Take it and Read!

Augustine, Confessions 8.12.29

I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart. Then suddenly, I heard a voice from a nearby house of someone, perhaps a boy or girl, I don’t know, singing and repeating, ‘Pick it up and read. Pick it up and read.’ Immediately, my expression changed, and I began to think most intently whether children were accustomed to sing anything like that in the form of some game. It did not occur to me that I had ever heard anything like it, and so I suppressed the first motion of my tears and got up, understanding that I was divinely ordered to do none other than open my book and read the first chapter which I came upon.

I had heard of Antony that he was advised by reading from what he had come upon by chance in the New Testament, as if what he read was spoken to him: ‘Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.‘ Oh Lord, it was by such an oracle that he was immediately converted to you. And so, struck by what I heard, I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting, for it was there that I had placed the book of the apostle when I had gotten up. I grabbed it, opened it, and read in silence the first chapter on which my eyes fell: ‘Not in eating and drunkenness, not in fornication and shamefulness, not in strife and jealousy, but cloak yourself in the lord Jesus Christ and don’t concern yourself with the flesh in the midst of all your lust.

I did not want to read more, nor was it necessary. Indeed, immediately upon reaching the end of this sentence, as if with the light of security poured into my heart, all of the shadows of doubt fled away.

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dicebam haec et flebam amarissima contritione cordis mei. et ecce audio vocem de vicina domo cum cantu dicentis et crebro repetentis, quasi pueri an puellae, nescio: ‘tolle lege, tolle lege.’ statimque mutato vultu intentissimus cogitare coepi utrumnam solerent pueri in aliquo genere ludendi cantitare tale aliquid. nec occurrebat omnino audisse me uspiam, repressoque impetu lacrimarum surrexi, nihil aliud interpretans divinitus mihi iuberi nisi ut aperirem codicem et legerem quod primum caput invenissem. audieram enim de Antonio quod ex evangelica lectione cui forte supervenerat admonitus fuerit, tamquam sibi diceretur quod legebatur: ‘vade, vende omnia quae habes, et da pauperibus et habebis thesaurum in caelis; et veni, sequere me,’ et tali oraculo confestim ad te esse conversum. itaque concitus redii in eum locum ubi sedebat Alypius: ibi enim posueram codicem apostoli cum inde surrexeram. arripui, aperui, et legi in silentio capitulum quo primum coniecti sunt oculi mei: ‘non in comessationibus et ebrietatibus, non in cubilibus et impudicitiis, non in contentione et aemulatione, sed induite dominum Iesum Christum et carnis providentiam ne feceritis in concupiscentiis.’ nec ultra volui legere nec opus erat. statim quippe cum fine huiusce sententiae quasi luce securitatis infusa cordi meo omnes dubitationis tenebrae diffugerunt.

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