King Alfred’s Old English Version of St. Augustine’s Soliloquies Part 1

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King Alfred’s Old English Version of St.

Augustine’s Soliloquies.

by Saint Augustine.


Since the publication of my _King Alfred’s Old English Version of St.

Augustine’s Soliloquies_, which appeared in 1902, I have been at work on this translation. With the faith that the unique importance of the work justifies its being given this form for the benefit of the general reader, and with the encouragement from scholars that my rendering will be received in the kindly spirit which characterized the reception of my former edition, I now venture this publication.

For those who care to use the two editions together it will be seen (1) that the Alfredian additions to the Latin are set in italics; and (2) that the numbers at the top of each page refer to the page and line of the corresponding text of the Old English.

I must add that Professor Albert S. Cook has been my counsellor and critic throughout the work.



King Alfred’s Old English Version OF St. Augustine’s Soliloquies



I then gathered for myself staves, and stud-shafts, and cross-beams, and helves for each of the tools that I could work with; and bow-timbers and bolt-timbers for every work that I could perform–as many as I could carry of the comeliest trees. Nor came I home with a burden, for it pleased me not to bring all the wood home, even if I could bear it. In each tree I saw something that I needed at home; therefore I exhort every one who is able, and has many wains, to direct his steps to the self-same wood where I cut the stud-shafts. Let him there obtain more for himself, and load his wains with fair twigs, so that he may wind many a neat wall, and erect many a rare house, and build a fair enclosure, and therein dwell in joy and comfort both winter and summer, in such manner as I have not yet done. But He who taught me, and to whom the wood was pleasing, hath power to make me dwell more comfortably both in this transitory cottage by the road while I am on this world-pilgrimage, and also in the everlasting home which He hath promised us through Saint Augustine and Saint Gregory and Saint Jerome, and through many other holy Fathers; as I believe also for the merits of all those He will both make this way more convenient than it hitherto was, and especially will enlighten the eyes of my mind so that I may search out the right way to the eternal home, and to everlasting glory, and to eternal rest, which is promised us through those holy Fathers. So may it be.

[Sidenote: 1.21–2.23]

It is no wonder that one should labor in timber-work, both in the gathering and also in the building; but every man desireth that, after he hath built a cottage on his lord’s lease and by his help, he may sometimes rest himself therein, and go hunting, fowling, and fishing; and use it in every manner according to the lease, both on sea and land, until such time as he shall gain the fee simple of the eternal heritage through his lord’s mercy. So may the rich Giver do, who ruleth both these temporary cottages and the homes everlasting. May He, who created both and ruleth both, grant me to be fit for each–both here to be useful and thither to attain.

Augustine, bishop of Carthage, made two books about his own mind. These books are called _Soliloquies_, that is, concerning the meditation and doubts of his mind–how his Reason answered his mind when the mind doubted about anything, or wished to know anything that it could not before clearly understand.


Then said he, his mind often went fearing and searching out various and rare things, and most of all about himself–_what[1] he was; whether his mind and his soul were mortal and perishable, or ever-living and eternal_; and again, about his G.o.d, what He was, and of what nature He was; and what good it were best for him to do, and what evil best to forsake. Then answered me something, I know not what, whether myself or another thing; nor know I whether it was within me or without; _but this one thing I most truly know, that it was my Reason_; and it said to me:

[1] Pa.s.sages in italics were added by Alfred to the original Latin.

_Reason._ If thou have any good steward that can well hold that which thou gettest and committest unto him, show him to me; _but if thou have none so prudent, search till thou find him; for thou canst not both always keep watch and ward over that which thou hast gained, and also get more_.

_Augustine._ _To what shall I commit what more I get, if not to my_ memory?

_R._ Is thy memory powerful enough to hold all things that thou thinkest out and bidst it to hold?

_A._ Nay, nay; _neither mine nor any man’s_ is so strong that it can hold everything that is committed to it.

_R._ Then commit it to words and write it down. Howbeit methinks thou art too feeble to write it all; _and though thou wert entirely sound_, thou wouldst need to have a place retired and void of everything else, _and a few wise and skilful men with thee who would hinder thee in no wise, but give aid to thy ability_.

_A._ I have none of these, _neither the leisure, nor the help of other men, nor a place retired enough to suit me for such work_; therefore I know not what I shall do.

[Sidenote: 4.14–6.6]

_R._ I know then nothing better than that thou shouldst pray. Make known thy wish to G.o.d, _Saviour of mind and body_, that thou mayst through such salvation obtain what thou wishest. _And when thou hast prayed_, write the prayer, _lest thou forget it_, that thou be the fitter for thy task. And pray sincerely in few words and with full understanding.

_A._ _I will do even as thou teachest me, saying thus_:

O Lord, Thou who art the Creator of all things, grant me first to know how to pray to Thee aright and acceptably, and that I may merit to be worthy that Thou _for thy mercy_ wilt redeem and deliver me. On Thee I call, O Lord, who madest all that could not else have sprung into being, nor without Thee could even abide. I call to Thee, O Lord, who leavest none of thy creatures to become naught. To Him I call who hath made all creatures beautiful without any original substance. To Thee I call, who never wroughtest any evil, but rather every good work. To Him I call who teacheth to a few wise men that evil is naught.

O Lord, thou hast wrought all things perfect, and nothing imperfect; to Thee is no creature untoward; though any thing will, it can not be so, _for Thou hast shapen them all orderly, and peaceable, and so harmonious that none of them can altogether destroy another, but the ugly ever adorneth the beautiful_. To Thee I call, whom everything loveth that can love, both those which know what they love, and those which know not what they love. Thou who hast shapen all creatures very good, without any evil–Thou who wilt not altogether _show thyself_ openly to any but to them that are pure _in heart_, I call to Thee, O Lord, because Thou art the Father of truth and wisdom, of the true and highest life, and of the highest blessedness, and of the highest good, and of the highest brightness, and of the intelligible light; _Thou who art the Father of the Son who hath awakened us, and still arouseth us, from the sleep of our sins_, and warneth us to come to Thee.

[Sidenote: 6.7–7.21]

To Thee I pray, O Lord, who art the highest truth, and through whom is true all that is true. I pray to Thee, O Lord, who art the true life, and through whom all things live that do live. Thou art the highest blessedness, and through Thee are blessed all that are blessed. Thou art the highest good[2] … is and beautiful. Thou art the intelligible light through which man knoweth. I pray to Thee, O Lord, who wieldest all the world; whom we can not know bodily, _neither by eyes, nor by smell, nor by ears, nor by taste, nor by touch_; although such laws as we have, and such virtues as we have, we take _all those that are good_ from thy realm, _and from thy realm we draw an example of all the good we perform_. For every one falleth who fleeth from Thee, and every one riseth who turneth to Thee, and every one standeth who abideth in Thee; he dieth who wholly forsaketh Thee, he is quickened who turneth to Thee, and he liveth indeed who abideth in Thee. No one that is wise forsaketh Thee, no one seeketh Thee except he be wise, and no one altogether findeth Thee but the pure in heart. That is, he perisheth who forsaketh Thee. _He who loveth Thee seeketh Thee; he who followeth after Thee hath Thee. Thy truths which Thou hast given us awaken us from the sleep of our sins._ Our hope lifteth us to Thee. Our love, which Thou hast given us, bindeth us to Thee. Through Thee we overcome our foes, both _spiritual and carnal_. Thou who forgivest, _draw nigh to me and have mercy upon me_, because Thou hast bestowed upon us great gifts, to wit, that we shall never entirely perish and thus come to naught.

[2] An omission in the MS.

O Lord, who warnest us to watch, _Thou hast given us reason_, wherewith to find out and distinguish good and evil, and to flee the evil. Thou hast given us patience not to despair in any toil nor in any misfortune.

Nor is this a wonder, _because Thou dost verily rule well, and makest us to serve Thee well_. Thou hast taught us to understand that _worldly wealth_, which we looked upon as our own, is alien to us, and transitory; and Thou hast also taught us to consider as our own what we looked upon as alien to us, _to wit, the kingdom of heaven, which we once despised. Thou who hast taught us to do no unlawful thing, and hast also taught us not to mourn_ even though our riches should wane. _Thou who hast taught us to subject our body to our mind._

[Sidenote: 7.21–9.11]

Thou who didst overcome death when Thou thyself didst arise, _and also wilt make all men arise. Thou who makest us all worthy of Thee, and cleansest us from all our sins, and justifiest us, and hearest our prayers. Thou who madest us of thy household, and who teachest us all righteousness, and always teachest us the good, and always dost us good, and leavest us not to serve an unrighteous lord, as we did aforetime._ Thou callest us back to our way, and leadest us to the door, and openest to us, and givest us the bread of _eternal_ life and the drink _of life’s well_. Thou who threatenest men for their sins, and who teachest them to judge righteous judgments, and to do righteousness. Thou strengthenedst us, and yet dost strengthen us, in our belief, in order that unbelievers may not harm us. Thou hast given us, and yet givest us, understanding, that we may overcome the error of those [who teach that][3] men’s souls have, after this world, no reward _for their deserts, either of good or of evil, whichever they do here_. Thou who hast loosed us from the thraldom of other creatures, _Thou always preparest eternal life for us, and always preparest us for eternal life_.

[3] Supplied by translator to complete the sense.

Come now to my aid, Thou who art the only eternal and true Deity–_Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost_–without any variableness or turning, without any need or impotence, and without death. Thou who always dwellest in the highest brightness and in the highest steadfastness, in the highest unanimity and the highest sufficiency; for to Thee there is no want of good, but Thou always dwellest thus full of every good unto eternity. _Thou art Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost._

[Sidenote: 9.12–10.23]

Thee serve all the creatures that Thou didst create; to Thee is every good soul subject; at thy command the heavens turn and all stars hold their courses; at thy behest the sun bringeth the bright day, and the moon light by night; _after the image of these_ Thou dost govern and wield all this world, so that all creatures change even as day and night. Thou rulest and fixest the year by the alternations of the four seasons–to wit, spring, and summer, autumn, and winter; each of which alternateth and varieth with the other, so that each of them is again exactly what and where it formerly was; and so all stars change and vary in the same manner–_likewise the sea and the rivers; in the same manner all creatures suffer change. Howbeit, some vary in another manner, so that the same come not again where they formerly were, nor become just what they were; but others come in their stead, as leaves on trees; and apples, gra.s.s, plants, and trees grow old and sere, and others come, wax green, and grow, and ripen; wherefore they again begin to wither. And likewise all beasts and fowls, in such manner that it is now too long to reckon them all. Yea, even men’s bodies wax old, just as other creatures do; but just as they formerly lived more worthily than trees or other animals, so shall they arise more worthily on Doomsday, so that never afterward shall their bodies become naught nor wax old; and though the body had decayed, yet the soul was ever-living since first it was created._

_And all the creatures, about whom we say that they seem to us inharmonious and unsteadfast, have yet somewhat of steadiness, because they are bridled with the bridle of G.o.d’s commandments._ G.o.d gave freedom to men’s souls, that they might do either good or evil, whichever they would; and promised good for a reward to them that do good, and evil to them that do evil.

[Sidenote: 11.1–12.17]

With G.o.d is prepared _the well-spring of every good_, and thence is prepared and granted to us every good of those which we have; He shieldeth us against every evil. Nothing is above Him, but all things are under Him, or with Him, or in Him. He created man in His own image, and every man who knoweth himself knoweth that all this is true. To that G.o.d I cry, and say:

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