Archive for the ‘St. Augustine’ Category

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Communion With God Mediated By Communion With Christ

August 16, 2013
The National Library of France. Gratio Ut Motio is not a phrase that we come upon everyday, but it is a particular grace that God has given every one of us so that we can believe in him and grow closer to him. The reason we need this grace is simple: our reason is not enough. When Saint Thomas Aquinas describes the beginning of faith in an individual, he points out all the many truths that people encounter in the world that might point to God. There is beauty in the world, there is order, there is progression and maturity.  However, none of these experiences can bring us to the conclusion of who God is.  For that, we need faith, and for faith we need grace.

The National Library of France. Gratio Ut Motio is not a phrase that we come upon everyday, but it is a particular grace that God has given every one of us so that we can believe in him and grow closer to him. The reason we need this grace is simple: our reason is not enough. When Saint Thomas Aquinas describes the beginning of faith in an individual, he points out all the many truths that people encounter in the world that might point to God. There is beauty in the world, there is order, there is progression and maturity. However, none of these experiences can bring us to the conclusion of who God is. For that, we need faith, and for faith we need grace.

Sing To God In Jubilation
Praise the Lord with the lyre, make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song. Rid yourself of what is old and worn out, for you know a new song. A new man, a new covenant; a new song.

This new song does not belong to the old man. Only the new man learns it: the man restored from his fallen condition through the grace of God, and now sharing in the new covenant, that is, the kingdom of heaven. To it all our love now aspires and sings a new song. Let us sing a new song not with our lips but with our lives.

Sing to him a new song, sing to him with joyful melody. Every one of us tries to discover how to sing to God. You must sing to him, but you must sing well. He does not want your voice to come harshly to his ears, so sing well, brothers!

If you were asked, “Sing to please this musician,” you would not like to do so without having taken some instruction in music, because you would not like to offend an expert in the art. An untrained listener does not notice the faults a musician would point out to you. Who, then, will offer to sing well for God, the great artist whose discrimination is faultless, whose attention is on the minutest detail, whose ear nothing escapes? When will you be able to offer him a perfect performance that you will in no way displease such a supremely discerning listener?

See how he himself provides you with a way of singing. Do not search for words, as if you could find a lyric which would give God pleasure. Sing to him “with songs of joy.” This is singing well to God, just singing with songs of joy.

But how is this done? You must first understand that words cannot express the things that are sung by the heart. Take the case of people singing while harvesting in the fields or in the vineyards or when any other strenuous work is in progress. Although they begin by giving expression to their happiness in sung words, yet shortly there is a change. As if so happy that words can no longer express what they feel, they discard the restricting syllables. They burst out into a simple sound of joy, of jubilation. Such a cry of joy is a sound signifying that the heart is bringing to birth what it cannot utter in words.

Now, who is more worthy of such a cry of jubilation than God himself, whom all words fail to describe? If words will not serve, and yet you must not remain silent, what else can you do but cry out for joy? Your heart must rejoice beyond words, soaring into an immensity of gladness, unrestrained by syllabic bonds. Sing to him with jubilation.
St Augustine, A Commentary Of St Augustine On Psalm 32

Faith
Faith is an Orientation of our existence as a whole.  It is a fundamental option that affects every domain of our existence. Nor can it be realized unless all the energies of our existence go into maintaining it. Faith is not a merely intellectual, or merely volitional, or merely emotional activity– it is all of these things together. It is an act of the whole self, of the whole person in his concentrated unity. The Bible describes faith in this sense as an act of the “heart” (Romans 10:9).

Faith is a supremely personal act. But precisely because it is supremely personal, it transcends the self, the limits of the individual….Any act that involves the whole man also involves, not just the self, but the we- dimension, indeed, the wholly other “Thou,” God, together with the self. But this also means that such an act transcends the reach of what I can do alone.

Since man is a created being, the deepest truth about him is never just action but always passion as well; man is not only a giver but also a receiver…Faith is a perishing of the mere self and precisely thus a resurrection of the true self. To believe is to become oneself through liberation from the mere self, a liberation that brings us into communion with God mediated by communion with Christ.
-Pope Benedict XVI

Waiting for Judas…
There is an old legend that after his death Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit. For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent he looked up and saw way, way up a tiny glimmer of light. After he had contemplated it for another thousand years or so, he began to climb up towards it. The walls of the pit were dank and slimy, and he kept slipping back down. Finally, after great effort, he neared the top, and then he slipped and fell all the way back down.

It took him many years to recover, all the time weeping bitter tears of grief and repentance, and then he started to climb up again. After many more falls and efforts and failures he reached the top and dragged himself into an Upper Room with twelve people seated around a table. “We’ve been waiting for you, Judas,” Jesus said. “We couldn’t begin till you came.”

No matter our failings, Jesus is ready to forgive us and welcome us to his table. That is something for which we can truly be thankful.
Madeleine L’Engle

Gratia Ut Motio
“Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace.”
St. Thomas Aquinas

Gratio Ut Motio is not a phrase that we come upon everyday, but it is a particular grace that God has given every one of us so that we can believe in him and grow closer to him. The reason we need this grace is simple: our reason is not enough.

When Saint Thomas Aquinas describes the beginning of faith in an individual, he points out all the many truths that people encounter in the world that might point to God. There is beauty in the world, there is order, there is progression and maturity. However, none of these experiences can bring us to the conclusion of who God is.  For that, we need faith, and for faith we need grace.

It is particularly this gratia ut motio which the Lord gives us that helps us to make that free assent of intellect and will in order to believe. This “grace for movement” moves our will to command our intellect to say, “I believe.” We need to think about things and we need to desire them too.  In the act of faith, we do both, and we think about and desire the greatest of all things: God Himself.
Fr. James M. Sullivan, O.P.

Psalm 17 (18)

Thanksgiving

As for God, his ways are perfect;
the word of the Lord, purest gold.
He indeed is the shield
of all who make him their refuge.

For who is God but the Lord?
Who is a rock but our God?
the God who girds me with strength
and makes the path safe before me.

The word of the Lord is a shield for all who make him their refuge.

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The Son of Man 2 – Jaroslav Pelikan

July 31, 2013
It remained for Augustine, together with his mentor Ambrose, to draw from the Virgin Birth the conclusion that since Jesus "alone could be born in such a way as not to need to be reborn," all those who were born in the normal way, as the result of the sexual union of their parents, were in need of being reborn in Christ through baptism. The statement of the Psalmist, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me," was spoken in the awareness of forgiveness through the "selfsame faith" in Christ that was now confessed by the Catholic Church." That was why Augustine entitled the treatise just quoted On the Grace of Christ and Original Sin; for he found the knowledge of the grace of Christ unintelligible without the knowledge of original sin, but he also saw that the knowledge of original sin was unbearable without a knowledge of the grace of Christ.

It remained for Augustine, together with his mentor Ambrose, to draw from the Virgin Birth the conclusion that since Jesus “alone could be born in such a way as not to need to be reborn,” all those who were born in the normal way, as the result of the sexual union of their parents, were in need of being reborn in Christ through baptism. The statement of the Psalmist, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me,” was spoken in the awareness of forgiveness through the “selfsame faith” in Christ that was now confessed by the Catholic Church.” That was why Augustine entitled the treatise just quoted On the Grace of Christ and Original Sin; for he found the knowledge of the grace of Christ unintelligible without the knowledge of original sin, but he also saw that the knowledge of original sin was unbearable without a knowledge of the grace of Christ.

Behold the Man!

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What role did the figure of Jesus play in Augustinian anthropology? The most fundamental component in any answer to that question is to be sought in an assessment of his Confessions and of its form and tone. [Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, pp158-81] For in its literary structure it is, from the first sentence to the last, one long prayer, which is of course why it is called a confession, defined as accusation of oneself and praise of God. [Augustine, Confessions 6.6.9] The principal literary inspiration for the prayer comes from the Latin Psalter, which Augustine seems to have known by heart and from which he could, as a kind of contrapuntal virtuoso, spin out rhapsodic cadenzas. [Georg Krauer, Die Psalmmenzitate] But because he read the Psalms as the voice of Christ, the principal religious inspiration for his Confessions was his awareness of the grace of God which he had come to know in Christ through the Catholic Church.

It was, then, “in the permissive atmosphere of God’s felt presence” and grace that he wrote the prayer of the Confessions. [Albert Outler, Introduction to Augustine, p.17] Even though there is inevitably a certain amount of self-deception in any such memoir, Augustine could speak with as much candor as he did in the Confessions because the sin he was confessing was the sin that God in Christ had forgiven. [Augustine, Confessions, 2.7.15 ] He was expressing the “sacrifice of my confessions” in the presence of a God whose eye could penetrate into even the most closed of hearts and had penetrated even into his, and to whom therefore it was not possible to lie.

But he was also expressing the “confession of a broken and contrite heart” in the presence of a God whose grace “through Jesus Christ our Lord” had granted him deliverance from the power of sin, and to whom therefore it was not necessary to lie. It was Christ, as “our very Life” who “bore our death,” to whom, Augustine said, “my soul confesses, and he heals it, because it had sinned against him. [Augustine, Confessions, 5.1.1; 7.21.17; 4.12-19] And in a series of apostrophes to Christ scattered throughout the Confessions, Augustine gave devotional expression to what he asserted and defended elsewhere as dogma: that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the source of grace, the ground of hope, and the worthy object of prayer, adoration, and confession.

Standing then in the presence of God in Christ and probing both his own soul and his own memory, Augustine in the Confessions focused his attention on various sins of his youth, at least two of which have achieved considerable psychological notoriety. One of these, described at the beginning of book 3, was being “in love with loving” but not knowing the true nature of love. [Augustine, Confessions, 3.1.1] As T. S. Eliot paraphrases Augustine’s words,’

To Carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest
burning.
[T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, 307-11in Collected Poems]

If lust is defined, in keeping with both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, not as natural sexual desire but as the tendency to regard another person as primarily a sex object, Augustine’s probing of the hidden fires of sexuality begins to seem considerably less quaint than it may appear at first.

Alongside the undeniable extremes to which he often went in his language about sexual desire, even about sexual desire within the boundaries of matrimony, he was at the same time rejecting the heretical notion that “marriage and fornication are two evils, of which the second is worse,” and substituting for it the orthodox Catholic principle that “marriage and continence are two goods, of which the second is better,” which, whatever modern readers may think of it, did have warrant both in the teachings of Jesus himself and in those of the apostle Paul, as well as in those of noble pagans of late antiquity.

The clinching argument in favor of the holiness of marriage came for Augustine from some other words of the apostle Paul: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it…. This is a great sacrament [magnum sacramentum], and I take it to mean Christ and the church. [Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1.21.23-1.22.24] Marriage was a sacrament of Christ and the church.

The other sin mentioned in the Confessions that has provoked great psychological interest is the famous anecdote of the pear tree, with which book 2 closes. [Augustine, Confessions, 2.4.9-.2.10.18] “Rum thing to see a man making a mountain out of robbing a peartree in his teens,” commented Justice Holmes on this story.” But as a close reading of the entire passage will show, Augustine’s recollection of the incident provided him with an opportunity to probe the mysterious depths of the motivation of evil acts.

The pears were not particularly attractive to him, nor did he find them very good to eat; he did not need them. What he did need was to steal them, and having satisfied that need, he threw them to the pigs. Even though he might not have done it without the company of his peer group who egged him on, it was not their companionship but the theft itself that he loved. When, in summarizing the incident, he speaks of having “become to myself an unfruitful land,” he is, in his characteristic allegorical fashion, echoing the story of the Garden of Eden and of what an English poet and theologian steeped in Augustine was to call

the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat.

It was that “greater Man,” Jesus Christ, in whose “fruits” the soul, liberated from the tyranny of irrational sin, could now “rejoice.” [Augustine, Confessions, 13.26. 39-40] Therefore he was the Second Adam, through whom the grace of God had prevailed over the sin and death that had come upon humanity through the First Adam. While Augustine’s theory about the misery of humanity was thus in one sense highly personal and downright autobiographical, he rejected indignantly any suggestion that he was only extrapolating from his personal views and experiences and generalizing these into a universal condition.

Rather, he was seeking to take account of what already was, empirically speaking, recognizable as a universal condition. For if, as some people seemed to think, every human being was exactly poised between good and evil and thus faced the very same choice that Adam and Eve had faced,[ Augustine, On Nature and Grace, 7.8] how was one to account for the statistical regularity with which every human being managed to make the same choice that Adam and Eve had made, in favor of sin and against the good? [Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.1]

This was not to deny that there could be on earth righteous men, great men — brave, prudent, chaste, patient, pious, merciful”; yet even they could not be “without sin.” [Augustine, On the Forgiveness of Sins, 2.13.18] Who was more holy than the saints and apostles? “And yet the Lord [Jesus] prescribed to them to say in their prayer, ‘Forgive us our debts.’ ” [Augustine, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 3.5.14-15]

There was only one unqualified exception to the rule, Jesus Christ as the Mediator between a righteous God and a sinful humanity; and he was, to use a cliché that in this case is not a cliché at all, the exception that proves the rule. [Augustine, On Perfection in Righteousness, 21.44; 12.29] For it was his status as the sinless Savior that proved the necessity of salvation, and anyone who denied the universality of sin was obliged, for the sake of consistency, to deny the universality of the salvation and mediation accomplished in him.

This was for Augustine the decisive argument in his analysis of the human condition. For all “ordinary” people, death was not only universal but involuntary: there might be some choice about whether to die at this time or at that time, but no choice about whether to die or not to die. The exception was Jesus Christ, who was not mortal by nature but who “died for mortals” and therefore was the only one who could say of himself: “I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own accord.” Augustine’s most influential insight into human nature and psychology, the idea of original sin, was therefore not only a way of speaking about the misery of humanity, but a means of recognizing and praising the uniqueness of Jesus.

Despite the sensitivity and frankness of the introspection at work in the Confessions, it seems safe to say that he would not have come to this insight without the illumination of Christ, reasoning backward from the cure to the diagnosis. Further substantiation for that hypothesis comes from his use of the Virgin Birth. The assertion that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary without a human father appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, though without any specific explanation of its significance; but it is absent from the other two Gospels, as well as from the epistles of Paul, whose statement that Christ was “born of woman” meant that Jesus was fully and truly human, [Galatians 4:4; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.22.1 ] but did not imply anything one way or the other about human paternity.

It remained for Augustine, together with his mentor Ambrose, to draw from the Virgin Birth the conclusion that since Jesus “alone could be born in such a way as not to need to be reborn,” all those who were born in the normal way, as the result of the sexual union of their parents, were in need of being reborn in Christ through baptism. The statement of the Psalmist, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me,” was spoken in the awareness of forgiveness through the “selfsame faith” in Christ that was now confessed by the Catholic Church.” That was why Augustine entitled the treatise just quoted On the Grace of Christ and Original Sin; for he found the knowledge of the grace of Christ unintelligible without the knowledge of original sin, but he also saw that the knowledge of original sin was unbearable without a knowledge of the grace of Christ.

Jesus was the only unqualified exception that Augustine would grant to the rule of the universality of original sin. There was, however, one other exception that he had to consider: Mary the Virgin Mother of Jesus. After rejecting the contention that various other saints, both male and female, had been totally sinless, Augustine continued: “We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord; for from him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and to bear him who undoubtedly had no sin.”

The outcome of that additional exception was to have a profound effect not only on devotion and theology, but on art and literature for the next fifteen centuries. It took almost exactly a thousand years before a church council (the Council of Basel in 1439) would define the doctrine that among mortals Mary alone had been conceived without sin, and even that council was found not to have had the right to define it.

Thus it was only in 1854 that Pope Pius IX made the doctrine binding that, “in view of the merits of Christ Jesus, the Savior of the [entire] human race,” which included her, Mary had been permitted to become an exception to the universality of original sins.

But long before it became a dogma, the immaculate conception of Mary was the subject quite literally of thousands of paintings and poems, in which, with infinite variations on the theme, Augustine’s phrase “out of honor to the Lord” found expression in the use of the figure of Mary as a means of celebrating the figure of Jesus: the familiar theme of late medieval painters, the coronation of the Virgin, for example, shows her receiving the crown from her divine Son.

Conversely, whenever devotion or speculation glorified Christ as Lord and King in such a way as to lose touch with the Man of Nazareth, Mary would become a substitute for him — human, compassionate, accessible. And then the devotion to her and the speculation about her were no longer being carried on “out of honor to the Lord.”

“Know thyself” was a motto carved on the temple of the oracle at Delphi. As the linking of the Delphic oracle and the prophet Isaiah suggests,  others before Augustine had applied that axiom, often attributing it to Socrates, to the need for a self-understanding in the light of Christ, and Etienne Gilson is certainly correct in speaking about what he calls “Christian Socratism”; but it is significant that he refers in that context above all to the profound psychological speculations of Saint Augustine.

Those speculations had grown out of Augustine’s existential needs, but they had led him to Jesus, “the humble Word,” and to “the glory of his passion.” Here alone it was that he was able to confront, to understand, and to articulate those needs, for the Jesus of Augustine was the key to what humanity was and to what, through Jesus, it could become. As he said in the opening words of the Confessions:

Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised…. And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation — man, who bears about with him his mortality, the witness of his sin…. Thou hast made us for thyself.

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The Son of Man 1 – Jaroslav Pelikan

July 30, 2013
The modern skeptical world has been taught for some 200 years a conception of human nature in which the reality of evil, so well known to the ages of faith, has been discounted. Almost all of us grew up in an environment of such easy optimism that we can scarcely know what is meant, though our ancestors knew it well, by the satanic will. We shall have to recover this forgotten but essential truth -- along with so many others that we lost when, thinking we were enlightened and advanced, we were merely shallow and blind.

The modern skeptical world has been taught for some 200 years a conception of human nature in which the reality of evil, so well known to the ages of faith, has been discounted. Almost all of us grew up in an environment of such easy optimism that we can scarcely know what is meant, though our ancestors knew it well, by the satanic will. We shall have to recover this forgotten but essential truth — along with so many others that we lost when, thinking we were enlightened and advanced, we were merely shallow and blind.

Behold the Man!

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It is evident from the Gospels that Jesus’ favorite designation for himself was “the Son of Man,” which occurs about seventy times in the Synoptic Gospels and eleven or twelve times in the Gospel of John. In the Hebrew Bible the term was sometimes a way of referring to humanity, with the meaning “mortal man.” But by the first century C.E. its usage within Judaism had acquired apocalyptic connotations, which it also carries in many of the sayings of Jesus:

As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man…. All the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
(Matthew 24:27, 30).

In Christian usage after the New Testament the title almost immediately regained its original significance, particularly because it came to be used to refer to the human nature of Jesus, in parallel with the term “Son of God,” which referred to his divine nature.’

Thus it was that although Jesus had from the very beginning been seen by his followers as the disclosure of the mystery of the nature of divinity, it was only as their reflection on him deepened that they came to recognize what it fully meant that he was at the same time the revelation of the mystery of the nature of humanity, and that, in the formula of the Second Vatican Council, “only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.”

Logically it might seem that it should have been the other way around: diagnosis should have preceded prescription. If the logic of Christian catechisms and sermons or of books on doctrinal theology from every historical period is any guide, the doctrine of the creation and fall of man must come first, to be followed by the doctrine of the person and work of Christ as the divine answer to the human predicament.

But historically that was not how it developed, for the position of Jesus as the Son of God, the Logos, and the Cosmic Christ had to be clarified first, before there could come a mature understanding of the human predicament. Rather than making the punishment fit the crime, Christian thought had to gauge the magnitude of the human crime by first taking the measure of the one on whom the divine punishment of the cross had been imposed and thus (shifting to the original metaphor of salvation as health) making the diagnosis fit the prescription.

“Long before [Christianity] had achieved its final triumph by dint of an impressive philosophy of religion,” Harnack has said, “its success was already assured by the fact that it promised and offered salvation.” But it became “an impressive philosophy of religion” when it drew from its gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ the necessary implications for a doctrine of man.

The grim painting Light by the powerful twentieth-century American artist Siegfried Reinhardt documents this thesis that the dimensions of the human predicament become fully clear only in the light of its redemption. The crucified Christ, the Ecce Homo, appears at the top of the painting, but the light from which the work takes its name is revealed in the figure of the risen Christ, standing out in third dimension from the dark figure on the cross. He shakes his crown of thorns, as though it were a tambourine, and demands attention.

But he does not get it. Violating all the rules of unity in painting, the two other figures are both facing away — one of them lost in her ecstasy, the other blowing his saxophone in the opposite direction. It is not only that in their self-indulgence they choose to ignore Jesus the light of the world. Rather, it is his very appearing that, for the first time, reveals to them their true condition. Both the misery and the grandeur have now become visible through the coming of that light. For, in the words of the Gospel of John,

This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
(John 3:19-20).

The definition of how it was that the coming of the light should have proved to be the revelation of darkness, the identification of the crime, and the clarification of the diagnosis — all of this was the historic achievement of Augustine of Hippo, who died a century after the basic statement of the orthodox doctrine of Christ as the Second Person of the Trinity, “God from God, Light from Light,” at the Council of Nicea.

First Nicea had to determine what Jesus the Light was before Augustine could determine why He had to be what He was. The historical reasons for this sequence are complex, not least among them the intellectual and religious development of Augustine himself.

But within and behind those historical reasons is a reason that is to be found within the human predicament itself, a reason formulated with characteristic precision and verve by a faithful disciple of Augustine who was born almost twelve centuries after Augustine died, the French scientist and Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal:

“The knowledge of God without that of man’s misery causes pride. The knowledge of man’s misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ constitutes the middle course, because in him we find both God and our misery…. [both misery and] grandeur.”
Blaise Pascal. Pensées 526, 431

Pascal was saying that it is easy for any view of human nature to recognize either misery or grandeur, but that combining them in one view and drawing from that combination the necessary philosophical and psychological consequences has proved to be far more difficult.

For Pascal, and for Augustine before him, the combination was made possible by “the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” In seeking to understand this chapter in the history of the images of Jesus, it may be helpful as well to call upon a distinction formulated by the nineteenth-century thinker Friedrich Schleiermacher, who declared that “if men are to be redeemed [in Jesus Christ], they must both be in need of redemption and be capable of receiving it”; to assert either the need or the capability without asserting the other was “heresy.”

It was the genius of Augustine’s picture of Jesus Christ as the key to both the grandeur and the misery of humanity that he managed to hold together that which made Christ and redemption possible and that which made Christ and redemption necessary. Thus “the pride of man may be cured through the humility of God” in the person and life of Jesus Christ.

While much of what Augustine said about the human predicament and human misery was his own special insight, he was, in the use of the figure of Jesus to define the grandeur of humanity, attaching himself to what had preceded him in the thought of the second, third, and fourth centuries, as this had been summarized for example by Gregory of Nyssa: “In what then does the greatness of humanity consist, according to the doctrine of the church? Not in its likeness to the created world, but in its being in the image of the nature of the Creator.” [Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man 16.2]

In the fullest sense of the word, the true image of God for Gregory of Nyssa and for his successors was the man Jesus. Yet when the Word was made flesh in the man Jesus, this was human flesh and not any other kind of flesh, because humanity had been created in the image of God and the incarnation in Christ renewed that very image.

Although Augustine had, in the course of his controversies over original sin, sometimes spoken as though the image of God had been altogether obliterated through the fall of Adam, he made it clear upon further reflection near the end of his life that the doctrine of the fall must not be interpreted “as though man had lost everything he had of the image of God.” [Augustine, Retractations,1.25.68]

For if the image of God had been totally destroyed by sin and the fall, there would have been no point of contact between human nature as such and the incarnation of the Logos in the truly human nature of Jesus. [Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichean, 24.2] Jesus was, then, not only the image of divinity, but the image of humanity as it had originally been intended to be and as through him it could now become; he was in this sense the “ideal man.”

By sending him, God had proved how deeply he loved humanity; for “he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:32). “But,” as Augustine explained those words of Paul, “God loves us, such as we shall be, not such as we [now] are.” [Augustine, On the Trinity, 1.10.21.2]

The contours of this future condition were already visible now, not in our empirical humanity but in the humanity of Jesus, the Word made flesh; and as it viewed that prospect, empirical human nature was filled with yearning and with a desire to press forward toward that ideal. Thus “Christ Jesus is the Mediator between God and men, not insofar as he is divine but insofar as he is human,” as not only the source but also the “goal of all perfection.” [Augustine, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John 4.5-6] He was both Alpha and Omega.

The human Jesus had not always held this position of importance in the thought of Augustine, even in his thought as a Christian. Thus in his early treatise The Teacher, he had said that to gain wisdom “we do not listen to anyone speaking and making sounds outside ourselves. We listen to Truth which presides over our minds within us, though of course we may be bidden to listen by someone using words.” That inner teacher was called “Christ,” who thus did not have to be the truly human person in the Gospels to perform this function, but seemed to act in some Platonic fashion as the recollection of a truth hidden deep within the soul.

The same emphasis is evident elsewhere, in his familiar words, “What then do you wish to know? I desire to know God and the soul. Nothing more? Nothing whatever.”‘ He eventually became far more critical of the Platonic doctrine of recollection, and he acknowledged that he had had difficulty making the transition from the “immutability of the Logos, which I knew as well as I could and about which I did not have any doubts at all” (and which one did not have to be a Christian to accept) to the full meaning of the words of the Gospel of John, “The Logos was made flesh,” which, Augustine confessed, he had come to understand “only somewhat later.”

But once he did understand these words, the Logos made flesh, whose humility was made known in the narratives of the Gospels, dominated his language about Christ, in his expositions of the Psalms, which were for him the voice of Christ, and in his exposition of the Gospel of John, whose teaching about the Logos as preexistent and incarnate and yet “lowly” made it the most “sublime” of the four Gospels.

It was likewise from the portrait of the preexistent and incarnate Logos in the Gospel of John that Augustine, in the same years in which he was expounding that Gospel, developed the most sublime of his own psychological insights into the content of the image of God: the definition of the image as an image of the Trinity. He investigated the various “footprints of the Trinity,” the ways in which the human mind by its very structure as single and yet possessing relationship within itself, as one and yet three, could be interpreted as a reflection of the relation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This has inspired one twentieth-century writer and literary critic, Dorothy L. Sayers, to explore the “creative imagination” as reflected in writing and in the arts and to find its analogies with the Trinitarian “creative image,” the structure of the Trinity as reflected in the historic Christian creeds and in the thought of Augustine.

One of these “footprints of the Trinity,” according to Augustine, was the trinity of being, knowledge, and will, capacities that were distinct within the mind and yet were one mind: “for I am, and I know, and I will.” Again, “when I … love anything, there are three realities involved: myself, and the beloved, and the love itself.” [Augustine, On the Trinity, 9.2.2] Perhaps the most profound of the analogies was that of “memory, understanding [intelligentia], and will,” which “are not three lives but one life, not three minds but one mind” and yet were not identical. [Augustine, On the Trinity, 10.11.17-12.19]

Augustine freely conceded the inadequacy, and obviously sensed the artificiality, of all such constructs, including the very language of the ecclesiastical doctrine of the Trinity itself (which was necessary if faith was not to remain altogether silent, but could not pretend to provide an accurate description of the mystery of the inner life of God). . [Augustine, On the Trinity, 7.4.7; 15.12.43-44]  But this much was certain: Jesus Christ was for the thought of the Catholic Augustine the key to the mystery of the Trinity, and through it the key to the mystery of the human mind.

Profound and provocative though this exploration of the psychological analogies to the Trinity in the human mind may have been; Augustine’s most important contribution to the history of human psychology came in his doctrine of sin, his investigation, to use our earlier terminology, of what had made Christ necessary rather than of what had made Christ possible, of the misery rather than of the grandeur of humanity. Walter Lippmann was referring above all to Augustine’s doctrine of sin when, in his column for 30 October 1941, four months after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and five weeks before Pearl Harbor, he was moved to reflect on the presence within human nature of what he called “ice-cold evil”:

The modern skeptical world has been taught for some 200 years a conception of human nature in which the reality of evil, so well known to the ages of faith, has been discounted. Almost all of us grew up in an environment of such easy optimism that we can scarcely know what is meant, though our ancestors knew it well, by the satanic will. We shall have to recover this forgotten but essential truth — along with so many others that we lost when, thinking we were enlightened and advanced, we were merely shallow and blind.
[Ronald Steel, Walter Lippman; The American Century, pp390-91]

In that thoughtful tribute to the Augustinian tradition of the “ages of faith” Lippmann was joined during those very years by Reinhold Niebuhr, whose Gifford Lectures, The Nature and Destiny of Man (delivered in 1939 and published in 1941-43), were an effort at a critical restatement of Augustinian anthropology.

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Augustine on the Appetites 4 – G. Meilaender

July 12, 2013
What Augustine did see, and what his emphasis on procreation might remind us also to see, is that sexuality is more than a personally fulfilling undertaking intended to make us happy and give us pleasure. Of course, the unitive good of marriage is not properly understood when thought of in so self-serving a way, but perhaps it lends itself readily to such distortion. The notion that sexuality is a profound but very private and personal form of play is quite strong in our culture - and that "necessity" becomes sweet to us. By contrast, Augustine saw in the exercise of our sexuality a task -- of begetting and rearing children -- that God sets before human beings. If in correcting or supplementing his views we lose or ignore that insight, we may ourselves turn out to need correction.

What Augustine did see, and what his emphasis on procreation might remind us also to see, is that sexuality is more than a personally fulfilling undertaking intended to make us happy and give us pleasure. Of course, the unitive good of marriage is not properly understood when thought of in so self-serving a way, but perhaps it lends itself readily to such distortion. The notion that sexuality is a profound but very private and personal form of play is quite strong in our culture – and that “necessity” becomes sweet to us. By contrast, Augustine saw in the exercise of our sexuality a task — of begetting and rearing children — that God sets before human beings. If in correcting or supplementing his views we lose or ignore that insight, we may ourselves turn out to need correction.

Saint Augustine formulated the classic Christian understanding of desire, that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Gilbert Meilaender maintains that this frustrated desire lies at the heart of our existence. In The Way That Leads There he takes Augustine as a “conversation partner” for exploring subjects that human beings have wrestled with for centuries — desire, duty, politics, sex, and grief. Meilaender’s carefully reasoned insightful work rescues Augustine from many of our misperceptions and interacts meaningfully with both C. S. Lewis and Catholic moral theology, generating insights on difficult topics. The picture of life that emerges in these pages is one of incompleteness, of our inability to perfect and unify our moral lives. Yet this inability is not a cause for despair; it is rather a call to look, with Augustine, to God as the source and object of our greatest desire.

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The final part of Meilaender’s exposition of Augustinian thought on the appetites combines the observations on food and sex:

Food and Sex
When thinking with Augustine about the pleasures and dangers of food, we found it necessary in the end to move toward a richer and deeper understanding than his of the good of eating as a human activity. We must do the same in the case of sex. Indeed, Roman Catholic thought itself — though its condemnation of contraceptive intercourse had roots in the Augustinian contention that the pleasure of sex and the good of offspring are not to be separated — has not been able to rest entirely content with his analysis.

Having thought with Augustine about the place of food and of sex in human life, we need to bring these together and see what can be learned from the one for the other. Even in Augustine’s day the monk Jovinian, who was condemned (whether rightly or wrongly has been disputed) for teaching that virginity and marriage were equally worthy states of life, extended his critique to the use of food, teaching that “[t]here is no difference between abstinence from food and receiving it with thanksgiving.” [David G. Hunter, "Resistance to the Virginal Ideal in Late-FourthCentury Rome: The Case of Jovinian," Theological Studies 48 (March 1987):] And, of course, Augustine’s experience as a Manichee would have suggested an ascetic practice that connected abstinence from sex with abstinence from food. [Hunter, p. 53] Insight gained in the one case (food) may help in the other (sex).

In his instructive assessment of Augustine’s understanding of human sexuality in the history of redemption, Paul Ramsey suggested that Augustine had “the problem of saying why only one tumult of the soul — that which springs from fallen sexuality — causes shame.” [Ramsey, p. 63] Ramsey was of course right to note that Augustine placed great argumentative emphasis on man’s inability to control his generative organ and the shame that inability created. Nevertheless, the kind of description Augustine gives of sin’s effect on sexuality is not unlike language he uses in other contexts. For example, he sees in the unruliness of the sexual organ an apt punishment for man’s disobedience to God. In City of God (16.4) he uses similar language to describe the scattering of the peoples at the Tower of Babel:

“Since a ruler’s power of domination is wielded by his tongue, it was in that organ that his pride was condemned to punishment. And the consequence was that he who refused to understand God’s bidding so as to obey it, was himself not understood when he gave orders to men.” Closer still to my concern, when Augustine speaks of the need to discipline the body by fasting, he says: “Your flesh is below you; above you is your God. When you wish your flesh to serve you, you are reminded of how it is fitting for you to serve your God.”
[Augustine, The Usefulness of Fasting, in Saint Augustine: Treatises on Various Subjects, Fathers of the Church, vol. 16 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), p. 4.]

Other desires — in particular, our desire for food — are, like sex, necessities that may in our bondage to sin become sweet to us. To consider together these two necessities, sex and food, offers an occasion to do for sex what we did for food — namely, to find in if another good beyond the obvious biological one.

I suggested above that Augustine’s analysis of our desire for food was incomplete in an important way. Eating serves, in his view, only one good: nourishment of life and health. Any legitimate pleasure we have in eating may not therefore be separated from and pursued apart from that good. We should eat only to sustain life.

What Augustine missed, I suggested, was another good that eating serves — the human conversation and community that a shared meal constitutes. Perhaps we should wonder whether something similar is not missing from his analysis of sexual desire. He supposed that in paradise the bond joining Adam and Eve would have been essentially a bond of concord or friendship. “Their married intercourse, had it occurred, would have been [merely and no more than] a physical concretization of their pre-existing concord.”

Hence, he “never found away… of articulating the possibility that sexual pleasure might, in itself, enrich the relations between husband and wife.” [Brown, p. 402] Desire for coitus may be put in service of the good of procreation, and we should affirm Augustine’s belief — shared generally by Christians — that such procreation is an important good or purpose of sexual union.

But sexual desire also embodies, nurtures, and enriches the good of carnal conversation and community — the complete sharing of life — between husband and wife. To seek such community, therefore, even when children are not planned, wanted, or desired, is not mere grasping for a repeated pleasure separated from the good of marriage. On the contrary, it is one of the goods of marriage. Thus, contraceptive intercourse for the expression and enjoyment of such community cannot separate the pleasure from the good of marriage; for it is one of the goods of marriage.

This brings us, of course, to where Catholic thought itself has in recent years come — to speaking of two goods, procreative and unitive, that marriage serves. For Augustine there was (in paradise) one good of marriage, and the pleasure of the sexual act was not to be separated from that good. Other goods of marriage (fidelity and sacrament) come into the picture only within a fallen world, and they do not alter the basic structure of his thought.

To suggest, as I now have, that we should think of sexual union within marriage as itself one of the goods of marriage (rather than simply as a pleasure that must be enjoyed only as part of an act aimed at procreation) is to speak of both a procreative and a unitive good of marriage. So the question we found in Augustine must be reformulated. We now have to ask not about the relation between the pleasure of coitus and the good of offspring, but rather about the relation between two goods: children and fleshly communion.

Might contraceptive intercourse wrongly separate not a pleasure from a good but the good of procreation from the good of communion in love between spouses? The claim that these two goods must be “inseparable” in the sexual act is essentially the claim that contraceptive intercourse makes impossible the full communion in love that the act of coitus between husband and wife intends.

When pondering this claim, we should not forget what we learned from thinking about the goods of eating. A meal is both medicine for the body and the expression of human community. In any proposed separation of these goods we must simply try to see whether the resulting moral reality involves distortion or harm. To express marital communion in the sexual act while using contraceptives is not unlike sharing in a festive meal when one is not hungry and eats little.

Precisely in order to share fully in the good of community on that occasion one does not do what one does on the occasion of some other meals. Although the species-sustaining, biological purpose of food is not served by such eating, neither of the goods of eating seems distorted by doing so.

Thus, thinking along with Augustine, we move beyond and in some respects “correct” his understanding of the place of both food and sex in human life. We may share in a meal not to sustain life or health but simply as an embodiment of human community — a kind of “ecstatic” experience in which we set to the side our aim of self-preservation and simply enter into the fellowship the meal constitutes.

The good not served in such participation in the meal is not the only good of eating, and one might well eat even when nourishment is not at all needed. Likewise, husband and wife may share in the act of love not to produce a child but simply as the most intimate incarnation of their mutual self-giving — a kind of ecstatic experience in which they set aside their procreative potential and simply share the fellowship their bodily union constitutes.

The good not served in their coitus is not the only good the sexual act serves, and they might well make love even when they neither need nor desire children. To be sure, deliberately avoiding children indefinitely could be expected to have a subtle but deformative effect on the character of their love. Were this to happen, then, clearly the several goods of marriage would have been separated too greatly.

The implications of such a correction of Augustine’s understanding go far beyond a consideration of contraception alone. Indeed, correcting Augustine in this way is necessary if we are to make sense of the deepest reasons for concern about new reproductive technologies — a concern clearly reflected in Catholic teaching. When the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Donum Vitae, central to its rejection of laboratory fertilization was the belief that the child must be understood as gift, not product — equal in dignity to his parents:

“[T]he origin of a human person is the result of an act of giving. The one conceived must be the fruit of his parents’ love. He cannot be desired or conceived as the product of an intervention of medical or biological techniques.”
[Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin, and on the Dignity of Procreation (Boston: St. Paul Books and Media, 1987), p. 28.]

It is not unusual to see a link between this reasoning, which condemns assisted reproduction, and the reasoning that disapproves of contraception. Certainly the Congregation thought it saw a connection. “Contraception deliberately deprives the conjugal act of its openness to procreation and in this way brings about a voluntary dissociation of the ends of marriage. Homologous artificial fertilization, in seeking a procreation which is not the fruit of a specific act of conjugal union, objectively effects an analogous separation.” [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, p. 27] More colloquially put, contraception makes possible sex without babies; assisted reproduction makes possible babies without sex. In either case the goods of marriage are separated.

But are the moral realities reflected in these two separations really so similar? Kim Power has claimed that “Augustine implicitly legitimated a split between love and sex which facilitates the depersonalisation of sexual intercourse. ” [Power, p. 161] This does not, I think, put the matter quite rightly, but she has pointed to a serious problem.

Augustine’s mistake, as Paul Ramsey noted with characteristic insight, was not that he depersonalized sexual intercourse; it was that he could think of personal presence in only one way. He thought of the person as present in coitus only if the act was undertaken at the command of the rational will (for, presumably, the purpose of procreation). [Ramsey, pp. 60, 62, 65]

Thus, rightly ordered sexual intercourse would not be depersonalized, but the person present in it would be characterized not in terms of passion but in terms only of reason and will. Even in paradise, says Augustine, “the man would have sowed the seed and the woman would have conceived the child when their sexual organs had been aroused by the will, at the appropriate time and in the necessary degree.” [City of God 14.24]

Hence, by his own lights and in terms of his own understanding of the human person, Augustine did not depersonalize sexual activity. Nevertheless, by driving a wedge between the desire to give oneself lovingly and passionately in the sexual act and the (rationally willed) purpose of producing a child, he invites us to think of the child as a product. Adam and Eve would, rationally and deliberately, have set to work to produce children as needed, and they would not have consummated their sexual union for any other reason.

This is precisely the separation of babies from sexual love, the understanding of the child as product, that new reproductive technologies express. It is just such a separation — what Power calls the “split between love and sex” — that makes many of the new reproductive technologies seem quite reasonable to their advocates. And the case against such forms of reproduction will depend, finally, on a view of personal presence in coitus that Augustine — acknowledging only the good of procreation and not also the good of communion in the sexual act — was unable to develop.

But once, unlike Augustine, we acknowledge both procreative and unitive goods in marriage, we are freed to consider the relation — and the separation — of these goods in new ways. Thinking along with Augustine, of the desire for sex as rather like the desire for food, we were able earlier to see why contraception does not necessarily distort or deform the meaning of our sexuality. The separation effected by new reproductive technologies is a different moral reality, however, and we will see what is problematic about it most clearly when we correct Augustine’s vision of coitus as nothing more than a rational activity aimed at offspring.

The act of love is not simply a rational, willed undertaking. Of course, a man and a woman might decide to make love. They might choose to do it for certain reasons — for example, because they hope for a child. But in the act itself, passion, not reason or will, is central. We speak of lovers experiencing “ecstasy” — a word that describes a going out of oneself, a relinquishing of control, a setting aside of one’s projects and purposes.

Even if spouses make love because they want a child, the act itself requires a letting go of such plans and projects in mutual self-giving. We might even say then, as Ramsey did in his discussion of Augustine, that “bodily powers and precisely the spontaneous and rationally insubordinate movements of sexuality are, for the purpose of accessibility or presence to another being in this world, superior to the means the soul has for the deliberate communication of itself to the other.” [Ramsey, p. 65]

Thus, married intercourse is not merely the concretization of an already existing concord, which concretization might then also be put in service of the production of children. On the contrary, it is a mode of presence to the spouse unlike any other.

From this act, in the doing of which lovers have set aside all plans and projects, a child may result. That child — begotten, not made — springs from their embrace but is not the product of a purposive act. Such a child may properly be thought of as a gift. Love-giving has been life-giving, not because the lovers willed it, but because God has so blessed it. In this instance, unlike the instance of contraception, the moral reality — our understanding of the relation of parents and child — does seem to be distorted if we separate unitive and procreative goods; the presence of the child then results from our will and choice. By contrast, the child is a gift precisely because he or she results from an act and embrace in which we set aside our intentions and purposes, in which we step out of ourselves and cease attempting to be productive.

We can begin to see this only as we think our way into Augustine’s view and beyond it, recognizing that the act of love need not be sought or desired for any reason other than the communion it expresses and embodies. “Producing” a child in other ways seems to distort the moral meaning of the child; it removes the procreative good of marriage from the context in which it is personalized and humanized (and is rather like taking in nourishment entirely apart from the fellowship of the meal).

By contrast, within a marriage that is genuinely open to children, embodying the communion of marital love in contraceptive intercourse (rather like sharing in a festive meal while actually eating little and taking in little nourishment) does not in and of itself depersonalize or dehumanize either that act or the child who may be given through it.

All this said, however, we should not fail to give Augustine his due. What he did see, and what his emphasis on procreation might remind us also to see, is that sexuality is more than a personally fulfilling undertaking intended to make us happy and give us pleasure. Of course, the unitive good of marriage is not properly understood when thought of in so self-serving a way, but perhaps it lends itself readily to such distortion. The notion that sexuality is a profound but very private and personal form of play is quite strong in our culture – and that “necessity” becomes sweet to us. By contrast, Augustine saw in the exercise of our sexuality a task — of begetting and rearing children — that God sets before human beings. If in correcting or supplementing his views we lose or ignore that insight, we may ourselves turn out to need correction.

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Augustine on the Appetites 3 – G. Meilaender

July 11, 2013

We should not grasp for the pleasure of eating apart from the good purpose to which it is divinely ordered, so we should also not seek the pleasure of the sexual act apart from the good to which it is divinely ordered.

We should not grasp for the pleasure of eating apart from the good purpose to which it is divinely ordered, so we should also not seek the pleasure of the sexual act apart from the good to which it is divinely ordered.

Saint Augustine formulated the classic Christian understanding of desire, that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Gilbert Meilaender maintains that this frustrated desire lies at the heart of our existence. In The Way That Leads There he takes Augustine as a “conversation partner” for exploring subjects that human beings have wrestled with for centuries — desire, duty, politics, sex, and grief. Meilaender’s carefully reasoned insightful work rescues Augustine from many of our misperceptions and interacts meaningfully with both C. S. Lewis and Catholic moral theology, generating insights on difficult topics. The picture of life that emerges in these pages is one of incompleteness, of our inability to perfect and unify our moral lives. Yet this inability is not a cause for despair; it is rather a call to look, with Augustine, to God as the source and object of our greatest desire.

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Having analyzed one appetite, food [previous post], Meilaender examines Augustine’s thoughts on sex:

Sex
Describing Augustine’s vision of God’s plan to sustain the human race through procreation, Donald X. Burt, O.S.A., writes:

“In order to implement this plan, God made human beings with a strong desire for coitus. Just as hunger and thirst were given so that humans could maintain their health, so the impulse towards physical intercourse was given to insure the health of the race. And just as the pleasure from satisfied hunger and thirst is made noble by the good end that it accomplishes, so too the passion that accompanies intercourse is made holy by the great good that the act can accomplish, the formation of new human beings in a crucible of love.”
[Donald X. Burt, O.S.A., Friendship and Society: An Introduction to Augustine's Practical Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 82]

This is too sympathetic a reading of Augustine, but the connection Burt discerns is really there in Augustine’s thinking. He treats sexual desire almost exactly as he treats the desire for food. Even as one should come to the table to eat when one’s body needs nourishment, so also would our first parents have come to the marriage bed when children were needed. “I do not see,” Augustine writes, “what could have prohibited them from honorable nuptial union and the bed undefiled even in Paradise. God could have granted them this if they had lived in a faithful and just manner in obedience and holy service to Him, so that without the tumultuous ardor of passion…offspring would be born from their seed.”

[Saint Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Volume II, Ancient Christian Writers, no. 42 (New York and Ramsey, N.J.: Newman, 1982), 9.3. Similarly, in City of God (14.24) Augustine writes: "Then (had there been no sin) the man would have sowed the seed and the woman would have conceived the child when their sexual organs had been aroused by the will, at the appropriate time and in the necessary degree, and had not been excited by lust."]

Before we consider how this understanding of the purpose of sex — like Augustine’s understanding of the purpose of food — may be incomplete and inadequate, we should try to take it seriously. To that end we can consider an image of sexuality that depicts it in something like Augustine’s way — as having a particular good or purpose, which good we might easily separate from the pleasure it gives, and come to seek the pleasure alone.

In Out of the Silent Planet, the first of C. S. Lewis’s space fantasies, the protagonist Ransom finds himself on the planet Malacandra, where three species of hnausorns, pfifltriggi, and hrossa — live together in peace under the rule of Maleldil. To learn more about Malacandra, Ransom spends time talking with Hyoi, one of the hrossa. Their conversation turns at one point to continuation of the species. Is there ever danger on Malacandra that the population of hossra might outstrip food production? The question is almost unintelligible to Hyoi. He cannot understand why they might produce that many offspring.

“Ransom found this difficult. At last he said:

‘Is the begetting of young not a pleasure among the hrossa?’

‘A very great one, Hmān. This is what we call love.’

‘If a thing is a pleasure, a Hmān wants it again. He might want the pleasure more often than the number of young that could be fed.’

It took Hyoi a long time to get the point.

‘You mean,’ he said slowly, ‘that he might do it not only in one or two years of his life but again?’

‘Yes.’

‘But why? Would he want his dinner all day or want to sleep after he had slept? I do not understand.’

‘But a dinner comes every day. This love, you say, comes only once while the hross lives?’

‘But it takes his whole life. When he is young he has to look for his mate; and then he has to court her; then he begets young; then he rears them; then he remembers all this, and boils it inside him and makes it into poems and wisdom.’

‘But the pleasure he must be content only to remember?’

‘That is like saying, `My food I must be content to eat.’” [C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Macmillan, 1965), pp. 72-73]

This is of course Augustine’s “food as medicine” approach to sex; yet, I have to say that in Hyoi’s mouth it does not seem all that strange. On Malacandra it makes sense. Malacandra is an unfallen world, and we are prepared to consider the possibility that rightly ordered sexual desire in such a world might be quite different from our own experience.

Why would someone want to keep grasping at this pleasure forever when the good of offspring had been satisfied? Indeed, pondering his discovery of “a species naturally continent, naturally monogamous,” Ransom is led to doubt the usefulness of our fallen sexuality as a guide to right order: “At last it dawned upon him that it was not they, but his own species, that were the puzzle.” [Lewis, Silent Planet, p. 74]

In Mere Christianity Lewis applied such thinking not to an unfallen world but to our own, the “silent planet:”

“You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act — that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?”
[C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960), p 75]

Likewise, Lewis suggests, pressing the analogy, might not a visitor from a different world think that something had gone wrong with sexual desire in our world? Thus, whether we begin with an imaginative unfallen world or with the clear disorder of our own world, we may learn to be cautious about supposing that we can take our own sexual experience as a guide to right order. That is what taking Augustine seriously can do for us. “There are.., men at the present time who are evidently unaware of the bliss that existed in paradise. They suppose that children could not have been begotten except by the means with which they are familiar, namely, by means of lust.” [City of God 14.21. Cf. Cavadini, p. 204: ,[I]f it is accepted that lust is a pathologized desire, trying to imagine sex without lust is not the same thing as trying to imagine sex without feeling, even intense feeling.“]

We can by now begin to connect the dots, and in so doing note that we have reconstructed what in general outline is the original shape of the Roman Catholic case against contraception (in the development of which Augustine was, of course, of incalculable importance). The argument, simply put, is: the good or purpose of marriage is procreation — production of offspring. To be sure, sexual intercourse also gives pleasure, and there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it would have given pleasure even to Adam and Eve in paradise. [Cf. Power, p.106: "It is important to note that what Augustine repudiated was not desire per se, nor pleasure, but inordinate desire and pleasure not controlled by the will."]

But if we come to seek the pleasure alone — apart from the purpose for which our sexuality is intended — we have distorted our nature. Contraceptive intercourse is an attempt to separate the pleasure of the act from its good. Adam and Eve in paradise would not have so separated this pleasure from this good. They would have engaged in sexual intercourse “as a deliberate act undisturbed by human passion” for the purpose only of producing children – and they would have enjoyed, as a kind of bonus, the pleasure the act also gives. [City of God 14.26. Cf. also Ramsey, pp. 60-62]

We should not underestimate what Augustine here grants. He was, in Peter Brown’s words, “quite prepared to allow that such [sexual] pleasure might have occurred in Paradise — no small imaginative feat for a late antique person of ascetic lifestyle. What concerned him was that, after the fall of Adam and Eve, this pleasure had gained a momentum of its own.” [Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press,1988), p. 417] Augustine’s worry, that is, was that as the search for this pleasure becomes a sweet necessity, we may attempt to separate the pleasure of the act from the good of procreation, seeking the pleasure for its own sake alone.

We may, then, summarize Augustine’s view — or at least, one reasonable reading of it — as follows: just as nourishment constitutes the good of food, the eating of which also, as it happens, gives pleasure, so children constitute the good of sex, the experience of which also, as it happens, gives pleasure. As we should not grasp for the pleasure of eating apart from the good purpose to which it is divinely ordered, so also we should not seek the pleasure of the sexual act apart from the good to which it is divinely ordered. Food is medicine — that is, its purpose is our sustenance and health. Sexual intercourse is also a kind of medicine: it sustains not the individual but the species. Its purpose is offspring.

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Augustine on the Appetites 2 – G. Meilaender

July 10, 2013
No one sees more clearly than Augustine how deeply buried within us is the power of self-deception and how difficult -- finally impossible -- it is for us to know ourselves as we truly are. What began in the necessity of feeding and was transformed into human eating (dining and feasting) may become a new necessity that wraps us in the "sweetness" of its own chains.

No one sees more clearly than Augustine how deeply buried within us is the power of self-deception and how difficult — finally impossible — it is for us to know ourselves as we truly are. What began in the necessity of feeding and was transformed into human eating (dining and feasting) may become a new necessity that wraps us in the “sweetness” of its own chains.

Saint Augustine formulated the classic Christian understanding of desire, that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Gilbert Meilaender maintains that this frustrated desire lies at the heart of our existence. In The Way That Leads There  he takes Augustine as a “conversation partner” for exploring subjects that human beings have wrestled with for centuries — desire, duty, politics, sex, and grief. Meilaender’s carefully reasoned insightful work rescues Augustine from many of our misperceptions and interacts meaningfully with both C. S. Lewis and Catholic moral theology, generating insights on difficult topics.

The picture of life that emerges in these pages is one of incompleteness, of our inability to perfect and unify our moral lives. Yet this inability is not a cause for despair; it is rather a call to look, with Augustine, to God as the source and object of our greatest desire. St Augustine of Hippo very frequently comes under attack for his views on the body and sex. In the 1970s, when everyone got liberated, the liberal left needed someone to blame for having formerly been un-liberated, so they chose Augustine for being from a long time ago and very influential on the western tradition. Unfortunately they never quite got his message right nor what he was speaking to.

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Meilander left off here [the previous post]: “I will take a long way round to this goal, however, beginning, in a sense, where Augustine himself began, with the question: What would sinless, rightly integrated, sexual desire have been like in paradise? And to ask that question with Augustine, it may be useful to start by attending not to sex but to food.”

Food
Characterizing Augustine’s understanding of the place of rightly ordered pleasure and desire in marriage, Kim Power writes: “[A] man had to love his spouse, but preferably not her body, and both parties were permitted an ordinate sexual pleasure in conjugal relations as long as they were not motivated by desire. This is like saying it is acceptable to enjoy eating, but not to feel hungry.”

[Power, p. 229. Actually, Power's statement is not quite fair to Augustine, or at least to what Augustine sometimes says. He can distinguish hunger from the kind of craving desire that he thinks is wrong. For example, in Against Julian, Fathers of the Church, vol. 35 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1957), he puts the point as follows: "When nature in its way demands supplements which are absent, we do not say this is lust, but hunger or thirst. When the need has been satisfied, yet the love of eating tempts the soul, then we have lust, then we have the evil to which a man must not yield, but must resist" (4.14.67).]

Such a comparison between desire for the pleasures of sex and desire for the pleasures of eating is not at all misplaced in a discussion of Augustine’s thought.

The comparison has come naturally to others. See, for example, John C. Cavadini, Feeling Right: Augustine on the Passions and Sexual Desire, Augustinian Studies 36, no. 1(2005): 196: “Concupiscentia carnis is desire disintegrated against will and against itself, not simply an innocent impulse, like hunger though more difficult to use in moderation.

When in his Confessions (10.30-41) Augustine begins to take stock of how well he is succeeding in living as a Christian since his conversion, he undertakes an examination of conscience under three rubrics drawn from 1 John 2:16: lust of the flesh (sensual desires), lust of the eyes (intellectual curiosity), and the pride of life (love of praise). His discussion has struck some as insufficiently world-affirming, a criticism nicely stated by Robert O’Connell.

That examination of conscience makes, surely, some of the most depressing reading in all of Christian literature. There is something profoundly saddening about the portrait it presents: the great Bishop of Hippo tormenting himself about the pleasure he cannot avoid while eating … or listening to psalmody … ; berating himself that the spectacle of a dog chasing a hare, or of a lizard snaring a fly, can still distract his interest…. Even more saddening, perhaps, the thought of Christian generations who have been confused and troubled by the dreadful indictment of those wholesome human things, to say nothing of Christians today and tomorrow who, influenced by pages like these and others following their inspiration, will continue to doubt their own healthy acceptance of the world God made “good,” indeed, “very good.”
Robert J. O’Connell, St. Augustine’s Confessions: The Odyssey of Soul (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969), p. 133.

Among those “wholesome human things,” as O’Connell notes, is the pleasure we take in eating, and it is undeniable that Augustine worries considerably about his own continued desire for food. He articulates a kind of “food as medicine” theory of rightly ordered eating.

This you have taught me, that I should have the same attitude toward taking food as I have toward taking medicine. But while I pass from the discomfort of hunger to the satisfaction of sufficiency, in that very moment of transition there is set for me a snare of concupiscence. For the moment of transition is pleasurable, and we are forced to go through that moment; there is no other way. And while we eat and drink for the sake of health, there is a dangerous kind of pleasure which follows in attendance on health and very often tries to put itself first, so that what I say that I am doing, and mean to do, for the sake of my health is actually done for the sake of pleasure.

Nor is there the same measure for both; what is enough for health is not enough for pleasure, and it is often hard to tell whether it is the necessary care of my body asking for sustenance or whether it is a deceitful voluptuousness of greed trying to seduce me. And because of this uncertainty the unhappy soul is delighted; it uses it as a cover and excuse for itself, and is glad that it is not clearly evident what is sufficient for a healthy moderation, so that under the cloak of health it may hide the business of pleasure. (10.31)

In the purposeful ordering of God’s creation food is, Augustine believes, a kind of medicine. The good of food, its end or purpose, is that it serves health; it sustains and nourishes life. Such nourishment is for us a necessity. We cannot avoid it, and indeed we must seek it. Even if we discipline our desire for food by fasting, it is still a good that we must sometimes seek. (We might note, though, that Augustine does say in City of God [13.22] that the resurrected bodies of the saints in heaven “will eat only if they wish to eat; eating will be for them a possibility, not a necessity.”

This is worth keeping in mind for my argument yet to be developed. Why might the saints wish to eat in heaven when they have no necessity of doing so? Perhaps to feast. If so, eating must serve some other good in addition to sustaining the health of the body — perhaps some good of human community.)

It happens, however, that, essential as eating is for human beings, “this necessity is sweet” to us. [Augustine even notes in Against Julian that the necessity must be sweet. Were the food we take in not at all tasty or pleasurable, we wouldn't eat it, and the body would not be nourished (4.14.67).] We may easily become its prisoner, for we enjoy eating and often take great pleasure in it.

To see the danger here as Augustine sees it, we must distinguish between the good of an activity (its appropriate end and purpose) and the pleasure the activity gives. There is, on Augustine’s view, nothing wrong with taking pleasure in any permitted activity. Wrong enters in only if we seek the pleasure apart from the good.

Because the necessity of eating is sweet to us, we may attempt precisely that — to separate the pleasure of eating from the good of eating. We may seek the pleasure for its own sake, wholly apart from the good. This can happen through sheer overeating, or perhaps more subtly through the refined palate and exquisite sensibilities of the gourmand. If we do, Augustine believes we are wrapping ourselves more firmly in the chains of necessity, and are likely to get an ever diminishing pleasure from an ever increasing devotion to eating.

There are problems with this view, but it is by no means silly. Nor will we get at its deficiencies simply by supposing that its rather severe ascetic outlook fails to appreciate “whole some human things.” At least from the perspective of Augustine’s Christian belief, there is something touchingly naive about our supposing that — east of Eden — we are able easily to say what a wholesome and well-integrated desire for food would be like.

Nevertheless, defend Augustine as we may, we probably also have a nagging suspicion that something has gone wrong in his analysis of eating — that, necessary as food is for nourishment, the purposes of eating are not exhausted by our need to remain alive. Eating because we are hungry and must take in nourishment to live would of course serve the “good” of eating, in that it would nourish and sustain our bod ies, but it would not distinguish us from the other animals. We might think of it more as “feeding” than “eating.” [Leon R. Kass, The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature (New York: Free Press, 1994), p.107. In German, for example, the distinction (between fressen and essen) is more obvious.] There would be no additional and distinctively human good in the enjoyment of the meal.

Consider the subtitle of Leon Kass’s book The Hungry Soul: Eating and the Perfecting of Our Nature. From Augustine’s perspective Kass may seem too ready to depict the perfecting of our nature as within our power, but there is something to be learned from Kass’s discussion about the several goods of eating. He depicts a movement first from feeding to eating, as we make of our animal needs the occasion for a distinctively human activity. But even within that human activity we may trace still further movement — from civilized eating structured by manners to noble dining that becomes the occasion for conversation among friends, to a holy feast in which we “celebrate, in gratitude and reverence, the mysterious source of the articulated world and its generous hospitality in providing food, both for life and for thought.” [Kass, p. 198]

Enjoying a meal means, in part, enjoying it in the company of others, and there is something about eating together that nourishes human conversation and community. In fact, we must control our desire for more of the food in order to share in that good of eating. Of a “gluttonous eater who, overcome by animal compulsion towards the food that lies before him, ignores the presence of his companion, and sets to like a pig at a trough,” we are likely to say that he displays bad manners. [Roger Scruton, Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic (New York: Free Press, 1986), p. 289]

Yet, we might almost say more — that he perverts the meaning of eating. In addition to bodily nourishment, the only good of eating discerned by Augustine, Kass characterizes “the higher and deeper yearnings” of our nature in a way that captures what we can call only another good of eating: “pointings toward community and friendship (encouraged by gracious manners and the adornments of the table); pointings toward discernment and understanding (encouraged by tasteful dining and lively conversation); and yearnings for a relation to the divine (encouraged by a ritual sanctification of the meal).” [Kass, p. 228]

All this has its ground, of course, in human necessity. We must eat to live. Kass’s account does not denigrate this ground; indeed, it accentuates and affirms it, acknowledging and approving our animality. Nevertheless, the good of eating is also something more than satisfying hunger or preserving life. This deeper, distinctively human, good is experienced not as something external to eating — not as an end to which eating is a means — but in and through the meal itself.

The necessity of eating is sweet, but for reasons rather different from those that impressed themselves upon Augustine. “Necessity — our bodily neediness — cannot only be humanized; meeting it knowingly and deliberately can also be humanizing. For those who understand both the meaning of eating and their own hungry soul, necessity becomes the mother of the specifically human virtues: freedom, sympathy, moderation, beautification, taste, liberality, tact, grace, wit, gratitude, and, finally, reverence.”

[Kass, p. 229. Let us give Augustine his due even here, however. It may sometimes -- often? -- be hard to know whether we are simply delighting in the good of civilized eating, noble dining, and holy feasting or enjoying the thought of ourselves as people capable of doing so. No one sees more clearly than Augustine how deeply buried within us is the power of self-deception and how difficult -- finally impossible -- it is for us to know ourselves as we truly are. What began in the necessity of feeding and was transformed into human eating (dining and feasting) may become a new necessity that wraps us in the "sweetness" of its own chains.]

Augustine’s analysis of the good of eating is not so much wrong, therefore, as it is incomplete. The biological good of eating is indeed that it nourishes our life, and there is no doubt that eating gives a pleasure that may be separated from that good and sought for its own sake — sought, even, in ways that could ultimately undermine the good of health. But as a human activity, eating also realizes another, more complicated good — the human community that a shared meal can constitute. Thus, eating serves two purposes: it nourishes our bodily life, and it incarnates conversation and community. A life that lacked either good of eating would lack something important and significant for human life.

This does not mean, of course, that both purposes must be served every time we eat. Sometimes these goods are held closely together in an act of eating; at other times they are not. I may eat by myself, simply because I am hungry and need nourishment. I may share a meal with others for the sake of their company even when I am not hungry and have no need of nourishment.

To separate the goods of eating in such ways does not necessarily dishonor or turn against either. One could, to be sure, separate these goods in ways that would be evil. One could feast so often and so sumptuously with friends that one’s health was harmed, or one could eat only to stay alive, regularly declining the invitation to fellowship that a shared meal can occasion. But not every separation of the goods of eating goes wrong in such ways. We must look at any such separation in all its particularity in order to judge its moral reality.

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Augustine on the Appetites 1 – G. Meilaender

July 9, 2013

Saint Augustine in His Study, is a painting by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, finished around 1490-1494. It is housed in the Uffizi, in Florence.

Saint Augustine in His Study, is a painting by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, finished around 1490-1494. It is housed in the Uffizi, in Florence.

 

Saint Augustine formulated the classic Christian understanding of desire, that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God.” Gilbert Meilaender maintains that this frustrated desire lies at the heart of our existence. In The Way That Leads There he takes Augustine as a “conversation partner” for exploring subjects that human beings have wrestled with for centuries — desire, duty, politics, sex, and grief. Meilaender’s carefully reasoned insightful work rescues Augustine from many of our misperceptions and interacts meaningfully with both C. S. Lewis and Catholic moral theology, generating insights on difficult topics. The picture of life that emerges in these pages is one of incompleteness, of our inability to perfect and unify our moral lives. Yet this inability is not a cause for despair; it is rather a call to look, with Augustine, to God as the source and object of our greatest desire.

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Politics is not the only realm of life from which we might ask more than it can provide. Desire is at least as at home in areas of life less public and political, more intimate and personal. And just as the search for wholeness or completion within the political realm can become a kind of religious quest, so also can the desire for sexual union. It is no accident that eros is, in its deepest dimension, a longing for the divine. It is important therefore that such pretensions, just as much as our political pretensions, be chastened by duty.

Thinking with Augustine — even when we have to correct him, as we will — may help remind us that sexual love is not simply an act of fulfillment or gratification, but also an act of renunciation; for it directs us away from ourselves toward both the loved one and the next generation.

In a world such as ours, in which we are hard pressed to agree on any moral requirement other than consent, it is all too easy to regard the body — especially in its sexual nature – as merely available for our use in the satisfaction of desire. Thinking with Augustine about this is especially helpful, for precisely because he shares (from his quite different angle of vision) some of the defects of our own way of thinking, he may force us to do better.

Despite what undergraduates are often still taught, it is inaccurate to say that the mature Augustine condemned either the body or sexual pleasure. His turn from the Manichees was a real one.

[Kim Power, Veiled Desire: Augustine on Women (New York: Continuum, 1996), p.107: "[T]he criticism that Manichaeism always influenced Augustine to some extent is difficult to support unequivocally.” Cf. also Paul Ramsey, “Human Sexuality in the History of Redemption,” Journal of Religious Ethics i6 (Spring 1988): 6o: “Augustine does not say that there is anything shameful about the body, the genital organs or their connection and movement in coitus. What he finds shameful is the operation of sexuality without the personal presence of the man and woman in it.“]

What is true, however, is that desire for sexual pleasure, at least as fallen human beings experience such desire, was for him deeply suspect. He returns time and again to this issue, especially in his anti-Pelagian writings, but also in other, more general contexts.

Thus, in Book II of the City of God, having completed his long critique of Roman politics and religion, Augustine turns to the origin of the two cities in the creation of angels and then humankind. Death follows upon human sin, but Augustine detours in Book 13 to emphasize that when God overcomes death it will be in a risen body, not just in a soul. At the beginning of Book 14 he takes pains in several ways to make clear that being “bodily” is not itself a problem.

He notes, for example, that the “sins of the flesh” spoken of in the Bible are not only sensual (e.g., lust and drunkenness) but also spiritual (e.g., quarrelsomeness and jealousy). Moreover, sins of the flesh are attributed even to Satan, who of course has no body. Augustine then proceeds in Book 14 to reject the Stoic ideal of apatheia — as if it were right for us to try to live without experiencing the passions of bodily life. Even though certain emotions (such as fear) will not exist in heaven, he argues that there would be something inhuman about trying to remove them from this temporal life.

That discussion leads him quite naturally to a consideration of the first, unfallen, human beings in paradise. What passions would they have experienced, and how would their experience have been altered by sin? Here Augustine focuses on sexual desire, arguing that unfallen and properly integrated desire would have been very different from the desire we now experience — and, indeed, that our unintegrated desires are a manifestation of and punishment for sin.

In the long development of Christian thought and institutions, especially within Roman Catholicism, Augustine’s deeply influential analysis of sexual desire gave rise to the view that it is wrong to separate the pleasure of the sexual act from the procreative good of marriage.

This meant, from one angle, a condemnation of contraception, which makes available the pleasure of the act while simultaneously forestalling the possibility that coitus may result in children. And it meant, from another angle, a condemnation of technologies of assisted reproduction, attempting, as they do, to produce a child apart from coitus.

By thinking with Augustine, I aim to reconsider these questions. Put a little too simply for the moment, I hope to explain where his depiction of contraceptive intercourse goes awry, how it might be corrected, and why, if uncorrected, it might actually lead one to endorse rather than condemn techniques of assisted reproduction.

Only, I think, by jettisoning the view of sexual desire that leads Augustine to condemn deliberately non-procreative coitus is it really possible to make a persuasive case against assisted reproduction. Thus, I hope to dislodge the tight connection that Roman Catholic thought has often seen between these two issues — condemning, as it has, both contraceptive intercourse and assisted reproduction — in order to understand how and why one might approve the first but not the second.

I will take a long way round to this goal, however, beginning, in a sense, where Augustine himself began, with the question: What would sinless, rightly integrated, sexual desire have been like in paradise? And to ask that question with Augustine, it may be useful to start by attending not to sex but to food.

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The Great Sinner Who Became The Great Saint St. Augustine Of Hippo 354- 430 – Marianne Dorman

September 5, 2012

Marianne Dorman writes a great introduction to St. Augustine by threading together a series of quotes from his works. Just a great job. Her site is here. Lots of good stuff there. And you can find links and intros to her books here. Her work is reminiscent of Fr. Thomas Hand’s featured earlier on payingattentiontothesky.

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At the beginning of his Confessions Augustine writes, “Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you. He bears about him the mark of death, the sign of his own sin, to remind him that you ‘thwart the proud.’ But still, since he is part of your creation, he wishes to praise you. The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

Grant me, O Lord, to know and understand
Whether I must first pray to you before I praise you,
Or whether I must first know you before I pray.
Is it possible to pray without knowing you first?
Those who do not know you could be misled into praying to others
But what if to be known you have to be invoked?
How can people pray to one they have not believed in?
And how can they believe
In one of whom they have not heard?
Those who seek the Lord will praise him
Because he who seeks him finds him,
And he who has found him
Cannot help but sing his praises.
May I seek you, O Lord, as I call upon you,
And call on you as I believe in you,
Because at last we have heard the good news of you.
My faith calls to you O Lord,
The faith that you have given me
And instilled in me,
Through your Son made man,
And thanks to him
Who has preached the good news of you to us. I.1.

The Confessions is one of the most beautiful books ever written as it unfolds Augustine’s conversion to Christianity, and his past life of debauchery, but stressing in the midst of all that, that you were always present and you mercy hovered faithfully over me, to bring me at last to the true Wisdom I sought, Jesus Christ. Indeed it is a book of praise to God for His infinite love and patience. Furthermore it is a book of deep prayer in that search for Wisdom and Truth. It is also a journey of faith.

I was so slow to love you, Lord.
Your age-old beauty is still as new to me:
I was slow to love you!
You were within me,
Yet I stayed outside
Seeking you there;
In my ugliness I grabbed at
The beautiful things of your creation.
Already you were with me,
But I was still far from you.
The things of this world kept me away: I did not know then
That if they had not existed through you
They would not have existed at all.
Then you called me
And your cry overcame my deafness;
You shone out
And your light overcame my blindness;
You surrounded me with your fragrance
And I breathed it in,
So that now I yearn for more of you;
I tasted you
And now I am hungry and thirsty for you;
You touched me,
And now I burn with longing for your peace. (X.27.)

St. Augustine who was born in the small town of Thagaste in the Roman province of Numidia, North Africa in 354 is undoubtedly the greatest philosopher and theologian of Late Antiquity, and his Confessions together with City of God are classics in the Western Church. No theologian has shaped Western theology so much, not only in his own time, but also in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and some of the Continental Reformers, especially Calvin. The latter’s teaching on predestination was based on Augustine’s theology. When analyzing Augustine’s theology one must always bear in mind that it was a product of his own life  a great sinner turned saint. So for example, the doctrine of original sin, has to be seen in the light of Augustine’s own concupiscence in his early years.

Augustine’s father, Patrick was not a Christian until his death-bed, but his mother Monika was a devout believer. Although he had one of the most saintly mothers who have graced this earth, Augustine as a youth spurned her Christian religion, and found more delight in boyish pranks, such as stealing food from his parents’ cellar and the neighbor’s orchard, and adolescent depravity. “I ran wild in the shadowy jungle of erotic aventures.” (II.1) “Where was I in the sixteenth year of the age of my flesh? ‘Far away in exile from the pleasures of your house’.” Micah 2.9) (II. 4) He lived this depraved life despite being a catechumen and his asking for baptism when he was ill as small boy. However on recovery he deferred the sacrament. But Monnica always believed that despite her son’s wandering from the Christian faith he would one day be converted. It became her most constant prayer for over 30 years.

He may have rejected Christianity in his early life, but not learning. He was blessed with intellectual gifts, and when he went to Carthage to study Law he read Cicero’s Hortensius. That book had a tremendous influence on Augustine, and led him to a study of philosophy, and in particular to search for Truth and Wisdom. I wanted “to love wisdom itself, whatever it might be, and to search for it, pursue it, hold it, and embrace it firmly,” he writes. VIII.7

He first tried to find this with the Manichees who stressed purity of life by avoiding all manifestations of evil. Mancheism was a Persian dualistic philosophy based on the conflict between good and evil. He followed this philosophy for nine years, but eventually realised its hopelessness as a philosophy for life. Augustine was still searching, and wanting to know the origin of evil. “How I cried out in grief, while my heart was in labour! Even when I bore the pain of my search valiantly, the mute sufferings of my soul were loud voices calling to your mercies. You knew what I endured.”  “I was trying to find the origin of evil, but I was quite blind to the evil in my own method of research.” VII.5

Augustine was a born teacher. He began by opening his own school at Thagaste where he taught Rhetoric, but soon moved to Carthage where he found students undisciplined, and so he went to Rome to teach, believing that students there were more disciplined. Then he had an opportunity to teach in Milan. He jumped at this opportunity as he had heard of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan’s reputation as a great orator. As he writes :

My heart warmed to him, not at first as a teacher of the truth, which I had quite despaired of finding in your church, but simply as a man who showed me kindness. I listened attentively when he preached to the people, though not with the proper intention; for my purpose was to judge for myself whether the reports of his powers as a speaker were accurate.V.13.

Augustine at that stage was not concerned about what Ambrose said about Christianity, but only in the style of his delivery. Yet he recalls, “Unknown to me, it was you who led me to him, so that I might knowingly be led by him to you.” “You saw me and it pleased you to transform all that was misshapen.” V.14

Still Augustine was dabbling in other studies, even astrology, to find the Truth of which he was despairing to find “Where were you hiding from me?” Yet “step by step, unwittingly, I was coming closer to you.” He relates how he came under the influence of the neo-Platonists, and how Sunday by Sunday he listened to the great Ambrose whose discourses taught Augustine a very different way of interpreting the Bible. “I grew more certain that it was possible to unravel the tangle woven by those who had deceived me with their cunning lies against the Scriptures” (namely the Manchees). “From now on I began to prefer the Catholic teaching,” and wanted to accept the Scriptures as inspired by the Holy Spirit who could tell no lie. VI.3.

Here is my heart, O God,
Here it is with all its secrets;
Look into my thoughts,
O my hope,
And take away all my wrong feelings:
Let my eyes ever be on you
And release my feet from the snare. IV.6.

Augustine’s heart was warming towards God:

“I was astonished that although I now loved you and not some phantom in your place. I did not persist in enjoyment of my God. Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged away from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world.  But your memory remained with me and I had no doubt at all that you were the one to whom I should cling, only I was not yet able to cling to you.” VII.17

And so the morality of his own life did not change. He even contemplated marriage into some rich family. So his mistress of fifteen years and the mother of his son, Adeodatus, had to be sent back to Carthage. The parting was painful on both sides. After her departure he took other fleeting mistresses. Make me pure but not quite yet! As he writes, “I was sinning more and more”. But “as my misery grew worse and worse, you came closer to me. Though I did not know it, your hand was poised ready to life me from the mire and wash me clean.” VIII. 1

O Lord my God, how eternally great are your hidden depths
And how far have the consequences of my sins dragged me from them!
Heal my vision that I may rejoice with you in the light.
Indeed, if there existed a mind so gifted
In abundant knowledge as to know all things, past and future,
As I know all things, past and future,
As I know all the notes of a song,
It would be wonderful thing and to be held in awe,
Because nothing past or future would be concealed from it;
Just as when I sing
I know how much I have already sung since the beginning
and how much remains until the end.
Nonetheless, I would be in a sorry state if I thought that you,
the creator of the universe, Creator of our minds and bodies,
Had no more knowledge than this of things to come and of those past!
You are far more wonderful, far more mysterious!
For you, who are eternal and unchanging, the everliving creator of our minds,
it is not merely a successions of impressions or prolonged sensations,
As for someone who sings or listens to music.
Just as you knew heaven and earth in the beginning,
without any change in your knowledge,
So you created heaven and earth in the beginning
without any change in your actions.
Whoever understands this exalts you,
but so too do those who do not understand.
How great you are! Even the most humble are part of your family:
You indeed, lift those who have fallen, and those
Whose place their own greatness in you never fail. XI.31

He sought out Simplicianus, the spiritual father of Ambrose for help in his drifting “from error to error”, and in “the captive of my sin” and the holy man told him about the conversion of another, Victorinus, which deeply moved Augustine. This was soon followed by that wonderful experience in the garden where Augustine was living. In his agony of indecision, putting off that moment of commitment, he heard the voice of a child nearby singing, “Take it and read, take and read.” “I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read the first passage on which my eyes should fall.” Augustine had remembered the experience of Antony, the hermit, when he heard the Gospel being read, “Go home, and sell of that you have”, and so he picked up the holy book containing Paul’s epistles and opened it. His eyes fell on Romans 13.13-4 “‘Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather arm yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites.’”  That was enough. As Augustine tells us:

“I had no wish to read more and no need to do so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all darkness of doubt was dispelled.” I went to tell my mother who was overjoyed. “For she saw that you had granted her far more than she used to ask in her tearful prayers and plaintive lamentations. You converted me to yourself and you ‘turned her sadness into rejoicing,’ unto joy fuller than her dearest wish, far sweeter and more chaste than she had hoped to find in children begotten of the flesh.” IX.4.

“How sweet it was all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I once feared to lose and was now glad to reject! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure,  at last my mind was free from the gnawing anxieties of ambition and gain, [and] from wallowing in filth I began to talk to you freely, O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”IX.1.

“The day came when my release from the profession of rhetoric was to become a reality, just as, in my mind, I was free from it already. The deed was done, and you rescued my tongue, as you had already rescued my heart.  For I remember the kind of man I was, O Lord, and it is a sweet task how you tamed me by pricking my heart with your goad.  How I cried out to you, my God, when I read the Psalms of David, those hymns of faith, those songs of a pious heart in which the spirit of pride can find no place! I was new to your true love. I was a catechumen living at leisure in that country house with Alypius, a catechumen like myself, and my mother who never left us. She has the weak body of a woman but the strong faith of a man,  a mother’s love for her son, and the devotion of a Christian. How I cried out to you when I read those Psalms! How they set me on fire with love of you!”IX.4

“I was lost in wonder and joy, meditating upon your far-reaching providence for the salvation of the human race. The tears flowed from me when I heard your hymns and canticles, for the sweet singing of your Church moved me deeply. The music surged in my ears, truth seeped into my heart, and my feelings of devotions overflowed, so that tears streamed down. But they were tears of gladness.”IX.6

On the Easter Vigil 387 Augustine was baptized by the great Ambrose.

“Come, O Lord, and stir our hearts. Call us back to yourself. Kindle your fire in us and carry us away. Let us scent your fragrance and taste your sweetness. Let us love you and hasten to your side.”

Augustine realized:

“Eternal Truth, true Love, beloved Eternity  all this, my God, you are, and it is to you that I sigh by night and day. When first I knew you, you raised me up so that I could see that there was something to be seen, but also I was not able to see it. I gazed on you with eyes too weak to resist the dazzle of your splendour. Your light shone upon me in its brilliance, and I thrilled with love and dread alike. I realized that I was far away from you. It was as though I were in a land where all is different from your own and I heard your voice calling from on high, saying, ‘I am the food of full-grown men. Grow and you shall feed on me.’” VII. 10

After that momentous occasion Augustine with his Mother and younger brother made their way towards Ostia to sail to North Africa and back home. Before sailing Monnica died, a very moving and sad time for Augustine. How can I live without you, exclaimed Augustine?

I closed her eyes; and there flowed a great sadness into my heart, and it was passing into tears, when mine eyes at the same time, by the violent control of my mind, sucked back the fountain dry, and woe was me in such a struggle! But, as soon as she breathed her last the boy Adeodatus burst out into wailing, but, being checked by us all, he became quiet. In like manner also my own childish feeling, which was, through the youthful voice of my heart, finding escape in tears, was restrained and silenced. For we did not consider it fitting to celebrate that funeral with tearful plaints and groanings; for on such wise are they who die unhappy, or are altogether dead, wont to be mourned. But she neither died unhappy, nor did she altogether die. For of this were we assured by the witness of her good conversation her “faith unfeigned,” and other sufficient grounds. IX.12

Augustine narrates how he held back his tears and grief during her funeral.

“I did not weep even during the prayers  [although] I was secretly weighed down with grief.” Afterwards when his grief gave way, he pours out of his soul:

But,-my heart being now healed of that wound, in so far as it could be convicted of a carnal affection,-I pour out unto Thee, O our God, on behalf of that Thine handmaid, tears of a far different sort, even that which flows from a spirit broken by the thoughts of the dangers of every soul that dieth in Adam. And although she, having been “made alive” in Christ even before she was freed from the flesh had so lived as to praise Thy name both by her faith and conversation, yet dare I not say that from the time Thou didst regenerate her by baptism, no word went forth from her mouth against Thy precepts. And it hath been declared by Thy Son, the Truth, that ‘Whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.’ And woe even unto the praiseworthy life of man, if, putting away mercy, Thou shouldest investigate it. But because Thou dost not narrowly inquire after sins, we hope with confidence to find some place of indulgence with Thee. But whosoever recounts his true merits to Thee, what is it that he recounts to Thee but Thine own gifts? Oh, if men would know themselves to be men; and that ‘he that glorieth’ would ‘glory in the Lord!’IX. 12

I then, O my Praise and my Life, Thou God of my heart, putting aside for a little her good deeds, for which I joyfully give thanks to Thee, do now beseech Thee for the sins of my mother. Hearken unto me, through that Medicine Of our wounds who hung upon the tree, and who, sitting at Thy right hand, ‘maketh intercession for us.’ I know that she acted mercifully, and from the heart forgave her debtors their debts; do Thou also forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech Thee; ‘enter not into judgment’ with her. Let Thy mercy be exalted above Thy justice, because Thy words are true, and Thou hast promised mercy unto ‘the merciful;’ which ‘Thou gavest them to be who wilt have mercy’ on whom Thou wilt ‘have mercy,’ and wilt ‘have compassion’ on whom Thou hast had compassion. IX. 13

Happy is he who loves you
And loves his friend in you,
And loves his enemy in your name!
It is surely he alone
Who never loses a dear one
Because all are dear to him,
Through him who is never lost,
Through our God;
God who created heaven and earth
Fills them with his presence,
Just as he created them
By filling them with himself.
No one can lose you
If he does not go away from you;
And if he does go away from you,
Where will he go,
Where will he escape, far from your goodness,
Except to run into your anger?
And then in his anguish he will find your Word,
Your Word which is truth,
And the truth is you. IV.9.

After his return to Thagaste, he founded a monastic community. This was the life he hoped to live until he died. But it was not to be as simple as he had wished. On attending the Liturgy at Hippo Regius on the coast, he was spotted by the old bishop Valerius, who insisted he be ordained. Thus against his will he was ordained, and in turn   made a bishop by popular demand  similar to how Ambrose became bishop of Milan. Thus in 397 he became bishop of Hippo and took his community to Carthage. In that same year he wrote De Trinitate against the Arians. The care of the diocese fell heavily upon his shoulders, and this was to occupy him fully for the rest of his life. He was a true pastor to his clergy and people. However that did not stop him from writing; much of which was directed against the heresies of the Church such as Pelagianism (denied the doctrine of original sin) and Donatistism (the apostatised should not be readmitted into the Church). Some of this correspondence and also his dealings with Donatists do not show Augustine in a good light. Tempering this are the innumerable spiritual letters he wrote, and his commentaries on the Psalms and other books of Scripture, and the countless sermons he delivered. In 410 Rome was sacked by the Goths, which inspired Augustine to write the City of of God (De civitate Dei).

Twenty years later Augustine died as the Roman world was dismantling all around him with the siege of Hippo by the Vandals three months before his death. Augustine left us so much in his various writings on Christian theology but nothing sums up his deep devotion to His God as this prayer from the Confessions:

My God, let me be thankful as I remember and acknowledge all your mercies. Let my whole self be steeped in love of you and all my being cry ‘lord, there is none like you!.’ ‘You have broken the chains that bound me; I will sacrifice in your honour.’ I shall tell how it was that you broke them and, when they hear what I have to tell, all who adore you will exclaim, ‘blesses be the Lord in heaven and on earth. Great and wonderful is his name.’ VIII.1.

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Augustine Of Hippo On Creation And Evolution — Alister McGrath

December 1, 2011

Augustine Of Hippo

Alister Edgar McGrath is an Anglican priest, theologian, and Christian apologist, currently Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at Kings College London and Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture. He was previously Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, and was principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford until 2005.

McGrath is noted for his work in historical, systematic, and scientific theology, as well as his writings on apologetics and his opposition to antireligionism. He holds both a DPhil (in molecular biophysics) and an earned Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Oxford. He recently launched a website that features many of his articles and writings here.

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THE DARWIN CELEBRATIONS OF 2009 showcased many religious issues, one being how the great creation narratives of the Old Testament are to be interpreted.’ Many Christians assume that the church’s long tradition of faithful biblical exegesis has always treated the biblical creation accounts as straightforward historical accounts of how everything came into being. In fact, things are rather more interesting, and in this chapter we shall explore why.

I have already spoken several times of one of the most respected early Christian biblical scholars, Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Augustine interpreted Scripture a thousand years before the “Scientific Revolution” of our modern period and fifteen hundred years before Darwin’s Origin of Species. There is just no way Augustine can be considered to have “accommodated” or “compromised” his biblical interpretation in order to fit in new theories about the big bang or natural selection. He set out to interpret Scripture on its own terms, faithfully and carefully. In fact, he even criticized those who tried to adapt their biblical interpretation to the latest scientific theories. The important thing was to let Scripture speak for itself.

Augustine wrestled with Genesis 1-2 throughout his career. There are at least four points in his writings where he attempts to develop a detailed, systematic account of how these chapters are to be understood. Each is subtly different. Here I would like to consider The Literal Meaning of Genesis, which was written between 401 and 415. Augustine intended this to be a “literal” commentary (meaning “in the sense intended by the author”).

Augustine discerns the following themes in his reading of Scripture and weaves them together into his account of creation. God brought everything into existence in a single moment of creation. Yet the created order is not static. God endowed it with the capacity to develop. Augustine uses the image of a dormant seed to help his readers grasp this point.

God creates seeds, which will grow and develop at the right time. Using more technical language, Augustine asks his readers to think of the created order as containing divinely embedded causalities that emerge or evolve at a later stage. Yet Augustine has no time for any notion of random or arbitrary changes within creation. The development of God’s creation is always subject to God’s sovereign providence. The God who planted the seeds at the moment of creation also governs and directs the time and place of their growth.

Augustine argues that the first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:3) cannot be interpreted in isolation but must be set alongside the second creation account (Genesis 2:4-25), as well as every other statement about the creation found in Scripture. For example, Augustine suggests that Psalm 33:6-9 speaks of an instantaneous creation of the world through God’s creative Word, while John 5:17 points to a God who is still active within creation. God created the world in an instant but continues to develop and mold it, even to the present day. This leads Augustine to suggest that the six days of creation are not to be understood chronologically. Rather, they are a way of categorizing God’s work of creation. They provide a framework for the classification of the elements of the created world so they may be better understood and appreciated.

Augustine was deeply concerned that biblical interpreters might get locked into reading the Bible according to the scientific assumptions of the age. This, of course, is what happened during the Copernican controversies of the late sixteenth century. Biblical interpreters, who already held that the sun revolved around the earth, read the Bible in the light of this controlling assumption. Unsurprisingly, the Bible was then held to support a geocentric view of the solar system. Some church leaders mistakenly interpreted challenges to this erroneous idea in the sixteenth century as a challenge to the authority of the Bible itself. It was not, of course. It was a challenge to one specific interpretation of the Bible — an interpretation, as it happened, in urgent need of review.

Augustine anticipated this point a millennium earlier. Certain biblical passages, he insisted, can legitimately be understood in different ways. The important thing is that these interpretations must not be wedded to prevailing scientific theories. Otherwise, the Bible becomes the prisoner of what was once believed to be scientifically true.

In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it.

Augustine’s approach allowed theology to avoid becoming trapped in a prescientific worldview. It is important to appreciate that he faced significant cultural pressure to adapt his biblical interpretations to prevailing thinking. For example, many leading contemporary scientists of the late classical era regarded the Christian view of creation from nothing (ex nihilo) as utter nonsense. Claudius Galen (129-200), celebrity physician to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, dismissed it as a logical and metaphysical absurdity. Augustine noted the resistance of his culture to this notion, but believed that the biblical texts required him to affirm it. It was an integral part of the web of Christian doctrine, a coherent set of interlocking ideas.

This doctrine of “creation from nothing” had some important implications. For example, Augustine argues that Scripture teaches that time is part of the created order. God created space and time together, so time must therefore be thought of as one of God’s creatures and servants. Time is an element of the created order; timelessness, on the other hand, is the essential feature of eternity.

So what was God doing before he created the universe? Augustine undermines the question by pointing out that God did not bring creation into being at a certain definite moment in time, because time did not exist prior to creation. For Augustine, eternity is a realm without space or time. Interestingly, this is precisely the state of affairs that many scientists believe existed before the big bang.

So what are the implications of this classic Christian interpretation of Genesis for the Darwin celebrations? One point is particularly obvious. Augustine’s exegesis of Genesis shows that a “faithful” or “authentic” interpretation of the biblical texts concerning creation does not necessarily demand a six-day period of creation. The opening chapter of Genesis must, Augustine argues, be set in context — initially, in the context of Genesis 2, and subsequently in the context of Scripture as a whole.

For Augustine the big question is this: what way of articulating the doctrine of creation makes sense of all the biblical statements on the matter and not simply the first chapter of Genesis? His own answer is hardly the last word on the matter. But it is an excellent starting point for reflection. Above all, it shows the importance of weaving the total witness of Scripture into a coherent doctrine of creation and not limiting this to Scripture’s first few dozen verses.

Augustine does not limit God’s creative action to the primordial act of origination. God is, he insists, still working within the world, directing its continuing development and unfolding its potential. There are two “moments” in the creation: a primary act of origination and a continuing process of providential guidance. Creation is thus not a completed past event. God is working even now, in the present, Augustine writes, sustaining and directing the unfolding of the “generations that he laid up in creation when it was first established.”

This twofold focus on the creation allows us to read Genesis in a way that affirms that God created everything from nothing, in an instant. However, it also helps us affirm that the universe has been created with an intended capacity to develop, under God’s sovereign guidance. Thus the primordial state of creation does not correspond to what we presently observe. For Augustine God created a universe that was deliberately designed to develop and evolve. The blueprint for that evolution is not arbitrary but is programmed into the very fabric of creation God’s providence superintends the continuing unfolding of the created order.

Earlier Christian writers noted how the first Genesis creation narrative speaks of the earth and the waters “bringing forth” living creatures. They concluded that this pointed to God’s endowing the natural order with a capacity to generate living things. Augustine takes this idea further: God created the world complete with a series of dormant powers, which were actualized at appropriate moments through divine providence. Augustine argues that Genesis 1:12 implies that the earth received the power or capacity to produce things by itself: “Scripture has stated that the earth brought forth the crops and the trees causally, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth.”

Where some might think of the creation as God’s insertion of new kinds of plants and animals ready-made into an already existing world, Augustine rejects this as inconsistent with the overall witness of Scripture. Rather, God must he thought of as creating in that very first moment the potencies for all the kinds of living things to come later, including humanity.

This means that the first creation account describes the instantaneous bringing into existence of primal matter, including causal resources for further development. The second account explores how these causal possibilities emerged and developed from the earth. Taken together, the two Genesis creation accounts declare that God made the world instantaneously, while envisioning that the various kinds of living things would make their appearance gradually over time — as they were intended to by their Creator.

The image of the “seed” implies that the original creation contained within it the potential for all the living kinds to subsequently emerge. This does not mean that God created the world incomplete or imperfect, in that “what God originally established in causes, he subsequently fulfilled in effects.” This process of development, Augustine declares, is governed by fundamental laws, which reflect the will of their Creator: “God has established fixed laws governing the production of kinds and qualities of beings, and bringing them out of concealment into full view.”

I must emphasize at this point that neither Augustine nor his age believed in the evolution of species. There were no reasons at that time for anyone to believe in this notion. Yet Augustine developed a theological framework that could accommodate this later scientific development, though his theological commitments would prevent him from accepting any idea of the development of the universe as a random or lawless process. For this reason Augustine would have opposed the strict Darwinian notion of random variations, insisting that God’s providence is deeply involved throughout, directing a process in manners and ways that lie beyond full human comprehension.

Let’s be clear about this: Augustine isn’t playing at being a scientist. Nor is he confusing science and theology. Augustine is not contradicting a scientific account of origins; rather, he is setting it within a theological scaffolding. Scientific analysis clarifies how cosmic development takes place; Augustine’s theological framework clarifies how God is involved in this development.

Augustine’s approach to creation is neither liberal nor accommodationist, but is deeply biblical, both in its substance and intentions. It needs to be taken into account when Christians reflect on the themes of creation and evolution. Sloganeering and grandstanding will not help us at all here. Examining the long Christian tradition of biblical exegesis will.

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You Have Made Us For Yourself – St. Augustine

November 21, 2011

 

St. AugustineTiffany Window at the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine FL

This is the famous passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions in which Saint Augustine states “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” It is used in the Roman Office of readings for the Ninth Sunday in Ordinary time with the accompanying biblical reading of Job 28:1-28, also included here.

If you think about it, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you,” really forms the basis for the Christian assertion that God’s existence need not be “proven” in any way for the knowledge of his existence comes with the territory of simply being human and sharing in the glory of his creation. That is not to deprecate any of Thomas Aquinas’ metaphysics or any of the great Doctor’s meditations on the nature of God’s existence. Rather it is to recognize that for many, God’s existence begins with the knowledge that we already possess of him and the restlessness that occurs in our being when we sense ourselves not being ordered to His creation or abusing the imago dei in ourselves and others.

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Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning. And so we men, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you – we also carry our mortality about with us, carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud. You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

Grant me to know and understand, Lord, which comes first. To call upon you or to praise you? To know you or to call upon you? Must we know you before we can call upon you? Anyone who invokes what is still unknown may be making a mistake. Or should you be invoked first, so that we may then come to know you? But how can people call upon someone in whom they do not yet believe? And how can they believe without a preacher?

But scripture tells us that those who seek the Lord will praise him, for as they seek they find him, and on finding him they will praise him. Let me seek you then, Lord, even while I am calling upon you, and call upon you even as I believe in you; for to us you have indeed been preached. My faith calls upon you, Lord, this faith which is your gift to me, which you have breathed into me through the humanity of your Son and the ministry of your preacher.

How shall I call upon my God, my God and my Lord, when by the very act of calling upon him I would be calling him into myself? Is there any place within me into which my God might come? How should the God who made heaven and earth come into me? Is there any room in me for you, Lord, my God? Even heaven and earth, which you have made and in which you have made me – can even they contain you? Since nothing that exists would exist without you, does it follow that whatever exists does in some way contain you?

But if this is so, how can I, who am one of these existing things, ask you to come into me, when I would not exist at all unless you were already in me? Not yet am I in hell, after all but even if I were, you would be there too; for if I descend into the underworld, you are there. No, my God, I would not exist, I would not be at all, if you were not in me.

Or should I say, rather, that I should not exist if I were not in you, from whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things? Yes, Lord, that is the truth, that is indeed the truth. To what place can I invite you, then, since I am in you? Or where could you come from, in order to come into me? To what place outside heaven and earth could I travel, so that my God could come to me there, the God who said, I fill heaven and earth?

Who will grant it to me to find peace in you? Who will grant me this grace, that you should come into my heart and inebriate it, enabling me to forget the evils that beset me and embrace you, my only good? What are you to me? Have mercy on me, so that I may tell. What indeed am I to you, that you should command me to love you, and grow angry with me if I do not, and threaten me with enormous woes? Is not the failure to love you woe enough in itself?

Alas for me! Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so that I can hear it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation. Let me run towards this voice and seize hold of you. Do not hide your face from me: let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed.
St. Augustine’s Confessions

Job 28:1-28
“Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore. Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness. They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people.

As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire. Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold. “That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it. The proud wild animals have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it. “They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots. They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing. The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light. “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?

Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living.

The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be gotten for gold, and silver cannot be weighed out as its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Gold and glass cannot equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; the price of wisdom is above pearls. The chrysolite of Ethiopia cannot compare with it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.

Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living, and concealed from the birds of the air. Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’ “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens.

When he gave to the wind its weight, and apportioned out the waters by measure; when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt; then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. And he said to humankind, ‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’”

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