression. You discover under the text one of the most passionate lives,
most busy and richest in instruction, that history has to shew. What it
teaches is applicable to ourselves, answers to our interests of yesterday
and to-day. This existence, and the century in which it was passed, recall
our own century and ourselves. The return of similar circumstances has
brought similar situations and characters; it is almost our portrait. And
we feel half ready to conclude that at the present moment there is no
subject more actual than St. Augustin.

At least he is one of the most interesting. What, indeed, is more romantic
than this wandering life of rhetorician and student that the youthful
Augustin led, from Thagaste to Carthage, from Carthage to Milan and to
Rome--begun in the pleasures and tumult of great cities, and ending in the
penitence, the silence, and recollection of a monastery? And again, what
drama is more full of colour and more profitable to consider than that last
agony of the Empire, of which Augustin was a spectator, and, with all his
heart faithful to Rome, would have prevented if he could? And then, what
tragedy more stirring and painful than the crisis of soul and conscience
which tore his life? Well may it be said that, regarded as a whole, the
life of Augustin was but a continual spiritual struggle, a battle of the
soul. It is the battle of every moment, the never-ceasing combat of body
and spirit, which the poets of that time dramatized, and which is the
history of the Christian of all times. The stake of the battle is a soul.
The upshot is the final triumph, the redemption of a soul.

What makes the life of Augustin so complete and so truly typical is that
he fought the good fight, not only against himself, but against all the
enemies of the Church and the Empire. If he was a doctor and a saint, so
was he too the type of the man of action in one of the most disheartened
periods. That he triumphed over his passions--this, in truth, concerns only
God and himself. That he preached, wrote, shook crowds, disturbed minds,
may seem without importance to those who reject his doctrine. But that
across the centuries his soul, afire with charity, continues to warm our
own; that without our knowledge he still shapes us; and that, in a way
more or less remote, he is still the master of our hearts, and, in certain
aspects, of our minds--there is what touches each and all of us, without
distinction. Not only has Augustin always his great place in the living
communion of all christened people, but the Western soul is marked with the
stamp of his soul.

First of all, his fate is confused with that of the dying Empire. He
witnessed, if not the utter disappearance, at least the gradual swooning
away of that admirable thing called the Roman Empire, image of Catholic
unity. Well, we are the wreckage of the Empire. Usually, we turn away with
contempt from those wretched centuries which underwent the descents of the
Barbarians. For us, that is the Lower-Empire, a time of shameful decadence
which deserves nothing but our scorn. However, it is out of this chaos
and this degradation that we have arisen. The wars of the Roman republic
concern us less than the outlawry of the Barbarian chiefs who separated our
Gaul from the Empire, and without knowing it, prepared the dawn of France.
After all, what are the rivalries of Marius and Sylla to us? The victory of
Aetius over the Huns in the plains of Chalons concerns us a good deal more.
Further, it is unfair to the Lower-Empire to view it only as a time of
feebleness and cowardice and corruption. It was also an epoch of immense
activity, prolific of daring and high-flying adventurers, some of them
heroic. Even the most degenerate of the last Emperors never lost the
conviction of Roman majesty and grandeur. Unto the very end, they employed
all the ruses of their diplomacy to prevent the Barbarian chiefs from
imagining themselves anything else but vassals of the Empire. Honorius, at
bay in Ravenna, persisted in refusing Alaric the title of commander of the
_Cohortes Urbanae_, even though his refusal were to lead to the sack of Rome
and imperil his own life.

Simply by his fidelity to the Empire, Augustin shews himself one like
ourselves--a Latin of Occitania. But still closer resemblances draw him
near to us. His time was very like our own time. Upon even a slight
familiarity with his books we recognize in him a brother-soul who has
suffered, felt, thought, pretty nearly like us. He came into an ending
world, on the eve of the great cataclysm which was going to carry away an
entire civilization--a tragic turning-point of history, a time troubled and
often very grievous, which was hard to live in for all, and to even the
most determined minds must have appeared desperate. The peace of the Church
was not yet settled; consciences were divided. People hesitated between the
belief of yesterday and the belief of to-morrow. Augustin was among those
who had the courage to choose, and who, having once chosen their faith,
proclaimed it without weakening. The belief of a thousand years was dying
out, quenched by a young belief to which was promised an eternal duration.
How many delicate souls must have suffered from this division, which cut
them off from their traditions and obliged them, as they thought, to be
false to their dead along with the religion of their ancestors! All the
irritations which the fanatics of to-day inflict upon believing souls, many
must have had to suffer then. The sceptics were infused by the intolerance
of the others. But the worst (even as it is to-day) was to watch the
torrent of foolishness which, under cover of religion, philosophy, or
miracle-working, pretended to the conquest of mind and will. Amid this mass
of wildest doctrines and heresies, in this orgy of vapid intellectualism,
they had indeed solid heads who were able to resist the general
intoxication. And among all these people talking nonsense, Augustin appears
admirable with his good sense.

This "intellectual," this mystic, was not only a man of prayer and
meditation. The prudence of the man of action and the administrator
balanced his outbursts of dialectical subtility, often carried too far. He
had that sense of realities such as we flatter ourselves that we have; he
had a knowledge of life and passion. Compared to the experience of, say,
Bossuet, how much wider was Augustin's! And with all that, a quivering
sensitiveness which is again like our own--the sensitiveness of times of
intense culture, wherein the abuse of thought has multiplied the ways of
suffering in exasperating the desire for pleasure. "The soul of antiquity
was rude and vain." It was, above all, limited. The soul of Augustin is
tender and serious, eager for certainties and those enjoyments which do
not betray. It is vast and sonorous; let it be stirred ever so little, and
from it go forth deep vibrations which render the sound of the infinite.
Augustin, before his conversion, had the apprehensions of our Romantics,
the causeless melancholy and sadness, the immense yearnings for "anywhere
but here," which overwhelmed our fathers. He is really very close to us.

He has broadened our Latin souls by reconciling us with the Barbarian. The
Latin, like the Greek, only understood himself. The Barbarian had not the
right to express himself in the language of the Empire. The world was split
into two parts which endeavoured to ignore each other, Augustin has made us
conscious of the nameless regions, the vague countries of the soul, which
hitherto had lain shrouded in the darkness of barbarism. By him the union
of the Semitic and the Occidental genius is consummated. He has acted as
our interpreter for the Bible. The harsh Hebraic words become soft to our
ears by their passage through the cultivated mouth of the rhetorician. He
has subjugated us with the word of God. He is a Latin who speaks to us of

Others, no doubt, had done it before him. But none had found a similar
emotion, a note of tenderness so moving. The gentle violence of his charity
wins the adherence of hearts. He breathes only charity. After St. John, it
is he who is the Apostle of Love.

His tireless voice dominated the whole of the West. The Middle Ages still
heard it. For centuries his sermons and treatises were copied over and
over again; they were repeated in cathedrals, commented in abstracts of
theology. People came to accept even his theory of the fine arts. All that
we have inherited from the ancients reaches us through Augustin. He is the
great teacher. In his hands the doctrinal demonstration of the Catholic
religion takes firm shape. To indicate the three great stages of the onward
march of the truth, one may say: Jesus Christ, St. Paul, St. Augustin.
Nearest to our weakness is the last. He is truly our spiritual father. He
has taught us the language of prayer. The words of Augustin's prayers are
still upon the lips of the devout.

This universal genius, who during forty years was the speaking-trumpet of
Christendom, was also the man of one special century and country. Augustin
of Thagaste is the great African.

Well may we be proud of him and adopt him as one of our glories--we who
have kept up, for now almost a century, a struggle like to that which
he maintained for the unity of the Roman Empire, we who consider Africa
as an extension of France. More than any other writer, he has expressed
the temperament and the genius of his country. This motley Africa, with
its eternal mixture of races at odds with one another, its jealous
sectarianism, the variety of its scenery and climate, the violence
of its sensations and passions, its seriousness of character and its
quick-changing humour, its mind at once practical and frivolous, its
materialism and its mysticism, its austerity and its luxury, its
resignation to servitude and its instincts of independence, its hunger
to rule--all that comes out with singularly vivid touches in the work of
Augustin. Not only was he his country's voice, but, as far as he could, he
realized its old dream of dominion. The supremacy in spiritual matters that
Carthage disputed so long and bitterly with Rome, it ended by obtaining,
thanks to Augustin. As long as he lived, the African Church was the
mistress of the Churches of the West.

As for me--if I may venture to refer to myself in such a matter--I have had
the joy to recognize in him, besides the Saint and Teacher whom I revere,
the ideal type of the Latin of Africa. The image of which I descried the
outline long ago through the mirages of the South in following the waggons
of my rugged heroes, I have seen at last become definite, grow clear, wax
noble and increase to the very heaven, in following the traces of Augustin.

And even supposing that the life of this child of Thagaste, the son of
Monnica, were not intermingled so deeply with ours, though he were for us
only a foreigner born in a far-off land, nevertheless he would still remain
one of the most fascinating and luminous souls who have shone amid our
darkness and warmed our sadness--one of the most human and most divine
creatures who have trod our highways.



Sed delectabat ludere.
"Only, I liked to play."

_Confessions_, I, 9.



Little streets, quite white, which climb up to clay-formed hills deeply
furrowed by the heavy winter rains; between the double row of houses,
brilliant in the morning sun, glimpses of sky of a very tender blue; here
and there, in the strip of deep shade which lies along the thresholds,
white figures crouched upon rush-mats--indolent outlines, draped with
bright colours, or muffled in rough and sombre wool-stuffs; a horseman who
passes, bent almost in two in his saddle, the big hat of the South flung
back over his shoulders, and encouraging with his heel the graceful trot of
his horse--such is Thagaste as we see it to-day, and such undoubtedly it
appeared to the traveller in the days of Augustin.

Like the French town built upon its ruins, the African free-city lay in a
sort of plain taken between three round hills. One of them, the highest
one, which is now protected by a _bordj_, must have been defended in old
days by a _castellum_. Full-flowing waters moisten the land. To those
coming from the stony regions about Constantine and Setif, or the vast bare
plain of the Medjerda, Thagaste gives an impression of freshness and cool.
It is a laughing place, full of greenery and running water. To the Africans
it offers a picture of those northern countries which they have never seen,
with its wooded mountains covered by pines and cork trees and ilex. It
presents itself as a land of mountain and forest--especially forest. It is
a hunter's country. Game is plentiful there--boar, hare, redwing, quail,
partridge. In Augustin's time, wild beasts were apparently more numerous in
the district than they are to-day. When he compares his adversaries, the
Donatists, to roaring lions, he speaks like a man who knows what a lion is.

To the east and west, wide stretches of woodland, rounded hill-summits,
streams and torrents which pour through the valleys and glens--there
you have Thagaste and the country round about--the world, in fact, as
it revealed itself to the eyes of the child Augustin. But towards the
south the verdure grows sparse; arid mountain-tops appear, crushed down
as blunted cones, or jutted in slim Tables of the Law; the sterility
of the desert becomes perceptible amid the wealth of vegetation. This
full-foliaged land has its harsh and stern localities. The African light,
however, softens all that. The deep green of the oaks and pines runs into
waves of warm and ever-altering tints which are a caress and a delight for
the eye. A man has it thoroughly brought home to him that he is in a land
of the sun.

To say the least, it is a country of strongly marked features which affords
the strangest contrast with the surrounding districts. This wooded Numidia,
with its flowing brooks, its fields where the cattle graze, differs in the
highest degree from the Numidia towards Setif--a wide, desolate plain,
where the stubble of the wheat-fields, the sandy _steppes_, roll away in
monotonous undulations to the cloudy barrier of Mount Atlas which closes
the horizon. And this rough and melancholy plain in its turn offers a
striking contrast with the coast region of Boujeiah and Hippo, which is not
unlike the Italian Campania in its mellowness and gaiety. Such clear-cut
differences between the various parts of the same province doubtless
explain the essential peculiarities of the Numidian character. The bishop
Augustin, who carried his pastoral cross from one end to the other of this
country, and was its acting and thinking soul, may perhaps have owed to it
the contrasts and many-sidedness of his own rich nature.

Of course, Thagaste did not pretend to be a capital. It was a free-town of
the second or third order; but its distance from the great centres gave it
a certain importance. The neighbouring free-towns, Thubursicum, Thagura,
were small. Madaura and Theveste, rather larger, had not perhaps the same
commercial importance. Thagaste was placed at the junction of many Roman
roads. There the little Augustin, with other children of his age, would
have a chance to admire the out-riders and equipages of the Imperial
Mail, halted before the inns of the town. What we can be sure of is that
Thagaste, then as now, was a town of passage and of traffic, a half-way
stopping-place for the southern and coast towns, as well as for those of
the Proconsulate and Numidia. And like the present Souk-Ahras, Thagaste
must have been above all a market. Bread-stuffs and Numidian wines were
bartered for the flocks of the Aures, leather, dates, and the esparto
basket-work of the regions of Sahara. The marbles of Simitthu, the
citron-wood of which they made precious tables, were doubtless handled
there. The neighbouring forests could furnish building materials to the
whole country. Thagaste was the great mart of woodland Numidia, the
warehouse and the bazaar, where to this day the nomad comes to lay in a
stock of provisions, and stares with childish delight at the fine things
produced by the inventive talent of the workers who live in towns.

Thus images of plenty and joy surrounded the cradle of Augustin. The smile
of Latin beauty welcomed him also from his earliest steps. It is true that
Thagaste was not what is called a fine city. The fragments of antiquity
which have been unearthed there are of rather inferior workmanship. But how
little is needed to give wings to the imagination of an intelligent child!
At all events, Thagaste had a bathing-hall paved with mosaics and perhaps
ornamented with statues; Augustin used to bathe there with his father.
And again, it is probable that, like the neighbouring Thubursicum and
other free-cities of the same level, it had its theatre, its forum, its
nymph-fountains, perhaps even its amphitheatre. Of all that nothing
has been found. Certain inscribed stone tablets, capitals and shafts
of columns, a stone with an inscription which belonged to a Catholic
church--that is all which has been discovered up to this present time.

Let us not ask for the impossible. Thagaste had columns--nay, perhaps a
whole street between a double range of columns, as at Thimgad. That would
be quite enough to delight the eyes of a little wondering boy. A column,
even injured, or scarcely cleansed from wrack and rubbish, has about it
something impressive. It is like a free melody singing among the heavy
masses of the building. To this hour, in our Algerian villages, the mere
sight of a broken column entrances and cheers us--a white ghost of beauty
streaming up from the ruins among the modern hovels.

There were columns at Thagaste.



It was in this pleasant little town, shaded and beautified for many years
now by the arts of Rome, that the parents of Augustin lived.

His father, Patricius, affords us a good enough type of the Romanized
African. He belonged to the order of _Decuriones_, to the "very brilliant
urban council of Thagaste" (_splendidissimus ordo Thagastensis_), as an
inscription at Souk-Ahras puts it. Although these strong epithets may be
said to be part of the ordinary official phraseology, they indicate, just
the same, the importance which went with such a position. In his township,
Patricius was a kind of personage. His son assures us that he was poor, but
we may suspect the holy bishop of exaggerating through Christian humility.
Patricius must certainly have owned more than twenty-five acres of land,
for this was made a condition of being elected to the _curia_. He had
vineyards and orchards, of which Augustin later on recalled the plentiful
and sweet-tasting fruits. In short, he lived in considerable style. It
is true that in Africa household expenses have never at any time been a
great extravagance. Still, the sons of Patricius had a pedagogue, a slave
specially engaged to keep them under his eye, like all the children of
families comfortably off.

It has been said that as Augustin's father was a member of the _curia_,
he must have been a ruined man. The Decurions, who levied taxes and made
themselves responsible for their collection, were obliged to supply any
deficiency in the revenue out of their own money. Patricius, it is thought,
must have been one of the numerous victims of this disastrous system. But
no doubt there were a good many exceptions. Besides, there is nothing in
Augustin's reminiscences which authorizes us to believe that his father
ever knew embarrassment, to say nothing of actual poverty. What seems by
far the most probable is that he lived as well as he could upon the income
of his estate as a small country landowner. In Africa people are satisfied
with very little. Save for an unusually bad year following a time of long
drought, or a descent of locusts, the land always gives forth enough to
feed its master.

To hunt, to ride horseback, now and then to go on parade, to look after
his small-holders and agricultural slaves, to drive one of those bargains
in which African cunning triumphs--such were the employments of Patricius.
In short, he drifted through life on his little demesne. Sometimes this
indolent man was overcome by a sudden passion for work; or again he was
seized by furious rages. He was violent and brutal. At such moments he
struck out right and left. He would even have hit his wife or flogged the
skin off her back if the quietude of this woman, her dignity and Christian
mildness, had not overawed him. Let us not judge this kind of conduct by
our own; we shall never understand it. The ancient customs, especially the
African customs, were a disconcerting mixture of intense refinement and
heedless brutality.

That is why it will not do to exaggerate the outbursts of Patricius, which
his son mentions discreetly. Although he may not have been very faithful to
his wife, that was in those days, more than in ours, a venial sin in the
eyes of the world. At heart the African has always longed for a harem in
his house; he inclines naturally to the polygamy of Muslemism. In Carthage,
and elsewhere, public opinion was full of indulgence for the husband who
allowed himself liberties with the serving-women. People laughed at it, and
excused the man. It is true they were rather harder on the matron who took
the same kind of liberty with her men-slaves. However, that went on too.
The Bishop of Hippo, in his sermons, strongly rebuked the Christian married
couples for these frequent adulteries which were scarcely regarded as

Patricius was a pagan, and this partly explains his laxity. It would
doubtless be going too far to say that he remained faithful to paganism
all his life. It is not likely that this urban councillor of Thagaste was
a particularly assured pagan. Speculative and intellectual considerations
made a very moderate appeal to him. He was not an arguer like his son. He
was pagan from habit, from that instinctive conservatism of the citizen
and landowner who sticks obstinately to his class and family traditions.
Prudence and diplomacy had also something to do with it. Many great
landlords continued to defend and practise paganism, probably from motives
similar to those of Patricius himself. As for him, he had no desire to get
wrong with the important and influential people of the country; he might
have need of their protection to save his small property from the ravenous
public treasury. Moreover, the best-paid posts were still controlled by the
pagan priesthood. And so Augustin's father thought himself very wise in
dealing cautiously with a religion which was always so powerful, and
rewarded its adherents so well.

But for all that, it is undeniable that paganism about this time was in an
awkward position from a political point of view. The Government eyed it
with disapproval. Since the death of Constantine, the "accursed emperors"
had waged against it a furious war. In 353, just before the birth of
Augustin, Constantius promulgated an edict renewing the order for the
closing of the temples and the abolition of sacrifices--and that too under
pain of death and confiscation. But in distant provinces, such as Numidia,
the action of the central power was slow and irregular. It was often
represented by officials who were hostile or indifferent to Christianity.
The local aristocracy and their following scoffed at it more or less
openly. In their immense villas, behind the walls of their parks, the rich
landowners offered sacrifices and organized processions and feasts as
if there were no law at all. Patricius knew all that. And, on the other
side, he could take note of the encroachments of the new religion. During
the first half of the fourth century Thagaste had been conquered by the
Donatists. Since the edict of Constans against these schismatics, the
inhabitants of the little city had come back to Catholicism out of fear of
the severity of the imperial government. But the settlement was far from
being complete and final. As a consequence of the edict, the whole region
of the Aures had been in revolution. The Bishop of Bagai, fortified in
his episcopal city and basilica, had stood an actual siege from the Roman
troops. Almost everywhere the struggle between Donatists and Catholics
still went on below the surface. There cannot be the least doubt that
Thagaste took its share in these quarrels. To those who urged him to be
baptized, the father of Augustin might well answer with ironic politeness:
"I am only waiting till you agree among yourselves, to see where the truth
lies." In his heart this rather lukewarm pagan had no inveterate dislike to

What proves it at once is that he married a Christian.

How did Monnica become the wife of Patricius? How did these two beings, so
little alike, between whom there was such a great difference of age, not to
mention all the rest, come to join their fate? Those are questions which
it would never have occurred to the people of Thagaste to ask. Patricius
married to be like everybody else--and also because he was well over forty,
and his mother an old woman who would soon be no longer able to run his

Monnica also had her mother. The two old women had a meeting, with many
politenesses and ceremonious bowings, and because the thing appeared to
them reasonable and most suitable, they settled the marriage. Had Patricius
ever seen the girl that he was going to take, according to custom, so as to
have a child-bearer and housewife? It is quite likely he had not. Was she
pretty, rich, or poor? He considered such matters as secondary, since the
marriage was not a love-match but a traditional duty to fulfil. If the
union was respectable, that was quite enough. But however the matter fell
out, what is certain is that Monnica was very young. She was twenty-two
when Augustin was born, and he was probably not her first child. We know
that she was hardly marriageable when she was handed over, as Arab parents
do to-day with their adolescent or little girls, to the man who was going
to marry her. Now in Africa girls become marriageable at a very early age.
They are married at fourteen, sometimes even at twelve. Perhaps she was
seventeen or eighteen at most when she married Patricius. She must have had
first a son, Navigius, whom we shall meet later on at Milan, and also a
daughter, of whom we do not even know the name, but who became a nun, and
superior of a convent in the diocese of Hippo. For us the features of these
two other children of Monnica and Patricius are obliterated. They are
concealed by the radiance of their illustrious great brother.

Monnica was fond of telling stories of her girlhood to her son. He has
handed down some of them to us.

She was brought up strictly, according to the system of that time. Both her
parents came of families which had been Christian, and Catholic-Christian,
for many generations. They had never been carried away by the Donatist
schism; they were people very obstinate in their convictions--a character
quite as frequent in Africa as its opposite, the kind of Numidian or Moor,
who is versatile and flighty. It is not unimportant that Augustin came from
this hard-headed race, for this it was, with the aid of God's grace, that
saved him--the energetic temper of his will.

Still, if the faith of the young Monnica was confirmed from her earliest
years, it is not so much to the lessons of her mother that she owed it,
as to the training of an old woman-servant of whom she always spoke with
gratitude. In the family of her master, this old woman had a place like the
one which to-day in a Turkish family is held by the nurse, the _dada_, who
is respected by all the harem and all the household. Doubtless she herself
was born in the house and had seen all the children born. She had carried
Monnica's father on her back when he was little, just as the Kabylian
women or the Bedouin nomads carry their babies still. She was a devoted
slave, just a bit unreasonable--a veritable housedog who in the zeal of
guardianship barks more than is necessary at the stranger who passes. She
was like the negress in the Arab houses to-day, who is often a better
Muslem, more hostile to the Christian, than her employers. The old woman
in Monnica's family had witnessed the last persecutions; she had perhaps
visited the confessors in prison; perhaps she had seen flow the blood of
the martyrs. These exciting and terrible scenes would have been graven on
her memory. What inflamed stories the old servant must have told her young
mistresses, what vital lessons of constancy and heroism! Monnica listened
to them eagerly.

Because of her great faith, this simple slave was revered as a saint by
her owners, who entrusted her with the supervision of their daughters. She
proved a stern governess, who would stand no trifling with her rules. She
prevented these girls from drinking even water except at meals. Cruel
suffering for little Africans! Thagaste is not far from the country of
thirst. But the old woman said to them:

"You drink water now because you can't get at the wine. In time to come,
when you are married and have bins and cellars of your own, you'll turn up
your nose at water, and your habit of drinking will be too much for you."

Monnica came near fulfilling the prophecy of the honest woman. It was
before she was married. As she was very well-behaved and very temperate,
she used to be sent to the cellar to draw the wine from the cask. Before
pouring it into the flagon she would sip just a little. Being unaccustomed
to wine, she was not able to drink more; it was too strong for her gullet.
She did this, not because she liked the wine, but from naughtiness, to play
a trick on her parents who trusted her, and also, of course, because it was
prohibited. Each time she swallowed a little more, and so it went on till
she ended by finding it rather nice, and came to drinking greedily one
cup after another. One day a slave-girl, who went with her to the cellar,
began to grumble. Monnica gave her a sharp answer. Upon this the girl
called Monnica a drunkard.... Drunkard! This bitter taunt so humiliated the
self-respect of the future saint, that she got the better of her taste for
drink. Augustin does not say it was through piety she did this, but because
she felt the ugliness of such a vice.

There is a certain roughness in this story of childhood, the roughness of
ancient customs, with which is always mingled some decency or dignity.
Christianity did the work of polishing the soul of Monnica. At the time we
are dealing with, if she was already a very devout young girl, she was far
as yet from being the grand Christian that she became afterwards.

When she married Patricius she was a girl very reserved and cold to all
appearances (in reality, she was very passionate), precise in attending to
her religious duties, even a little strict, with her exaggeration of the
Christian austerity in her hate of all the brutalities and all the careless
morals that paganism condoned. Nevertheless, this rigid soul knew how to
bend when it was necessary. Monnica had tact, suppleness, and, when it
was needed, a very acute and very reasonable practical sense of which she
gave many a proof in the bringing up and management of her son Augustin.
This soul, hard for herself, veiled her uncompromising religion under an
unchangeable sweetness which was in her rather the work of grace than a
natural gift.

There can be little doubt that her behaviour and character greatly
disturbed Patricius at the beginning of their married life. Perhaps he
regretted the marriage. What use had he for this nun alongside of him!
Both of them must have suffered the usual annoyances which always appeared
before long in unions of this kind between pagan and Christian. True, it
was no longer the time of Tertullian, the heroic century of persecutions,
when the Christian women glided into the prisons to kiss the shackles of
the martyrs. (What a revenge did woman take then for her long and enforced
confinement to the women's apartments! And how outrageous such conduct must
have seemed to a husband brought up in the Roman way!) But the practices
of the Christian life established a kind of intermittent divorce between
husbands and wives of different religion. Monnica often went out, either
alone, or accompanied by a faithful bondwoman. She had to attend the
services of the Church, to go about the town visiting the poor and giving
alms. And there were the fast-days which occurred two or three times a
week, and especially the long fast of Lent--a grievous nuisance when the
husband wanted to give a dinner-party just on those particular days! On
the vigil of festivals, Monnica would spend a good part of the night in
the Basilica. Regularly, doubtless on Sundays, she betook herself to the
cemetery, or to some chapel raised to the memory of a martyr who was often
buried there--in fact, they called these chapels "Memorials" (_memoriae_).

There were many of these chapels--even too many in the opinion of austere
Christians. Monnica went from one to another carrying in a large basket
made of willow branches some pieces of minced meat, bread, and wine mixed
with water. She met her friends in these places. They would sit down around
the tombs, of which some were shaped like tables, unpack the provisions,
and eat and drink piously in honour of the martyr. This was a residue
of pagan superstition among the Christians. These pious _agapae_, or
love-feasts, often turned into disgusting orgies. When Augustin became
Bishop of Hippo he had considerable trouble to get his people out of the
habit of them. Notwithstanding his efforts, the tradition still lasts.
Every Friday the Muslem women keep up the custom of visiting the cemeteries
and the marabouts. Just as in the time of St. Monnica, they sit around the
tombs, so cool with their casing of painted tiles, in the shade of the
cypress and eucalyptus. They gobble sweetmeats, they gossip, they laugh,
they enjoy themselves--the husbands are not there.

Monnica made these visits in a really pious state of mind, and was far
from trying to find in them opportunities for lewdness or carouse. She was
content to drink a little wine very carefully--she always bore in mind her
youthful sin. Besides, this wine weakened with water that she brought from
the house, was tepid by the time she reached the cemetery; it would be a
drink of very moderate relish, little likely to stimulate the senses. She
distributed what was left of it among the needy, together with the contents
of her basket, and came back modestly to her house.

But however staid and reserved she might be, still these outings gave rise
to scandalous talk. They annoyed a suspicious husband. All the Africans are
that. Marital jealousy was not invented by Islam. Moreover, in Monnica's
time men and women took part in these funeral love-feasts and mingled
together disturbingly. Patricius got cross about it, and about a good many
other things too. His old mother chafed his suspicions by carrying to
him the ugly gossip and even the lies of the servants about his wife. By
dint of patience and mildness and attentions, Monnica ended by disarming
her mother-in-law and making it clear that her conduct was perfect. The
old woman flew into a rage with the servants who had lied to her, and
denounced them to her son. Patricius, like a good head of a household, had
them whipped to teach them not to lie any more. Thanks to this exemplary
punishment, and the good sense of the young wife, peace reigned once more
in the family.

Women, friends of Monnica, were amazed that the good understanding was
not oftener upset, at least in an open manner, between husband and wife.
Everybody in Thagaste knew the quick-tempered and violent character of
Patricius. And yet there were no signs that he beat his wife. Nor did
any one say he did. Other women who had less passionate husbands were
nevertheless beaten by them. When they came to Monnica's house they shewed
her the marks of the whacks they had got, their faces swollen from blows,
and they burst out in abuse of men, clamouring against their lechery,
which, said these matrons, was the cause of the ill-treatment they had to

"Blame your own tongue," retorted Monnica.

According to her, women should close their eyes to the infidelities of
their husbands and avoid arguing with them when they were angry. Silence,
submissiveness, were the all-powerful arms. And since, as a young woman,
she had a certain natural merriment, she added, laughing:

"Remember what was read to you on your wedding-day. You were told that you
are the handmaids of your husbands. Don't rebel against your masters!..."

Possibly this was a keen criticism of the pagan code, so hard in its rules.
Still, in this matter, the Roman law was in agreement with the Gospel.
Sincere Christian as she was, the wife of Patricius never had any quarrel
with him on account of his infidelities. So much kindness and resignation
touched the dissolute and brutal husband, who besides was an excellent
man and warm-hearted. The modesty of his wife, after a while, made her
attractive in his eyes. He loved her, so to speak, on the strength of
his respect and admiration for her. He would indeed have been a churl to
find fault with a wife who interfered with him so little and who was a
perfect housekeeper, as we shall see later on when we come to her life at
Cassicium. In one point, where even she did not intend it, she forwarded
the interests of her husband by gaining him the good-will of the Christians
in Thagaste; while he, on his side, could say to the pagans who looked
askance at his marriage: "Am I not one of yourselves?"

In spite of all the differences between him and Monnica, Patricius was a
contented husband.



Augustin came into this world the thirteenth of November of the year of
Christ 354.

It was just one little child more in this sensual and pleasure-loving
Africa, land of sin and of carnal productiveness, where children are
born and die like the leaves. But the son of Monnica and Patricius was
predestined: he was not to die in the cradle like so many other tiny

Even if he had not been intended for great things, if he had been only a
head in the crowd, the arrival of this baby ought, all the same, to affect
us, for to the Christian, the destiny of the obscurest and humblest of
souls is a matter of importance. Forty years afterwards, Augustin, in his
_Confessions_, pondered this slight ordinary fact of his birth, which
happened almost unnoticed by the inhabitants of Thagaste, and in truth it
seems to him a great event, not because it concerns himself, bishop and
Father of the Church, but because it is a soul which at this imperceptible
point of time comes into the world.

Let us clearly understand Augustin's thought. Souls have been ransomed by a
Victim of infinite value. They have themselves an infinite value. Nothing
which goes on in them can be ignored. Their most trifling sins, their
feeblest stirrings towards virtue, are vital for the eternity of their lot.
All shall be attributed to them by the just Judge. The theft of an apple
will weigh perhaps as heavily in the scales as the seizure of a province
or a kingdom. The evil of sin is in the evil intention. Now the fate
of a soul, created by God, on Him depends. Hence everything in a human
life assumes an extreme seriousness and importance. In the history of a
creature, all is worthy of being examined, weighed, studied, and perhaps
also, for the edification of others, told.

Here is an altogether new way of regarding life, and, proceeding from that,
of understanding art. Even as the slaves, thanks to Christianity, came into
the spiritual city, so the most minute realities by this outlook are to be
included in literature. The _Confessions_ will be the first model of the
art of the new era. A deep and magnificent realism, because it goes even
to the very depths of the divine--utterly distinct, at any rate, from
our surface realism of mere amusement--is about to arise from this new
conception. Without doubt, in Augustin's eyes, beauty dwells in all things,
in so far forth as beauty is a reflection of the order and the thought
of the Word. But it has also a more essential character--it has a moral
signification and value. Everything, in a word, can be the instrument of
the loss or the redemption of a soul. The most insignificant of our actions
reverberates to infinitude on our fate. Regarded from this point, both
things and beings commence to live a life more closely leagued together and
at the same time more private; more individual and more general. All is in
the lump, and nevertheless all is separate. Our salvation concerns only
ourselves, and yet through charity it becomes involved with the salvation
of our fellows.

In this spirit let us look at the cradle of Augustin. Let us look at it
with the eyes of Augustin himself, and also, perchance, of Monnica. Bending
over the frail body of the little child he once was, he puts to himself
all the great desperate questions which have shaken humanity for thousands
of years. The mystery of life and death rises before him, formidable. It
tortures him to the point of anguish, of confusion: "Yet suffer me to speak
before Thy mercy, me who am but dust and ashes. Yea, suffer me to speak,
for, behold, I speak not to man who scorns me, but to Thy mercy. Even Thou
perhaps dost scorn me, but Thou wilt turn and have pity. For what is it
that I would say, O Lord my God, save that I know not whence I came hither
into this dying life, shall I call it, or living death?... And, lo, my
infancy has long been dead, and I live. But Thou, O Lord, who ever livest
and in whom nothing ever dies--tell me, I beseech Thee, O God, and have
mercy on my misery, tell me whether another life of mine died before my
infancy began."

One is reminded here of Pascal's famous prosopopoeia: "I know not who
has put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor myself. I am in a
terrible ignorance about everything.... All I know is that I must soon die,
but what I know least of all is this very death which I cannot escape."

The phrases of the _Pensees_ are only the echo of the phrases of the
_Confessions_. But how different is the tone! Pascal's charge against human
ignorance is merciless. The God of Port-Royal has the hard and motionless
face of the ancient Destiny: He withdraws into the clouds, and only shews
Himself at the end to raise up His poor creature. In Augustin the accent
is tender, trusting, really like a son, and though he be harassed, one can
discern the thrill of an unconquerable hope. Instead of crushing man under
the iron hand of the Justice-dealer, he makes him feel the kindness of the
Father who has got all ready, long before its birth, for the feeble little
child: "The comforts of Thy pity received me, as I have heard from the
father and mother of my flesh.... And so the comfort of woman's milk was
ready for me. For my mother and my nurses did not fill their own bosoms,
but Thou, O Lord, by their means gavest me the food of infancy, according
to Thy ordinance...."

And see! his heart overflows at this remembrance of his mother's milk. The
great doctor humbles his style, makes it simple and familiar, to tell us of
his first mewlings, and of his baby angers and joys. He too was a father;
he knew what is a new-born child, and a young mother who gives it suck,
because he had seen that with his own eyes close beside him. All the small
bothers which mingle with the pleasures of fatherhood he had experienced
himself. In his own son he studied himself.

* * * * *

This child, born of a Christian mother, and who was to become the great
defender of the faith, was not christened at his birth. In the early
Church, and especially in the African Church, it was not usual to do so.
The baptismal day was put as far off as possible, from the conviction that
the sins committed after the sacrament were much more serious than those
which went before. The Africans, very practical folk, clearly foresaw that
they would sin again even after baptism, but they wanted to sin at a better
rate, and lessen the inflictions of penance. This penance in Augustin's
time was far from being as hard as in the century before. Nevertheless, the
remembrance of the old severity always remained, and the habit was taken to
put off baptism so as not to discourage sinners overmuch.

Monnica, always sedulous to conform with the customs of her country and
the traditions of her Church, fell in with this practice. Perhaps she may
have had also the opposition of her husband to face, for he being a pagan
would not have cared to give too many pledges to the Christians, nor to
compromise himself in the eyes of his fellow-pagans by shewing that he
was so far under the control of Christian zealots as to have his child
baptized out of the ordinary way. There was a middle course, and this was
to inscribe the child among the catechumens. According to the rite of the
first admission to the lowest order of catechumens, the sign of the cross
was made on Augustin's forehead, and the symbolic salt placed between his
lips. And so they did not baptize him. Possibly this affected his whole
life. He lacked the baptismal modesty. Even when he was become a bishop, he
never quite cast off the old man that had splashed through all the pagan
uncleannesses. Some of his words are painfully broad for chaste ears. The
influence of African conditions does not altogether account for this. It is
only too plain that the son of Patricius had never known entire virginity
of soul.

They named him Aurelius Augustinus. Was Aurelius his family name? We cannot
tell. The Africans always applied very fantastically the rules of Roman
nomenclature. Anyhow, this name was common enough in Africa. The Bishop of
Carthage, primate of the province and a friend of Augustin, was also called
Aurelius. Pious commentators have sought to find in this name an omen of
Augustin's future renown as an orator. They have remarked that the word
_aurum_, gold, is contained in Aurelius--a prophetic indication of the
golden mouth of the great preacher of Hippo.

Meanwhile, he was a baby like any other baby, who only knew, as he tells
us, how to take his mother's breast. However, he speaks of nurses who
suckled him; no doubt these were servants or slaves of the household.
They gave him their milk, like those Algerian women who, to-day, if their
neighbour is called away, take her child and feed it. Besides, with them
children are weaned much later than with us. You can see mothers sitting at
their doors put down their work and call to a child of two or three playing
in the street for him to come and take the breast. Did Augustin remember
these things? At least he recalled his nurses' games, and the efforts they
made to appease him, and the childish words they taught him to stammer.
The first Latin words he repeated, he picked up from his mother and the
servants, who must also have spoken Punic, the ordinary tongue of the
populace and small trader class. He learned Punic without thinking about
it, in playing with other children of Thagaste, just as the sons of our
colonists learn Arab in playing with little boys who wear chechias on their

He is a Christian, a bishop, already a venerated Father, consulted by the
whole Catholic world, and he tells us all that. He tells it in a serious
and contrite way, with a manifest anxiety to attribute to God, as the sole
cause, all the benefits which embellished his childhood, as well as to
deplore his faults and wretchedness, fatal consequence of the original
Fall. And still, we can make out clearly that these suave and far-off
memories have a charm for him which he cannot quite guard himself against.
The attitude of the author of the _Confessions_ is ambiguous and a little
constrained. The father who has loved his child, who has joined in his
games, struggles in him against the theologian who later on was to uphold
the doctrine of Grace against the heretics. He feels that he must shew, not
only that Grace is necessary for salvation and that little children ought
to be baptized, but that they are capable of sinning. Yes, the children sin
even at nurse. And Augustin relates this story of a baby that he had seen:
"I know, because I have seen, jealousy in a babe. It could not speak, yet
it eyed its foster-brother _with pale cheeks and looks of hate_." Children
are already men. The egoism and greediness of the grown man may be already
descried in the newly born.

However, the theologian of Grace was not able to drive from his mind
this verse of the Gospel: _Sinite ad me parvulos venire_--"Suffer little
children to come unto Me." But he interprets this in a very narrow sense,
luring it into an argument which furthers his case. For him, the small
height of children is a symbol of the humility without which no one can
enter God's kingdom. The Master, according to him, never intended us to
take children as an example. They are but flesh of sin. He only drew from
their littleness one of those similitudes which He, with His fondness for
symbols, favoured.

Well, let us dare to say it: Augustin goes wrong here. Such is the penalty
of human thought, which in its justest statements always wounds some
truth less clear or mutilates some tender sentiment. Radically, Augustin
is right. The child is wicked as man is. We know it. But against the
relentlessness of the theologian we place the divine gentleness of Christ:
"Suffer little children to come unto Me, for of such is the Kingdom of



"I loved to play," Augustin says, in telling us of those far-off years.

Is it surprising if this quick and supple intelligence, who mastered
without effort, and as if by instinct, the encyclopaedic knowledge of his
age, who found himself at his ease amidst the deepest abstractions, did, at
the beginning, take life as a game?

The amusements of the little Africans of to-day are not very many, nor very
various either. They have no inventive imagination. In this matter their
French playfellows have taught them a good deal. If they play marbles, or
hopscotch, or rounders, it is in imitation of the _Roumis_. And yet they
are great little players. Games of chance attract them above all. At these
they spend hour after hour, stretched out flat on their stomachs in some
shady corner, and they play with an astonishing intensity of passion. All
their attention is absorbed in what they are about; they employ on the game
all the cunning of their wits, precociously developed, and so soon stuck
fast in material things.

When Augustin recalls the games of his childhood, he only mentions "nuts,"
handball, and birds. To capture a bird, that winged, light, and brilliant
thing, is what all children long to do in every country on earth. But in
Africa, where there are plenty of birds, big people as well as little
love them. In the Moorish cafes, in the wretchedest _gourbis_, cages made
of reeds are hung on the walls, all rustling with trills and fluttering
of wings. Quail, thrushes, nightingales are imprisoned in them. The
nightingale, the singing-bird beyond all others, so difficult to tame, is
the honoured guest, the privileged dweller in these rustic cages. With
the rose, he is an essential part of Arab poetry. The woods round about
Thagaste were full of nightingales. Not the least doubt that the child
Augustin had felt the little musical throats of these singing-birds throb
between his hands. His sermons, his heaviest treatises, have a recollection
of them. He draws from them an evidence in favour of the creating Word who
has put beauty and harmony everywhere. In the song of the nightingale he
finds, as it were, an echo of the music of the spheres.

If he loved birds, as a poet who knows not that he is a poet, did he love
as well to play at "nuts"? "Nuts," or thimble-rigging, is only a graceful
and crafty game, too crafty for a dreaming and careless little boy. It
calls for watchfulness and presence of mind. Grown men play at it as well
as children. A step of a staircase is used as a table by the players, or
the pavement of a courtyard. Three shells are laid on the stone and a
dried pea. Then, with rapid baffling movements, hands brown and alert fly
from one shell to another, shuffle them, mix them up, juggle the dried
pea sometimes under this shell, sometimes under that,--and the point is
to guess which shell the pea has got under. By means of certain astute
methods, an artful player can make the pea stick to his fingers, or to the
inside of the shell, and the opponent loses every time. They cheat with a
calm shamelessness. Augustin cheated too--which did not prevent him from
bitterly denouncing the cheating of his fellow-players.

The truth is, that he would not have quite belonged to his country if he
had not lied and stolen now and then. He lied to his tutor and to his
schoolmasters. He stole at his parents' table, in the kitchen, and in the
cellar. But he stole like a man of quality, to make presents and to win
over his playfellows: he ruled the other boys by his presents--a noteworthy
characteristic in this future ruler of souls. Morals like these, a little
rough, shape free and bold natures. Those African children were much less
coddled, much less scolded, than to-day. Monnica had something else to do
than to look after the boys. So for them it was a continual life in the
open air, which makes the body strong and hard. Augustin and his companions
should be pictured as young wild-cats.

This roughness came out strong at games of ball, and generally at all
the games in which there are two sides, conquerors and prisoners, or
fights with sticks and stones. Stone-throwing is an incurable habit
among the little Africans. Even now in the towns our police are obliged
to take measures against these ferocious children. In Augustin's time,
at Cherchell, which is the ancient _Caesarea Mauretaniae_, the childish
population was split into two hostile camps which stoned each other. On
certain holidays the fathers and big brothers joined the children; blood
flowed, and there were deaths.

The bishop Augustin recalls with severity the "superb victories" he won in
jousts of this kind. But I find it hard to believe that such a delicate
child (he was sickly almost all his life) could have got much pleasure out
of these brutal sports. If he was drawn into them by the example of others,
it must have been through the imagination they appealed to him. In these
battles, wherein sides took the field as Romans against Carthaginians,
Greeks against Trojans, he believed himself Scipio or Hannibal, Achilles
or Hector. He experienced beforehand, as a rhetorician, the intoxication
of a triumph which playfellows who were stronger and better provided with
muscles gave him a hard fight for. He did not always get the upper hand,
except perhaps when he bribed the enemy. But an eager young soul, such
as he was, can hardly be content with half-victories; he wants to excel.
Accordingly, he sought his revenge in those games wherein the mind has the
chief part. He listened to stories with delight, and in his turn repeated
them to his little friends, thus trying upon an audience of boys that charm
of speech by which later he was to subdue crowds. They also played at
acting, at gladiators, at drivers and horses. Some of Augustin's companions
were sons of wealthy citizens who gave splendid entertainments to their
fellow-countrymen. As these dramatic representations, or games of the
arena or circus, drew near, the little child-world was overcome by a
fever of imitation. All the children of Thagaste imitated the actors, the
_mirmillones_, or the horsemen in the amphitheatre, just as the young
Spaniards of to-day imitate the _toreros_.

In the midst of these amusements Augustin fell ill; he had fever and
violent pains in the stomach. They thought he was going to die. It appears
that it was himself who in this extreme situation asked for baptism.
Monnica was making all haste to have the sacrament administered, when
suddenly, against all expectation, the child recovered. Again was baptism
postponed, and from the same reason: to lessen the gravity of the sins
which young Augustin was bound to commit. His mother, who no doubt foresaw
some of them, again fell in with the custom.

It is possible that Patricius interfered this time in a more decided way.
Just at this period Catholicism was in an unfavourable situation. The
short reign of Julian had started a violent pagan reaction. Everywhere
the temples were reopening, the sacrifices beginning again. Moreover,
the Donatists secretly aided the pagans. Their _Seids_, more or less
acknowledged, the Circoncelliones, bands of fanatical peasants, scoured
through the Numidian country, attacking the Catholics, ravaging and
pillaging, and burning their farms and villas. Was this a good time to
make a noisy profession of faith, to be enrolled among the ranks of the
conquered party?

Little Augustin knew nothing of all these calculations of motherly prudence
and fatherly diplomacy: he begged for baptism, so he tells us. This seems
very remarkable in so young a child. But he lived in a house where all the
service was done by Christians. He heard the talk of Monnica's friends;
perhaps, too, of his grandparents, who were Catholics faithful and austere.
And then, his soul was naturally religious. That explains everything:
he asked for baptism to be like grown-up people, and because he was
predestined. Among children, the chosen have these sudden flashes of light.
At certain moments they feel what one day they shall be. Anyhow, Monnica
must have seen this sign with joy.

He got well, and took up again his little boy's life, divided between play,
and dawdling, and school.

School! painful memory for Augustin! They sent him to the _primus
magister_, the elementary teacher, a real terror, armed with a long switch
which came down without pity on idle boys. Seated on benches around him, or
crouched on mats, the boys sang out all together: "One and one are two, two
and two are four"--horrible refrain which deafened the whole neighbourhood.
The school was often a mere shed, or a _pergola_ in the fields which was
protected fairly well from sun and rain by cloths stretched overhead--a hut
rented for a trifle, wide open to the winds, with a mosquito-net stretched
out before the entrance. All who were there must have frozen in winter
and broiled in summer. Augustin remembered it as a slaves' chain-prison
(_ergastulum_) of boyhood.

He hated school and what they taught there--the alphabet, counting, and
the rudiments of Latin and Greek grammar. He had a perfect horror of
lessons--of Greek above all. This schoolboy, who became, when his turn
came, a master, objected to the methods of school. His mind, which grasped
things instinctively at a single bound, could not stand the gradual
procedure of the teaching faculty. He either mastered difficulties at
once, or gave them up. Augustin was one of the numerous victims of the
everlasting mistake of schoolmasters, who do not know how to arrange
their lessons to accord with various kinds of mind. Like most of those
who eventually become great men, he was no good as a pupil. He was often
punished, thrashed--and cruelly thrashed. The master's scourge filled
him with an unspeakable terror. When he was smarting all over from cuts
and came to complain to his parents, they laughed at him or made fun of
him--yes, even the pious Monnica. Then the poor lad, not knowing whom to
turn to, remembered hearing his mother and the servants talk of a Being,
very powerful and very good, who defends the orphan and the oppressed. And
he said from the depths of his heart:

"O my God, please grant that I am not whipped at school."

But God did not hear his prayer because he was not a good boy. Augustin was
in despair.

It is evident that these punishments were cruel, because forty years
afterwards he denounces them with horror. In his mind, they are tortures
comparable to the wooden horse or the iron pincers. Nothing is small
for children, especially for a sensitive child like Augustin. Their
sensitiveness and their imagination exaggerate all things out of due
measure. In this matter, also, schoolmasters often go wrong. They do not
know how to handle delicate organizations. They strike fiercely, when a
few words said at the right moment would have much more effect on the
culprit.... Monnica's son suffered as much from the rod as he took pride
in his successes at games. If, as Scipio, he was filled with a sensation
of glory in his battles against other boys, no doubt he pictured himself
a martyr, a St. Laurence or St. Sebastian, when he was swished. He never
pardoned--save as a Christian--his schoolmasters for having brutalized him.

Nevertheless, despite his hatred for ill-ordered lessons, his precocious
intelligence was remarked by everybody. It was clear that such lucky gifts
should not be neglected. Monnica, no doubt, was the first to get this into
her head, and she advised Patricius to make Augustin read for a learned

The business of the _curia_ was not exactly brilliant, and so he may have
perceived that his son might raise their fortunes if he had definite
employment. Augustin, a professor of eloquence or a celebrated pleader,
might be the saviour and the benefactor of his family. The town councils,
and even the Imperial treasury, paid large salaries to rhetoricians. In
those days, rhetoric led to everything. Some of the professors who went
from town to town giving lectures made considerable fortunes. At Thagaste
they pointed with admiration to the example of the rhetorician Victorinus,
an African, a fellow-countryman, who had made a big reputation over-seas,
and had his statue in the Roman Forum. And many years before, had not M.
Cornelius Fronto, of Cirta, another African, become the tutor of Marcus
Aurelius, who covered him with honours and wealth and finally raised him to
the Consulship? Pertinax himself, did he not begin as a simple teacher of
grammar, and become Proconsul of Africa and then Emperor of Rome? How many
stimulants for provincial ambition!...

Augustin's parents reasoned as the middle-class parents of to-day. They
discounted the future, and however hard up they were, they resolved to
make sacrifices for his education. And as the schools of Thagaste were
inadequate, it was decided to send this very promising boy to Madaura.



A new world opened before Augustin. It was perhaps the first time he had
ever gone away from Thagaste.

Of course, Madaura is not very far off; there are about thirty miles at
most between the two towns. But there are no short journeys for children.
This one lay along the military road which ran from Hippo to Theveste--a
great Roman causeway paved with large flags on the outskirts of towns, and
carefully pebbled over all the rest of the distance. Erect upon the high
saddle of his horse, Augustin, who was to become a tireless traveller
and move about ceaselessly over African roads during all his episcopal
life--Augustin got his first glimpse of the poetry of the open road, a
poetry which we have lost for ever.

How amusing they were, the African roads of those days, how full of sights!
Pauses were made at inns with walls thick as the ramparts of citadels,
their interiors bordered by stables built in arcades, heaped up with
travellers' packs and harness. In the centre were the trough and cistern;
and to the little rooms opening in a circle on to the balcony, drifted up
a smell of oil and fodder, and the noise of men and of beasts of burthen,
and of the camels as they entered majestically, curving their long necks
under the lintel of the door. Then there was talk with the merchants, just
arrived from the south, who brought news of the nomad countries, and had
stories to tell. And then, without hurrying, a start was made again for the
next stage. Long files of chariots were encountered carrying provisions to
soldiers garrisoned on the frontier, or the State-distributed corn of the
Roman people to the sea-ports; or again, from time to time, the _lectica_,
brought along by slaves or mules, of a bishop on a visitation; and then the
litter, with close-drawn curtains, of a matron or some great personage. Of
a sudden all pulled sharp to one side; the vehicles lined up on the edge of
the road; and there passed at full speed, in a cloud of dust, a messenger
of the Imperial Post....

Certainly this road from Hippo to Theveste was one of the busiest and most
picturesque in the province: it was one of its main arteries.

At first the look of the country is rather like the neighbourhood of
Thagaste. The wooded and mountainous landscape still spreads out its
little breast-shaped hills and its sheets of verdure. Here and there the
road skirts the deeply-ravined valley of the Medjerda. At the foot of the
precipitous slopes, the river can be heard brawling in a torrent over its
stony bed, and there are sharp descents among thickets of juniper and the
fringed roots of the dwarf-pines. Then, as the descent continues, the land
becomes thinner and spaces bare of vegetation appear oftener. At last, upon
a piece of tableland, Madaura comes into view, all white in the midst of
the vast tawny plain, where to-day nothing is to be seen but a mausoleum
in ruins, the remains of a Byzantine fortress, and vague traces vanishing

This is the first rise of the great plain which declines towards Theveste
and the group of the Aures Mountains. Coming from the woodland country of
Thagaste, the nakedness of it is startling. Here and there, thin cows crop
starveling shrubs which have grown on the bank of some _oued_ run dry.
Little asses, turned loose, save themselves at a gallop towards the tents
of the nomads, spread out, black and hairy, like immense bats on the
whiteness of the land. Nearer, a woman's red _haick_ interposes, the single
stain of bright colour breaking the indefinite brown and grey of the plain.
Here is felt the harshness of Numidia; it is almost the stark spaces of
the desert world. But on the side towards the east, the architecture of
mountains, wildly sculptured, stands against the level reaches of the
horizon. Upon the clear background of the sky, shew, distinctly, lateral
spurs and a cone like to the mystic representation of Tanit. Towards the
south, crumbling isolated crags appear, scattered about like gigantic
pedestals uncrowned of their statues, or like the pipes of an organ raised
there to capture and attune the cry of the great winds of the _steppe_.

This country is characterized by a different kind of energy from Thagaste.
There is more air and light and space. If the plantation is sparse, the
beautiful shape of the land may be observed all the better. Nothing breaks
or lessens the grand effects of the light.... And let no one say that
Augustin's eyes cared not for all that, he who wrote after his conversion,
and in all the austerity of his repentance: "If sentient things had not a
soul, we should not love them so much."

It is here, between Madaura and Thagaste, during the eager years of youth,
that he gathered together the seeds of sensations and images which,
later on, were to burst forth into fiery and boiling metaphors in the
_Confessions_, and in his homilies and paraphrases of Holy Scripture. Later
on, he will not have the time to observe, or he will have lost the power.
Rhetoric will stretch its commonplace veil between him and the unceasing
springtide of the earth. Ambition will turn him away from those sights
which reveal themselves only to hearts unselfish and indifferent. Then,
later on, Faith will seize hold of him to the exclusion of all else. He
will no longer perceive the creation save at odd moments in a kind of
metaphysical dream, and, so to speak, across the glory of the Creator.
But in these youthful years all things burst upon him with extraordinary
violence and ecstasy. His undulled senses swallowed greedily the whole
banquet offered by this wide world to his hunger for pleasure. The fugitive
beauty of things and beings, with all their charms, revealed itself to
him in its newness: _novissimarum rerum fugaces pulchritudines, earumque
suavitates_. This craving for sensation will still exist in the great
Christian teacher, and betray itself in the warm and coloured figures
of his style. Of course, he was not as a worldly describer, who studies
to produce phrases which present an image, or arranges glittering
pictures--all such endeavours he knew nothing about. But by instinct, and
thanks to his warm African temperament, he was a kind of impressionist and
metaphysical poet.

If the rural landscape of Thagaste is reflected in certain passages--the
pleasantest and most well known--of the _Confessions_, all the intellectual
part of Augustin's work finds its symbolical commentary here in this arid
and light-splashed plain of Madaura. Like it, the thought of Augustin has
no shadows. Like it too, it is lightened by strange and splendid tints
which seem to come from far off, from a focal fire invisible to human eyes.
No modern writer has better praised the light--not only the immortal light
of the blessed, but that light which rests on the African fields, and
is on land and sea; and nobody has spoken of it with more amplitude and
wonder. The truth is, that in no country in the world, not even in Egypt,
in the rose-coloured lands of Karnak and Luxor, is the light more pure and
admirable than in these great bare plains of Numidia and the region of the
Sahara. Is there not enchantment for the eyes of the metaphysician in this
play of light, these nameless interfulgent colours which appear flimsy as
the play of thought? For the glowing floating haze is made of nothing--of
lines, of gleam, of unregulated splendour. And all this triumph of
fluctuating light and elusive colour is quenched with the sun, smoulders
into darkness, even as ideas in the obscure depths of the intelligence
which reposes....

Not less than this land, stern even to sadness, but hot and sumptuous, the
town of Madaura must have impressed Augustin.

It was an old Numidian city, proud of its antiquity. Long before the Roman
conquest, it had been a fortress of King Syphax. Afterwards, the conquerors
settled there, and in the second century of our era, Apuleius, the most
famous of its children, could state before a proconsul, not without pride,
that Madaura was a very prosperous colony. It is probable that this old
town was not so much Romanized as its neighbours, Thimgad and Lambesa,
which were of recent foundation and had been built all at once by decree of
the Government. But it may well have been as Roman as Theveste, a no less
ancient city, where the population was probably just as mixed. Madaura,
like Theveste, had its temples with pillars and Corinthian porticoes, its
triumphal arches (these were run up everywhere), its forum surrounded by a
covered gallery and peopled with statues. Statues also were very liberally
distributed in those days. We know of at least three at Madaura which
Augustin mentions in one of his letters: A god Mars in his heroic
nakedness, and another Mars armed from head to foot; opposite, the statue
of a man, in realistic style, stretching out three fingers to neutralize
the evil eye. These familiar figures remained very clear in the
recollection of Augustin. In the evening, or at the hour of the siesta, he
had stretched himself under their pedestals and played at dice or bones in
the cool shade of the god Mars, or of the Man with outstretched fingers.
The slabs of marble of the portico made a good place to play or sleep.

Among these statues, there was one perhaps which interested the lad and
stimulated all his early ambitions--that of Apuleius, the great man of
Madaura, the orator, philosopher, sorcerer, who was spoken of from one end
to the other of Africa. By dint of gazing at this, and listening to the
praises of the great local author, did the young scholar become aware of
his vocation? Did he have from this time a confused sort of wish to become
one day another Apuleius, a Christian Apuleius--to surpass the reputation
of this celebrated pagan? These impressions and admirations of youth have
always a more or less direct influence upon what use a boy makes of his

Be that as it will, Augustin could not take a step in Madaura without
running against the legend of Apuleius, who was become almost a divinity
for his fellow-countrymen. He was looked upon not only as a sage, but as
a most wily nigromancer. The pagans compared him to Christ--nay, put him
higher than Christ. In their view he had worked much more astonishing
miracles than those of Jesus or of Apollonius of Tyana. And people told the
extravagant stories out of his _Metamorphoses_ as real, as having actually
happened. Nothing was seen on all sides but wizards, men changed into
animals, animals, or men and women, under some spell. In the inns, a man
watched with a suspicious look the ways of the maidservant who poured out
his drink or handed him a dish. Perhaps some magic potion was mingled with
the cheese or bread that she was laying on the table. It was an atmosphere
of feverish and delirious credulity. The pagan madness got the better of
the Christians themselves. Augustin, who had lived in this atmosphere, will
later find considerable trouble in maintaining his strong common sense amid
such an overflow of marvels.

For the moment, the fantasy of tales filled him with at least as much
enthusiasm as the supernatural. At Madaura he lived in a miraculous world,
where everything charmed his senses and his mind, and everything stimulated
his precocious instinct for Beauty.

More than Thagaste, no doubt, Madaura bore the marks of the building
genius of the Romans. Even to-day their descendants, the Italians, are the
masons of the world, after having been the architects. The Romans were the
building nation above all others. They it was who raised and established
towns upon the same model and according to the same ideal as an oration
or a poem. They really invented the house, _mansio_, not only the shelter
where one lives, but the building which itself lives, which triumphs over
years and centuries, a huge construction ornamental and sightly, existing
as much--and perhaps more--for the delight of the eyes as for usefulness.
The house, the _Town-with-deep-streets_, perfectly ordered, were a great
matter of amazement for the African nomad--he who passes and never settles
down anywhere. He hated them, doubtless, as the haunts of the soldier and
the publican, his oppressors, but he also regarded them with admiration
mixed with jealousy as the true expression of a race which, when it entered
a country, planted itself for eternity, and claimed to join magnificence
and beauty to the manifestation of its strength. The Roman ruins which
are scattered over modern Algeria humiliate ourselves by their pomp--us
who flatter ourselves that we are resuming the work of the Empire and
continuing its tradition. They are a permanent reproach to our mediocrity,
a continual incitement to grandeur and beauty. Of course, the Roman
architecture could not have had on Augustin, this still unformed young
African, the same effect as it has to-day on a Frenchman or a man from
Northern Europe. But it is certain that it formed, without his knowledge,
his thought and his power of sensation, and extended for him the lessons of
the Latin rhetoricians and grammarians.

All that was not exactly very Christian. But from these early school years
Augustin got further and further away from Christianity, and the examples
he had under his eyes, at Madaura were hardly likely to strengthen him
in his faith. It was hardly an edifying atmosphere there for a Catholic
youth who had a lively imagination, a pleasure-loving temperament, and who
liked pagan literature. The greatest part of the population were pagans,
especially among the aristocrats. The Decurions continued to preside at
festivals in honour of the old idols.

These festivals were frequent. The least excuse was taken to engarland
piously the doors of houses with branches, to bleed the sacrificial pig,
or slaughter the lamb. In the evening, squares and street corners were
illuminated. Little candles burned on all the thresholds. During the
mysteries of Bacchus, the town councillors themselves headed the popular
rejoicings. It was an African carnival, brutal and full of colour. People
got tipsy, pretended they were mad. For the sport of the thing, they
assaulted the passers and robbed them. The dull blows on tambourines, the
hysterical and nasal preludes of the flutes, excited an immense elation, at
once sensual and mystic. And all quieted down among the cups and leather
flagons of wine, the grease and meats of banquets in the open air. Even in
a country as sober as Africa, the pagan feasts were never much else than
excuses for gorging and orgies. Augustin, who after his conversion had only
sarcasms for the carnival of Madaura, doubtless went with the crowd, like
many other Christians. Rich and influential people gave the example. There
was danger of annoying them by making a group apart. And then, there was no
resisting the agreeableness of such festivals.

Perhaps he was even brought to these love-feasts by those in whose charge
he was. For, in fact, to whom had he been entrusted? Doubtless to some
host of Patricius, a pagan like himself. Or did he lodge with his master,
a grammarian, who kept a boarding-house for the boys? Almost all these
schoolmasters were pagan too. Is it wonderful that the Christian lessons
of Monnica and the nurses at Thagaste became more and more blurred in
Augustin's mind? Many years after, an old Madaura grammarian, called
Maximus, wrote to him in a tone of loving reproach: "Thou hast drawn away
from us"--_a secta nostra deviasti_. Did he wish to hint that at this time
Augustin had glided into paganism? Nothing is more unlikely. He himself
assures us that the name of Christ remained always "graven on his heart."
But while he was at Madaura he lived indifferently with pagans and

Besides that, the teaching he got was altogether pagan in tone. No doubt he
picked out, as he always did, the subjects which suited him. Minds such as
his fling themselves upon that which is likely to nourish them: they throw
aside all the rest, or suffer it very unwillingly. Thus Augustin never
wavered in his dislike for Greek: he was a poor Greek scholar. He detested
the Greeks by instinct. According to Western prejudice, these men of
the East were all rascals or amusers. Augustin, as a practical African,
always regarded the Greeks as vain, discoursing wits. In a word, they
were not sincere people whom it would be safe to trust. The entirely
local patriotism of the classical Greek authors further annoyed this Roman
citizen who was used to regard the world as his country: he thought them
very narrow-minded to take so much interest in the history of some little
town. As for him, he looked higher and farther. It must be remembered that
in the second half of the fourth century the Greek attitude, broadened and
fully conscious of itself, set itself more and more against Latinism, above
all, politically. There it lay, a hostile and impenetrable block before the
Western peoples. And here was a stronger reason for a Romanized African to
dislike the Greeks.

So he painfully construed the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_, very cross at the
difficulties of a foreign language which prevented him from grasping the
plots of the fine, fabulous narratives. There were, however, abridgments
used in the schools, a kind of summaries of the Trojan War, written by
Latin grammarians under the odd pseudonyms of Dares the Phrygian and Dictys
of Crete. But these abridgments were very dry for an imagination like
Augustin's. He much preferred the _AEneid_, the poem admired above all
by the Africans, on account of the episode devoted to the foundation of
Carthage. Virgil was his passion. He read and re-read him continually;
he knew him by heart. To the end of his life, in his severest writings,
he quoted verses or whole passages out of his much-loved poet. Dido's
adventure moved him to tears. They had to pluck the book out of his hands.

Now the reason is that there was a secret harmony between Virgil's soul and
the soul of Augustin. Both were gracious and serious. One, the great poet,
and one, the humble schoolboy, they both had pity on the Queen of Carthage,
they would have liked to save her, or at any rate to mitigate her sadness,
to alter a little the callousness of AEneas and the harshness of the Fates.
But think of it! Love is a divine sickness, a chastisement sent by the
gods. It is just, when all's said, that the guilty one should endure her
agony to the very end. And then, such very great things are going to arise
out of this poor love! Upon it depends the lot of two Empires. What counts
a woman before Rome and Carthage? Besides, she was bound to perish: the
gods had decreed it.... There was in all that a concentrated emotion, a
depth of sentiment, a religious appeal which stirred Augustin's heart,
still unaware of itself. This obedience of the Virgilian hero to the
heavenly will, was already an adumbration of the humility of the future

Certainly, Augustin did not perceive very plainly in these turbid years
of his youth the full religious significance of Virgil's poem. Carried
away by his headstrong nature, he yielded to the heart-rending charm of
the romantic story: he lived it, literally, with the heroine. When his
schoolmasters desired him to elaborate the lament of the dying Queen Dido
in Latin prose, what he wrote had a veritable quiver of anguish. Without
the least defence against lust and the delusions of the heart, he spent
intellectually and in a single outburst all the strength of passion.

He absorbed every love-poem with the eagerness of a participating soul. If
he took pleasure in the licentiousness of Plautus and Terence, if he read
delightfully those comedies wherein the worst weaknesses are excused and
glorified, I believe that he took still more pleasure in the Latin Elegiacs
who present without any shame the romantic madness of Alexandrine love.
For what sing these poets even to weariness, unless it be that no one can
resist the Cyprian goddess, that life has no other end but love? Love for
itself, to love for the sake of loving--there is the constant subject of
these sensualists, of Catullus, Propertius, Tibullus, Ovid. After the story
of Dido, the youthful reader was ravished by the story of Ariadne, even
more disturbing, because no remorse modifies the frenzy of it. He read:

_Now while the careless hero flees, beating the wave with his
and casting to the gales of the open sea his idle promises,--there,
standing among the shingle of the beach, the daughter of Minos follows
him, alas! with her beautiful sad eyes: she stares, astonied, like to a
Bacchante changed into a statue. She looks forth, and her heart floats
upon the great waves of her grief. She lets slip from her head her
fine-spun coif, she tears away the thin veils which cover her bosom,
and the smooth cincture which supports her quivering breasts. All that
slips from her body into the salt foam which ripples round her feet.
But little she cares for her coif or for her apparel carried away by
the tide! Lost, bewildered, with all her heart and all her soul, she is
clinging to thee, O Theseus._

And if Augustin, when he had read these burning verses of Catullus, looked
through the Anthologies which were popular in the African schools, he
would come upon "The Vigil of Venus," that eclogue which ends with such a
passionate cry:

_O my springtime, when wilt thou come? When shall I be as the swallow?
When shall I cease to be silent?... May he love to-morrow, he
has not loved yet. And he who has already loved, may he love again

Imagine the effect of such exhortations on a youth of fifteen! Truly, this
springtide of love, which the poet cries for in his distress, the son
of Monnica knew well was come for him. How he must have listened to the
musical and melancholy counsellor who told his pain to the leaves of the
book! What stimulant and what food for his boyish longings and dreams! And
what a divine chorus of beauties the great love-heroines of ancient epic
and elegy, Helen, Medea, Ariadne, Phaedra, formed and re-formed continually
in his dazzled memory! When we of to-day read such verses at Augustin's
age, some bitterness is mixed with our delight. These heroes and heroines
are too far from us. These almost chimerical beings withdraw from us into
outlying lands, to a vanished world which will never come again. But for
Augustin, this was the world he was born into--it was his pagan Africa
where pleasure was the whole of life, and one lived only for the lusts of
the flesh. And the race of fabulous princesses--they were not dead, those
ladies: they were ever waiting for the well-beloved in the palaces at
Carthage. Yes, the scholar of Madaura lived wonderful hours, dreaming thus
of love between the pages of the poets. These young dreams before love
comes are more bewitching than love itself: a whole unknown world suddenly
discovered and entered with a quivering joy of discovery at each step. The
unused strength of illusion appears inexhaustible, space becomes deeper and
the heart more strong....

A long time afterwards, when, recovered from all that, Augustin speaks to
us of the Divine love, he will know fully the infinite value of it from
having gone through all the painful entrancements of the other. And he will
say to us, with the sureness of experience: "The pleasure of the human
heart in the light of truth and the abundance of wisdom--yea, the pleasure
of the human heart, of the faithful heart, and of the heart which is
holy, stands alone. You will find nothing in any voluptuousness fit to be
compared to it. I say not that this other pleasure is less, for that which
is called less hath only to increase to become equal. No, I shall not say
that all other pleasure is less. No comparison can be made. It is another
kind, it is another reality."



In the city of Apuleius, the Christian Monnica's son became simply a pagan.
He was near his sixteenth year: the awkward time of early virility was
beginning for him. Prepared at Madaura, it suddenly burst out at Thagaste.

Augustin came back to his parents, no doubt during the vacation. But
this vacation lasted perhaps a whole year. He had come to the end of his
juvenile studies. The grammarians at Madaura could teach him nothing more.
To round off his acquirements, it would be necessary to attend the lectures
of some well-known rhetorician. Now there were very good rhetoricians only
at Carthage. Besides, it was a fashion, and point of honour, for Numidian
families to send their sons to finish their education in the provincial
capital. Patricius was most eager to do this for his son, who at Madaura
had shewn himself a very brilliant pupil and ought not therefore to be
pulled up half-way down the course. But the life of a student cost a good
deal, and Patricius had no money. His affairs were always muddled. He was
obliged to wait for the rents from his farms, to grind down his tenants,
and, ultimately, despairing of any other way out of it, to ask for an
advance of money from a rich patron. That needed time and diplomacy.

Days and months went by, and Augustin, with nothing to do, joined in with
easily-made friends and gave himself up to the pleasures of his time of
life, like all the young townsmen of Thagaste--pleasures rather rough and
little various, such as were to be got in a little free-town of those days,
and as they have remained for the natives of to-day, whether they live
a town or country life. To hunt, to ride horseback, to play at games of
chance, to drink, eat, and make love--they wanted nothing beyond that. When
Augustin in his _Confessions_ accuses himself of his youthful escapades he
uses the most scathing language. He speaks of them with horror and disgust.
Once more we are tempted to believe that he exaggerates through an excess
of Christian remorse. There are even some who, put on their guard by this
vehement tone, have questioned the historical value of the _Confessions_.
They argue that when the Bishop of Hippo wrote these things his views and
feelings had altered. He could no longer judge with the same eye and in
the same spirit the happenings of his youth. All this is only too certain:
when he wrote, it was as a Christian he judged himself, and not as a cold
historian who refuses to go beyond the brutal fact. He tried to unravel
the origin and to trace the consequences of the humblest of his actions,
because this is of the highest importance for salvation. But however severe
his judgment may be, it does not impair the reality of the fact itself.
Moreover, in natures like his, acts which others would hardly think of
have a vibration out of all proportion with the act itself. The evil of sin
depends upon the consciousness of the sin and the pleasure taken in it.
Augustin was very intelligent and very sensual.

In any case, young Africans develop early, and the lechery of the race
is proverbial. It must have been a good deal stronger at a time when
Christianity still had to fight against pagan slackness in these matters,
ere Islam had imposed its hypocritical austerity upon the general conduct.
There is even room for wonder that in Augustin's case this crisis of
development did not happen earlier than his sixteenth year. It seems that
it was only more violent. In what language he describes it! "I dared to
roam the woods and pursue my vagrant loves beneath the shade." But he
was not yet in love--this he points out himself. In his case then it was
simple lust. "From the quagmire of concupiscence, from the well of puberty,
exhaled a mist which clouded and befogged my heart, so that I could not
distinguish between the clear shining of affection and the darkness of
lust.... I could not keep within the kingdom of light, where friendship
binds soul to soul.... And so I polluted the brook of friendship with the
sewage of lust." Let us not try to make it clearer than he has left it
himself. When one thinks of all the African vices, one dare not dwell upon
such avowals. "Lord," he says, "I was loathsome in Thy sight." And with
pitiless justice he analyses the effect of the evil: "It stormed confusedly
within me, whirling my thoughtless youth over the precipices of desire. And
I wandered still further from Thee, and Thou didst leave me to myself; the
torrent of my fornications tossed and swelled and boiled and ran over." And
during this time: "Thou saidst nothing, O my God!" This silence of God is
the terrible sign of hardened sin, of hopeless damnation. It meant utter
depravity of the will; he did not even feel remorse any more.

Here he is, then, as if unfastened from his child's soul--separated from
himself. The object of his youthful faith has no more meaning for him. He
understands no longer, and it is all one to him that he does not. Thus,
told by himself, does this first crisis of Augustin's life emerge from the
autobiography; and it takes on a general significance. Once for all, under
a definite form, and to a certain degree classic, he has diagnosed with
his subtle experience of doctor of souls the pubescent crisis in all young
men of his age, in all the young Christians who are to come after him. For
the story of Augustin is the story of each of us. The loss of faith always
occurs when the senses first awaken. At this critical moment, when nature
claims us for her service, the consciousness of spiritual things is, in
most cases, either eclipsed or totally destroyed. The gradual usage to the
brutalities of the instinct ends by killing the sensitiveness of the inward
feelings. It is not reason which turns the young man from God; it is the
flesh. Scepticism but provides him with excuses for the new life he is

Thus started, Augustin was not able to pull up half-way on the road of
pleasure; he never did anything by halves. In these vulgar revels of the
ordinary wild youth, he wanted again to be best, he wanted to be first as
he was at school. He stirred up his companions and drew them after him.
They in their turn drew him. Among them was found that Alypius, who was the
friend of all his life, who shared his faults and mistakes, who followed
him even in his conversion, and became Bishop of Thagaste. These two future
shepherds of Christ roamed the streets with the lost sheep. They spent
the nights in the open spaces of the town, playing, or wantonly dreaming
before cups of cool drinks. They lounged there, stretched out on mats, with
a crown of leaves on the head, a jasmine garland round the neck, a rose
or marigold thrust above the ear. They never knew what to do next to kill
time. So one fine evening the reckless crew took it into their heads to
rifle a pear tree of one of Patricius's neighbours. This pear tree was just
beyond the vineyard belonging to Augustin's father. The rascals shook down
the pears. They took a few bites to find out the taste, and having decided
this to be rather disappointing, they chucked all the rest to the hogs.

In this theft, done merely for the pleasure of the thing, Augustin sees
an evidence of diabolical mischief. Doubtless he committed many another
misdeed where, like this, the whole attraction lay in the Satanic joy
of breaking the law. His fury for dissolute courses knew no rest. Did
Monnica observe anything of this change in Augustin? The boy, grown big,
had escaped from the supervision of the women's apartments. If the mother
guessed anything, she did not guess all. It fell to her husband to open her
eyes. With the freedom of manners among the ancients, Augustin relates the
fact quite plainly.... That took place in the bath-buildings at Thagaste.
He was bathing with his father, probably in the _piscina_ of cold baths.
The bathers who came out of the water with dripping limbs were printing
wet marks of their feet upon the mosaic flooring, when Patricius, who was
watching them, suddenly perceived that his son had about him the signs
of manhood, that he was already bearing--as Augustin says himself in his
picturesque language--the first signs of turbulent youth, like another
_toga praetexta_. Patricius, as a good pagan, welcomed with jubilation this
promise of grand-children, and rushed off joyously to brag of his discovery
to Monnica. She took the news in quite another way. Frightened at the idea
of the dangers to which her son's virtue was exposed, she lectured him
in private. But Augustin, from the height of his sixteen years, laughed
at her. "A lot of old-women's gossip! Why does she want to talk about
things she can't understand!..." Tired out at last, Monnica tried to get
a promise from her son that he would at least have some restraint in his
dissipation--that he would avoid women of the town, and above all, that he
would have nothing to do with married women. For the rest, she put him in
God's hands.

It may be wondered--Augustin himself wonders--that she did not think of
finding him a wife. They marry early in Africa. Even now any Arab labourer
buys a wife for his son, hardly turned sixteen, so that the fires of a too
warm youth may be quenched in marriage. But Monnica, who was not yet a
saint, acted in this matter like a foreseeing and practical woman of the
prosperous class. A wife would be a drag for a young man like Augustin, who
seemed likely to have such a brilliant career. A too early marriage would
jeopardize his future. Before all things, it was important that he should
become an illustrious rhetorician, and raise the fortunes of the family.
For her, all else yielded to this consideration. But she hoped at least
that the headstrong student might consent to be good into the bargain.

This was also Patricius's way of looking at the matter. And so, says
Augustin, "My father gave himself no concern how I grew towards Thee, or
how chaste I was, provided only that I became a man of culture--however
destitute of Thy culture, O God.... My mother and he slackened the curb
without regard to due severity, and I was suffered to enjoy myself
according to my dissolute fancy." Meanwhile, Patricius was now become
(very tardily) a catechumen. The entreaties of his wife had won him to the
Catholic faith. But his sentiments were not much more Christian--"He hardly
thought of Thee, my God," acknowledges his son, who nevertheless was
pleased at this conversion. If Patricius decided to get converted, it was
probably from political reasons. Since the death of Julian the Apostate,
paganism appeared finally conquered. The Emperor Valentinianus had just
proclaimed heavy penalties against night-sacrifices. In Africa, the
Count Romanus persecuted the Donatists. All the Christians in Thagaste
were Catholic. What was the good of keeping up a useless and dangerous
resistance? Perhaps the end of Patricius--which was near--was as edifying
as Monnica could wish. But at all events, at the present moment, he was
not the man to interfere with Augustin's pleasures: he only thought of
the eventual fortune of the young man. Alone, Monnica might have had some
influence on him, and she herself was fascinated by his future career in
the world. Perhaps, to quiet her conscience, she said to herself that this
frivolous education would be more or less of a help to her son towards
bringing him back to God, that a day would come when the famous rhetorician
would plead the cause of Christ?...

Scandalized though she might be at his conduct, it is however apparent that
it was about this time she began to get fonder of him, to worry over him as
her favourite child. But it was not till much later that the union between
mother and son became quite complete. Too many old customs still remained
preventing close intercourse between the men and women of a family. And it
will hardly do to picture such intimacy from the intimacy which may exist
between a mother and son of our own time. There was none of the spoiling,
or indulgence, or culpable weakness which enervates maternal tenderness and
makes it injurious to the energy of a manly character. Monnica was severe
and a little rough. If she let her feelings be seen, it was solely before
God. And yet it is most certain that in the depth of her heart she loved
Augustin, not only as a future member of Christ, but humanly, as a woman
frustrated of love in a badly assorted marriage may spend her love on her
child. The brutality of pagan ways revolted her, and she poured on this
young head all her stored-up affection. In Augustin she loved the being she
wished she could love in her husband.

A number of personal considerations were no doubt involved in the deep and
unselfish attachment she had for her son: instinctively, she looked for him
to protect her against the father's violence. She felt that he would be the
support of her old age, and also, she foresaw dimly what one day he would
be. All this aided to bring about the tie, the understanding, which grew
more and more close between Augustin and Monnica. And so from this time
they both appear to us as they were to appear to all posterity--the pattern
of the Christian Mother and Son. Thanks to them, the hard law of the
ancients has been abrogated. There shall be no more barriers between the
mother and her child. No longer shall it be vain exterior rites which draw
together the members of the same family: they shall communicate in spirit
and truth. Heart speaketh to heart. The fellowship of souls is founded,
and the ties of the domestic hearth are drawn close, as they never were in
antiquity. No more shall they work in concert only for material things;
they will join together to love--and to love each other more. The son will
belong more to his mother.

At the time we have now come to, Monnica was already undertaking the
conquest of Augustin's soul. She prayed for him fervently. The young man
cared very little: gratitude came to him only after his conversion. At this
time he was thinking of nothing but amusement. For this he even forgot his
career. But Monnica and Patricius thought of it constantly--especially
Patricius, who gave himself enormous trouble to enable this student on a
holiday to finish his studies. Eventually he got together the necessary
money, possibly borrowed enough to make up the sum from some rich landowner
who was the patron of the people of small means in Thagaste--say, that
gorgeous Romanianus, to whom Augustin, in acknowledgment, dedicated one of
his first books. The young man could now take the road for Carthage.

He left by himself, craving for knowledge and glory and pleasure, his heart
full of longing for what he knew not, and melancholy without cause. What
was going to become of him in the great, unknown city?



Amare et amari.
"To love and to be loved."

_Confessions_, III, i.



"I went to Carthage, where shameful loves bubbled round me like boiling

This cry of repentance, uttered by the converted Augustin twenty-five
years later, does not altogether stifle his words of admiration for the
old capital of his country. One can see this patriotic admiration stirring
between the lines. Carthage made a very strong impression on him. He gave
it his heart and remained faithful to the end. His enemies, the Donatists,
called him "the Carthaginian arguer." After he became Bishop of Hippo, he
was continually going to Carthage to preach, or dispute, or consult his
colleagues, or to ask something from men in office. When he is not there,
he is ever speaking of it in his treatises and plain sermons. He takes
comparisons from it: "You who have been to Carthage--" he often says to
his listeners. For the boy from little Thagaste to go to Carthage, was
about the same as for our youths from the provinces to go to Paris. _Veni
Carthaginem_--in these simple words there is a touch of naive emphasis
which reveals the bewilderment of the Numidian student just landed in the
great city.

And, in fact, it was one of the five great capitals of the Empire: there
were Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria--Carthage. Carthage was the
sea-port capital of the whole western Mediterranean. With its large new
streets, its villas, its temples, its palaces, its docks, its variously
dressed cosmopolitan population, it astonished and delighted the schoolboy
from Madaura. Whatever local marks were left about him, or signs of the
rustic simpleton, it brushed off. At first, Augustin must have felt himself
as good as lost there.

There he was, his own master, with nobody to counsel and direct him. He
does indeed mention his fellow-countryman, that Romanianus, the patron of
his father and of other people in Thagaste, as a high and generous friend
who invited him to his house when he, a poor youth, came to finish his
studies in a strange city, and helped him, not only with his purse, but
with his friendship. Unfortunately the allusion is not very clear. Still,
it does seem to shew that Augustin, in the first days after his arrival at
Carthage, stayed with Romanianus. It is not in the least improbable that
Romanianus had a house at Carthage and spent the winter there: during the
rest of the year he would be in his country houses round about Thagaste.
This opulent benefactor might not have been satisfied with giving Augustin
a good "tip" for his journey when he was leaving his native town, but may
also have put him up in his own house at Carthage. Such was the atonement
for those enormous fortunes of antiquity: the rich had to give freely and
constantly. With the parcelling out of wealth we have become much more

In any case, Romanianus, taken up with his pleasures and business, could
not have been much of a guide for Monnica's son. Augustin was therefore
without control, or very nearly. No doubt he came to Carthage with a strong
desire to increase his knowledge and get renown, but still more athirst
for love and the emotions of sentiment. The love-prelude was deliriously
prolonged for him. He was at that time so overwhelmed by it, that it is the
first thing he thinks of when he relates his years at Carthage. "To love
and be loved" seems to him, as to his dear Alexandrine poets, the single
object of life. Yet he was not in love, "but he loved the idea of love."
_Nondum amabam, et amare amabam ... amare amans...._

Truly, never a pagan poet had hitherto found such language to speak
of love. These subtle phrases are not only the work of a marvellous
word-smith: through their almost imperceptible shades of meaning may be
descried an entirely new soul, the pleasure-loving soul of the old world
awakening to spiritual life. Modern people have repeated the words more
than enough, but by translating them too literally--"I loved to love"--they
have perhaps distorted the sense. They have made Augustin a kind of
Romantic like Alfred de Musset, a dilettante in love. Augustin is not so
modern, although he often seems one of ourselves. When he wrote those words
he was a bishop and a penitent. What strikes him above all in looking back
upon his uneasy and feverish life as a youth and young man, is the great
onrush of all his being which swept him towards love. Plainly, man is made
for love, since he loves without object and without cause, since in itself
alone the idea of love is already for him a beginning of love. Only he
falls into error in giving to creatures a heart that the Creator alone can
fill and satisfy. In this love for love's sake, Augustin discerned the sign
of the predestined soul whose tenderness will find no rest but in God. That
is why he repeats this word "Love" with a kind of intoxication. He knows
that those who love like him cannot love long with a human love. Nor does
he blush to acknowledge it:--he loved--he loved with all his soul--he
loved to the point of loving the coming of love. Happy intimation for the
Christian! A heart so afire is pledged to the eternal marriage.

With this heat of passion, this lively sensibility, Augustin was a prey for
Carthage. The voluptuous city took complete hold on him by its charm and
its beauty, by all the seductions of mind and sense, by its promises of
easy enjoyment.

First of all, it softened this young provincial, used to the harder country
life of his home; it relaxed the Numidian contracted by the roughness of
his climate; it cooled his eyes burned by the sun in the full-flowing of
its waters and the suavity of its horizons. It was a city of laziness, and
above all, of pleasure, as well for those plunged in business as for the
idlers. They called it _Carthago Veneris_--Carthage of Venus. And certainly
the old Phoenician Tanit always reigned there. Since the rebuilding of her
temple by the Romans, she had transformed herself into _Virgo Coelestis_.
This Virgin of Heaven was the great Our Lady of unchastity, towards whom
still mounted the adoration of the African land four hundred years after
the birth of Christ. "Strange Virgin," Augustin was to say later, "who can
only be honoured by the loss of virginity." Her dissolving influence seemed
to overcome the whole region. There is no more feminine country than this
Carthaginian peninsula, ravished on all sides by the caress of the waters.
Stretched out between her lakes on the edge of the sea, Carthage lounged in
the humid warmth of her mists, as if in the suffocating atmosphere of her

She stole away the energies, but she was an enchantment for the eyes.
From the top of the impressive flight of steps which led up to the temple
of AEsculapius on the summit of the Acropolis, Augustin could see at his
feet the huge, even-planned city, with its citadel walls which spread out
indefinitely, its gardens, blue waters, flaxen plains, and the mountains.
Did he pause on the steps at sunset, the two harbours, rounded cup-shape,
shone, rimmed by the quays, like lenses of ruby. To the left, the Lake of
Tunis, stirless, without a ripple, as rich in ethereal lights as a Venetian
lagoon, radiated in ever-altering sheens, delicate and splendid. In front,
across the bay, dotted with the sails of ships close-hauled to the wind,
beyond the wind-swept and shimmering intervals, the mountains of Rhodes
raised their aerial summit-lines against the sky. What an outlook on the
world for a young man dreaming of fame! And what more exhilarating spot
than this Mount Byrsa, where, in deep layers, so many heroic memories were
gathered and superimposed. The great dusty plains which bury themselves
far off in the sands of the desert, the mountains--yes, and isles and
headlands, all bowed before the Hill that Virgil sang and seemed to do
her reverence. She held in awe the innumerable tribes of the barbaric
continent; she was mistress of the sea. Rome herself, from the height of
her Palatine, surged less imperial.

More than any other of the young men seated with him on the benches of the
school of rhetoric, Augustin hearkened to the dumb appeals which came
from the ancient ruins and new palaces of Carthage. But the supple and
treacherous city knew the secret of enchaining the will. She tempted him by
the open display of her amusements. Under this sun which touches to beauty
the plaster of a hut, the grossest pleasures have an attraction which men
of the North cannot understand. The overflowing of lust surrounds you.
This prolific swarming, all these bodies, close-pressed and soft with
sweat, give forth as it were a breath of fornication which melts the will.
Augustin breathed in with delight the heavy burning air, loaded with human
odours, which filled the streets and squares of Carthage. To all the bold
soliciting, to all the hands stretched out to detain him as he walked, he

But for a mind like his Carthage had more subtle allurements in reserve.
He was taken by her theatres, by the verses of her poets and the melodies

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