Chapter XIV.—Having Heard the Bishop, He Perceives the Force of the Catholic Faith, Yet Doubts, After the Manner of the Modern Academics.
24. For although I took no trouble to learn what he spake, but only to hear how he spake (for that empty care alone remained to me, despairing of a way accessible for man to Thee), yet, together with the words which I prized, there came into my mind also the things about which I was careless; for I could not separate them. And whilst I opened my heart to admit “how skilfully he spake,” there also entered with it, but gradually, “and how truly he spake!” For first, these things also had begun to appear to me to be defensible; and the Catholic faith, for which I had fancied nothing could be said against the attacks of the Manichæans, I now conceived might be maintained without presumption; especially after I had heard one or two parts of the Old Testament explained, and often allegorically—which when I accepted literally, I was “killed” spiritually. 427 Many places, then, of those books having been expounded to me, I now blamed my despair in having believed that no reply could be made to those who hated and derided 428 the Law and the Prophets. Yet I did not then see that for that reason the Catholic way was to be held because it had its learned advocates, who could at length, and not irrationally, answer objections; nor that what I held ought therefore to be condemned because both sides were equally defensible. For that way did not appear to me to be vanquished; nor yet did it seem to me to be victorious.
25. Hereupon did I earnestly bend my mind to see if in any way I could possibly prove the Manichæans guilty of falsehood. Could I have realized a spiritual substance, all their strongholds would have been beaten down, and cast utterly out of my mind; but I could not. But yet, concerning the body of this world, and the whole of nature, which the senses of the flesh can attain unto, I, now more and more considering and comparing things, judged that the greater part of the philosophers held much the more probable opinions. So, then, after the manner of the Academics (as they are supposed), 429 doubting of everything and fluctuating between all, I decided that the Manichæans were to be abandoned; judging that, even while in that period of doubt, I could not remain in a sect to which I preferred some of the philosophers; to which philosophers, however, because they were without the saving name of Christ, I utterly refused to commit the cure of my fainting soul. I resolved, therefore, to be a catechumen 430 in the Catholic Church, which my parents had commended to me, until something settled should manifest itself to me whither I might steer my course. 431
1 Cor. 13.12, and 2 Cor. 3.6. See vi. sec. 6, note, below.88:428
He frequently alludes to this scoffing spirit, so characteristic of these heretics. As an example, he says (in Ps. cxlvi. 13): “There has sprung up a certain accursed sect of the Manichæans which derides the Scriptures it takes and reads. It wishes to censure what it does not understand, and by disturbing and censuring what it understands not, has deceived many.” See also sec. 16, and iv. sec. 8, above.88:429
See above, sec. 19, and note.88:430
See vi. sec. 2, note, below.88:431
In his Benefit of Believing, Augustin adverts to the above experiences with a view to the conviction of his friend Honoratus, who was then a Manichæan.