Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology

Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.
From Confessions

Saint Augustine (354–430)
S. Augustine and S. Monnica

THE DAY 1 now approaching when she was to depart this life,—which day Thou knewest but we not,—it came to pass, thyself, as I believe, by thy secret ways so ordering it, that she and I stood alone, leaning in a certain window which looked on the garden of the house wherein we lodged at Ostia; for there before our voyage we were resting in quiet from the fatigues of a long journey. Discoursing then together alone very sweetly, and forgetful of the past, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, we were enquiring between ourselves in the presence of the truth, which Thou art, of what sort the eternal life of the saints may be, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man. And all the while did our hearts within us gasp after the heavenly streams of thy fountain, the well of Life, which is in Thee, that being sprinkled thence according to our measure, we might in some sort meditate on so high a mystery.
  And as our talk was leading us thither where we would be, so that no delight of the senses whatsoever, in any brightness possible to them, seemed in respect of the joy of that life worthy of mention, far less of comparison, we upraising ourselves with intenser desire unto that Self-same, went on to explore in turn all things material, even the very heaven, whence sun and moon and stars give light upon the earth: and thus ascending by meditation and speech and admiration of thy works, we were drawing yet nearer, and had come to our own minds, and left them behind, that we might arrive at the country of unfailing plenty, where Thou feedest thy people for ever in pastures of truth; there where life is the WISDOM by which all those thy works are made, that have been or that shall be; Wisdom uncreate, the same now as it ever was, and the same to be for evermore. Nay rather to have been and hereafter to be cannot be spoken of it, but only to be, since it is eternal…. Of that heavenly Wisdom as then we talked and hunger’d after it, lo, with the whole effort of our heart we apprehended somewhat thereof: and we sighed, and abandoning on that far shore those firstfruits of the spirit, we fell back to the sound of our own voices, and the determinate words of human discourse……..  2
  And we began to say, If to any the tumult of the flesh were hushed; hushed the images of earth, of waters and of air; hushed also the poles of heaven; yea, were the very soul to be hushed to herself, and by not thinking on self to surmount self; hushed all dreams and imaginary revelations, every tongue and every sign; if all transitory things were hushed utterly,—for to him that heareth they do all speak, saying ‘we made not ourselves, but He made us, who abideth for ever’—; if, when their speech had gone out they should suddenly hold their peace, and to the ear which they had aroused to their Maker, He himself should speak, alone, not by them, but by himself, so that we should hear his word, not through any tongue of flesh, nor Angel’s voice, nor echo of thunder, nor in the dark riddle of a similitude, but might hear indeed Him, whom in these things we love, himself without these,—as we but now with effort and in swift thought touched on that eternal Wisdom, which abideth over all—; could this be continued, and all disturbing visions of whatever else be withdrawn, and this one ravish and absorb, and wrap up its beholder amid these inward joys, so that life might ever be like that one moment of understanding, which but now we sighed after; were not this ENTER THOU INTO THE JOY OF THY LORD?  3
Note 1. Augustine. The ecstasy of SS. Augustine and Monnica from A’s ‘Confessions’, ix. 10. This eloquent passage owes its main thought and form to Plato [See No. 37]; the rhetorical force of Diotima’s question is heightened with great art. Another beauty, the hush, is taken from Plotinus, Enn. v. i. 2. In the Latin the sentences that follow the word WISDOM (Sapientia) contain six feminine pronouns or adjectives, although Sapientia is not personified. The absence of mere grammatical gender in English is the reason for my inserting the words Of that heavenly Wisdom, which are not in the Latin. My translations from the Confessions are deeply indebted to the dignity of Pusey’s version. [Trans. R. Bridges.] [back]

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