Selected Quotes from Augustine

So, I’ll soon be finishing a great biography on Augustine by Peter Brown. Augustine is just one of those individuals who bleeds one-liners. His insights into the inner goings-on of the human mind and heart are profound. Perhaps even more profound is his ability to convey the emotions of the heart in his writings. I’ve selected a few quotes from the biography and some from his Confessions, which are not necessarily related to one another. Enjoy!

“Let them deal harshly with you, who do not know with what effort truth is found and with what difficulty errors are avoided; let them deal harshly with you, who do not know how rare and how exacting it is to overcome imaginations from the flesh in the serenity of a pious intellect, let them deal harshly with you , who do not know with what pain the inner eye of a man in healed, that he may glimpse his Sun.” – C. Ep. Fund. 2.

“The choice of God is certainly hidden from us…Even if it should be perceptible to some men, I must admit that, in this matter, I am incapable of knowing. I just cannot find what criterion to apply in deciding which men should be chosen to be saved by grace. If I were to reflect on how to weigh up this choice, I myself would instinctively choose those with better intelligence and less sins, or both; I should add, I suppose, a sound and proper education…And as soon as I decide on that, [God] will laugh me to scorn.” Ad. Simpl. de div. quaest. I, qu. ii, 22.

“I carried about me a cut and bleeding soul, that could not bear to be carried by me, and where I could put it, I could not discover. Not in pleasant groves, not in games and singing, nor in the fragrant corners of a garden. Not in the company of a dinner-table, not in the delights of the bed: not even in my books and poetry. It floundered in a void, and fell back upon me. I remained a haunted spot, which gave me no rest, from which I could not escape. For where could my heart flee from my heart? Where could I escape from myself? Where would I not dog my own footsteps? Still – I left my hometown.” Confessions IV. vii, 12.

“One and one is two, two and two is four: this was a hateful jingle to me, and the greatest treat of all, that sweet illusion – the wooden horse full of armed men, Troy burning and the very ghost of Creusa.” Conf. I. xiv. 22.

“I had not yet been in love and I was in love with loving…I set about finding an occasion to fall in love, so much in love was I with the idea of loving.” Conf. III. i. 1.

Upon becoming a bishop: “I found it far, far more than I had thought… I just had not known my powers: I still thought they counted for something. But the Lord laughed me to scorn, and by real experience, wished to show me to myself.” Ep. 21, 2.

“‘Surely I can do what I like in my own house?’ I tell you No: you cannot. People who do this go straight to Hell.”  Serm. 224, 3.

I do not care whether you expect some well-turned phrases today. It is my duty to give you due warning in citing the scriptures. Do not be slow to turn to the Lord, nor delay from day to day, for His wrath shall come why you know not. God knows how I tremble on my bishop’s throne when I hear that warning. I cannot be silent; I am forced to preach on it. Filled with fear myself, I fill you with fear.” Frang. 2, 8.

“Everything could well have been done by an angel, but the standing of the human race would have been devalued if God had seemed unwilling to let me act as the agents of His Word to men… on top of that, charity itself which binds men together in the tight knot of unity, would have no means of expressing itself, by pouring out, and as it were mixing together the souls of men, if human beings could learn nothing from their fellows.” de doct. christ., Prooem., 6.

“I must confess that, personally, I have learned many things I never knew before … just by writing.” de Trin. III., Prooem.

“First and foremost [I love to write about grace], because no subject gives me greater pleasure. For what ought to be more attractive to us sick men, than grace, grace by which we are healed; for us lazy men, than grace, grace by which we are stirred up; for us men longing to act, than grace, by which we are helped?” Ep. 186, vii., 39.

“Some men try hard to discover in our will what good is particularly due to ourselves, that owes nothing to God: how they can find this out, I just do not know.” de pecc. mer. II, xviii, 28.

“To solve the question, [‘Why did God say “Esau I have hated”‘], I had previously tried hard to uphold the freedom of choice of the human will; but the grace of God had the upper hand. There was no way out but to conclude that the Apostle (Paul) must be understood to have said the most obvious, when he said: ‘Who has made you different? What have you got that you did not first receive? If you have received all this, why glory in it as if you had not been given?'” Retractationes II.

And my favorite:

“Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that Thou mayest enter in. It is ruinous; repair Thou it. It has that within which must offend Thine eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or to whom should I cry, save Thee? Lord, cleanse me from my secret faults, and spare Thy servant from the power of the enemy. I believe, and therefore do I speak. Lord, Thou knowest. Have I not confessed against myself my transgressions unto Thee, and Thou, my God, hast forgiven the iniquity of my heart? I contend not in judgment with Thee, who art the truth; I fear to deceive myself; lest mine iniquity lie unto itself. Therefore I contend not in judgment with Thee; for if Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall abide it?” Conf.


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