Chapter XII.—Discussion with Alypius Concerning a Life of Celibacy.
21. It was in truth Alypius who prevented me from marrying, alleging that thus we could p. 99 by no means live together, having so much undistracted leisure in the love of wisdom, as we had long desired. For he himself was so chaste in this matter that it was wonderful—all the more, too, that in his early youth he had entered upon that path, but had not clung to it; rather had he, feeling sorrow and disgust at it, lived from that time to the present most continently. But I opposed him with the examples of those who as married men had loved wisdom, found favour with God, and walked faithfully and lovingly with their friends. From the greatness of whose spirit I fell far short, and, enthralled with the disease of the flesh and its deadly sweetness, dragged my chain along, fearing to be loosed; and, as if it pressed my wound, rejected his kind expostulations, as it were the hand of one who would unchain me. Moreover, it was by me that the serpent spake unto Alypius himself, weaving and laying in his path, by my tongue, pleasant snares, wherein his honourable and free feet 471 might be entangled.
22. For when he wondered that I, for whom he had no slight esteem, stuck so fast in the bird-lime of that pleasure as to affirm whenever we discussed the matter that it would be impossible for me to lead a single life, and urged in my defence when I saw him wonder that there was a vast difference between the life that he had tried by stealth and snatches (of which he had now but a faint recollection, and might therefore, without regret, easily despise), and my sustained acquaintance with it, whereto if but the honourable name of marriage were added, he would not then be astonished at my inability to contemn that course,—then began he also to wish to be married, not as if overpowered by the lust of such pleasure, but from curiosity. For, as he said, he was anxious to know what that could be without which my life, which was so pleasing to him, seemed to me not life but a penalty. For his mind, free from that chain, was astounded at my slavery, and through that astonishment was going on to a desire of trying it, and from it to the trial itself, and thence, perchance, to fall into that bondage whereat he was so astonished, seeing he was ready to enter into “a covenant with death;” 472 and he that loves danger shall fall into it. 473 For whatever the conjugal honour be in the office of well-ordering a married life, and sustaining children, influenced us but slightly. But that which did for the most part afflict me, already made a slave to it, was the habit of satisfying an insatiable lust; him about to be enslaved did an admiring wonder draw on. In this state were we, until Thou, O most High, not forsaking our lowliness, commiserating our misery, didst come to our rescue by wonderful and secret ways.
“Paulinus says that though he lived among the people and sat over them, ruling the sheep of the Lords fold, as a watchful shepherd, with anxious sleeplessness, yet by renunciation of the world, and denial of flesh and blood, he had made himself a wilderness, severed from the many, called among the few” (Ap. Aug. Ep. 24, sec. 2). St. Jerome calls him “his holy and venerable brother, Father (Papa) Alypius” (Ep. 39, ibid.). Earlier, Augustin speaks of him as “abiding in union with him, to be an example to the brethren who wished to avoid the cares of this world” (Ep. 22); and to Paulinus (Ep. 27), [Romanianus] “is a relation of the venerable and truly blessed Bishop Alypius, whom you embrace with your whole heart deservedly; for whosoever thinks favourably of that man, thinks of the great mercy of God. Soon, by the help of God, I shall transfuse Alypius wholly into your soul [Paulinus had asked Alypius to write him his life, and Augustin had, at Alypius request, undertaken to relieve him, and to do it]; for I feared chiefly lest he should shrink from laying open all which the Lord has bestowed upon him, lest, if read by any ordinary person (for it would not be read by you only), he should seem not so much to set forth the gifts of God committed to men, as to exalt himself.”—E. B. P.99:472