King Alfred’s Old English Translation of Augustine’s



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King Alfred’s Old English Translation of Augustine’s Soliloquies

A Rendering into Modern English


[1r]…then gathered for myself poles and posts and beams, and handles for all those tools that I knew how to work with, and house-lumber and hall-lumber, and the most beautiful trees for each of those buildings that I knew how to make, as much as I could manage to carry away. Nor did I ever come home with any load without wishing that I could bring home the whole forest, if I could carry all of it. On every tree I saw something that I needed at home. Therefore I instruct everyone who is able and has many a wagon to make his way to the same wood where I cut down these posts. Let him fetch more there for himself and set wings on his wagons with beautiful sticks so that he might plait many a fair wall and erect many a splendid house and build a beauteous manor [1v] and there always, and there!, might likewise dwell pleasantly and comfortably, through both winters and summers, as I now have not yet done. But he who taught me, he whom the wood pleased, he can make it that I dwell more comfortably, both in this transitory dwelling along this way while I am in this world and also in the eternal home that he has promised to us through Saint Augustine and Saint Gregory and Saint Jerome and through many other holy fathers. So I believe also that he will do for all their merits: both make this way more bearable than it was before, and moreover enlighten the eyes of my mind to it, so that I can find the right way to that eternal home and to that eternal reward and to that eternal rest which is promised to us through the [2r] holy fathers. Be it so!
It is no wonder that someone would work with such material, both in gathering and also in building. But every man desires, once he has built a dwelling on leasehold from his lord with his help, that he might rest himself there a while, and hunt and fowl and fish and provide for himself in every way on that leasehold, both by sea and by land, until the time that he earn bookland and eternal inheritance through his lord’s favour. May the wealthy provider do so, he who rules over each, both these transitory dwellings here and those eternal homes. May he who created them both and rules over them both grant me to be suitable for both of them, yea, to be useful here and moreover to come there.
(This book belongs to the Church of Blessed Mary in Southwick. Whoever should take it from this church, or deceitfully efface the title of ownership, unless he duly make amends to this same church, let him be accursed. Maranatha. So be it. So be it. Amen. Amen.)
[2v] Augustine, the bishop of Carthage, made two books about his own inner thought. The books are called Soliloquiorum; that is, they are about his mind’s deliberation and doubt—how his reason answered his mind when his mind was in doubt about something, or when it wanted to know something which it had not been able to understand very clearly before.
Then he explained: his mind often went musing and pondering many and little known things, and above all especially about himself: what he himself might be, whether his mind and soul were mortal and transitory or were everlasting and eternal, and also about his God, what he might be and whoever he might be, and what good would be for him to perform and what evil best to forsake.
[3r] Augustine: Then something answered me, I know not what, whether I myself or some other thing, or whether it was within me or without, but as for that I think that it was my reason.
And then she said to me, If you have any good watchman, who knows well how to keep what you would gain and entrust to him, show him to me. If you have no one so capable yet, seek him until you find him. For you cannot constantly keep watch over and care for those things you have gained and at the same time also gain more.
Then I said, To whom else would I want to entrust what I gained elsewhere except to my memory?
Then she said, Is your memory so mighty that it can hold everything that you think of and instruct it to keep?
[3v] Then I said, No, certainly not! Neither my memory nor anyone’s is so capable that his can always hold everything that it entrusts to itself for me.
Then she said, Entrust it to letters and write it down. But it seems to me nevertheless that you are too unwell to be able to write it all down. And even if you were completely well, you would need to have a secluded place and solitude from every other concern and a few familiar and capable men with you who would in no way hinder you, but would bring help to your effort.
Then I said, I have none of those things, neither the solitude, nor the help of other men, nor so secluded a place that would suffice me for such a work. Therefore I do not know what I must do.
Then she said, Then I do not know anything better than that you pray for yourself. Beseech for yourself before God, the Saviour of soul and body, that through healing you would be able to receive [4r] what you desire. And when you have prayed then write down the prayer lest you forget it, that you might be the worthier of your effort. And pray deeply for yourself with few words and with full attention.
Then I said, I will do as you instruct me. And then said, Lord, you who are creator of all creatures, grant me first that I might know you rightly and to pray wisely, and that I might merit that I be worthy that you would redeem me because of your kind-heartedness and set me free. I call to you, Lord, who made all things which otherwise could not have come to exist nor likewise could have continued to exist without you. I call to you Lord, you who do not allow any creatures to come to nothing. To him I call, who has made all creatures beautiful without any [4v] matter. To you I call, who have never made anything evil, but have made every good work. To him I call who teaches a few wise men that evil is nothing. Lord, who has made all fitting things and nothing unfitting, to you no created thing is contrary. Even though something may want to be, it cannot. But you have created all things fitting and accordant and attuned to themselves such that none of them can utterly destroy another. But the unsightly always adorns the fair. To you I call—O you!—whom everything loves that can love you, both those that know what they love and those that do not know what they love; you who created all creatures very good, without any evil; you who will not disclose yourself altogether openly to any others except those that are cleansed in their hearts. I call to you, Lord, [5r] for you are the father of truthfulness and wisdom and the true life and the highest life and the highest blessedness and the highest good and the highest brightness and intelligible light. You are the father of the Son that awakened us and still is rousing us from the sleep of our sins and urging us to come to you. I pray to you, Lord, you who are the highest truthfulness, and through you is it true everything that is true. I pray to you, Lord, you who are the highest wisdom, and through you are wise all who are wise. I pray to you, to you Lord, you who are the just life, and through you live all those things that live. You are the highest blessedness, and through you are blessed all who are blessed. You are what the highest good is and beautiful. You are that intelligible light through which man understands. I pray to you, Lord, [5v] you who rule all middle-earth, you whom we cannot understand bodily, not with eyes, not with smell, not with ears, not with taste, not with touch. And even so, such laws as we have and such customs as we have, all those that are good we have taken from yours and from your kingdom. And from your kingdom we copy everything good that we do. For this reason each of those who flees you falls, and every one of those who turns to you rises up, and every one of those who dwells in you stands firm. And he dies who altogether forsakes you, and he comes to life who turns to you. And each of those who truly loves you abides in you. None who is wise forsakes you, and none seeks you but the wise man, and none fully meets you but the cleansed man. This is what it is to perish: to forsake you. He who loves you seeks you; he who follows you has you. The faith in you that you gave [6r] us awakens us from the sleep of our sins. Our hope raises us up to you. Our love which you gave us fastens us to you. Through you we overcome our enemies, both spiritual and bodily. You who are forgiving, come to me and have mercy upon me, for you give us great gifts: that is, that we never utterly perish such that we become nothing. Lord, you who urge us to be watchful, you have given us reason so that we can separate and distinguish good and evil and flee the evil. You who have given us the patience that we would not despair in any travail or in any misfortune – that is no wonder, for you rule very well and you make it that we serve you well. You taught us well so that we would understand that what we portrayed as though it were our own was alien and lent to us: [6v] that is, worldly riches. And you also taught us so that we would understand that what we portrayed as though it were alien to us is our own, that is the kingdom of heaven, which we then despised. You who taught us that we should do nothing unlawful and also taught that we not grieve even though our wealth should fail us, so that you taught us that we would subdue our body through our mind. You who overcame death when you yourself arose, and also make it that all men will arise, so that you moreover in that exalt us all to yourself and cleanse us of all our sins and justify us and hear our prayers. You who have made us of your household, and who teach us all righteousness and always do teach us the good and always do good to us, and do not allow us to serve an unjust lord as we did before. You call us to our way, and lead us to the door [7r] and open it to us, and give us the bread of eternal life and the drink from the well of life. You who rebuke men for their sins, and you teach they they offer just judgements and do justice. You have strengthened us and still strengthen us in our faith such that the unbelievers cannot hinder us. You have given us and still give us the understanding so that we overcome the error that men’s souls have no reward after this age for their earnings, whether of good or of evil, whichever they do here. You who have freed us from servitude to other creatures, you always prepare eternal life for us and also always prepare us for eternal life. Come to me now as my help, you who are alone the eternal and true God, the Trinity, Father, and Son, and so now as the Holy Spirit, without any division or variation and without any need or weakness [7v] and without death, you who always dwell thus in the highest brightness and in the highest stability and in the highest unanimity and in the highest abundance. For there is with you no lack of any good, but you always dwell thus full of every good unto eternity. You are Father, and Son, and the Holy Spirit; all the creatures which you have made serve you. To you is every good soul subjected. At your bidding it changes; heaven and all the stars hold their courses. By your bidding the sun brings the bright day and the moon brings light at night. Through imitation of their likeness you guide and control all this middle earth so that all creatures change like the day and night. You rule the year and guide through it the turning of the four seasons—that is, spring and summer and harvest and winter. Each of them changes with [8r] another and they revolve so that each of them comes to be again exactly that which it was before and there where it was before. And so change all the stars and they revolve in the same manner, and likewise sea and river in the same manner. All created things revolve. Some change in another way, such that the same ones do not come again where they were before exactly as they were before. But others come in place of them, just as leaves on trees. And fruit, grass, and shrubs and trees grow old and wither, and others come. They grow green and make ready and ripen before they at last begin to wither, and so do all beasts and birds such that it now takes a long time to count them all. Moreover, even the bodies of men grow old just as other creatures grow old. But just as they already live more worthily than trees or other beasts so [8v] they also will more worthily arise on doomsday such that never afterwards will their bodies come to an end or get old. And although the body should already be decayed, still the soul was ever living, since it was first made. And all the creatures of which we said before that they seem to us discordant and unstable, they nevertheless have some share of stability because they are bridled with the bridle of God’s commands. God gave freedom to the souls of men such that they could do either good or evil, whichever they might want, and promised a good reward to well-doers and evil to evil-doers. Through God is supplied the wellspring of every good, and thence is supplied and left to us every good of those that we have. He shields us again all evils. There is [9r] nothing above him. But all things are under him and with him and in him. He made man after his likeness. And each of those men who understands himself, he understands that this is entirely true. I call to that God and say, Hear, hear me, Lord. For you are my God, my Lord, my father, my creator, my ruler, my hope, my prosperity, my honour, my house, my homeland, my health, my life. Hear, hear me, Lord, in that manner of yours that few understand. You alone do I love truly above all other things. You I seek. You I follow. You I am ready to serve. Under thy dominion I desire to dwell, for you alone rule.
I pray to you that you would command me what you desire. But heal and open my eyes that I may see your [9v] wonders, and drive from me folly and pride and grant me wisdom that I might understand you, and teach me where I ought to look for you in order that I might there behold you.
Then I believe that I would gladly do whatever you do command me. I beseech you, you gracious well-willing and well-working Lord, that you would receive me, your runaway. For I used to be yours and then fled from you to the devil and performed his will and suffered much anguish in his servitude. But if it now seems to you as it seems to me, I have suffered long enough the punishments which I have now suffered a while and have served your enemies longer than I ought to have, those same enemies as you have. Long enough have I been in that disgrace and in that shame which they brought upon me. But receive me now, your own slave, for I am fleeing from them. What! They received me before [10r] when I rushed from you to them. Never give me back to them now that I have sought you. But open to me your door and teach me how I ought to approach. I have nothing to bring to you but a good will. For I myself have nothing else and I know nothing better than that I love the heavenly and then the spiritual over this earthly. So I also do, good Father, for I know nothing better for me than that. But I know not how I must come to you now unless you teach me. But teach it to me and help me. If those who find you find you through faith, grant me that faith. Yet if those who find you find you through some other ability, give me that ability. If those who find you find you through wisdom, give me that wisdom. And increase in me the hope of eternal life, and increase your love in me. Oh, how your [10v] goodness is to be marvelled at, for it is unlike all good things. I ask to come to you, and all this that I have need of on the way I ask of you and most of all for that without which I cannot come to you. If you forsake me, then I would perish. But I know all the same that you will not forsake me unless I should forsake you. And I will also not forsake you, for you are the highest good. There is none of those who seek you aright who finds you not. Those alone rightly seek you whom you teach aright to seek you; and you teach them how they must seek. Oh Father God, free me well from the error in which I went astray and still wander in, and teach me the way by which no enemy would meet me before I come to you. If I love nothing above you, I beseech you that I might meet you. And if I yearn for anything excessively and unjustly, free me [11r] from this. And make me worthy of this that I might see you. You, oldest Father, and you wisest, I entrust to you my body that you would keep it whole. Nevertheless, I know not what I pray for in this, whether I pray for something useful or something useless for myself or for those friends whom I love and who love me. Nor that do I know, how long you will keep it whole. Therefore I entrust and commend it to you, for you know better than I might know what I need. Therefore I pray to you that you would always teach me while I am in this body and in this world. And help me that I might always discover the course of action that would be pleasing to you, and beneficial to me, and would be profitable for both lives, and would be best and truly worthiest. And now moreover, above every other thing I most eagerly pray to you that you would turn me fully unto you. And let nothing overthrow me on this way, so that I [11v] would not be able to come to you. And cleanse me while I am in this world and make me humble. Grant me magnanimity. Make me discerning and righteous and prudent and complete. And God, make me a lover and upholder of your wisdom. And make me worthy that I might be dwelling in your blessed kingdom. Be it so!

© 2003-2006 Michael Treschow & Heather J. Enns


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