Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
Saint Augustine became the Roman-appointed Bishop of Algeria around the year 387. He remains one of the most influential figures in the development of the Roman Catholic Church, and left over five million words in print. Since Augustine was raised on the classics and converted to Manichaeism after his education, I was interested in translating some his autobiography into modern English. I found his writings tainted by propaganda, and his philosophy a regression from some Gnostics that preceded, but highly readable once you remove the clouds of dogma and boil the narrative down to its essence.
In my youth, I hated school, and I hated the fact school was forced on me. I would not study unless forced, otherwise I would never have become educated. No one does well when forced, even if the intentions are good. My teachers didn’t care what I did with this knowledge they were imparting, except to fulfill our earthly desires. Every addiction is its own punishment.
Why did I hate Greek and love Latin? The Greek lessons were boring, yet, I confess I still read and write in Greek thanks to those lessons. I was forced to learn about the wanderings of Aeneas, and I wept over Dido’s love-stricken suicide. I wept when I read, “seeking by the sword a stroke and wound extreme.” I was seeking a worse extreme, as I was seeking one night stands at the time. It is madness to believe satiating earthly desires leads to a higher form of enlightenment, but some believe that.
Why did I hate Greek, and why was Homer so bitter to my boyish taste? Latin was easy, but Greek was a bitch.
I told many lies to my tutor, my masters, my parents, just for the fun of lying. I stole from my parent’s cellar and table, just to win favor with other boys. I cheated for advancement. I picked fights and sought arguments. Sins such as this are transferred from tutors and masters, from nuts and balls and sparrows, to magistrates and kings, to gold and manors and slaves, just as the whip displaces the cane.
But even then, I lived and felt in my heart some small trace of that mysterious Unity from whence I came. I learned to delight in truth and hated deception. I had an excellent memory, was gifted with speech, soothed by friendship, and avoided ignorance.
But I will now call to mind my past foulness, and the carnal corruption of my soul. What was it I desired but to love and be loved? But love overtook me and this was not the love of mind and friendship because I had lost the clear brightness of love in a fog of lustfulness.
Thanks to my parent’s wealth, when I turned 16, I took a year off from school, and was living at home. One day my father caught me at the baths and saw me in action at my wildest. He told my mother and she grew worried. Yes, I walked on the wild side and wallowed in the mire therein, as if it were a bed of spices and precious ointments.
I stole for the love of stealing, not caring what I stole. There was a pear tree near our vineyard laden with unripe fruit. Late one night we took huge loads, not even for eating but just to fling to the pigs.
I went to Carthage, which is where I got involved with theater, especially tragedies. What is this miserable madness, desiring to be made sad while beholding tragical things one would likely never suffer? For nine years, from my 19th year until my 28th, I was seduced and seducing, deceived and deceiving, by the sciences that they call liberal, here proud, there superstitious, but everywhere arrogant. Hunting the emptiness of fame, the follies of applause, the intemperance of desires. I carried food to the priests, that they might forge us Angels and Gods, by whom we might be cleansed.
In those years, I taught rhetoric. When I was entering to win a theatrical prize, some wizard asked me what I would pay to win. “Though the garland be of imperishable gold, I will not suffer a fly be killed for me to gain it,” was my retort. This wizard wanted to make a sacrifice of something living, that he might invite devils to favor me.
Those impostors they call Mathematicians, I consulted them without scruple. They did not employ sacrifices nor pray to divinations, as they had no use for either. Any and all wholesome advice they always labored to destroy, blaming every issue on Mars did this, or Saturn did that, or Venus is in retrograde.
In my 29th year, there came to Carthage a certain Bishop of the Manichees, Faustus by name, a great snare of the devil, and many were entangled by him, through the lure of his smooth tongue, and widespread recognition of his wisdom. He was skilled in the liberal sciences and could tell you when an eclipse was going to happen, and his calculations were always correct, but Faustus didn’t know anything about Thy Word, by Whom Thou madest these things which are numbered, or that of Thy wisdom there is no number.