King Alfred’s Old English Version of St. Augustine’s Soliloquies Part 5

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Or whether they be corporeal, or spiritual?_ For no man doubteth that every thing that is existeth somewhere.

_A._ _Very searching is thy question, and pleasant for him to know who can know it. What is wanting to him who knoweth that?_

_R._ _Canst thou recognize the righteous and the unrighteous?_

[Sidenote: 52.3–53.19]

_A._ _Yea, to some extent; not, however, as I would. But I would like to know what thou formerly didst ask._

_R._ _I wonder why thou hast so completely forgotten what thou only a little before didst admit that thou knewest._ Didst thou not say before that thou knewest truth to be eternal, although the true man pa.s.sed away? And now thou sayest, ‘If it existeth.’

_A._ That same thing I say still. I know that it abideth, although the true man pa.s.seth away.

_R._ All that is true abideth while it doth exist; _but that which thou callest truth is G.o.d. He ever was, and ever will be, immortal and eternal. G.o.d hath all knowledge in Himself sound and perfect. He hath made two eternal things, to wit, angels and men’s souls, to which He gave some portion of eternal gifts, such as wisdom and righteousness, and many others which it seemeth to us too numerous to count. To angels He giveth according to their capacity, and to the souls of men He giveth gifts according to the capacity of each. These same they need never lose, for they are everlasting, and to men He giveth many and divers good gifts in this world, although they be not eternal. Howbeit they are serviceable while we are in this world. Dost thou yet understand that souls are immortal? If thou hast understood it, do not conceal it from me, but confess it. If it is otherwise, tell me then._

_A._ _Thanks be to G.o.d_ for the part I know. I will now consider this and hold it as I best can, and if I have doubts about any thing, I will promptly tell them to thee.

_R._ Believe firmly in G.o.d, and commit thyself wholly to G.o.d, and seek not too much the fulfilling of thine own will above His; but be His servant, not thine own; and confess that thou art His servant. Then He will raise thee ever nearer and nearer to himself, and will not let any adversity befall thee. Howbeit if He permit any adversity to befall thee, it will be for thy good, although thou canst not understand it.

[Sidenote: 53.20–54.6]

_A._ That I both hear and believe, _and this instruction I will follow as I best can_, and will pray G.o.d that I may fulfil it _as thou long ago didst instruct me; do thou now teach me, if thou wilt_.

_R._ Do this for me first, and _tell me again, after thou hast studied this, what thou likest of this; and if thou doubtest aught about any of these things, then tell it to me_.

_Here endeth the anthology of the first book._


_Here beginneth the anthology of the second book._

_A._ Alas! Long have we been unoccupied, yet we have not sought after _what thou didst promise me_.

_R._ _Let us make amends for it_; let us carry it forward into another book.

_A._ Yea, let us indeed.

_R._ Let us believe that G.o.d is our Helper.

_A._ Truly would I that we believed it, if I had power. _But methinks faith is not in our power, in such measure as we seek, unless_ G.o.d give it to us.

_R._ _Both faith and all the good that we shall have. Therefore I know not what else we can do without His help. Howbeit I advise thee that thou begin it._ Pray in as few words as thou most sincerely canst, _and ask for that which is and may be most needful for thee_.

_A._ _Then said I_: ‘Lord, Lord, Thou who remainest unchangeable, grant me these _two things which I always wished_, to wit, that I may understand Thee and myself.’ _Now I have done as thou didst instruct me_; truly have I prayed.

_R._ _Now I hear what thou wishest to know. Howbeit I would first learn from thee whether thou knowest without doubt_ that thou dost exist or not; _or that thou dost live or dost not live_.

_A._ _These are two things which_ I certainly know.

_R._ What now wishest thou to know?

_A._ Whether I be immortal.

_R._ I hear that thou wouldst live always.

_A._ That I confess.

_R._ Wilt thou, then, know enough if I cause thee to know that thou mayest live always?

[Sidenote: 56.13–58.22]

_A._ That is a very good desire; _yet say what I ask thee about: whether I shall live always; and then I would know whether I, after the parting of the body and the soul, shall ever know more than I now know of all that which I have long wished to know; for I can not find any thing better in man than that he know, and nothing worse than that he be ignorant_.

_R._ Now I know all that thou wishest: One thing is, thou wouldst exist; another, thou wouldst live; the third, thou wouldst know. And I know also why thou wishest these three things: Thou wouldst exist in order to live, and thou wouldst live in order to know. And these three things I hear that thou certainly knowest: Thou knowest that thou art, and thou knowest that thou livest, and thou also knowest that thou knowest something, albeit thou knowest not all that thou wouldst know.

_A._ That is true. _These three things I know, and these three things I desire. I would exist in order that I may live. What would I care whether I existed, if I lived not? Or what would I care for life, if I knew nothing?_

_R._ _Now I hear that thou lovest all that thou dost love on account of these three things, and I know also which of the three things thou lovest most. Thou lovest to exist because thou wouldst live, and thou wouldst live in order to know. Thus I perceive that thou lovest wisdom above all other things. That, methinks, is the highest good, and also thy G.o.d._

_A._ _Truth thou sayest to me. What is the highest wisdom other than the highest good? Or what is the highest good except that every man in this world love G.o.d as much as he loveth wisdom–whether he love it much, or little, or moderately? So much as he loveth wisdom, so much doth he love G.o.d._

_R._ _Very rightly thou hast understood it. But I would we began again where we were before. Now thou knowest that thou art, and that thou livest, and that thou knowest something, albeit not so much as thou wouldst; and a fourth thing thou wouldst also know, to wit, whether the three things all be eternal or not, or whether any of them be eternal; or, if they are all eternal, whether any of them after this world in the eternal life shall either become worse or wane._

[Sidenote: 58.22–59.27]

_A._ _All my yearning hast thou understood very well._

_R._ _About what doubtest thou now? Didst thou not before confess that G.o.d is eternal and almighty, and hath created two rational and eternal creatures, as we before said, namely: angels and men’s souls, to which He hath given eternal gifts? These gifts they need never lose. If thou now rememberest this and believest this, then knowest thou beyond doubt that thou art, and always wilt be, and always wilt love, and always wilt know something, albeit thou mayest not know all that thou wouldst. Now thou knowest about those three things that thou askedst about, namely: (1) Whether thou art immortal; (2) Whether thou shalt know something throughout eternity; (3) Whether thou, after the parting of the body and the soul, shalt know more than thou now knowest, or less. After the fourth we shall still seek–now that thou knowest the three–until thou also know that._

_A._ _Very orderly thou dost explain it, but I will yet say to thee what I firmly believe, and about what I yet doubt. I do not doubt at all about G.o.d’s immortality and about His omnipotence, for it can not be else respecting the trinity and the unity, which was without beginning and is without end. Therefore I can not otherwise believe, for He hath created so great and so many and so wonderful visible creatures; and He ruleth them all and directeth them all, and at one time adorneth them with the most winsome appearances, while at another time He taketh away their adornments and beauties. He ruleth the kings who have the most power on this earth–who like all men are born, and also perish like other men. Then He letteth them rule while He willeth. For such and for many such things I do not know how I can doubt His eternity; and also about the life of our souls I do not now doubt any more. But I doubt yet about the eternity of souls, whether they are immortal._

[Sidenote: 59.28–60.29]

_R._ _About what dost thou doubt? Are not all the holy books well nigh full of the immortality of the soul? But methinks that too long to enumerate now in full, and too long for thee to hear._

_A._ _I have heard a good deal of it, and I also believe it; but I desire rather to know it than to believe it._

_R._ _I wonder why thou yearnest to know so very much and so certainly what no man in the prison of this present life ever so certainly could know as thou wishest, although many yearn to understand it more clearly in this present life than many others believe it from the sayings of these and truthful men. No one can ever understand all that he would, till the soul be parted from the body; nor indeed before Doomsday so clearly as he would. And yet the holy Fathers that were before us knew very truly about that which thou before didst ask, to wit, about the immortality of men’s souls, which was so clear to them that they had no doubt, since they despised this present life[11] … they would be parted; and just as they endured the greatest torments in this world, so they would afterward have the greater reward in the eternal life.

Through the sayings of such men we should infer that we can not understand it as clearly as they could; howbeit as regards the immortality of the soul, if thou dost not yet a.s.sent to it, I will make thee to understand it, and I will also cause thee to be ashamed that thou understoodest it so slowly._

[11] A break in the MS.

_A._ _Even so do! Cause me to be ashamed therefor._

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