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Augustine’s Soliloquies

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Source: Introduction to The Soliloquies of St. Augustine, translated into English by Rose Elizabeth Cleveland. With Notes and Introduction by the Translator (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1910).

INTRODUCTION

I

THE anemic society of to-day needs not so much the specializing genius — the artist who lives because of his works — as the all-around man, the vital personality whose works live because of him; the man to whom nothing human is alien, whose experience circumscribes and transcends that of the common lot; the prodigious individual rather than the individual prodigy, the master rather than the marvel. Such an one is Augustine, once Bishop of Hippo, peerless controversialist, incomparable church father; and once, the dreaming, doubting, half-heathen youth and man, eager of brain, restless of heart, lover of pleasure more than lover of God.

M. Nourisson introduces his study of the philosophy of Augustine with the following remark: “If St. Augustine had left only the Confessions and The City of God it would have been easy from them alone to account for the respectful sympathy which environs his memory. How, indeed, can one fail, in The City of God, to admire the flights of genius, and in the Confessions the yet more precious effusions of a great soul? It must be confessed that these portrayals flaming with passion, these ardors of repentance, these wingings toward heavenly things, are what have made the name of the Bishop of Hippo popular. There exists no heart, whatever be its native mediocrity, which is incapable of recognizing something of its own experience in these vacillations, these tempests, these holy transports of Augustine. Hence the prestige conquering centuries, which attaches to this noble figure. However, who does not know him?”

To this question, which implies so widespread an acquaintance with Augustine, one can but reply, Who does know him? How few are they who know even his Confessions, when compared to those who know them not! And still fewer they who know even a small part of the vast City of God.

It is certain, however, that he who knows the Confessions, not to add the City of God, has made acquaintance with Augustine. But the whole man is not there. There is always something, perhaps the main thing, to be learned about a person which the person himself cannot tell. Just as no power can the “giftie gie us,” to see ourselves as others see us, so to no one is it given to completely describe himself. The sincerity of his desire to do so can contribute nothing toward the success of his effort. The portrait which the Confessions hang before us is not that of the Soliloquies. The naif convert at Cassiacum had not the self-consciousness which pre-eminence as a church father forced upon the Bishop of Hippo. In the Soliloquies Augustine, — to use the significant slang — completely gives himself away, while in the Confessions he deals himself out in painstaking instalments with conscientious purpose to give full measure, and yet, somehow, comes a little short. This is not to undervalue the incomparable Confessions, but only to note that the impressionist touch in a careless sketch often does more for the likeness than a world of pre-raphaelite detail which may be better art.

Time, also, has something to do with it. The Soliloquies introduce us to the converted man at the very moment of his conversion. The Confessions give us the Bishop of Hippo’s recollection of that man after years of absorption in the exacting duties of ecclesiastical function and doctrinal debate. Who, seeking to confront the real self of early years, would accept for such his own random recollections at a much later period, recalled of necessity piecemeal, amid the distractions of professional routine, in exchange for the diary into which was poured at the crucial moment the inmost self of those very days and hours? Harnack says: “The foundations of Augustine’s religious characteristics can be best studied in the writings that are read least, namely in the tractates and letters written immediately after his conversion, and forming an extremely necessary supplement to the Confessions.” “What was written earlier was, undoubtedly, in many respects less complete, less churchly, more Neoplatonic; but, on the other hand, it was more direct, more personal.”

To one who knows how to read them with mental polyglot no work of Augustine gives so much suggestion of his “inexhaustible personality” (Harnack) as do the Soliloquies. But this is true here, as everywhere, only of the prepared reader. The merciless formula, It takes two halves to make a whole one, is never more exacting than in the conjunction of book and reader. He who brings away from a book all which the author puts in it, and all which gets in of itself, is he who takes something to it. It takes a thief to catch a thief. This competent reader will develop con amore the abilities of the comparative anatomist.

In Hippo the writer was shown the bones of a right arm which are piously treasured by believers there as those of Augustine. From these bones a Cuvier could erect the skeleton complete. But the comparative anatomist of psychology can go farther than the physiologist, for from some fragments of his thought carelessly scattered by one who has written, as Augustine tells us he wrote the Soliloquies, after his own heart’s cogitation (secundum meum studium et amorem), this psychologist can construct not only the skeleton of the author’s personality, but can clothe it with flesh and blood. But this expert is born, not made. That divine thing, sympathy, does it all; for its possessor will not fail to acquire the training needful for its fruitful exercise.

These potential fragments, however, are not found by searching. One stumbles on them. How do we come by our passionate preferences for this poet or that? By a serious setting out to know him in order to find out if we like him? Who ever became a lover of Shakespeare by sitting down before a pile of his complete works to begin at the beginning and solemnly to proceed to the last volume, until every line and word has become familiar? Not one; not one lover at least; for lovers are not formed that way. Rather is he captivated by some stray passage, some scimitar of intuition which pierces to bone and marrow and thrills the reader by its truth and beauty. Transfixed by this wound, more precious than that of Cupid’s arrow, he is henceforth Shakespeare’s man, with undying passion to hunt, to find, to possess by all means his total treasure. So of Homer, so of Plato, so of Dante, so of Augustine.

II

The Soliloquies of Augustine are almost unknown. This is largely, if not entirely, due to the fact that spurious substitutes have, since the 13th century, usurped their place. Emile Saisset says in his review of Pelissier’s translation: “There is, it would seem, scarcely anything among the writings of St. Augustine more familiar to the public, or more widely circulated than the Soliloquies, for the reason that they are not the genuine ones.”

It has been the writer’s unhappy fortune to experience the truth of M. Saisset’s remark. On my library table lies a tiny leathern-bound book, which was black with age and use centuries before its capture from a Milan bookstand by its present owner. The Soliloquies of Augustine had evaded long and persevering search, and to find upon the yellow title-page of this diminutive volume the words: Divi Aurelii Augustini Hippon. Episcopi Meditationes, Soliloquia, etc., etc. — and that, too, in Milan! — was no ordinary satisfaction. It was, therefore, a bitter hour when another discovery was made, to wit, that the title prefacing these Soliloquia covered nothing of Augustine’s, save some phrases from the Confessions diluted and adapted to the making of a manual of private devotion. Its editor explains that, “having been repeatedly requested to compose from the monuments of the holy fathers a little book for the stimulation of love and devotion to God, he offers . . . this little collection, etc., etc.” The date of the Approbatio, following the Finis, is given as 1607. According to Tillemont this book appeared as early as the 13th century. Poujoulat says it was compiled by Hugo of St. Victor, a monk of the 13th century, from the Confessions and an application of the Rule of St. Augustine made by Hugo himself. It consists of a medley of devout and ejaculatory sentences which could have been produced at any time subsequent to the publication of the Confessions. Erasmus calls it a conglomerate which may be praised rather for its abundance than its importance.

It need not be doubted that this little devotional book, when or by whomsoever compiled, had for its motive, in the first instance, “the stimulation of love and devotion to God.” That it should, in many successive editions in the course of seven centuries, retain the name of the Soliloquies of Augustine is a fact not so amiably accepted. One may believe that its first editor might have been ignorant of the existence of the genuine Soliloquies. It is true that the Saxon king, Alfred, translated them into the English of his day in the 10th century, a fact that would suggest that they could not be wholly unknown to Latins of the same or later days. Still, acquaintance with sources would be most likely confined to ecclesiastical authorities, and it is quite credible that such in those days, as in ours, would deem a “collection” of pious ejaculations of a sound Catholic type much safer reading for the masses than the intensely thoughtful and speculative pages of an author not yet purged of Neoplatonic and Manichaean taints. Such speculation bearing the name of the incomparable church father, the defender par excellence of the faith, the canonized saint, written, too, after his conversion, would be unspeakably embarrassing to father-confessors. Reflections such as these would lead, by easy logic, to a suggestion irresistible to the zealous monk. Why not a little book bearing the name Soliloquies compiled from the Confessions and other works consistent with the church father, which would dispose of the whole difficulty, retire the “offspring” (Soliloquies I, 1) and put the edifying bastard in its place? This pious plan would have been quite safe of execution in those days; possibly not so much so in these when libraries exist, accessible to all, where the complete works of Augustine may be found in the original text, the precious fragment bearing the name of Soliloquies, among them. Alfred of England is known better to-day than he was a thousand years ago, and the Saissets, Janets, Pelissiers, Labothonières and hosts of comrades in swelling ranks of those who are awaking or are already wide-awake to the immenza grandezza (Il Santo Fogazzaro) of Augustine the man, will not permit him longer to remain submerged in the church father. The genuine Soliloquies, with other of his earlier works, will win their rightful place in the representation of that “inexhaustible personality,” whom Harnack also calls the first modern man.

The spurious Soliloquies are, however, still being published under Augustine’s name. A late edition (1891, Victor Lecoffre, Paris) is announced by the editor as a “new translation revised very accurately after the Latin,” continuing: “It is true that, although these appear under the name of the incomparable Doctor, many hold that it is uncertain whether they are his. . . . One may however rest assured that, if they are not the saint’s as to arrangement, they are altogether his as to matter.” Here, again, is no suggestion of the existence of the genuine Soliloquies, and one may take his choice between two explanatory theories, the one that each successive republisher of this book is always ignorant that genuine Soliloquies exist; the other that in his great zeal against the spirit of modernism with which they are replete, he is constrained, by loyalty to the good cause, to repeat the silence of his predecessors concerning them. However this may be, it is evident that Augustine’s genuine Soliloquies have not, in the past, been considered important to the church, or to himself in the rôle of church father. Nor can it be affirmed that they will be so considered in the future. Though, in the true sense of the word, they are theological, discoursing of God, “the one Reality,” they are not dogmatic or ecclesiastical. No “system” can be founded, or even suggested by them, no institutional Christianity. They contain much in suggestion and in spirit of that abomination of desolation to the Vatican Catholic, modernism, but nothing of that ecclesiastical technique which has fitly joined together and floated over all waters these many centuries the massive ark of St. Peter’s. They supply no hint of the career ahead for their author, none of the bishop to be, the prince of controversialists, the defender of the faith, none of the canonized saint.

On the other hand there is more than hint, there is ample revelation of all that went to the making of the man of two worlds, the man to whom nothing of man is alien; whose intellect absorbs all knowledge as his heart all experience, fusing the two, and forcing the resultant through the meshes of his keen dialectic, whence it emerges sifted for the service of God and man. In this fragmentary monologue is found a superlative example of the unceasing action of this combination of his thought and feeling as it moves, like a radius, within that infinite circle where God is centre in the soul of man and circumference in the infinitude of being.

It is not within the proprieties of this preface to discuss the rank or reach of Augustine’s intellect, or to argue for or against Harnack, when he says he is the first modern man and credits him with “a wealth of psychological discoveries,” “as regards memory, association of ideas, synthetic activity of spontaneous thought, ideality of the categories, a priori functions, determinant numbers, synthesis of reproduction in the imagination,” etc. (History of Dogma, p. 112, and note); or to bring forward the multitude of great names from his own day to this, who testify to his superlative endowments; but only to let him speak to heart and brain alike of the reader, in the unself-conscious sample which is here presented.

The interest of this remarkable fragment to most readers, aside from its religious importance, is mainly psychological and historical. It has also other distinct and inestimable values, which cannot be even touched upon here. To the student of Neoplatonism and other related philosophies it is a mine of suggestion. (Among countless others an important recent appreciation of this value is M. Grandgeorge’s St. Augustin et La Neoplatonisme, Ernest Leroux, Paris.) It contains valuable samples of the harassing dialectics in which, after Socrates and Plato, he was trained, and in which the pupil excelled the master. It contains what Pelissier calls an excellent moral argument for the immortality of the soul. Spite of the jealousy of the worshipers of Descartes, it originates in the dialogue between Reason and Augustine which introduces the second book, — elaborated elsewhere, especially in the City of God (see note 53) — the famous cogito ergo sum which is the corner-stone of modern Cartesian philosophy. His analysis of the will supplies a primer of first principles to modern psychology (see note 12). Augustine taught, before Kant immortalized the truth in his Critique, “The only good thing is the good will.” But when all is said, the main artery which connects Augustine so vitally with every one who knows him, is that current of passionate love for God and the soul, so conspicuous in the Soliloquies, which makes him kin — if king — of the whole race by the reddest blood of the human heart.

  • “The fourteen centuries fall away
  • Between us and the Afric saint,
  • And at his side we urge to-day
  • The immemorial quest and old complaint.”

The great man is the great lover; the greatest he whose greatest love is for the greatest. Always a lover, loving life, love, man, woman, letters, discourse, with inexhaustible passion, Augustine coasted half his life at his peril among the rocks and over the shallows along the shore of the vast deep which waited for him far beyond. But now at thirty-three years of age when we meet him in the Soliloquies, he has gone to sea with God. Flood-tide has lifted him off the perilous ledges of his passions, and, fearless in those unsounded depths where pilot and port are one (Soliloquies I, 4), all the currents of his soul set to one course, — “God and the soul,” “the soul and God alone!” At this solemn interval moment we see him in communion with the immanent Deity concerning the issues of life. Behind him lies his past in ruins; before him looms his future in nebulae; between these Augustine questions and prays: “Teach me how to come to Thee! I have nothing but the will. I know nothing but that the fleeting and failing should be spurned, the certain and eternal sought. This I do, Father, for this is all I know: but how to make my way to Thee I know not. Do Thou suggest it, make it plain, equip me for the journey! If they who take refuge in Thee, find Thee by faith, give me faith! If by virtue, give me virtue! If by knowledge, give me knowledge!”

III

The first page of the Soliloquies brings us face to face with those two Augustines which are to be met with henceforth in all his works, the one practical, the other speculative; the one seeking for himself, — as in the Soliloquies, — or for others, — as in his later official works, — principles for the regulation of conduct; the other seeking everywhere, with consummate psychology, a pathway to ultimate reality. Already in the Soliloquies he recognizes with anguish the world-wide difference between believing and knowing, “for it may be truly said that we believe all that we know, but not that we know all that we believe” (I, 3).

At this moment he is seeking both what to do and how to know. His former point of view as to the desirable things of life has entirely passed away. With his newness of will all things have become new, and he begins his Soliloquies by relating how, for a long time and with intense anxiety, he has been turning over in his mind a multitude of alternatives, seeking to know his true self, and what, as his best good, he should seek, what, as an evil, he should shun; and that, while thus revolving in his mind this incessant query, he is aware of a sudden interposition in the debate of “one” of whom he is vividly conscious, yet, he adds in parenthesis, though it be the one thing of all others he most eagerly strives to learn, he does not know whether this “one” is himself or another, and, if another, whether that other be within or without himself. In present-day language of psychology, he is asking whether he shall recognize this “other” as a subliminal self, or a secondary personality, or an extra Augustine immanent in the Cosmic Absolute, or as part and parcel of the All-Becoming-ness whose bright ray of less impeded self-hood constitutes the real Augustine? Or, by a sharp turn, will an inveterate dualism assert itself — Athanasius contra mundum — and explain that one and one — or this and the “other” — make two? Theories these, which in varying formulae have traveled down the ages, only stopping anywhere long enough to change their clothes and get themselves different names. Theosophies, monisms, dualisms, pluralisms, they arrive from a far past to be the guests in modern dress of modern hosts, and as such to be hailed by most as modern discoveries. But they were old acquaintances, with ancient names, to Augustine. In his Retractations, written late in life, Augustine tell us that in his Soliloquies he questions and answers himself as if two, reason and himself, were discussing, although he was quite alone (me interrogans, me respondens, tanquam duo essemus, ratio et ego, cum solus essem). He gives Reason the place of preceptor, Augustine taking the place of pupil. Reason forthwith, having briefly led his pupil to a realization of the practical difficulties in the way of his undertaking, exhorts him to “at once pray for health and help.”

In this initial behest of Reason is seen that involution of reason and faith which is the most constant characteristic of Augustine’s thought. Reason speaks for and to the reasonable. It is no discouraged tyro who, beset with embarrassment as to ways and means by which to pursue his longed-for research, turns in desperation from intellect to faith. It is that most competent and authoritative entity, Reason, which anticipates the failure incident upon any other course than that of optimistic co-operation, through the appeal of faith, with the source of reason and knowledge. Already it is clear to the practical Augustine that rationabiliter visum est, ut fides praecedit intellectum. It is never a matter of trying God, when other experiments have failed. God lacks neither power nor willingness; it is only a question of our ability to desire the best thing, and to get ready to receive it. At the commencement of the second book, Augustine rises to Reason’s height and counsels the exercise of faith first of all — “Let us believe that God will be with us!” To which Reason replies, implying that hitherto faith has not been perfect, “Let us actually believe this if it be within our power!” In reply to which Augustine, summing up in the words his whole “system,” replies: “He is our power!

For Augustine all symbols of safety and fruition are epitomized in that one word, God, the only Reality. Whatever his traditions, or his speculations, he is, on his religious side, a practical monist. God is all: and nowhere is this sublime spiritual monism so formulated as in this prayer, which, in response to Reason’s exhortation, introduces the Soliloquies. Everywhere Augustine proclaims this as postulate: it is unthinkable that man should feel sufficient to himself. Not only in his Confessions when he talks to God, as father-confessor, but in all his works after conversion, is seen this habitual consciousness of God, as the one Reality. “God, true and perfect Life, in whom and by whom and through whom those live who do truly and perfectly live!” And this consciousness deepened and broadened like the stream which descends from the hills and invades one field after another until the whole plain is overflowed. So as time goes on the Divine flood is to fill his landscape and to obliterate all other things. At present, in the Soliloquies, we see this flood descending, in spite of the habit of the Platonist, the Neoplatonist, the Manichaean. “The vanity of the schools” of which in his Retractations he accuses the Soliloquies, has, as yet, left its high places, which the deeps of God have not completely hidden. Augustine, the dialectician emerges; but if so, is he more harmful or more intrusive here, than as the controversialist of a later day? If the latter was a power for the church, of his day, is not the former a power for a purer devotion, a more single zeal — “love for God and the soul alone” — for all time and all believers?

As a Neoplatonist, not less than as a Christian, Augustine knows that Reason, whatever be its substance, plays between himself and God. “Ratio was, to him, the organ in which God reveals himself to man, and in which man perceives God” (History of Dogma, V, p. 125, n).

If the Soliloquies have any dogmatic value, that is, if they supply the thinker with any constructive material, it is to be found here in the first formulation of that which was the corner-stone of all his practical as well as doctrinal teaching: Fides praecedit intellectum. Everywhere, this precious ore gleams constant amid all his conglomerates, separate, yet involved in the whole structure; implied in its very form of dialogue between the ego, and the ego-plus. Reason shadows forth a teaching concerning faith which is reason, and concerning reason which is faith: the separation is only in function. Intuition precedes knowledge, is knowledge by another route; “that direct self-consciousness of the spirit in regard to itself which sleeps in every mind, but which few remark and still fewer interpret” (Naturalism and Religion, Otto). It is the believing before seeing; “Kant’s rational faith whose belief is grounded in the categorical imperative” (the thing that ought to be true and therefore is true; the mandates of Duty) “and guaranteed by it” (Philosophy of the Christian Religion, Fairbairn). This knowing which is intuition, insight; this believing which is faith, foresight, is the intellectus in its purity of germ; the dogma without the formula. Intuition and faith do not talk; they see.

Perhaps to many the Soliloquies supply no such constructive suggestion: to him who says they have none no argument need be made. But where the hammer hits the red-hot metal the sparks will fly. Better be still and catch, if only one of these divine scintillations, holding it close against the heart that no wind of words may quench its sacred fire. Tended carefully, a flame will mount to the brain where intellectus waits to perform his alchemy.

Shall we now, as in duty bound, interject some mention of the obvious defects of the Soliloquies? They are on the surface and need no emphasizing. Pelissier in the notes to his fine translation of the Soliloquies, says: “We suffer to see a doctrine so pure and true compromised by its mixture with these miserable sophisms.” And in his Introduction we read: “In the Soliloquies, last adieu of a pious soul to philosophical controversies, one can admire, with a sort of secret preference, an ardor of youth which time, in disciplining, must enfeeble. Under the rhetorician who takes delight in submerging beneath the billows of scholastic arguities an excellent moral argument, one feels the young Christian who seeks and senses in advance the solution of his problem. . . . Thus, in the birth-brightness of the Christian genius, the stains and imperfections of detail are effaced and lost in order that we may abandon ourselves wholly to the fruitful and generous enjoyment of admiration.”

Comparing small things to great, we may say of the Soliloquies what Dr. Marcus Dodd says, in the Introduction to his translation of the stupendous City of God: “Though there are in it, as in all ancient books, things that seem to us childish and barren, there are also the most surprising anticipations of modern speculations. . . . It is true there are passages which can possess an interest only to the antiquarian; there are others with nothing to redeem them but the glow of their eloquence; there are many repetitions; there is an occasional use of arguments ‘plus ingenieux que solides’ as M. Saisset says. . . . The book has its faults; but it effectually introduces us to the most influential of theologians and the greatest popular teacher; to a genius that cannot nod for many lines together; to a reasoner whose dialectic is more formidable . . . than that of Socrates or Aquinas; to a saint whose ardent and genuine devotional feeling bursts up through the severest argumentation; to a man whose kindliness and wit, universal sympathies and breadth of intelligence lend piquancy and vitality to the most abstract dissertation.”

And now for a glance at Augustine as he soliloquizes, and then we will leave him to the reader.

IV

The book which a great genius writes con amore is the book one cares to read, for whatever be its defects, it has this pre-eminent merit: that, more than another can, it reveals the author himself. We have seen that Augustine wrote the Soliloquies to please himself. We shall now see that he wrote them in an environment pleasing to him, for he had with him those friends whom he so desires shall with him, “inquire into God and the soul” (I, 20); and he enjoys ease and comfort in the beautiful retirement he craves. The little village of Casciago, nested among the mountains surrounding Milan and the Italian lakes, wears to-day the same bewitching features of natural scenery which so charmed Augustine in the year 386. The tourist who goes there gazes with enchantment on the same superb panorama. Throned on the northwest Monte Rosa in perpetual ermine queens it over her Alpine courtiers grouped about in close attendance, while lower heights stand knightly guard, and between their steadfast columns the waters of Maggiore and the lesser lakes put in gleams as of their knightly steel. To the south stretches the great plain of Lombardy with its fertile fields, its hamlets and its villages, all humbly tributary to the royal city farther on.

But no tourist goes to Casciago to-day unless he goes there for Augustine’s sake — to stand, for a moment, where Augustine “rested in God from the fiery turmoil of the world.” His Confessions tell us of this fiery turmoil. For him, as for every one not wholly of it, the world had been no resting place. Augustine had always been of two worlds and therefore never at home in either. The thirty-three years behind him had been lived under a succession of conflicting influences into which he was born. His birthplace, Thagaste, a small inland town in North Africa now Soul Aras, was partly of the old, partly of the new religion. His mother was a Christian, his father a pagan, though converted to his wife’s faith before his death. The history of his boyhood and youth is a record of excessive antagonisms and excessive predilections, of passionate joys and passionate sorrows such as a nature at once fiery and tender must experience amid the “contrary currents of the world.” Reaching a young manhood of splendid ability he soon makes for himself a distinguished name in his profession of rhetoric, which was then almost comprehensive in its scope, embracing philosophy and literature as well as disputation and oratory. But now, as earlier, hot blood and a hungry heart battle with a lofty spirit and sensitive conscience, and the weary warfare of flesh against spirit and spirit against flesh does not cease until he wrenches loose from it in its crisis agony in the lonely garden at Milan. The passion for truth, for knowledge, for debate, that “chain of reasoning” which he says (Epistles, III) “I am accustomed to caress as if it were my chief treasure, and in which I take, perhaps, too much delight” was too often and too long subjected to the “very toy of toys and vanity of vanities,” his antiquae amiciae (Confessions, VIII, p. 201), the ministers to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life. “I was sick and tormented, tossing and turning me in my chains;” alternating between the “two wills” which he found a horrifying monster (monstrum horrendum). We see him at Carthage, at Rome, at Milan, studying, teaching, lecturing; making joyous, generous friendships, flattered and championed by powerful friends, maintaining faithfully for years one woman, with his son and mother; yielding to the solicitations of his mother and friends in their plans for an advantageous marriage, which should have put an end to this irregular connection, and advance him in emolument and honor and all that goes with successful and reputable citizenship; but ever and always the hunger of the heart for love, the fire of the brain for knowledge, consume him with “a fever of irresolution.” “The very moment in which I was to become another man, the nearer it approached me, the greater horror did it strike into me; but it did not strike me back nor turn me aside, but kept me in suspense” (Confessions, IX). Already entering middle life, these struggles had drained the youth from him but left its tyrannous desires and habits. Many years had passed since the Hortensius of Cicero had, at nineteen, changed his ideals and aspirations “to an incredible ardor for an immortality of wisdom.” And now, in the words of Paul Janet in the introduction to his superb translation of the Confessions which must not suffer by translation: “Que nous voilà loin de ce premier éveil de l’âme, de cet appel à la sagesse, de cet aurore de la pensée, où tout est beau et facile, où les passions sont un auxiliare plutôt qu’un obstacle! La pensée s’est fatiguée; l’affirmation, si facile à la jeunesse, est devenue un effort pénible; les déceptions ont enfanté le dégoût; le désir du repos, du bonheur facile, des honneurs mondains, commence à gagner sur l’amour du beau et du bien. L’âme n’a pas renoncé encore à son beau rêve, mais elle se sent fléchir; état périlleux, où beaucoup d’âmes et de volontés succombent, mais d’où une âme forte et grande sort éprouvée, retrempée, et prête aux plus grands sacrifices. C’est ce qui arriva à Saint Augustin.” The crisis of conflict between the two wills, the one old, the other new, the one carnal, the other spiritual, is now reached; the great surrender succeeds to this climax agony, and the fig-tree in the garden of his lodging at Milan shelters now the new man! “And this was the result, that I willed not to do what I willed, and willed to do what Thou willed’st. . . . How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be without trifles! And what, at one time, I feared to lose, it was now a joy to me to put away. For Thou did’st cast them away from me, Thou true and highest sweetness. Thou did’st cast them away, and, instead of them, did’st enter in Thyself, sweeter than all pleasures, though not to flesh and blood, brighter than all light but more veiled than all mysteries; more exalted than all honor but not to the exalted in their own conceits. Now was my soul free from the gnawing cares of seeking and getting and of wallowing and exciting the itch of lust, and I babbled unto Thee, my brightness, my riches and my health, the Lord, my God!” (Confessions, IX).

With this new mind there can be, for Augustine, no thought of the old life. All is changed; there is but one next thing. “And it seemed good to me as before Thee, not tumultuously to snatch away, but gently to withdraw the service of my tongue from the talker’s trade . . . and, being redeemed by Thee, no more to return for sale.” Still the “hot-blooded man,” (Harnack) he is now possessed by his last all-dominating passion, the love of God and the soul, and in its high rapture he turns his back forever upon the world with its fever and fret, not, however, without occasional intrusion of his faint following “Shadows” as the reader of the Soliloquies will see.

Augustine took with him to the villa of his friend at Casciago a little company of those much loving and much beloved, tried and tested by long companionship, of one mind as to intellectual things, of one purse as to material things; not, as yet, all of them Christians, but all alike absorbed in the pursuit of knowledge, and the love of philosophical discourse. Of this company were Augustine’s mother, Monica, whom all the world knows, she whom Augustine describes as “with the woman’s garb but a man’s faith, cleaving to us in the tranquillity of age in motherly love and Christian piety”; Alypius, Augustine’s townsman, fellow and follower from lecture-room to episcopal chair, himself being a bishop in Thagaste when Augustine was Bishop of Hippo; Adeodatus, Augustine’s son by the woman greatly loved and mourned, to whom he was faithful until she parted from him, in anticipation of his marriage (Confessions, VI, 15). Of this youth he says: “His talents inspired me with awe. . . . Though scarcely fifteen years of age, he surpassed in talent many learned and venerable men. . . . There is a book of his and mine entitled Concerning the Master; . . . the sentiments put into the mouth of my fellow in that dialogue are all his own.” Added to these there were Evodius, formerly an officer of the court of the Emperor, one of the agentes in rebus, who after his conversion and baptism resigned from the royal service in order that “he might the better prepare himself for the service of God” (Confessions, IX, 8). A brother, two cousins, and two pupils completed the community. One of these pupils was the gay and gifted Licentius, son of Augustine’s wealthy and powerful friend, Romanianus, to whom he was indebted for much material aid in his professional career, and to whom he rendered overflowing intellectual and spiritual returns, as is seen by many references to him, expecially in the first book written at Casciago, Contra Academicos. That the son shared his father’s enthusiasm for Augustine appears evident in a paragraph from one of his letters to his master, quoted in Augustine’s reply (Epistles, XXVI). This extract seems to be from a sort of poem inspired by recollections of Casciago written to Augustine and reads thus: “Oh that the morning light of other days could, with its gladdening chariot, bring back to me bright hours which are gone, hours spent together in the heart of Italy among its high mountains, when proving the generous leisure and pure privilege which belong to the good! Neither stern winter with its frozen snow, nor the rude blasts of Zephyrus and raging of Boreas could deter me from following your footsteps with eager tread. You have only to express your wish.” Lanciani asserts that the tomb of Licentius was discovered in the church of San Lorenzo at Rome, bearing insignia and inscriptions showing that he had attained the rank of Roman senator and had died a Christian.

Other friends, equally congenial, but unable to join the little company in person, were corresponding members. The lovely and beloved Nebridius, whose letters to and from Augustine reveal each in characteristic quality, are inestimable souvenirs of the days and nights which gave birth to the Soliloquies. The generous Verecundus also, who, though prevented by his marriage from becoming a member of the community, placed his villa at Casciago at its disposal. Of this friend, and his generous service, Augustine says after his death (Confessions, IX, 3): “For that country-place of his where we rested in Thee from the fiery turmoil of the world, Thou dost now repay Verecundus with the freshness of Thy evergreen Paradise, for in that mountain of curds, Thy mountain, that fruitful mountain, Thou hast loosed him from the sins of earth” (translator’s version). The poet Zenobius is also invoked, though at this moment, Augustine tells us (Book II), “far away in transalpine leisure composing a poem by which the fear of death is driven away, and that chill and stupor of the soul, unyielding as the ice of ages, is cast out.” These and others of congenial tastes are in sympathetic rapport and doubtless hear of the thought and speech of the residents who, gathered daily and hourly round the master, abandon themselves to the full enjoyment of the half-year’s opportunity — from Autumn’s vintage to Easter.

The symposium has full play along Platonic and Neoplatonic as well as Pauline lines. The stenographer is ever-present and dialogues and debates are committed to his waxen tablet as, one after another, they fall from the lips of the master and those of his associates. The Soliloquies alone are written down by Augustine himself as “they cannot be dictated, since they demand absolute solitude (Book I, 1).”

In these various books, written at Casciago and in the Confessions, Augustine gives us many glimpses of his life there. Meditation and prayer occupy many hours of the night and early morning, and prepare him for the intellectual exercise of the day, which, for the most part, takes the form of debate and dialogue. The magnetism of his personality and the interest of the theme discussed rivet the attention of each of his audience upon the master, whose native tact as well as great skill acquired in the long practice of conducting the rhetorical education of others, win from all a ready response to questions put by him.

The 13th of November it is remembered that Augustine’s thirty-third birthday has arrived, and it is celebrated by the initiation, after a simple dinner with his friends, of a discussion which lasts three days, and results in the book entitled The Happy Life. Here is a sample page (see Tableau de l’Éloquence Chrétienne au IVe Siècle, Villemain).

“ ‘Is the man happy, who obtains that which he desires?’ I asked. My mother thereupon replied: ‘If he desires what is good and obtains it, he is happy. But if he wishes for that which is evil, even if he obtain it, he is wretched.’

“ ‘My mother,’ said I, smiling my approval, ‘you have attained the summit of philosophy. Though you lack the language in which he elaborates it, you have expressed the thought of Cicero in his Hortentius, a book which he wrote in the praise and for the defence of philosophy. He says there exist men, not indeed philosophers, yet skilled in debate, who declare that those are happy who devote their lives to obtaining pleasure: but that this is an error. For to desire that which is unseemly is, itself, the worst of evils. One is less miserable in failing to attain, than in desiring to attain that which is bad; the corruption of the will bringing in its defeat less of ill than its gratification could of happiness.’ ”

“At these words of mine an exclamation escaped my mother, such as would have been fitting had a great personage been the speaker: but I well knew in what Divine source these verities had their origin.”

Augustine’s companions agree that happiness consists in the possession of God, since obedience to His will and right conduct follow. Thereupon Augustine continues:

“ ‘This inner admonition which compels us to the thought of God, to the thirst for Him, to the search after Him, comes to us from the source of all truth. It is the sun which shines within our souls. It is the truth which we divine when, our eyes being too feeble, or too suddenly opened, we are afraid to look it in the face. It is none other than God, Himself, in His changeless perfection. So long as we persist in seeking to satisfy our thirst elsewhere than at this fountain, we must admit that we have not attained our proper goal, and therefore, though God be for us, we are neither wise nor happy. Complete satisfaction of souls, the truly happy life, is to know purely and fully what Truth itself is, what conducts in the search after it, and by what relations it connects us with the supreme perfection. These three demonstrate to purified souls the one only God, the one only Reality, in distinction from the self-contradicting fables of superstition.’

“Here my mother, reminded of words graven on her memory, as if startled from a dream by the familiar accents of her faith, recited with transport the words of the priest: ‘Holy Trinity receive our prayer!’ and added: ‘Yes, this is the happy life, to which one should expect to be swiftly conducted by steadfast faith, by lively hope, by burning charity!’ ”

In the Confessions (IX, 4) Augustine gives us a glimpse of his communings in solitude at Casciago:

“What utterances sent I up unto Thee, my God, when I read the psalms of David, those faithful songs and sounds of devotion which excludes all swelling of spirit, when, new to Thy true love, at rest in the villa with Alypius, a catechumen like myself, my mother cleaving unto us, in woman’s garb truly but with a man’s faith, with the peacefulness of age, full of motherly love and Christian piety! What utterances used I to send up unto Thee in those Psalms, and how was I inflamed towards Thee by them, and burned to rehearse them, if it were possible, throughout the whole world, against the pride of the human race! With what vehement and bitter sorrow was I indignant at the Manichaeans! . . . I wished that they had been somewhere near me then, and, without my being aware of their presence, could have beheld my face, and heard my words, when I read the fourth psalm in that time of my leisure — how that psalm wrought upon me! — oh, that they might have heard what I uttered on these words without my knowing whether they heard or no, lest they should think I spake it because of them! For of a truth neither should I have said the same things, nor in the way I said them, if I had perceived that I was heard and seen by them: and had I spoken them, they would not so have received them as when I spake by and for myself before Thee, out of the private feelings of my soul. I alternately quaked with fear and warmed with hope and with rejoicing in Thy mercy, oh Father!

“I read further — ‘Be ye angry and sin not.’ And how was I moved oh, my God, who had now learned to ‘be angry’ with myself for the things past, so that in the future I might not sin! . . . Nor were my ‘good things’ now without, nor were they sought after with the eyes of flesh in that sun; for they that would have joy from without easily sink into oblivion, and are wasted upon those things which are seen and temporal, and in their starving thoughts do lick their very shadows. Oh, if only they were wearied out with their fasting, and said, ‘Who will show us any good?’ . . . Oh that they could behold the internal Eternal, which, having tasted, I gnashed my teeth that I could not show It to them! . . . But there, where I was angry with myself in my chamber, when I was inwardly pricked, where I had offered my ‘sacrifice,’ slaying my old man and beginning the resolution of a new life — there had’st Thou began to grow sweet unto me, and to ‘put gladness in my heart.’ And I cried out as I read this outwardly and felt it inwardly. Nor would I be increased with worldly goods, wasting my time and being wasted by time; whereas I possessed in Thy eternal simplicity other corn and wine and oil.”

One would have almost consented to pose as a Manichaean for the time, if by such a pious fraud a glance at this Augustine could have been had. Oh, that the notarius of those days had carried along with his stylus the camera which accompanies his successor of to-day!

Painters, from Botticelli to Ary Scheffer, and before and since, have, each after his own heart, conceived the features of “the Afric saint.” The only conception, however, which the writer has seen, which approaches adequacy in its suggestions, is that of Botticelli, whose soft fresco on a column, in the church of All Saints in Florence, was, according to Vasari, considered a masterpiece in the painter’s day. It represents Augustine at a period of life much later than that of the Soliloquies, and is scarcely the Augustine we think of at Casciago.

According to Poujoulat, the most painstaking research has failed to determine which among all the tribes of the North Africa of Augustine’s day, is that from which he sprung. The Kabyles of to-day are believed to be the descendants of one of these tribes — the ancient Getulians, of whom Sallust speaks as a race of men, both uncultured and unconquered (genus hominum ferum et incultumque). At Algiers one hears it said that the Kabyles, who live on the hills north of the city, having no community with the rest of the world, have never been conquered. From the days of the first Roman invasion and conquest of the Mediterranean coast, they have retired farther and farther inland, and higher and higher upland, yielding their territory but never themselves to the tide of conquest. One is impressed with their nobility of feature and dignity of bearing as they pass, haughty and detached, along the streets of Algiers, in a day’s descent from their heights on affairs of business, never, one is sure, of pleasure. The type is marked with character and intellect, and it is not difficult to persuade one’s self that in it is much of that which Botticelli saw when he put his masterpiece on the column of All Saints. If a composite could be struck from this glorious fresco, and the glorious face of a Kabyle boy, which is to be seen in many photograph shops of Algiers, one might fancy be could gain from it a conception of the aspect of the Augustine who discoursed with his friends at Casciago on the folly of the wise Academicians, on the cosmic Order of God’s universe, on the truly Happy Life, and, last of all, with himself alone on God and the Soul and the problem of its immortality. At thirty-three the rounded contours of the young Kabyle would have been lost in the lines of passion and pain traced by the intense life of heart and mind upon the famous rhetorician’s face, though not yet deepened into those furrows ploughed deep by the cure of souls and the care of the churches, which Botticelli puts into the face of the bishop still in his prime. One needs but to turn some pages in the Confessions, those especially in which the story of the long and fierce struggle ending in that “complete conversion” for which he still prays in that wonderful prayer which introduces the Soliloquies, to realize the warrant Botticelli had for putting into his great fresco that intensity of thought and feeling which startles the beholder. One is almost satisfied with the conception for he feels himself to be gazing into the soul, rather than upon the face, of a lion of intellect and feeling, — a kingly Numidian lion tamed by truth and love to fathomless deeps of compassion and sympathy, and boundless powers of service; nay, rather into the soul of the greatest of God’s warriors, where the battle has, indeed, left piteous scars, but where victory has planted its peace!

V

In many of the principal cities of the world there are now libraries where the complete works of Augustine can be found, and among them, occupying a very few pages in the first of the many huge volumes, the Soliloquies. The original text has not, to the writer’s knowledge, been published in separate form, although a German house has lately issued it with others, perhaps all, of his works, in convenient volumes for those who desire to possess them. It was more satisfactory to me to transcribe it from the huge Benedictine volume by hand. After this tedious task was completed, M. Pelissier’s fine translation into French (1853), containing the Latin text, was, with much difficulty, procured in Paris. The book was said to be out of print and only the most painstaking perseverance of a friend succeeded in obtaining for me this portable copy. The vicious virtue of expurgation has touched Pelissier’s translation, for which however he is not, presumably, responsible, as the text from which he translates and which accompanies his translation is without the expurgated passages. No mention is made of the edition used by him, and it is perhaps less inconceivable that Pelissier himself caused their expurgation from the text he supplies, than that any reprint of an authentic Benedictine edition should have been so mutilated. The present version has omitted nothing found in the Benedictine text. So far as can be learned, but two English translations of Augustine’s Soliloquies have been published previous to the present venture. The first of these is attributed to King Alfred of England in the tenth century. This version was done into twentieth century English by Henry Lee Hargrove, professor of English in Baylor University, Waco, Texas, in 1904, and is to be found as Number XXII in the series of Yale Studies in English. The text is only partially followed by Alfred, Mr. Hargrove estimating that he rejected about three-fourths of the Latin of Augustine, so that, what with his naïve rejections, and equally naïve interjections, this version, charming and valuable as it is, can for obvious reasons only by excess of mendacious courtesy be called a translation of Augustine’s Soliloquies, being far less representative of Augustine than of Alfred. The value, however, of Mr. Hargrove’s beautiful work cannot be over-estimated. That it cannot make its readers acquainted with the Soliloquies of Augustine is scarcely a loss, since it is sure to beget a desire for such acquaintance which can be easily gratified by the reader of simple Latin, and it does add immensely to one’s acquaintance with Alfred. Mr. Hargrove’s first object was not to widen the circle of Augustine’s admirers, but to exploit the English of Alfred’s day, which he does — and incidentally Alfred himself as a matter of course — in his preceding pamphlet King Alfred; Old English Version of St. Augustine’s Soliloquies (1902). It is easy to see, however, that Mr. Hargrove fell in love with the Augustine of the Soliloquies, as in the case of many another affaire du cœur, by happy accident, and by his following (1904) version of his previous version into modern English, has done much for other lovers of both Augustine and Alfred.

The other, more properly called a translation, referred to may be found in Vol. VII of the Select Library of the Nicene and post-Nicene Fathers, edited by the late Dr. Philip Schaff. This was done by the Rev. Charles Starbuck, and to be appreciated, both in its excellencies and defects, should be compared with the original, which does not accompany it. The brief preface of less than a page should also be read in the light of the historical facts.

For the translation here presented nothing is claimed save that which a persistent effort to render the author’s thought into clear everyday English may merit. In this connection it should be said that all citations from Augustine’s other works, when not elsewhere credited, are taken from translations to be found in the St. Augustine Series published by T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh.

This book has no other raison d’être than the translator’s intense desire that Augustine the man, apart from the ecclesiastic, shall be better known. The reader who sympathizes with this motive will need no other appeal for charity in considering its many shortcomings. Even the length and occasional apparent irrelevance of the notes will be indulged if help toward the desired end is thus obtained. Augustine’s paramount value does not lie in the fact that “he was the most astonishing man in the Latin Church” (Villemain, Tableau de l’Éloquence Chrétienne au IVe Siècle) but rather in the solace and significance of his “inexhaustible personality” to every soul who, with him, has come to realize that “the fleeting and the failing should be spurned, the steadfast and eternal sought.” That such readers will obtain from these Soliloquies enlarged acquaintance with their author is the hope of the translator.

Rose Elizabeth Cleveland.

Last modified April 13, 2016