The following excerpt is from pages 218-219 of the second book of the Catholic Classics series, The Confessions of St. Augustine. An updated translation from Ascension makes this key work of Catholic tradition accessible to modern readers.
Thus I was speaking and weeping with utterly bitter contrition of heart when, behold, I heard from a neighboring house a voice that sounded like a boy or girl—I do not know which—singing and repeating over and over:
“Take and read. Take and read.”
Instantly, with a changed countenance, I began to wonder very intently whether children would normally sing a song like this in any kind of game, nor could I remember if I ever had heard anything like it. Therefore, stopping the tears streaming from my eyes, I arose, interpreting the song to be nothing other than a command from God telling me to take a book and read the first chapter that my eyes should behold. For I had heard about how St. Anthony had heard the words of the Gospel being read aloud and received Christ’s admonition as though it were being addressed directly to him:
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”Matthew 19:21
And immediately he was converted to you by hearing these words. Thus, I eagerly returned to the place where Alypius was sitting, for there I had laid the letters of St. Paul when I had gotten up to leave that place. I grasped the text, opened it, and silently read the first text that caught my glance:
“Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”Romans 13:13-14
No further would I read, nor did I need to do so, for instantly, upon reaching the end of this sentence, I was illuminated, as it were, by a light that was serenely infused into my heart, and all the darkness of doubt vanished away.
Then, putting my finger between the pages, or by some other mark, I shut the book and with a calm countenance told Alypius. And he too told me about what had taken place within him without my knowing it. He asked to see what I had read. I showed him, and he looked even further along than I had, so I did not know what followed:
“As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him.”Romans 14:1
He applied the words to himself and told me about it. By this admonition he was strengthened, and with a good resolution and purpose, most fitting to his character—in which he was very different from me, all for the better—he joined me without any turbulent delay.
We went in to tell my mother, and she rejoiced. We told her, step by step, how it took place, and she leapt for joy, exulted, and blessed you, who are “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). For she perceived that you had given to her for me more than she had begged of you through her pitiful and most sorrowful groans.
Indeed, you turned me back to you so that I sought neither a wife, nor any hope in this world, standing upon that rule of faith as you had shown her in a vision so many years before. And you turned her mourning into a joy (see Psalm 30:11) that was much more abundant than what she had desired, in a way that was far more precious and purer than what she had hoped for in grandchildren conceived by my flesh.
Feed Your Spiritual Life in Just 25 Minutes a Day
Join Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P. and Fr. Jacob Bertrand Janczyk, O.P. as they read and explain The Confessions of St. Augustine in Season 2 of Ascension’s podcast, Catholic Classics!