Augustine’s Testimony Concerning The Confessions
I. THE Retractations, II, 6 (A.D. 427)
1. My Confessions, in thirteen books, praise the righteous and good God as they speak either of my evil or good, and they are meant to excite men’s minds and affections toward him. At least as far as I am concerned, this is what they did for me when they were being written and they still do this when read. What some people think of them is their own affair [ipse viderint]; but I do know that they have given pleasure to many of my brethren and still do so. The first through the tenth books were written about myself; the other three about Holy Scripture, from what is written there, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,even as far as the reference to the Sabbath rest.
2. In Book IV, when I confessed my soul’s misery over the death of a friend and said that our soul had somehow been made one out of two souls, “But it may have been that I was afraid to die, lest he should then die wholly whom I had so greatly loved” (Ch. VI, 11)–this now seems to be more a trivial declamation than a serious confession, although this inept expression may be tempered somewhat by the “may have been” [forte] which I added. And in Book XIII what I said–“The firmament was made between the higher waters (and superior) and the lower (and inferior) waters”–was said without sufficient thought. In any case, the matter is very obscure.
This work begins thus: “Great art thou, O Lord.”
II. De Dono Perseverantiae, XX, 53 (A.D. 428)
Which of my shorter works has been more widely known or given greater pleasure than the [thirteen] books of my Confessions? And, although I published them long before the Pelagian heresy had even begun to be, it is plain that in them I said to my God, again and again, “Give what thou commandest and command what thou wilt.” When these words of mine were repeated in Pelagius’ presence at Rome by a certain brother of mine (an episcopal colleague), he could not bear them and contradicted him so excitedly that they nearly came to a quarrel. Now what, indeed, does God command, first and foremost, except that we believe in him? This faith, therefore, he himself gives; so that it is well said to him, “Give what thou commandest.” Moreover, in those same books, concerning my account of my conversion when God turned me to that faith which I was laying waste with a very wretched and wild verbal assault, do you not remember how the narration shows that I was given as a gift to the faithful and daily tears of my mother, who had been promised that I should not perish? I certainly declared there that God by his grace turns men’s wills to the true faith when they are not only averse to it, but actually adverse. As for the other ways in which I sought God’s aid in my growth in perseverance, you either know or can review them as you wish (PL, 45, c. 1025).
III. Letter to Darius (A.D. 429)
Thus, my son, take the books of my Confessions and use them as a good man should–not superficially, but as a Christian in Christian charity. Here see me as I am and do not praise me for more than I am. Here believe nothing else about me than my own testimony. Here observe what I have been in myself and through myself. And if something in me pleases you, here praise Him with me–him whom I desire to be praised on my account and not myself. “For it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves.” Indeed, we were ourselves quite lost; but he who made us, remade us [sed qui fecit, refecit]. As, then, you find me in these pages, pray for me that I shall not fail but that I may go on to be perfected. Pray for me, my son, pray for me! (Epist. CCXXXI, PL, 33, c. 1025).
The Confessions of Saint Augustine