"To Carthage I Came"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This autobiography, one of the earliest, was written as a testimonial to the infinite mercies of God. Its author, one of the most renowned fathers of Christianity, did not in youth and early manhood give any indication that he would become one of the great religious figures of the ages. His father, Patricius, was a pagan; his mother, Monica, was a Christian. She instructed him carefully in her faith, but it was many years before he allowed her teachings to influence him to any great extent. Instead, he pursued a life of sensuality, which continued after he was sent to Carthage to study for the profession of rhetorician. Here he became interested in theology and was a Manichaean for nine years; then, in 386, he was converted to the orthodox church by the study of Scripture and the discourses of St. Ambrose. In time he became bishop of Hippo, in which office he was distinguished by his greatness of heart, his wisdom as displayed in various theological controversies, and his belief in individual merit and divine grace as applied to the doctrine of predestination. His authority has always been high in Roman Catholicism, and is still cited in regard to doctrinal questions. His autobiography, Confessions, was written to exhibit the manner in which a flagrant sinner can be reformed and uplifted through divine grace; it has enjoyed a wide influence since his time. In it he describes his childhood and youth with deep regret over the lost opportunities for better use of his time. He recounts manfully the things he would rather forget–idleness, inattention to his studies, an addiction to sexual pleasures, and the cultivation of bad companions who led him to thievery. Augustine then describes, in the light of later wisdom, that Carthage to which he was sent in pursuit of his studies, seeing it now as a place of vice and corruption and not as the glamorous and exciting place he had found it then:

To Carthage I came, where there sang all around me in my ears a cauldron of unholy loves. I loved not yet, yet I loved to love, and out of a deepseated want, I hated myself for wanting not. I sought what I might love, in love with loving, and safety I hated, and a way without snares. For within me was a famine of that inward food, Thyself, my God; yet, through that famine I was not hungered; but was without all longing for incorruptible sustenance, not because filled therewith, but the more empty, the more I loathed it. For this cause my soul was sickly and full of sores, it miserably cast itself forth, desiring to be scraped by the touch of objects of sense. Yet if these had not a soul, they would not be objects of love. To love them, and to be beloved, was sweet to me; but more, when I obtained to enjoy the person I loved. I defiled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and I beclouded its brightness with the hell of lustfulness; and thus foul and unseemly, I would fain, through exceeding vanity, be fine and courtly. I fell headlong then into the love wherein I longed to be ensnared. My God, my Mercy, with how much gall didst Thou out of Thy great goodness besprinkle for me that sweetness? For I was both beloved, and secretly arrived at the bond of enjoying; and was with joy fettered with sorrowbringing bonds, that I might be scourged with the iron-burning rods of jealousy, and suspicion, and fears, and angers, and quarrels.