Our Heart Is Restless: St Augustine’s Confessions

I wrote recently about my initial experiences with The Confessions. Finished sometime around 400 AD, it’s an early version of the memoir, particularly the confessional and spiritual quest genres, though it doesn’t look like the ones published today. If I read it again, I’m going to research current or celebrated translations. If you are a fan of a particular one, let me know. 

Below is an excerpt from Book XII, Chapter 25, about interpretation. Augustine is asking us to be strong in our beliefs, but open to other points of view. To think with humility while aiming for the truth. Augustine also suggests that The Truth is something that maybe we don’t have access to and that we are instead forced to do the best we can using the tools we have such as the aforementioned humility or our rationality, to be strong, yet pliable. 

That’s how I read it now, anyway. 


But when he says, Moses meant not what you say, but what I say, and yet denies not what each of us says, and that both are true, O my God, life of the poor, in whose bosom there is no contradiction, pour down into my heart Your soothings, that I may patiently bear with such as say this to me; not because they are divine, and because they have seen in the heart of Your servant what they say, but because they are proud, and have not known the opinion of Moses, but love their own — not because it is true, but because it is their own. Otherwise they would equally love another true opinion, as I love what they say when they speak what is true; not because it is theirs, but because it is true, and therefore now not theirs because true. But if they therefore love that because it is true, it is now both theirs and mine, since it is common to all the lovers of truth. But because they contend that Moses meant not what I say, but I what they themselves say, this I neither like nor love; because, though it were so, yet that rashness is not of knowledge, but of audacity; and not vision, but vanity brought it forth. And therefore, O Lord, are Your judgments to be dreaded, since Your truth is neither mine, nor his, nor another’s, but of all of us, whom Thou publicly callest to have it in common, warning us terribly not to hold it as specially for ourselves, lest we be deprived of it. For whosoever claims to himself as his own that which Thou appointed to all to enjoy, and desires that to be his own which belongs to all, is forced away from what is common to all to that which is his own — that is, from truth to falsehood. 

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