The Liberty of a Runaway

Posted: August 31, 2012 in augustine, books, history, sin

Your mercy faithfully hovered over me from afar. In what iniquities was I wasting myself! I pursued a sacrilegious quest for knowledge, which led me, a deserter from you, down to faithless depths and fraudulent service of devils. The sacrifices I offered them were my evil acts. And in all this I experienced your chastisement. During the celebration of your solemn rites within the walls of your Church, I even dared to lust after a girl and to start an affair that would procure the fruit of death. So you beat me with heavy punishments, but not the equivalent of my guilt; O my God, my great mercy, my refuge (Ps. 58:18, 143:2) from the terrible dangers in which I was wandering. My stiff neck took me further and further away from you. I loved my own ways, not yours. The liberty I loved was merely that of a runaway.*

* Runaway slaves in antiquity were rigorously pursued. Churches provided temporary asylum in cases where inhuman maltreatment was the cause of flight. But to take in a runaway was possible only for the rich and powerful. The liberty enjoyed, therefore, was that of an escaped prisoner, hunted by authorities.

– Saint Augustine, Confessions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 37-38 [III. iii (5)]


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