First Vespers having been celebrated, I'd like to wish all my readers a very Happy Feast of St Augustine of Hippo, Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church. He is without a shadow of doubt one of the greatest minds the Church has known, and was a remarkable character. I'd like to share one of my favourite passages from his Confessions. I did a translation of this passage in Latin once, under the expert (and patient!) direction of my dear Latin teacher, Sr Magdalen. What follows is not my own translation (since I can't find that) but the one given in an indispensable book for any historian of the Early Church, Creeds, Councils and Controversies by J. Stevenson:
The Conversion of St Augustine, August in the Year of Our Lord 386:
''I flung myself down I know not how, under a fig tree, giving full vent to my tears; and the floods of my eyes gushed out, an acceptable sacrifice to thee [see Psalm 50:18]. And, not indeed in these words, yet to this purpose, spoke I much unto thee: And thou, O Lord, how long? [Psalm 6:4] How long, Lord, wilt thou be angry for ever? Remember not our former iniquities, [Psalm 78:5] for I felt that I was held by them. I sent up these sorrowful words; How long? How long is it to be? 'To-morrow, and to-morrow?' Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness?
''So was I speaking, and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, suddenly I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of a boy or girl, I do not know, often repeating in a sing-song, 'Take up and read; Take up and read.' Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently, whether the children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So I checked the torrent of my tears, and got up; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God, to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. For I had heard of Antony, that coming in during the reading of the Gospel, he received the admonition, as if what was being read, was spoken to him; Go, sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come follow me [Matthew 19:21]. And by such an oracle he was immediately converted unto thee. Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting, for there I had laid the volume of the Apostle, when I got up from there. I seized it, opened it, and in silence read that section, on which my eyes first fell; Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh [Romans 13:13-14], in concupiscence. I wished to read no further; nor did I need; for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished.
''Then putting my finger between, or some other mark, I shut the volume, and with a calm countenance I disclosed all to Alypius. And what was wrought in him, which I knew not, he thus disclosed to me. He asked to see what I had read, I showed him; and he looked even further than I had read, and I did not know what followed, namely, Him that is weak in the faith, receive [Romans 14:1], which he applied to himself, and explained to me. And by this admonition he was strengthened; and by a good resolution and purpose, and most corresponding to his character, in which he was always very far different from me for the better, without any crisis and delay he joined me. Thence we went to my mother [St Monica]; we told her; she rejoiced in triumph, and blessed thee, who art able to do above that which we ask or think [Ephesians 3:20], for she perceived that thou hadst given her more for me, than she was wont to beg with pitiful and sorrowful groanings. For thou convertedst me unto thyself, so that I sought neither wife, nor any hope of this world, standing in that rule of faith where thou hadst showed me unto her a vision so many years before. And thou didst convert her mourning into joy [Psalm 29:12], much more richly than she had desired, and in a much more precious and purer way than she once required, by having grandchildren of my body.'' (St Augustine, The Confessions, Book VIII 12.28-30).
The above painting is by Ary Scheffer and shows St Augustine with his mother St Monica.