Our classics reading group will have our last discussion about Saint Augustine’s Confessions tomorrow. I feel sorry to leave St. Augustine behind, for he has become an honest, passionate and true Christian friend.
My ideas about Augustine before reading the Confessions this time were based on a cursory reading during my undergraduate years. The manner in which I read Augustine all those years ago indicates to me how really shallow I was during that time of my life, for how can anyone skim through his Confessions?
Lord, before whose eyes the abyss of man’s conscience lies naked, what thing within me could be hidden from you, even if I would not confess it to you? I would be hiding you from yself, not myself from you. But now, since my groans bear witness that I am a thing displeasing to myself, you shine forth, and you are pleasing to me, and you are loved and longed for, so that I may feel shame for myself, and renounce myself, and choose you, and please neither you nor myself except because of you.
Therefore, before you, O Lord, am I manifest, whatever I may be. With what profit I may confess to you, I have already said. [. . .] When I am evil, to confess toyou is naught else but to be displeased with myself; when I am upright of life, naugh else is it to confess to you but to attribute this in no wise to myself. For you bless the just man, O Lord, but first you justify him as one who has been ungodly. Hence my confession is made in silence before you, my God, and yet not in silence. As to sound, it is silent, but it cries aloud with love. Nor do I say any good thing to men except what you have first heard from me; nor do you hear any such thing from me but what you have first spoken to me (229-230).
And then, as if Augustine has been reading a proliferation of blogs:
What have I to do with men, that they should hear my confessions, as if they were to “heal all my diseases?” I race eager to know about another man’s life, but slothful to correct their own! Why do they seek to hear from me what I am, men who do not want to hear from you what they themselves are?
When they hear me speak about myself, how do they know if I speak the truth, since none among men knows “what goes on within a man but the spirit of man which is in him?” But if they should hear about themselves from you, they cannot say, “The Lord lies!” What else is it for them to hear from you about themselves except to know themselves? Who knows anything and yet says, “It is false,” unless he is a liar? But because “charity believes all things” among them whom it unites by binding them to itself, I too, O Lord, will confess to you in such manner that men may hear, although I cannot prove to them that I confess truly.
But those men whose ears charity opens to me believe me (230).
So beautiful, so well put. I especially like, “But those men whose ears charity opens believe me,” for I’m familiar with the feeling or idea that I know another person whom I’ve just met. My father used to say, “Birds of a feather flock together,” and “Water seeks its own level.” These sayings annoyed me when I was younger. I thought that he meant to comment on people’s narrow-mindedness, whereas the issue for me was my own narrow-mindedness at age 20-something. I was so narrow that I couldn’t recognize myself; I therefore also couldn’t recognize believability in another person.
The issue isn’t so much, in my way of thinking, whether another person is truthful about him- or herself; the issue is whether I can recognize authenticity because I’ve done the work to become, and be, authentic. Then I’ll see it sure enough in another person.
The Confessions of St. Augustine, John K. Ryan, Trans.