The Most Precious Words Augustine Ever Wrote

"How delectably it happened, all of a sudden: all of those inane delectations weren’t there any longer..."

I initially wrote of this comment by Augustine in my book, One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God (Christian Focus). Recently I picked up the new translation of the Confessions by Sarah Ruden (New York: The Modern Library, 2017), 484 pages. It is described as a “dynamic translation,” and her rendering of this glorious paragraph bears witness to the approach she has taken.

 

That’s quite a claim in the title. I’m certain that others who have read far more of Augustine than I would beg to differ. Needless to say, we all have our favorite texts, those theologically rich and experientially captivating statements for which Augustine is justly famous. But I want to mention mine, which, as you probably have guessed, is found in his Confessions.

I initially wrote of this comment by Augustine in my book, One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God (Christian Focus). Recently I picked up the new translation of the Confessionsby Sarah Ruden (New York: The Modern Library, 2017), 484 pages. It is described as a “dynamic translation,” and her rendering of this glorious paragraph bears witness to the approach she has taken. But let me begin with two earlier portrayals of the text.

The first comes from the translation by John K. Ryan in The Confessions of St. Augustine (New York: Image Books, 1960), 423 pages. In case you are unfamiliar with what Augustine is saying, he is describing what happened in his conversion experience. Here is how Ryan renders the passage:

“How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be free of the sweets of folly: things that I once feared to lose it was now joy to put away. You cast them forth from me, you the true and highest sweetness, you cast them forth, and in their stead you entered in, sweeter than every pleasure, but not to flesh and blood, brighter than every light, but deeper within me than any secret retreat, higher than every honor, but not to those who exalt themselves” (p. 205).

Maria Boulding’s translation (The Confessions, Saint Augustine [New York: Vintage Books, 1997), 358 pages) is similar to that of Ryan:

“How sweet did it suddenly seem to me to shrug off those sweet frivolities, and how glad I now was to get rid of them – I who had been loath to let them go! For it was you who cast them out from me, you, our real and all-surpassing sweetness. You cast them out and entered yourself to take their place, you who are lovelier than any pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, more lustrous than any light, yet more inward than is any secret intimacy, loftier than all honor, yet not to those who look for loftiness in themselves” (p. 170).

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