Augustine Didn’t Say That!

Saint Augustine: Confessions You may heard Augustine’s famous answer to the following question: “What was God doing before he made all things?”  Answer: “Making hell for people who ask about such things.”  In fact, Augustine actually didn’t like that answer; it was not his answer.  Here’s the section in his Confessions where he mentions it (XI.xii [14]):

Here is my answer to him who says: ‘What did God do before He made heaven and earth?’  I do not give that answer which some man is said to have offered as a jest, evading the force of the question: ‘He was making hell ready,’ he said, ‘for those who pry into these deep questions!’ It is one thing to see; quite another thing to laugh. This is not my answer. Now, I should much prefer to reply: ‘I do not know,’ when I really do not know, than [to accept] the answer which gives occasion to ridicule a man who asked a profound question and commendation of one who gave a false answer.
But, I say that Thou, our God, art the Creator of every creature, and, if every creature be understood under the name, heaven and earth, then I make bold to say this: before God made heaven and earth, He did not make anything….
Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

2 Replies to “Augustine Didn’t Say That!”

  1. Heres something else Augustine did not say which has been bandied about the past few years: “The church is whore, but she is my mother.” Sadly Augustine is not the only one with false quotes attributed to him which get passed and accepted blindly without looking into sources. Alexis de Tocqueville and Dietrich Bonhoeffer also are in that club.


  2. “Oh lord stamp eternity on my eyeballs” is a quote by Jonathan Edwards that has gotten around quite a bit and even appears in Dr Beeke’s “Puritan Theology” but does not show up when you search the Yale database of Edwards writings. Most likely it is pure fiction. The Reformation cry of “Ad fontes” comes to mind but people are too wiling to take things at face value.


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