The two books of the Soliloquia were, by the statement of the author himself (Lib. I.17), written in his thirty-third year. They were therefore written immediately after his baptism, evidently in the rural retreat of Cassiacum, in Upper Italy, belonging to his friend Verecundus, to which we know that he retreated for awhile after he had been received into the Church. It is therefore his earliest Christian work. And as it is early, so it is raw. His new-found faith struggles to justify itself through an intricate course of reasoning, in which he confuses helplessly the forms of logic with the substance of truth. However, though crude, his essential characteristics appear distinctly in it; his power of reasoning, his wide observation of fundamental facts, and of mental processes and experiences, his love of his friends, and above all of Alypius, his ardent aspirations after supernal light, his deep devotion, which, however, has not availed to subdue the artificialities of rhetoric into childlike simplicity.
He expresses in the work a longing for continued support to his tender faith from Ambrose, who, however, is described as having temporarily withdrawn into some Trans-alpine seclusion, where Augustin complains that he hardly knows how to reach him even by a letter.
He appears in the work as yet undetermined as to the form and course of his future life. The vast services he was to render the Church do not appear even to glimmer on his mind. Indeed, the life of leisure, devoted only, with some chosen friends, to the abstract contemplation of God, which forms his ideal, shows how very faintly penetrated he yet was by the Christian idea of serviceableness, as, in fact, there is in the Soliloquia very little that is distinctively Christian, either in doctrine or experience. But all the greatness of his following life lies shut up in his pliancy to the will of God, here expressed, and in his conviction that the God whom Christ reveals is the one true God.
In his Retractationes he recalls a few sentences of this work, one, which he seems to regard as inadvertently so expressed as to be capable of a Sabellian turn; another, which he regards as savoring too much of a Gnostic or Neo-Platonic abhorrence of matter; and another, in which he treats the effects of mental discipline as Plato does, supposing it to bring out into distinctness knowledge already possessed and forgotten. In the Retractationes he gives the true explanation, namely, that the mind is so constituted, that by the light of the Eternal Reason present in it, it is capable according to its measure of apprehending truths of which it had never before laid hold.
I have endeavored, in the rendering, to avail myself, wherever requisite, of the elder idioms of our tongue, which appear more germane, both to the matter and manner of St. Augustin, than the unmellowed English of the nineteenth century.