TRANSLATED BY VINCENT O'SULLIVAN
The quotations from Saint Augustin's Confessions are taken from Canon Bigg's scholarly version, which seems to me the best in English. But there are places where M. Bertrand's reading of the original text differs from Dr. Bigg's, and in such cases I have felt myself obliged to follow the author of this book. These differences never seriously affect the meaning of a passage; sometimes it is a mere matter of choice, as with the word collactaneum (i, 7) which Dr. Bigg translates "twin," and M. Bertrand, like Pusey, frere de lait, or "foster-brother." As a rule, Dr. Bigg chooses the quietest terms, and M. Bertrand the most forcible. Those curious in such matters may like to see an instance.
The original text runs:—
Avulsa a latere meo tanquam impedimento conjugii, cum qua cubare solitus eram, cor ubi adhaerebat, concisum et vulneratum mihi erat, et trahebat sanguinem.
(Confessiones, vi, 15.)
M. Bertrand translates:—
Quand on arracha de mes flancs, sous pretexte qu'elle empechait mon mariage, celle avec qui j'avais coutume de dormir, depuis si longtemps, la ou mon coeur etait attache au sien, il se dechira, et je trainais mon sang avec ma blessure.
Canon Bigg's version is:—
My mistress was torn from my side as an obstacle to my marriage, and my heart, which clung to her, was torn and wounded till it bled.
In this place, it will be observed that Dr. Bigg does not emphasize the word ubi which, as the reader will find on turning to page 185 of this volume, M. Bertrand thinks so significant.
The remaining English versions of the writings of Saint Augustin and of the other Latin authors quoted are my own, except the passages from The City of God, including the verse translation of Persius, which are taken, with some necessary alterations, from the Seventeenth century translation ascribed to John Healey.
THE FIRST PART
DAYS OF CHILDHOOD
I. AN AFRICAN FREE-TOWN SUBJECT TO ROME
II. THE FAMILY OF A SAINT
III. THE COMFORT OF THE MILK
IV. THE FIRST GAMES
V. THE SCHOOLBOY OF MADAURA
VI. THE HOLIDAYS AT THAGASTE
THE SECOND PART
THE ENCHANTMENT OF CARTHAGE
I. CARTHAGO VENERIS
II. THE AFRICAN ROME
III. THE CARTHAGE STUDENT
IV. THE SWEETNESS OF TEARS
V. THE SILENCE OF GOD
THE THIRD PART
I. THE CITY OF GOLD
II. THE FINAL DISILLUSION
III. THE MEETING BETWEEN AMBROSE AND AUGUSTIN
IV. PLANS OF MARRIAGE
V. THE CHRIST IN THE GARDEN
THE FOURTH PART
THE HIDDEN LIFE
I. THE LAST SMILE OF THE MUSE
II. THE ECSTASY OF SAINT MONNICA
III. THE MONK OF THAGASTE
IV. AUGUSTIN A PRIEST
THE FIFTH PART
THE APOSTLE OF PEACE AND OF CATHOLIC UNITY
I. THE BISHOP OF HIPPO
II. WHAT WAS HEARD IN THE BASILICA OF PEACE
III. THE BISHOP'S BURTHEN
IV. AGAINST "THE ROARING LIONS"
THE SIXTH PART
FACE TO FACE WITH THE BARBARIANS
I. THE SACK OF ROME
II. THE CITY OF GOD
III. THE BARBARIAN DESOLATION
IV. SAINT AUGUSTIN
Inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te. "Our heart finds no rest until it rests in Thee."
Confessions, I, i.
Saint Augustin is now little more than a celebrated name. Outside of learned or theological circles people no longer read him. Such is true renown: we admire the saints, as we do great men, on trust. Even his Confessions are generally spoken of only from hearsay. By this neglect, is he atoning for the renewal of glory in which he shone during the seventeenth century, when the Jansenists, in their inveterate obstinacy, identified him with the defence of their cause? The reputation of sour austerity and of argumentative and tiresome prolixity which attaches to the remembrance of all the writers of Port-Royal, save Pascal—has that affected too the work of Augustin, enlisted in spite of himself in the ranks of these pious schismatics? And yet, if there have ever been any beings who do not resemble Augustin, and whom probably he would have attacked with all his eloquence and all the force of his dialectic, they are the Jansenists. Doubtless he would have said with contempt: "The party of Jansen," even as in his own day, with his devotion to Catholic unity, he said: "The party of Donatus."
It must be acknowledged also that the very sight of his works is terrifying, whether we take the enormous folios in two columns of the Benedictine edition, or the volumes, almost as compact, and much more numerous, of recent editions. Behind such a rampart of printed matter he is well defended against profane curiosity. It needs courage and perseverance to penetrate into this labyrinth of text, all bristling with theology and exegesis and metaphysics. But only cross the threshold of the repellent enclosure, grow used to the order and shape of the building, and it will not be long ere you are overcome by a warm sympathy, and then by a steadily increasing admiration for the host who dwells there. The hieratic face of the old bishop lights up, becomes strangely living, almost modern, in expression. You discover under the text one of the most passionate lives, most busy and richest in instruction, that history has to shew. What it teaches is applicable to ourselves, answers to our interests of yesterday and to-day. This existence, and the century in which it was passed, recall our own century and ourselves. The return of similar circumstances has brought similar situations and characters; it is almost our portrait. And we feel half ready to conclude that at the present moment there is no subject more actual than St. Augustin.
At least he is one of the most interesting. What, indeed, is more romantic than this wandering life of rhetorician and student that the youthful Augustin led, from Thagaste to Carthage, from Carthage to Milan and to Rome—begun in the pleasures and tumult of great cities, and ending in the penitence, the silence, and recollection of a monastery? And again, what drama is more full of colour and more profitable to consider than that last agony of the Empire, of which Augustin was a spectator, and, with all his heart faithful to Rome, would have prevented if he could? And then, what tragedy more stirring and painful than the crisis of soul and conscience which tore his life? Well may it be said that, regarded as a whole, the life of Augustin was but a continual spiritual struggle, a battle of the soul. It is the battle of every moment, the never-ceasing combat of body and spirit, which the poets of that time dramatized, and which is the history of the Christian of all times. The stake of the battle is a soul. The upshot is the final triumph, the redemption of a soul.
What makes the life of Augustin so complete and so truly typical is that he fought the good fight, not only against himself, but against all the enemies of the Church and the Empire. If he was a doctor and a saint, so was he too the type of the man of action in one of the most disheartened periods. That he triumphed over his passions—this, in truth, concerns only God and himself. That he preached, wrote, shook crowds, disturbed minds, may seem without importance to those who reject his doctrine. But that across the centuries his soul, afire with charity, continues to warm our own; that without our knowledge he still shapes us; and that, in a way more or less remote, he is still the master of our hearts, and, in certain aspects, of our minds—there is what touches each and all of us, without distinction. Not only has Augustin always his great place in the living communion of all christened people, but the Western soul is marked with the stamp of his soul.
First of all, his fate is confused with that of the dying Empire. He witnessed, if not the utter disappearance, at least the gradual swooning away of that admirable thing called the Roman Empire, image of Catholic unity. Well, we are the wreckage of the Empire. Usually, we turn away with contempt from those wretched centuries which underwent the descents of the Barbarians. For us, that is the Lower-Empire, a time of shameful decadence which deserves nothing but our scorn. However, it is out of this chaos and this degradation that we have arisen. The wars of the Roman republic concern us less than the outlawry of the Barbarian chiefs who separated our Gaul from the Empire, and without knowing it, prepared the dawn of France. After all, what are the rivalries of Marius and Sylla to us? The victory of Aetius over the Huns in the plains of Chalons concerns us a good deal more. Further, it is unfair to the Lower-Empire to view it only as a time of feebleness and cowardice and corruption. It was also an epoch of immense activity, prolific of daring and high-flying adventurers, some of them heroic. Even the most degenerate of the last Emperors never lost the conviction of Roman majesty and grandeur. Unto the very end, they employed all the ruses of their diplomacy to prevent the Barbarian chiefs from imagining themselves anything else but vassals of the Empire. Honorius, at bay in Ravenna, persisted in refusing Alaric the title of commander of the Cohortes Urbanae, even though his refusal were to lead to the sack of Rome and imperil his own life.
Simply by his fidelity to the Empire, Augustin shews himself one like ourselves—a Latin of Occitania. But still closer resemblances draw him near to us. His time was very like our own time. Upon even a slight familiarity with his books we recognize in him a brother-soul who has suffered, felt, thought, pretty nearly like us. He came into an ending world, on the eve of the great cataclysm which was going to carry away an entire civilization—a tragic turning-point of history, a time troubled and often very grievous, which was hard to live in for all, and to even the most determined minds must have appeared desperate. The peace of the Church was not yet settled; consciences were divided. People hesitated between the belief of yesterday and the belief of to-morrow. Augustin was among those who had the courage to choose, and who, having once chosen their faith, proclaimed it without weakening. The belief of a thousand years was dying out, quenched by a young belief to which was promised an eternal duration. How many delicate souls must have suffered from this division, which cut them off from their traditions and obliged them, as they thought, to be false to their dead along with the religion of their ancestors! All the irritations which the fanatics of to-day inflict upon believing souls, many must have had to suffer then. The sceptics were infused by the intolerance of the others. But the worst (even as it is to-day) was to watch the torrent of foolishness which, under cover of religion, philosophy, or miracle-working, pretended to the conquest of mind and will. Amid this mass of wildest doctrines and heresies, in this orgy of vapid intellectualism, they had indeed solid heads who were able to resist the general intoxication. And among all these people talking nonsense, Augustin appears admirable with his good sense.
This "intellectual," this mystic, was not only a man of prayer and meditation. The prudence of the man of action and the administrator balanced his outbursts of dialectical subtility, often carried too far. He had that sense of realities such as we flatter ourselves that we have; he had a knowledge of life and passion. Compared to the experience of, say, Bossuet, how much wider was Augustin's! And with all that, a quivering sensitiveness which is again like our own—the sensitiveness of times of intense culture, wherein the abuse of thought has multiplied the ways of suffering in exasperating the desire for pleasure. "The soul of antiquity was rude and vain." It was, above all, limited. The soul of Augustin is tender and serious, eager for certainties and those enjoyments which do not betray. It is vast and sonorous; let it be stirred ever so little, and from it go forth deep vibrations which render the sound of the infinite. Augustin, before his conversion, had the apprehensions of our Romantics, the causeless melancholy and sadness, the immense yearnings for "anywhere but here," which overwhelmed our fathers. He is really very close to us.
He has broadened our Latin souls by reconciling us with the Barbarian. The Latin, like the Greek, only understood himself. The Barbarian had not the right to express himself in the language of the Empire. The world was split into two parts which endeavoured to ignore each other, Augustin has made us conscious of the nameless regions, the vague countries of the soul, which hitherto had lain shrouded in the darkness of barbarism. By him the union of the Semitic and the Occidental genius is consummated. He has acted as our interpreter for the Bible. The harsh Hebraic words become soft to our ears by their passage through the cultivated mouth of the rhetorician. He has subjugated us with the word of God. He is a Latin who speaks to us of Jehovah.
Others, no doubt, had done it before him. But none had found a similar emotion, a note of tenderness so moving. The gentle violence of his charity wins the adherence of hearts. He breathes only charity. After St. John, it is he who is the Apostle of Love.
His tireless voice dominated the whole of the West. The Middle Ages still heard it. For centuries his sermons and treatises were copied over and over again; they were repeated in cathedrals, commented in abstracts of theology. People came to accept even his theory of the fine arts. All that we have inherited from the ancients reaches us through Augustin. He is the great teacher. In his hands the doctrinal demonstration of the Catholic religion takes firm shape. To indicate the three great stages of the onward march of the truth, one may say: Jesus Christ, St. Paul, St. Augustin. Nearest to our weakness is the last. He is truly our spiritual father. He has taught us the language of prayer. The words of Augustin's prayers are still upon the lips of the devout.
This universal genius, who during forty years was the speaking-trumpet of Christendom, was also the man of one special century and country. Augustin of Thagaste is the great African.
Well may we be proud of him and adopt him as one of our glories—we who have kept up, for now almost a century, a struggle like to that which he maintained for the unity of the Roman Empire, we who consider Africa as an extension of France. More than any other writer, he has expressed the temperament and the genius of his country. This motley Africa, with its eternal mixture of races at odds with one another, its jealous sectarianism, the variety of its scenery and climate, the violence of its sensations and passions, its seriousness of character and its quick-changing humour, its mind at once practical and frivolous, its materialism and its mysticism, its austerity and its luxury, its resignation to servitude and its instincts of independence, its hunger to rule—all that comes out with singularly vivid touches in the work of Augustin. Not only was he his country's voice, but, as far as he could, he realized its old dream of dominion. The supremacy in spiritual matters that Carthage disputed so long and bitterly with Rome, it ended by obtaining, thanks to Augustin. As long as he lived, the African Church was the mistress of the Churches of the West.
As for me—if I may venture to refer to myself in such a matter—I have had the joy to recognize in him, besides the Saint and Teacher whom I revere, the ideal type of the Latin of Africa. The image of which I descried the outline long ago through the mirages of the South in following the waggons of my rugged heroes, I have seen at last become definite, grow clear, wax noble and increase to the very heaven, in following the traces of Augustin.
And even supposing that the life of this child of Thagaste, the son of Monnica, were not intermingled so deeply with ours, though he were for us only a foreigner born in a far-off land, nevertheless he would still remain one of the most fascinating and luminous souls who have shone amid our darkness and warmed our sadness—one of the most human and most divine creatures who have trod our highways.
THE FIRST PART
DAYS OF CHILDHOOD
Sed delectabat ludere. "Only, I liked to play."
Confessions, I, 9.
AN AFRICAN FREE-TOWN SUBJECT TO ROME
Little streets, quite white, which climb up to clay-formed hills deeply furrowed by the heavy winter rains; between the double row of houses, brilliant in the morning sun, glimpses of sky of a very tender blue; here and there, in the strip of deep shade which lies along the thresholds, white figures crouched upon rush-mats—indolent outlines, draped with bright colours, or muffled in rough and sombre wool-stuffs; a horseman who passes, bent almost in two in his saddle, the big hat of the South flung back over his shoulders, and encouraging with his heel the graceful trot of his horse—such is Thagaste as we see it to-day, and such undoubtedly it appeared to the traveller in the days of Augustin.
Like the French town built upon its ruins, the African free-city lay in a sort of plain taken between three round hills. One of them, the highest one, which is now protected by a bordj, must have been defended in old days by a castellum. Full-flowing waters moisten the land. To those coming from the stony regions about Constantine and Setif, or the vast bare plain of the Medjerda, Thagaste gives an impression of freshness and cool. It is a laughing place, full of greenery and running water. To the Africans it offers a picture of those northern countries which they have never seen, with its wooded mountains covered by pines and cork trees and ilex. It presents itself as a land of mountain and forest—especially forest. It is a hunter's country. Game is plentiful there—boar, hare, redwing, quail, partridge. In Augustin's time, wild beasts were apparently more numerous in the district than they are to-day. When he compares his adversaries, the Donatists, to roaring lions, he speaks like a man who knows what a lion is.
To the east and west, wide stretches of woodland, rounded hill-summits, streams and torrents which pour through the valleys and glens—there you have Thagaste and the country round about—the world, in fact, as it revealed itself to the eyes of the child Augustin. But towards the south the verdure grows sparse; arid mountain-tops appear, crushed down as blunted cones, or jutted in slim Tables of the Law; the sterility of the desert becomes perceptible amid the wealth of vegetation. This full-foliaged land has its harsh and stern localities. The African light, however, softens all that. The deep green of the oaks and pines runs into waves of warm and ever-altering tints which are a caress and a delight for the eye. A man has it thoroughly brought home to him that he is in a land of the sun.
To say the least, it is a country of strongly marked features which affords the strangest contrast with the surrounding districts. This wooded Numidia, with its flowing brooks, its fields where the cattle graze, differs in the highest degree from the Numidia towards Setif—a wide, desolate plain, where the stubble of the wheat-fields, the sandy steppes, roll away in monotonous undulations to the cloudy barrier of Mount Atlas which closes the horizon. And this rough and melancholy plain in its turn offers a striking contrast with the coast region of Boujeiah and Hippo, which is not unlike the Italian Campania in its mellowness and gaiety. Such clear-cut differences between the various parts of the same province doubtless explain the essential peculiarities of the Numidian character. The bishop Augustin, who carried his pastoral cross from one end to the other of this country, and was its acting and thinking soul, may perhaps have owed to it the contrasts and many-sidedness of his own rich nature.
Of course, Thagaste did not pretend to be a capital. It was a free-town of the second or third order; but its distance from the great centres gave it a certain importance. The neighbouring free-towns, Thubursicum, Thagura, were small. Madaura and Theveste, rather larger, had not perhaps the same commercial importance. Thagaste was placed at the junction of many Roman roads. There the little Augustin, with other children of his age, would have a chance to admire the out-riders and equipages of the Imperial Mail, halted before the inns of the town. What we can be sure of is that Thagaste, then as now, was a town of passage and of traffic, a half-way stopping-place for the southern and coast towns, as well as for those of the Proconsulate and Numidia. And like the present Souk-Ahras, Thagaste must have been above all a market. Bread-stuffs and Numidian wines were bartered for the flocks of the Aures, leather, dates, and the esparto basket-work of the regions of Sahara. The marbles of Simitthu, the citron-wood of which they made precious tables, were doubtless handled there. The neighbouring forests could furnish building materials to the whole country. Thagaste was the great mart of woodland Numidia, the warehouse and the bazaar, where to this day the nomad comes to lay in a stock of provisions, and stares with childish delight at the fine things produced by the inventive talent of the workers who live in towns.
Thus images of plenty and joy surrounded the cradle of Augustin. The smile of Latin beauty welcomed him also from his earliest steps. It is true that Thagaste was not what is called a fine city. The fragments of antiquity which have been unearthed there are of rather inferior workmanship. But how little is needed to give wings to the imagination of an intelligent child! At all events, Thagaste had a bathing-hall paved with mosaics and perhaps ornamented with statues; Augustin used to bathe there with his father. And again, it is probable that, like the neighbouring Thubursicum and other free-cities of the same level, it had its theatre, its forum, its nymph-fountains, perhaps even its amphitheatre. Of all that nothing has been found. Certain inscribed stone tablets, capitals and shafts of columns, a stone with an inscription which belonged to a Catholic church—that is all which has been discovered up to this present time.
Let us not ask for the impossible. Thagaste had columns—nay, perhaps a whole street between a double range of columns, as at Thimgad. That would be quite enough to delight the eyes of a little wondering boy. A column, even injured, or scarcely cleansed from wrack and rubbish, has about it something impressive. It is like a free melody singing among the heavy masses of the building. To this hour, in our Algerian villages, the mere sight of a broken column entrances and cheers us—a white ghost of beauty streaming up from the ruins among the modern hovels.
There were columns at Thagaste.
THE FAMILY OF A SAINT
It was in this pleasant little town, shaded and beautified for many years now by the arts of Rome, that the parents of Augustin lived.
His father, Patricius, affords us a good enough type of the Romanized African. He belonged to the order of Decuriones, to the "very brilliant urban council of Thagaste" (splendidissimus ordo Thagastensis), as an inscription at Souk-Ahras puts it. Although these strong epithets may be said to be part of the ordinary official phraseology, they indicate, just the same, the importance which went with such a position. In his township, Patricius was a kind of personage. His son assures us that he was poor, but we may suspect the holy bishop of exaggerating through Christian humility. Patricius must certainly have owned more than twenty-five acres of land, for this was made a condition of being elected to the curia. He had vineyards and orchards, of which Augustin later on recalled the plentiful and sweet-tasting fruits. In short, he lived in considerable style. It is true that in Africa household expenses have never at any time been a great extravagance. Still, the sons of Patricius had a pedagogue, a slave specially engaged to keep them under his eye, like all the children of families comfortably off.
It has been said that as Augustin's father was a member of the curia, he must have been a ruined man. The Decurions, who levied taxes and made themselves responsible for their collection, were obliged to supply any deficiency in the revenue out of their own money. Patricius, it is thought, must have been one of the numerous victims of this disastrous system. But no doubt there were a good many exceptions. Besides, there is nothing in Augustin's reminiscences which authorizes us to believe that his father ever knew embarrassment, to say nothing of actual poverty. What seems by far the most probable is that he lived as well as he could upon the income of his estate as a small country landowner. In Africa people are satisfied with very little. Save for an unusually bad year following a time of long drought, or a descent of locusts, the land always gives forth enough to feed its master.
To hunt, to ride horseback, now and then to go on parade, to look after his small-holders and agricultural slaves, to drive one of those bargains in which African cunning triumphs—such were the employments of Patricius. In short, he drifted through life on his little demesne. Sometimes this indolent man was overcome by a sudden passion for work; or again he was seized by furious rages. He was violent and brutal. At such moments he struck out right and left. He would even have hit his wife or flogged the skin off her back if the quietude of this woman, her dignity and Christian mildness, had not overawed him. Let us not judge this kind of conduct by our own; we shall never understand it. The ancient customs, especially the African customs, were a disconcerting mixture of intense refinement and heedless brutality.
That is why it will not do to exaggerate the outbursts of Patricius, which his son mentions discreetly. Although he may not have been very faithful to his wife, that was in those days, more than in ours, a venial sin in the eyes of the world. At heart the African has always longed for a harem in his house; he inclines naturally to the polygamy of Muslemism. In Carthage, and elsewhere, public opinion was full of indulgence for the husband who allowed himself liberties with the serving-women. People laughed at it, and excused the man. It is true they were rather harder on the matron who took the same kind of liberty with her men-slaves. However, that went on too. The Bishop of Hippo, in his sermons, strongly rebuked the Christian married couples for these frequent adulteries which were scarcely regarded as errors.
Patricius was a pagan, and this partly explains his laxity. It would doubtless be going too far to say that he remained faithful to paganism all his life. It is not likely that this urban councillor of Thagaste was a particularly assured pagan. Speculative and intellectual considerations made a very moderate appeal to him. He was not an arguer like his son. He was pagan from habit, from that instinctive conservatism of the citizen and landowner who sticks obstinately to his class and family traditions. Prudence and diplomacy had also something to do with it. Many great landlords continued to defend and practise paganism, probably from motives similar to those of Patricius himself. As for him, he had no desire to get wrong with the important and influential people of the country; he might have need of their protection to save his small property from the ravenous public treasury. Moreover, the best-paid posts were still controlled by the pagan priesthood. And so Augustin's father thought himself very wise in dealing cautiously with a religion which was always so powerful, and rewarded its adherents so well.
But for all that, it is undeniable that paganism about this time was in an awkward position from a political point of view. The Government eyed it with disapproval. Since the death of Constantine, the "accursed emperors" had waged against it a furious war. In 353, just before the birth of Augustin, Constantius promulgated an edict renewing the order for the closing of the temples and the abolition of sacrifices—and that too under pain of death and confiscation. But in distant provinces, such as Numidia, the action of the central power was slow and irregular. It was often represented by officials who were hostile or indifferent to Christianity. The local aristocracy and their following scoffed at it more or less openly. In their immense villas, behind the walls of their parks, the rich landowners offered sacrifices and organized processions and feasts as if there were no law at all. Patricius knew all that. And, on the other side, he could take note of the encroachments of the new religion. During the first half of the fourth century Thagaste had been conquered by the Donatists. Since the edict of Constans against these schismatics, the inhabitants of the little city had come back to Catholicism out of fear of the severity of the imperial government. But the settlement was far from being complete and final. As a consequence of the edict, the whole region of the Aures had been in revolution. The Bishop of Bagai, fortified in his episcopal city and basilica, had stood an actual siege from the Roman troops. Almost everywhere the struggle between Donatists and Catholics still went on below the surface. There cannot be the least doubt that Thagaste took its share in these quarrels. To those who urged him to be baptized, the father of Augustin might well answer with ironic politeness: "I am only waiting till you agree among yourselves, to see where the truth lies." In his heart this rather lukewarm pagan had no inveterate dislike to Christianity.
What proves it at once is that he married a Christian.
How did Monnica become the wife of Patricius? How did these two beings, so little alike, between whom there was such a great difference of age, not to mention all the rest, come to join their fate? Those are questions which it would never have occurred to the people of Thagaste to ask. Patricius married to be like everybody else—and also because he was well over forty, and his mother an old woman who would soon be no longer able to run his house.
Monnica also had her mother. The two old women had a meeting, with many politenesses and ceremonious bowings, and because the thing appeared to them reasonable and most suitable, they settled the marriage. Had Patricius ever seen the girl that he was going to take, according to custom, so as to have a child-bearer and housewife? It is quite likely he had not. Was she pretty, rich, or poor? He considered such matters as secondary, since the marriage was not a love-match but a traditional duty to fulfil. If the union was respectable, that was quite enough. But however the matter fell out, what is certain is that Monnica was very young. She was twenty-two when Augustin was born, and he was probably not her first child. We know that she was hardly marriageable when she was handed over, as Arab parents do to-day with their adolescent or little girls, to the man who was going to marry her. Now in Africa girls become marriageable at a very early age. They are married at fourteen, sometimes even at twelve. Perhaps she was seventeen or eighteen at most when she married Patricius. She must have had first a son, Navigius, whom we shall meet later on at Milan, and also a daughter, of whom we do not even know the name, but who became a nun, and superior of a convent in the diocese of Hippo. For us the features of these two other children of Monnica and Patricius are obliterated. They are concealed by the radiance of their illustrious great brother.
Monnica was fond of telling stories of her girlhood to her son. He has handed down some of them to us.
She was brought up strictly, according to the system of that time. Both her parents came of families which had been Christian, and Catholic-Christian, for many generations. They had never been carried away by the Donatist schism; they were people very obstinate in their convictions—a character quite as frequent in Africa as its opposite, the kind of Numidian or Moor, who is versatile and flighty. It is not unimportant that Augustin came from this hard-headed race, for this it was, with the aid of God's grace, that saved him—the energetic temper of his will.
Still, if the faith of the young Monnica was confirmed from her earliest years, it is not so much to the lessons of her mother that she owed it, as to the training of an old woman-servant of whom she always spoke with gratitude. In the family of her master, this old woman had a place like the one which to-day in a Turkish family is held by the nurse, the dada, who is respected by all the harem and all the household. Doubtless she herself was born in the house and had seen all the children born. She had carried Monnica's father on her back when he was little, just as the Kabylian women or the Bedouin nomads carry their babies still. She was a devoted slave, just a bit unreasonable—a veritable housedog who in the zeal of guardianship barks more than is necessary at the stranger who passes. She was like the negress in the Arab houses to-day, who is often a better Muslem, more hostile to the Christian, than her employers. The old woman in Monnica's family had witnessed the last persecutions; she had perhaps visited the confessors in prison; perhaps she had seen flow the blood of the martyrs. These exciting and terrible scenes would have been graven on her memory. What inflamed stories the old servant must have told her young mistresses, what vital lessons of constancy and heroism! Monnica listened to them eagerly.
Because of her great faith, this simple slave was revered as a saint by her owners, who entrusted her with the supervision of their daughters. She proved a stern governess, who would stand no trifling with her rules. She prevented these girls from drinking even water except at meals. Cruel suffering for little Africans! Thagaste is not far from the country of thirst. But the old woman said to them:
"You drink water now because you can't get at the wine. In time to come, when you are married and have bins and cellars of your own, you'll turn up your nose at water, and your habit of drinking will be too much for you."
Monnica came near fulfilling the prophecy of the honest woman. It was before she was married. As she was very well-behaved and very temperate, she used to be sent to the cellar to draw the wine from the cask. Before pouring it into the flagon she would sip just a little. Being unaccustomed to wine, she was not able to drink more; it was too strong for her gullet. She did this, not because she liked the wine, but from naughtiness, to play a trick on her parents who trusted her, and also, of course, because it was prohibited. Each time she swallowed a little more, and so it went on till she ended by finding it rather nice, and came to drinking greedily one cup after another. One day a slave-girl, who went with her to the cellar, began to grumble. Monnica gave her a sharp answer. Upon this the girl called Monnica a drunkard.... Drunkard! This bitter taunt so humiliated the self-respect of the future saint, that she got the better of her taste for drink. Augustin does not say it was through piety she did this, but because she felt the ugliness of such a vice.
There is a certain roughness in this story of childhood, the roughness of ancient customs, with which is always mingled some decency or dignity. Christianity did the work of polishing the soul of Monnica. At the time we are dealing with, if she was already a very devout young girl, she was far as yet from being the grand Christian that she became afterwards.
When she married Patricius she was a girl very reserved and cold to all appearances (in reality, she was very passionate), precise in attending to her religious duties, even a little strict, with her exaggeration of the Christian austerity in her hate of all the brutalities and all the careless morals that paganism condoned. Nevertheless, this rigid soul knew how to bend when it was necessary. Monnica had tact, suppleness, and, when it was needed, a very acute and very reasonable practical sense of which she gave many a proof in the bringing up and management of her son Augustin. This soul, hard for herself, veiled her uncompromising religion under an unchangeable sweetness which was in her rather the work of grace than a natural gift.
There can be little doubt that her behaviour and character greatly disturbed Patricius at the beginning of their married life. Perhaps he regretted the marriage. What use had he for this nun alongside of him! Both of them must have suffered the usual annoyances which always appeared before long in unions of this kind between pagan and Christian. True, it was no longer the time of Tertullian, the heroic century of persecutions, when the Christian women glided into the prisons to kiss the shackles of the martyrs. (What a revenge did woman take then for her long and enforced confinement to the women's apartments! And how outrageous such conduct must have seemed to a husband brought up in the Roman way!) But the practices of the Christian life established a kind of intermittent divorce between husbands and wives of different religion. Monnica often went out, either alone, or accompanied by a faithful bondwoman. She had to attend the services of the Church, to go about the town visiting the poor and giving alms. And there were the fast-days which occurred two or three times a week, and especially the long fast of Lent—a grievous nuisance when the husband wanted to give a dinner-party just on those particular days! On the vigil of festivals, Monnica would spend a good part of the night in the Basilica. Regularly, doubtless on Sundays, she betook herself to the cemetery, or to some chapel raised to the memory of a martyr who was often buried there—in fact, they called these chapels "Memorials" (memoriae).
There were many of these chapels—even too many in the opinion of austere Christians. Monnica went from one to another carrying in a large basket made of willow branches some pieces of minced meat, bread, and wine mixed with water. She met her friends in these places. They would sit down around the tombs, of which some were shaped like tables, unpack the provisions, and eat and drink piously in honour of the martyr. This was a residue of pagan superstition among the Christians. These pious agapae, or love-feasts, often turned into disgusting orgies. When Augustin became Bishop of Hippo he had considerable trouble to get his people out of the habit of them. Notwithstanding his efforts, the tradition still lasts. Every Friday the Muslem women keep up the custom of visiting the cemeteries and the marabouts. Just as in the time of St. Monnica, they sit around the tombs, so cool with their casing of painted tiles, in the shade of the cypress and eucalyptus. They gobble sweetmeats, they gossip, they laugh, they enjoy themselves—the husbands are not there.
Monnica made these visits in a really pious state of mind, and was far from trying to find in them opportunities for lewdness or carouse. She was content to drink a little wine very carefully—she always bore in mind her youthful sin. Besides, this wine weakened with water that she brought from the house, was tepid by the time she reached the cemetery; it would be a drink of very moderate relish, little likely to stimulate the senses. She distributed what was left of it among the needy, together with the contents of her basket, and came back modestly to her house.
But however staid and reserved she might be, still these outings gave rise to scandalous talk. They annoyed a suspicious husband. All the Africans are that. Marital jealousy was not invented by Islam. Moreover, in Monnica's time men and women took part in these funeral love-feasts and mingled together disturbingly. Patricius got cross about it, and about a good many other things too. His old mother chafed his suspicions by carrying to him the ugly gossip and even the lies of the servants about his wife. By dint of patience and mildness and attentions, Monnica ended by disarming her mother-in-law and making it clear that her conduct was perfect. The old woman flew into a rage with the servants who had lied to her, and denounced them to her son. Patricius, like a good head of a household, had them whipped to teach them not to lie any more. Thanks to this exemplary punishment, and the good sense of the young wife, peace reigned once more in the family.
Women, friends of Monnica, were amazed that the good understanding was not oftener upset, at least in an open manner, between husband and wife. Everybody in Thagaste knew the quick-tempered and violent character of Patricius. And yet there were no signs that he beat his wife. Nor did any one say he did. Other women who had less passionate husbands were nevertheless beaten by them. When they came to Monnica's house they shewed her the marks of the whacks they had got, their faces swollen from blows, and they burst out in abuse of men, clamouring against their lechery, which, said these matrons, was the cause of the ill-treatment they had to endure.
"Blame your own tongue," retorted Monnica.
According to her, women should close their eyes to the infidelities of their husbands and avoid arguing with them when they were angry. Silence, submissiveness, were the all-powerful arms. And since, as a young woman, she had a certain natural merriment, she added, laughing:
"Remember what was read to you on your wedding-day. You were told that you are the handmaids of your husbands. Don't rebel against your masters!..."
Possibly this was a keen criticism of the pagan code, so hard in its rules. Still, in this matter, the Roman law was in agreement with the Gospel. Sincere Christian as she was, the wife of Patricius never had any quarrel with him on account of his infidelities. So much kindness and resignation touched the dissolute and brutal husband, who besides was an excellent man and warm-hearted. The modesty of his wife, after a while, made her attractive in his eyes. He loved her, so to speak, on the strength of his respect and admiration for her. He would indeed have been a churl to find fault with a wife who interfered with him so little and who was a perfect housekeeper, as we shall see later on when we come to her life at Cassicium. In one point, where even she did not intend it, she forwarded the interests of her husband by gaining him the good-will of the Christians in Thagaste; while he, on his side, could say to the pagans who looked askance at his marriage: "Am I not one of yourselves?"
In spite of all the differences between him and Monnica, Patricius was a contented husband.
THE COMFORT OF THE MILK
Augustin came into this world the thirteenth of November of the year of Christ 354.
It was just one little child more in this sensual and pleasure-loving Africa, land of sin and of carnal productiveness, where children are born and die like the leaves. But the son of Monnica and Patricius was predestined: he was not to die in the cradle like so many other tiny Africans.
Even if he had not been intended for great things, if he had been only a head in the crowd, the arrival of this baby ought, all the same, to affect us, for to the Christian, the destiny of the obscurest and humblest of souls is a matter of importance. Forty years afterwards, Augustin, in his Confessions, pondered this slight ordinary fact of his birth, which happened almost unnoticed by the inhabitants of Thagaste, and in truth it seems to him a great event, not because it concerns himself, bishop and Father of the Church, but because it is a soul which at this imperceptible point of time comes into the world.
Let us clearly understand Augustin's thought. Souls have been ransomed by a Victim of infinite value. They have themselves an infinite value. Nothing which goes on in them can be ignored. Their most trifling sins, their feeblest stirrings towards virtue, are vital for the eternity of their lot. All shall be attributed to them by the just Judge. The theft of an apple will weigh perhaps as heavily in the scales as the seizure of a province or a kingdom. The evil of sin is in the evil intention. Now the fate of a soul, created by God, on Him depends. Hence everything in a human life assumes an extreme seriousness and importance. In the history of a creature, all is worthy of being examined, weighed, studied, and perhaps also, for the edification of others, told.
Here is an altogether new way of regarding life, and, proceeding from that, of understanding art. Even as the slaves, thanks to Christianity, came into the spiritual city, so the most minute realities by this outlook are to be included in literature. The Confessions will be the first model of the art of the new era. A deep and magnificent realism, because it goes even to the very depths of the divine—utterly distinct, at any rate, from our surface realism of mere amusement—is about to arise from this new conception. Without doubt, in Augustin's eyes, beauty dwells in all things, in so far forth as beauty is a reflection of the order and the thought of the Word. But it has also a more essential character—it has a moral signification and value. Everything, in a word, can be the instrument of the loss or the redemption of a soul. The most insignificant of our actions reverberates to infinitude on our fate. Regarded from this point, both things and beings commence to live a life more closely leagued together and at the same time more private; more individual and more general. All is in the lump, and nevertheless all is separate. Our salvation concerns only ourselves, and yet through charity it becomes involved with the salvation of our fellows.
In this spirit let us look at the cradle of Augustin. Let us look at it with the eyes of Augustin himself, and also, perchance, of Monnica. Bending over the frail body of the little child he once was, he puts to himself all the great desperate questions which have shaken humanity for thousands of years. The mystery of life and death rises before him, formidable. It tortures him to the point of anguish, of confusion: "Yet suffer me to speak before Thy mercy, me who am but dust and ashes. Yea, suffer me to speak, for, behold, I speak not to man who scorns me, but to Thy mercy. Even Thou perhaps dost scorn me, but Thou wilt turn and have pity. For what is it that I would say, O Lord my God, save that I know not whence I came hither into this dying life, shall I call it, or living death?... And, lo, my infancy has long been dead, and I live. But Thou, O Lord, who ever livest and in whom nothing ever dies—tell me, I beseech Thee, O God, and have mercy on my misery, tell me whether another life of mine died before my infancy began."
One is reminded here of Pascal's famous prosopopoeia: "I know not who has put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor myself. I am in a terrible ignorance about everything.... All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least of all is this very death which I cannot escape."
The phrases of the Pensees are only the echo of the phrases of the Confessions. But how different is the tone! Pascal's charge against human ignorance is merciless. The God of Port-Royal has the hard and motionless face of the ancient Destiny: He withdraws into the clouds, and only shews Himself at the end to raise up His poor creature. In Augustin the accent is tender, trusting, really like a son, and though he be harassed, one can discern the thrill of an unconquerable hope. Instead of crushing man under the iron hand of the Justice-dealer, he makes him feel the kindness of the Father who has got all ready, long before its birth, for the feeble little child: "The comforts of Thy pity received me, as I have heard from the father and mother of my flesh.... And so the comfort of woman's milk was ready for me. For my mother and my nurses did not fill their own bosoms, but Thou, O Lord, by their means gavest me the food of infancy, according to Thy ordinance...."
And see! his heart overflows at this remembrance of his mother's milk. The great doctor humbles his style, makes it simple and familiar, to tell us of his first mewlings, and of his baby angers and joys. He too was a father; he knew what is a new-born child, and a young mother who gives it suck, because he had seen that with his own eyes close beside him. All the small bothers which mingle with the pleasures of fatherhood he had experienced himself. In his own son he studied himself.
* * * * *
This child, born of a Christian mother, and who was to become the great defender of the faith, was not christened at his birth. In the early Church, and especially in the African Church, it was not usual to do so. The baptismal day was put as far off as possible, from the conviction that the sins committed after the sacrament were much more serious than those which went before. The Africans, very practical folk, clearly foresaw that they would sin again even after baptism, but they wanted to sin at a better rate, and lessen the inflictions of penance. This penance in Augustin's time was far from being as hard as in the century before. Nevertheless, the remembrance of the old severity always remained, and the habit was taken to put off baptism so as not to discourage sinners overmuch.
Monnica, always sedulous to conform with the customs of her country and the traditions of her Church, fell in with this practice. Perhaps she may have had also the opposition of her husband to face, for he being a pagan would not have cared to give too many pledges to the Christians, nor to compromise himself in the eyes of his fellow-pagans by shewing that he was so far under the control of Christian zealots as to have his child baptized out of the ordinary way. There was a middle course, and this was to inscribe the child among the catechumens. According to the rite of the first admission to the lowest order of catechumens, the sign of the cross was made on Augustin's forehead, and the symbolic salt placed between his lips. And so they did not baptize him. Possibly this affected his whole life. He lacked the baptismal modesty. Even when he was become a bishop, he never quite cast off the old man that had splashed through all the pagan uncleannesses. Some of his words are painfully broad for chaste ears. The influence of African conditions does not altogether account for this. It is only too plain that the son of Patricius had never known entire virginity of soul.
They named him Aurelius Augustinus. Was Aurelius his family name? We cannot tell. The Africans always applied very fantastically the rules of Roman nomenclature. Anyhow, this name was common enough in Africa. The Bishop of Carthage, primate of the province and a friend of Augustin, was also called Aurelius. Pious commentators have sought to find in this name an omen of Augustin's future renown as an orator. They have remarked that the word aurum, gold, is contained in Aurelius—a prophetic indication of the golden mouth of the great preacher of Hippo.
Meanwhile, he was a baby like any other baby, who only knew, as he tells us, how to take his mother's breast. However, he speaks of nurses who suckled him; no doubt these were servants or slaves of the household. They gave him their milk, like those Algerian women who, to-day, if their neighbour is called away, take her child and feed it. Besides, with them children are weaned much later than with us. You can see mothers sitting at their doors put down their work and call to a child of two or three playing in the street for him to come and take the breast. Did Augustin remember these things? At least he recalled his nurses' games, and the efforts they made to appease him, and the childish words they taught him to stammer. The first Latin words he repeated, he picked up from his mother and the servants, who must also have spoken Punic, the ordinary tongue of the populace and small trader class. He learned Punic without thinking about it, in playing with other children of Thagaste, just as the sons of our colonists learn Arab in playing with little boys who wear chechias on their heads.
He is a Christian, a bishop, already a venerated Father, consulted by the whole Catholic world, and he tells us all that. He tells it in a serious and contrite way, with a manifest anxiety to attribute to God, as the sole cause, all the benefits which embellished his childhood, as well as to deplore his faults and wretchedness, fatal consequence of the original Fall. And still, we can make out clearly that these suave and far-off memories have a charm for him which he cannot quite guard himself against. The attitude of the author of the Confessions is ambiguous and a little constrained. The father who has loved his child, who has joined in his games, struggles in him against the theologian who later on was to uphold the doctrine of Grace against the heretics. He feels that he must shew, not only that Grace is necessary for salvation and that little children ought to be baptized, but that they are capable of sinning. Yes, the children sin even at nurse. And Augustin relates this story of a baby that he had seen: "I know, because I have seen, jealousy in a babe. It could not speak, yet it eyed its foster-brother with pale cheeks and looks of hate." Children are already men. The egoism and greediness of the grown man may be already descried in the newly born.
However, the theologian of Grace was not able to drive from his mind this verse of the Gospel: Sinite ad me parvulos venire—"Suffer little children to come unto Me." But he interprets this in a very narrow sense, luring it into an argument which furthers his case. For him, the small height of children is a symbol of the humility without which no one can enter God's kingdom. The Master, according to him, never intended us to take children as an example. They are but flesh of sin. He only drew from their littleness one of those similitudes which He, with His fondness for symbols, favoured.
Well, let us dare to say it: Augustin goes wrong here. Such is the penalty of human thought, which in its justest statements always wounds some truth less clear or mutilates some tender sentiment. Radically, Augustin is right. The child is wicked as man is. We know it. But against the relentlessness of the theologian we place the divine gentleness of Christ: "Suffer little children to come unto Me, for of such is the Kingdom of God."
THE FIRST GAMES
"I loved to play," Augustin says, in telling us of those far-off years.
Is it surprising if this quick and supple intelligence, who mastered without effort, and as if by instinct, the encyclopaedic knowledge of his age, who found himself at his ease amidst the deepest abstractions, did, at the beginning, take life as a game?
The amusements of the little Africans of to-day are not very many, nor very various either. They have no inventive imagination. In this matter their French playfellows have taught them a good deal. If they play marbles, or hopscotch, or rounders, it is in imitation of the Roumis. And yet they are great little players. Games of chance attract them above all. At these they spend hour after hour, stretched out flat on their stomachs in some shady corner, and they play with an astonishing intensity of passion. All their attention is absorbed in what they are about; they employ on the game all the cunning of their wits, precociously developed, and so soon stuck fast in material things.
When Augustin recalls the games of his childhood, he only mentions "nuts," handball, and birds. To capture a bird, that winged, light, and brilliant thing, is what all children long to do in every country on earth. But in Africa, where there are plenty of birds, big people as well as little love them. In the Moorish cafes, in the wretchedest gourbis, cages made of reeds are hung on the walls, all rustling with trills and fluttering of wings. Quail, thrushes, nightingales are imprisoned in them. The nightingale, the singing-bird beyond all others, so difficult to tame, is the honoured guest, the privileged dweller in these rustic cages. With the rose, he is an essential part of Arab poetry. The woods round about Thagaste were full of nightingales. Not the least doubt that the child Augustin had felt the little musical throats of these singing-birds throb between his hands. His sermons, his heaviest treatises, have a recollection of them. He draws from them an evidence in favour of the creating Word who has put beauty and harmony everywhere. In the song of the nightingale he finds, as it were, an echo of the music of the spheres.
If he loved birds, as a poet who knows not that he is a poet, did he love as well to play at "nuts"? "Nuts," or thimble-rigging, is only a graceful and crafty game, too crafty for a dreaming and careless little boy. It calls for watchfulness and presence of mind. Grown men play at it as well as children. A step of a staircase is used as a table by the players, or the pavement of a courtyard. Three shells are laid on the stone and a dried pea. Then, with rapid baffling movements, hands brown and alert fly from one shell to another, shuffle them, mix them up, juggle the dried pea sometimes under this shell, sometimes under that,—and the point is to guess which shell the pea has got under. By means of certain astute methods, an artful player can make the pea stick to his fingers, or to the inside of the shell, and the opponent loses every time. They cheat with a calm shamelessness. Augustin cheated too—which did not prevent him from bitterly denouncing the cheating of his fellow-players.
The truth is, that he would not have quite belonged to his country if he had not lied and stolen now and then. He lied to his tutor and to his schoolmasters. He stole at his parents' table, in the kitchen, and in the cellar. But he stole like a man of quality, to make presents and to win over his playfellows: he ruled the other boys by his presents—a noteworthy characteristic in this future ruler of souls. Morals like these, a little rough, shape free and bold natures. Those African children were much less coddled, much less scolded, than to-day. Monnica had something else to do than to look after the boys. So for them it was a continual life in the open air, which makes the body strong and hard. Augustin and his companions should be pictured as young wild-cats.
This roughness came out strong at games of ball, and generally at all the games in which there are two sides, conquerors and prisoners, or fights with sticks and stones. Stone-throwing is an incurable habit among the little Africans. Even now in the towns our police are obliged to take measures against these ferocious children. In Augustin's time, at Cherchell, which is the ancient Caesarea Mauretaniae, the childish population was split into two hostile camps which stoned each other. On certain holidays the fathers and big brothers joined the children; blood flowed, and there were deaths.
The bishop Augustin recalls with severity the "superb victories" he won in jousts of this kind. But I find it hard to believe that such a delicate child (he was sickly almost all his life) could have got much pleasure out of these brutal sports. If he was drawn into them by the example of others, it must have been through the imagination they appealed to him. In these battles, wherein sides took the field as Romans against Carthaginians, Greeks against Trojans, he believed himself Scipio or Hannibal, Achilles or Hector. He experienced beforehand, as a rhetorician, the intoxication of a triumph which playfellows who were stronger and better provided with muscles gave him a hard fight for. He did not always get the upper hand, except perhaps when he bribed the enemy. But an eager young soul, such as he was, can hardly be content with half-victories; he wants to excel. Accordingly, he sought his revenge in those games wherein the mind has the chief part. He listened to stories with delight, and in his turn repeated them to his little friends, thus trying upon an audience of boys that charm of speech by which later he was to subdue crowds. They also played at acting, at gladiators, at drivers and horses. Some of Augustin's companions were sons of wealthy citizens who gave splendid entertainments to their fellow-countrymen. As these dramatic representations, or games of the arena or circus, drew near, the little child-world was overcome by a fever of imitation. All the children of Thagaste imitated the actors, the mirmillones, or the horsemen in the amphitheatre, just as the young Spaniards of to-day imitate the toreros.
In the midst of these amusements Augustin fell ill; he had fever and violent pains in the stomach. They thought he was going to die. It appears that it was himself who in this extreme situation asked for baptism. Monnica was making all haste to have the sacrament administered, when suddenly, against all expectation, the child recovered. Again was baptism postponed, and from the same reason: to lessen the gravity of the sins which young Augustin was bound to commit. His mother, who no doubt foresaw some of them, again fell in with the custom.
It is possible that Patricius interfered this time in a more decided way. Just at this period Catholicism was in an unfavourable situation. The short reign of Julian had started a violent pagan reaction. Everywhere the temples were reopening, the sacrifices beginning again. Moreover, the Donatists secretly aided the pagans. Their Seids, more or less acknowledged, the Circoncelliones, bands of fanatical peasants, scoured through the Numidian country, attacking the Catholics, ravaging and pillaging, and burning their farms and villas. Was this a good time to make a noisy profession of faith, to be enrolled among the ranks of the conquered party?
Little Augustin knew nothing of all these calculations of motherly prudence and fatherly diplomacy: he begged for baptism, so he tells us. This seems very remarkable in so young a child. But he lived in a house where all the service was done by Christians. He heard the talk of Monnica's friends; perhaps, too, of his grandparents, who were Catholics faithful and austere. And then, his soul was naturally religious. That explains everything: he asked for baptism to be like grown-up people, and because he was predestined. Among children, the chosen have these sudden flashes of light. At certain moments they feel what one day they shall be. Anyhow, Monnica must have seen this sign with joy.
He got well, and took up again his little boy's life, divided between play, and dawdling, and school.
School! painful memory for Augustin! They sent him to the primus magister, the elementary teacher, a real terror, armed with a long switch which came down without pity on idle boys. Seated on benches around him, or crouched on mats, the boys sang out all together: "One and one are two, two and two are four"—horrible refrain which deafened the whole neighbourhood. The school was often a mere shed, or a pergola in the fields which was protected fairly well from sun and rain by cloths stretched overhead—a hut rented for a trifle, wide open to the winds, with a mosquito-net stretched out before the entrance. All who were there must have frozen in winter and broiled in summer. Augustin remembered it as a slaves' chain-prison (ergastulum) of boyhood.
He hated school and what they taught there—the alphabet, counting, and the rudiments of Latin and Greek grammar. He had a perfect horror of lessons—of Greek above all. This schoolboy, who became, when his turn came, a master, objected to the methods of school. His mind, which grasped things instinctively at a single bound, could not stand the gradual procedure of the teaching faculty. He either mastered difficulties at once, or gave them up. Augustin was one of the numerous victims of the everlasting mistake of schoolmasters, who do not know how to arrange their lessons to accord with various kinds of mind. Like most of those who eventually become great men, he was no good as a pupil. He was often punished, thrashed—and cruelly thrashed. The master's scourge filled him with an unspeakable terror. When he was smarting all over from cuts and came to complain to his parents, they laughed at him or made fun of him—yes, even the pious Monnica. Then the poor lad, not knowing whom to turn to, remembered hearing his mother and the servants talk of a Being, very powerful and very good, who defends the orphan and the oppressed. And he said from the depths of his heart:
"O my God, please grant that I am not whipped at school."
But God did not hear his prayer because he was not a good boy. Augustin was in despair.
It is evident that these punishments were cruel, because forty years afterwards he denounces them with horror. In his mind, they are tortures comparable to the wooden horse or the iron pincers. Nothing is small for children, especially for a sensitive child like Augustin. Their sensitiveness and their imagination exaggerate all things out of due measure. In this matter, also, schoolmasters often go wrong. They do not know how to handle delicate organizations. They strike fiercely, when a few words said at the right moment would have much more effect on the culprit.... Monnica's son suffered as much from the rod as he took pride in his successes at games. If, as Scipio, he was filled with a sensation of glory in his battles against other boys, no doubt he pictured himself a martyr, a St. Laurence or St. Sebastian, when he was swished. He never pardoned—save as a Christian—his schoolmasters for having brutalized him.
Nevertheless, despite his hatred for ill-ordered lessons, his precocious intelligence was remarked by everybody. It was clear that such lucky gifts should not be neglected. Monnica, no doubt, was the first to get this into her head, and she advised Patricius to make Augustin read for a learned profession.
The business of the curia was not exactly brilliant, and so he may have perceived that his son might raise their fortunes if he had definite employment. Augustin, a professor of eloquence or a celebrated pleader, might be the saviour and the benefactor of his family. The town councils, and even the Imperial treasury, paid large salaries to rhetoricians. In those days, rhetoric led to everything. Some of the professors who went from town to town giving lectures made considerable fortunes. At Thagaste they pointed with admiration to the example of the rhetorician Victorinus, an African, a fellow-countryman, who had made a big reputation over-seas, and had his statue in the Roman Forum. And many years before, had not M. Cornelius Fronto, of Cirta, another African, become the tutor of Marcus Aurelius, who covered him with honours and wealth and finally raised him to the Consulship? Pertinax himself, did he not begin as a simple teacher of grammar, and become Proconsul of Africa and then Emperor of Rome? How many stimulants for provincial ambition!...
Augustin's parents reasoned as the middle-class parents of to-day. They discounted the future, and however hard up they were, they resolved to make sacrifices for his education. And as the schools of Thagaste were inadequate, it was decided to send this very promising boy to Madaura.
THE SCHOOLBOY OF MADAURA
A new world opened before Augustin. It was perhaps the first time he had ever gone away from Thagaste.
Of course, Madaura is not very far off; there are about thirty miles at most between the two towns. But there are no short journeys for children. This one lay along the military road which ran from Hippo to Theveste—a great Roman causeway paved with large flags on the outskirts of towns, and carefully pebbled over all the rest of the distance. Erect upon the high saddle of his horse, Augustin, who was to become a tireless traveller and move about ceaselessly over African roads during all his episcopal life—Augustin got his first glimpse of the poetry of the open road, a poetry which we have lost for ever.
How amusing they were, the African roads of those days, how full of sights! Pauses were made at inns with walls thick as the ramparts of citadels, their interiors bordered by stables built in arcades, heaped up with travellers' packs and harness. In the centre were the trough and cistern; and to the little rooms opening in a circle on to the balcony, drifted up a smell of oil and fodder, and the noise of men and of beasts of burthen, and of the camels as they entered majestically, curving their long necks under the lintel of the door. Then there was talk with the merchants, just arrived from the south, who brought news of the nomad countries, and had stories to tell. And then, without hurrying, a start was made again for the next stage. Long files of chariots were encountered carrying provisions to soldiers garrisoned on the frontier, or the State-distributed corn of the Roman people to the sea-ports; or again, from time to time, the lectica, brought along by slaves or mules, of a bishop on a visitation; and then the litter, with close-drawn curtains, of a matron or some great personage. Of a sudden all pulled sharp to one side; the vehicles lined up on the edge of the road; and there passed at full speed, in a cloud of dust, a messenger of the Imperial Post....
Certainly this road from Hippo to Theveste was one of the busiest and most picturesque in the province: it was one of its main arteries.
At first the look of the country is rather like the neighbourhood of Thagaste. The wooded and mountainous landscape still spreads out its little breast-shaped hills and its sheets of verdure. Here and there the road skirts the deeply-ravined valley of the Medjerda. At the foot of the precipitous slopes, the river can be heard brawling in a torrent over its stony bed, and there are sharp descents among thickets of juniper and the fringed roots of the dwarf-pines. Then, as the descent continues, the land becomes thinner and spaces bare of vegetation appear oftener. At last, upon a piece of tableland, Madaura comes into view, all white in the midst of the vast tawny plain, where to-day nothing is to be seen but a mausoleum in ruins, the remains of a Byzantine fortress, and vague traces vanishing away.
This is the first rise of the great plain which declines towards Theveste and the group of the Aures Mountains. Coming from the woodland country of Thagaste, the nakedness of it is startling. Here and there, thin cows crop starveling shrubs which have grown on the bank of some oued run dry. Little asses, turned loose, save themselves at a gallop towards the tents of the nomads, spread out, black and hairy, like immense bats on the whiteness of the land. Nearer, a woman's red haick interposes, the single stain of bright colour breaking the indefinite brown and grey of the plain. Here is felt the harshness of Numidia; it is almost the stark spaces of the desert world. But on the side towards the east, the architecture of mountains, wildly sculptured, stands against the level reaches of the horizon. Upon the clear background of the sky, shew, distinctly, lateral spurs and a cone like to the mystic representation of Tanit. Towards the south, crumbling isolated crags appear, scattered about like gigantic pedestals uncrowned of their statues, or like the pipes of an organ raised there to capture and attune the cry of the great winds of the steppe.
This country is characterized by a different kind of energy from Thagaste. There is more air and light and space. If the plantation is sparse, the beautiful shape of the land may be observed all the better. Nothing breaks or lessens the grand effects of the light.... And let no one say that Augustin's eyes cared not for all that, he who wrote after his conversion, and in all the austerity of his repentance: "If sentient things had not a soul, we should not love them so much."
It is here, between Madaura and Thagaste, during the eager years of youth, that he gathered together the seeds of sensations and images which, later on, were to burst forth into fiery and boiling metaphors in the Confessions, and in his homilies and paraphrases of Holy Scripture. Later on, he will not have the time to observe, or he will have lost the power. Rhetoric will stretch its commonplace veil between him and the unceasing springtide of the earth. Ambition will turn him away from those sights which reveal themselves only to hearts unselfish and indifferent. Then, later on, Faith will seize hold of him to the exclusion of all else. He will no longer perceive the creation save at odd moments in a kind of metaphysical dream, and, so to speak, across the glory of the Creator. But in these youthful years all things burst upon him with extraordinary violence and ecstasy. His undulled senses swallowed greedily the whole banquet offered by this wide world to his hunger for pleasure. The fugitive beauty of things and beings, with all their charms, revealed itself to him in its newness: novissimarum rerum fugaces pulchritudines, earumque suavitates. This craving for sensation will still exist in the great Christian teacher, and betray itself in the warm and coloured figures of his style. Of course, he was not as a worldly describer, who studies to produce phrases which present an image, or arranges glittering pictures—all such endeavours he knew nothing about. But by instinct, and thanks to his warm African temperament, he was a kind of impressionist and metaphysical poet.
If the rural landscape of Thagaste is reflected in certain passages—the pleasantest and most well known—of the Confessions, all the intellectual part of Augustin's work finds its symbolical commentary here in this arid and light-splashed plain of Madaura. Like it, the thought of Augustin has no shadows. Like it too, it is lightened by strange and splendid tints which seem to come from far off, from a focal fire invisible to human eyes. No modern writer has better praised the light—not only the immortal light of the blessed, but that light which rests on the African fields, and is on land and sea; and nobody has spoken of it with more amplitude and wonder. The truth is, that in no country in the world, not even in Egypt, in the rose-coloured lands of Karnak and Luxor, is the light more pure and admirable than in these great bare plains of Numidia and the region of the Sahara. Is there not enchantment for the eyes of the metaphysician in this play of light, these nameless interfulgent colours which appear flimsy as the play of thought? For the glowing floating haze is made of nothing—of lines, of gleam, of unregulated splendour. And all this triumph of fluctuating light and elusive colour is quenched with the sun, smoulders into darkness, even as ideas in the obscure depths of the intelligence which reposes....
Not less than this land, stern even to sadness, but hot and sumptuous, the town of Madaura must have impressed Augustin.
It was an old Numidian city, proud of its antiquity. Long before the Roman conquest, it had been a fortress of King Syphax. Afterwards, the conquerors settled there, and in the second century of our era, Apuleius, the most famous of its children, could state before a proconsul, not without pride, that Madaura was a very prosperous colony. It is probable that this old town was not so much Romanized as its neighbours, Thimgad and Lambesa, which were of recent foundation and had been built all at once by decree of the Government. But it may well have been as Roman as Theveste, a no less ancient city, where the population was probably just as mixed. Madaura, like Theveste, had its temples with pillars and Corinthian porticoes, its triumphal arches (these were run up everywhere), its forum surrounded by a covered gallery and peopled with statues. Statues also were very liberally distributed in those days. We know of at least three at Madaura which Augustin mentions in one of his letters: A god Mars in his heroic nakedness, and another Mars armed from head to foot; opposite, the statue of a man, in realistic style, stretching out three fingers to neutralize the evil eye. These familiar figures remained very clear in the recollection of Augustin. In the evening, or at the hour of the siesta, he had stretched himself under their pedestals and played at dice or bones in the cool shade of the god Mars, or of the Man with outstretched fingers. The slabs of marble of the portico made a good place to play or sleep.
Among these statues, there was one perhaps which interested the lad and stimulated all his early ambitions—that of Apuleius, the great man of Madaura, the orator, philosopher, sorcerer, who was spoken of from one end to the other of Africa. By dint of gazing at this, and listening to the praises of the great local author, did the young scholar become aware of his vocation? Did he have from this time a confused sort of wish to become one day another Apuleius, a Christian Apuleius—to surpass the reputation of this celebrated pagan? These impressions and admirations of youth have always a more or less direct influence upon what use a boy makes of his talents.
Be that as it will, Augustin could not take a step in Madaura without running against the legend of Apuleius, who was become almost a divinity for his fellow-countrymen. He was looked upon not only as a sage, but as a most wily nigromancer. The pagans compared him to Christ—nay, put him higher than Christ. In their view he had worked much more astonishing miracles than those of Jesus or of Apollonius of Tyana. And people told the extravagant stories out of his Metamorphoses as real, as having actually happened. Nothing was seen on all sides but wizards, men changed into animals, animals, or men and women, under some spell. In the inns, a man watched with a suspicious look the ways of the maidservant who poured out his drink or handed him a dish. Perhaps some magic potion was mingled with the cheese or bread that she was laying on the table. It was an atmosphere of feverish and delirious credulity. The pagan madness got the better of the Christians themselves. Augustin, who had lived in this atmosphere, will later find considerable trouble in maintaining his strong common sense amid such an overflow of marvels.
For the moment, the fantasy of tales filled him with at least as much enthusiasm as the supernatural. At Madaura he lived in a miraculous world, where everything charmed his senses and his mind, and everything stimulated his precocious instinct for Beauty.
More than Thagaste, no doubt, Madaura bore the marks of the building genius of the Romans. Even to-day their descendants, the Italians, are the masons of the world, after having been the architects. The Romans were the building nation above all others. They it was who raised and established towns upon the same model and according to the same ideal as an oration or a poem. They really invented the house, mansio, not only the shelter where one lives, but the building which itself lives, which triumphs over years and centuries, a huge construction ornamental and sightly, existing as much—and perhaps more—for the delight of the eyes as for usefulness. The house, the Town-with-deep-streets, perfectly ordered, were a great matter of amazement for the African nomad—he who passes and never settles down anywhere. He hated them, doubtless, as the haunts of the soldier and the publican, his oppressors, but he also regarded them with admiration mixed with jealousy as the true expression of a race which, when it entered a country, planted itself for eternity, and claimed to join magnificence and beauty to the manifestation of its strength. The Roman ruins which are scattered over modern Algeria humiliate ourselves by their pomp—us who flatter ourselves that we are resuming the work of the Empire and continuing its tradition. They are a permanent reproach to our mediocrity, a continual incitement to grandeur and beauty. Of course, the Roman architecture could not have had on Augustin, this still unformed young African, the same effect as it has to-day on a Frenchman or a man from Northern Europe. But it is certain that it formed, without his knowledge, his thought and his power of sensation, and extended for him the lessons of the Latin rhetoricians and grammarians.
All that was not exactly very Christian. But from these early school years Augustin got further and further away from Christianity, and the examples he had under his eyes, at Madaura were hardly likely to strengthen him in his faith. It was hardly an edifying atmosphere there for a Catholic youth who had a lively imagination, a pleasure-loving temperament, and who liked pagan literature. The greatest part of the population were pagans, especially among the aristocrats. The Decurions continued to preside at festivals in honour of the old idols.
These festivals were frequent. The least excuse was taken to engarland piously the doors of houses with branches, to bleed the sacrificial pig, or slaughter the lamb. In the evening, squares and street corners were illuminated. Little candles burned on all the thresholds. During the mysteries of Bacchus, the town councillors themselves headed the popular rejoicings. It was an African carnival, brutal and full of colour. People got tipsy, pretended they were mad. For the sport of the thing, they assaulted the passers and robbed them. The dull blows on tambourines, the hysterical and nasal preludes of the flutes, excited an immense elation, at once sensual and mystic. And all quieted down among the cups and leather flagons of wine, the grease and meats of banquets in the open air. Even in a country as sober as Africa, the pagan feasts were never much else than excuses for gorging and orgies. Augustin, who after his conversion had only sarcasms for the carnival of Madaura, doubtless went with the crowd, like many other Christians. Rich and influential people gave the example. There was danger of annoying them by making a group apart. And then, there was no resisting the agreeableness of such festivals.
Perhaps he was even brought to these love-feasts by those in whose charge he was. For, in fact, to whom had he been entrusted? Doubtless to some host of Patricius, a pagan like himself. Or did he lodge with his master, a grammarian, who kept a boarding-house for the boys? Almost all these schoolmasters were pagan too. Is it wonderful that the Christian lessons of Monnica and the nurses at Thagaste became more and more blurred in Augustin's mind? Many years after, an old Madaura grammarian, called Maximus, wrote to him in a tone of loving reproach: "Thou hast drawn away from us"—a secta nostra deviasti. Did he wish to hint that at this time Augustin had glided into paganism? Nothing is more unlikely. He himself assures us that the name of Christ remained always "graven on his heart." But while he was at Madaura he lived indifferently with pagans and Christians.