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the brightest earthly sunshine was not worthy to be compared, nor even mentioned, with the happiness of that life, we soared with glowing affection towards the Self-same, mounting step by step through all material things, and through heaven itself, whence sun and moon and stars shed their radiance upon earth. And still higher did we ascend by inward musing and by our talk and by marvelling at thy works. And we came to our own minds, and passed beyond them so as to arrive at the region of unfailing plenty, where thou feedest Israel for ever with the food of truth, where Life is the Wisdom by which all things come to be, both the things that have been and the things that shall be ; and Itself never comes to be, but is, as it was and shall be evermore, because in it is neither past nor future but present only, for it is eternal. And as we talked and yearned after it, we touched it for an instant with the whole force of our hearts. And we sighed, and, leaving there locked up the first fruits of the spirit, we heard again the babble of our own tongues, wherein each word has a beginning and ending. What is like thy word, O Lord, which endureth for ever, which never grows old, and maketh all things new ? We said then : ‘If the tumult of the flesh were hushed ; hushed the images of earth and waters and air, hushed the heavens, and hushed the soul itself, so that it should pass beyond itself and not think of itself; if all dreams were hushed, and all sensuous revelations, and every tongue and every symbol; if all that comes and goes were hushed—they all proclaim to him that hath an ear: 'We made not ourselves : He made us who abideth for ever '--Now if, having uttered this, they held their peace, turning the ear to him who made them, and if
he alone spoke, not by them but for himself, and we heard his word, not by any fleshly tongue, nor by an angel's voice, nor in the thunder, nor in any similitude, but his voice whom we love in these his creatures-if we heard him without the intermediation by any of these things-Just now we reached out, and with one flash of thought touched the Eternal Wisdom that abides above all—If this endured, and all other inferior modes of vision were taken away, and this alone were to ravish the beholder, and absorb him, and plunge him in mystic joy, might not eternal life be like this moment of comprehension for which we sighed ? Is not this the meaning of 'Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord ?'" (ix. 10.)
But the opportunities for such high converse between mother and son were soon to end. A few days later, and while they were still at Ostia, Monica became ill and died. Augustine closed her eyes, and he tells how great a tide of sorrow surged up in his heart, but how he sought to restrain in himself and in those about him the outward manifestations of grief, considering that it was not fitting to indulge in loud lamentations over one who, as he said, "neither died unhappy nor was altogether dead.” The sudden breaking off of the “sweet and dear habit of living together” left an aching wound in his heart; but, he says, “I was full of joy in her testimony when, in that her last illness, flattering my dutifulness, she called me ‘kind,' and said with great emotion of love that she had never heard any harsh or reproachful word come out of my mouth against her.” (ix. 12.)
If the Confessions were nothing but the memorial of a mother's love and devotion, and of a son's gratitude,
it would be an immortal book. The story of Monica, believing in her son always, praying for him, following him over sea and land, has gripped the heart of readers throughout the ages, and will continue to do so. She must have been a noble woman. “Often,” says Augustine, “would Ambrose, when he saw me, congratulate me on having such a mother."
The impressions we get of people in the Confessions are unforgettable. They are portraits drawn by a master hand. What could be finer than the picture that is given of the great Ambrose ? Augustine always thought of him as his spiritual father and of the three years he spent at Milan as the most sacred and precious period of his life. He recalls Ambrose as he had seen him deep in the study of some book, “ his eye wandering along the page while his heart searched out the meaning." He remembers the great preacher's favourite text, “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." He recalls the beauty and dignity of the worship, to which the hymn-singing—then a daring innovation made by Ambrose-contributed so greatly. He recalls the hymns themselves, Ambrose's own, and what a comfort and inspiration they have been to him ever since. Thus in his anguish at the loss of his mother, as he lay on his bed there had come into his mind the one beginning, Deus Creator omnium :
Creator of the earth and sky,
That rest may comfort weary men,
Augustine was 33 when he returned to Africa. A few years later he was appointed Bishop of Hippo, a small town on the Numidian coast. He often talked of what he had passed through in his long search for truth and inward peace; and it was natural that those who listened to him should urge him to write it all down, so that others might be helped by his experience. Thus it was in response to their request, as well as to satisfy a desire of his own heart, that the Confessions came to be written. He wanted, as he said, to utter in the hearing of God and of "the believing sons of men, the sharers of his joy and the partners of his mortality," the faith that was in him, to tell of the way in which he had been led to it, and to express his thankfulness for that Divine guidance, and for all the blessed influences that had been about him since his life began. (x. 4, xi. 1.) The Confessions is his autobiography, written, as it were, on his knees in the presence of God.
Augustine was one of the most original minds the world has known-original in the sense that he set men thinking in so many new and fruitful ways. His Confessions is among the books which, in Dr. Wicksteed's phrase, “perpetually provoke us to deeper and more fearless thought." But it is not mainly because in it a mind of rare penetration discusses the profoundest of all questions ; nor because in it we have a wonderful mirror of thought and life in the transitional period
between the old world and the new; nor because much in Christian theology is traceable to its influence, and its author was the great Doctor of the Church, to whose authority, Catholic and Protestant have alike appealed it is not because of these things chiefly that we still read and treasure it. These things, it is true, contribute enormously to the interest of the book; but what constitutes its greatest and most abiding value is the revelation it gives of a soul of extraordinary power and depth and beauty, a soul that, sinning much, had been forgiven, a soul that, perplexed and sorrowing almost beyond endurance, had found a foothold for faith and hope. It is a story of spiritual adventure greatly told. Like the Bible itself, it has a universal significance, helping each reader to interpret his own experience. The paths of spiritual pilgrimage are many and varied, but the end is always the same, and it was set forth in the opening chapter of the Confessions in words that have reverberated throughout the ages : “ Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee."