The Soliloquies of St. Augustineby St. Augustine
THE anemic society of to-day needs not so much the specializing genius - the artist who lives because of his works - as the all-around man, the vital personality whose works live because of him; the man to whom nothing human is alien, whose experience circumscribes and transcends that of the common lot; the prodigious individual rather than the individual prodigy, the master rather than the marvel. Such an one is Augustine, once Bishop of Hippo, peerless controversialist, incomparable church father; and once. the dreaming, doubting, half-heathen youth and man, eager of brain, restless of heart, lover of pleasure more than lover of God.
M. Nourisson introduces his study of the philosophy of Augustine with the following remark: "If St. Augustine had left only the Confessions and The City of God it would have been easy from them alone to account for the respectful sympathy which environs his memory.
How indeed can one fail, in The City of God, to admire the flights of genius, and in the Confessions the yet more precious effusions of a great soul? It must be confessed that these portrayals flaming with passion, these ardors of repentance, these wingings toward heavenly things, are what have made the name of the Bishop of Hippo popular. There exists no heart, whatever be its native mediocrity, which is incapable of recognizing something of its own experience in these vacillations, these tempests, these holy transports of Augustine. Hence the prestige conquering centuries, which attaches to this noble figure. However, who does not know him?
To this question, which implies so widespread an acquaintance with Augustine, one can but reply, Who does know him? How few are they who know even his Confessions, when compared to those who know them not! And still fewer they who know even a small part of the vast City of God.
It is certain, however, that he who knows the Confessions, not to add the City of God, has made acquaintance with Augustine. But the whole man is not there. There is always something, perhaps the main thing, to be learned about a person which the person himself cannot tell. Just as no power can the"giftie gie us," to see ourselves as others see us, so to no one is it given to completely describe himself. The sincerity of his desire to do so can contribute nothing toward the success of his effort. The portrait which the Confessions hang before us is Dot that of the Soliloquies. The naif convert at Cassiacum had Dot the self-consciousness which pre-eminence as a church father forced upon the Bishop of Hippo. In the Soliloquies Augustine, - to use the significant slang completely gives himself away, while in the Confessions he deals himself out in painstaking instalments with conscientious purpose to give full measure, and yet, somehow, comes a littleshort. This is not to undervalue the incomparable Confessions, but only to note that the impressionist touch in a careless sketch oftendoes more for the likeness than a world of preraphaelite detail which may be better art.
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