Augustine Recap - 1 -

 

Prof. Straw

 

Department of History

 

AUGUSTINE RECAP - March 1. 1998 recaptured 2003

 

As historians studying the church as an organization which shapes the middle ages culturally, politically, socially, and economically, we must be sensitive to how such a strong organization evolved. We know that Augustine is the basis of western medieval theology: what were the concrete results of his theology for the structure of the church? How do you translate his ideals of sin, grace, humility, and obedience into a way of life for the average Christian, for the clergy who lead the church, and for monks who serve as living ideals of Christianity?

 

Augustine begins his Confessions crying that "our heart is restless until it rests in You" (I.I.I). But at the same time he tells the reader that the God who ends his search cannot be found by one's own action and will: faith allows one to seek, those who seek shall find, and those who find shall praise-but one cannot have faith without the gift of God's grace in the first place.

 

As historians we must ask ourselves why Augustine found the world so dissatisfying-what did he seek that could not be found in the world the Greeks and Romans so loved and enjoyed? And worst, why should Augustine be so pessimistic as to think that human beings can do so little to control their own fate? What has happened to the optimism of the classical philosopher or hero who contested for honor and precedence and fought any who would dare impugn his excellence? It has vanished and such confidence will only return in the Italian Renaissance.

 

The Late Antique world of Augustine had been destabilized in the fourth century, not only by the threat of barbarian invasions, but also by dissent within the church. Heretics such as Arians, Donatists, and Pelagians threatened the church with schism, while the pagan aristocracy still could intimidate upwardly mobile Christians such as Augustine with their learned traditions of rhetoric and philosophy. Pagan culture was still dominant, though Christianity was an increasingly important counter-culture.

 

In this confusing milieu, Augustine suffers crises of values and meaning which many of us experience in any time and place. What REALLY matters? What do I want out of life? Who am I? What is life all about anyway? The answers were not at all obvious. Pagan tradition offered philosophy in Cicero's Hortensius. but Augustine had had enough exposure to Christianity to want the name of Christ. But the orthodox Christianity of his mother offended Augustine's aesthetic sensibilities with its simple prose, nor could he understand the need for the Old

 

Testament. Worse, it offered no explanation for evil if it presumed an omnipotent God-thus the long infatuation with the Manichees who posited an evil force opposed to God, and identified the unredeemed with the Old Testament.

 

As any sensible young person would, Augustine looked around him, evaluating and judging what life had to offer. All things of this world: sex, food and drink, good times with friends, plays and gladiatorial games, even success in education and profession were weighed and found wanting. He is "in love with love and hated the path free from snares" (2.1.1). Joy was "painful chains of iron" and "burning rods of jealousy suspicion, fear anger and quarreling" (3.1.1.).

 

Why such disgust? Why does Augustine liken the love of the world's joys to prurient sores whose itch only increases the infection? What does God offer?

 

"Sure joy" is Augustine's answer (6.6.9), a happiness which is everlasting, and satisfies fully the emptiness gnawing his heart and mind. Such complete satisfaction can only come from a spiritual love, for everything earthly is unstable, changing and passing away. He writes in 10.6.8:


 

 

Augustine Recap - 2 -

 

What is it then I love when I love you? Not bodily beauty, and not temporal glory, not the clear shining light, welcome as it is to our eyes, not the sweet melodies of harmonies and song; not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes and spices; not manna nor honey; not limbs as the body delights to embrace. Ad yet, when I love him, it is true that I love a light of a certain kind, a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace; but they are of the kind that I love in my inner self, when my soul is bathed in light that is not bound by space; when it listens to sound that never dies away; when it breathes fragrance that is not borne away on the wind; when it tastes food that is never consumed by eating; when it clings to an embrace from which is it not severed by fulfillment of desire. This is what I love when I love my God. (10.6.8)

 

What is this invisible realm of the spiritual that satisfies his hunger? In some ways it is the old Platonic world of the invisible Form and Ideal residing in a realm beyond corporal appearances. Can you imagine being so devoted to an ideal that you would sacrifice anything for it—such as Ghandi did for the liberation of India, or civil rights workers for voters in Mississippi, or Buddhist monks protesting the war in Vietnam? One can indeed love (or in Freudian terms "cathect") such pure, invisible ideals and be enlightened and enlivened by their beauty and force. What separates us from the beasts if it is not this moral and spiritual capacity to transcend mere carnal life?

 

Augustine writes of his longing and love:

 

I long for innocence and justice, graceful and splendid in eyes whose sight in undefiled. My longing fills me and yet it cannot cloy. With them is certain peace and life that cannot be disturbed. The man who enters their domain goes "to share the joy of his Lord" (Mt. 25:21) He shall know no fear and shall lack no good. In him this is goodness itself he shall find his own best way of life. . . (2.10.18).

 

If we settle for less, if we err in loving the creation itself God made instead of loving the Creator who made it, we can never be happy: for whatever way the soul of man turns, it is fixed upon sorrows anyplace except in you, even though it is fixed upon beautiful things that are outside of you and outside itself. (4.10.15).

 

When his friend dies in book four, Augustine is shattered. "Why did that sorrow penetrate so easily into my deepest being unless because I had poured out my soul upon the sand by loving a man soon to die as though he were one who would never die" (4.8.13). Only the eternal can satisfy us; all else can be lost. "For that truly exists which endures unchangeably." (7.11.17). God is supreme life and being; he is the source of everything, changeless and eternal himself (1.6.10). All which exists in the present world will pass away like the syllables of lost time (cf. 4.11.17; Shakespeare took this from Aug.) One will always hunger within if one lacks that inner and incorruptible food which is God (cf. 3.1.1).

 

Therefore, we should love and enjoy (fruor) God alone; we must only use (utor) his Creation to lead us back to the One who fashioned it: measure the tree, but praise the Creator, Augustine writes (5.4.7). In Augustine's words we commit "rebellion" and fornication" against God if we love creation instead of the Creator (2.6.14); it is "idolatry." "In this was my sin, " Augustine confesses in 1.20.31, "that not in him but in his creatures, in myself and others, did I seek pleasures, honors, and truths. So it was that I rushed into sorrow, conflict and error." This is disaster, "For whatever way the soul of man turns it is fixed upon sorrows anyplace except in you" (4.10.15).

 

Certain specific images capture this misdirection —as we noted last week. To love creation instead of the Creator is turn to the soul far away toward a "region ofunlikeness" (1.18.28); it is to leave "the One" (God) and scattered his soul "upon the many" (cf. 2.1.1.). One "wanders" on a "pilgrimage," and "flees like the prodigal son to feed on husks of swine." But significantly, to turn away from God, is also to lose one's own self. " He sought for you, not according to intellectual understanding by which you willed to raise me above brute beasts, but according to carnal sense. But you were more inward than my inmost self, and superior to my highest being " (3.6.11). "I found myself to be far from you in a region of unlikeness n (7.10.16). ". . .1 remained myself an unhappy place where I could not abide and from which I could not abide nor depart. For where could my heart fly to, away from my heart? Where could I fly to apart from my own self? Where would I not pursue myself?" (4.7.12).

 


 

Augustine Recap - 3 -

 

Losing God, one is adrift, confused, and lost. We are mysteries to ourselves. When his friend dies, Augustine is overwhelmed by grief, "To myself I became a great riddle, and I questioned my soul as to why it was so sad and why it afflicted me so grievously" (4.4.9). Significantly, even with conversion, this mystery is never fully overcome because the inner will is so unpredictable, as we shall see.

 

The world is wretched, disappointing, but this is no accident. Indeed, the hand of Providence is at work, at least for the elect. We will wander and God may well let us go to teach us a lesson: "I wandered far from you and you let me go" (2.2.2). "In my pride, I wandered off, but secretly, I was ruled by you." Augustine writes (4.14.23). "7, a poor wretch, foamed over: I followed after the sweeping tide of passions and departed from you. I broke your laws, but I did not escape your scourges.. . You were always present to aid me, merciful in your anger, and charging with the greatest bitterness and disgust all my unlawful pleasures, so that I might seek after pleasure that was free from disgust, to the end that when I could find it, it would be in none but you, lord, in none but you. For you fashion sorrow into a lesson to us. You smite so that you may heal. You slay us, so that we may not die apart from you " (2.2.4). God seasons pleasures with gall, to turn Christians back to him (cf. 3.1.1). God's "omnipotence is not far from us, even when we are far from [God]" (2.2.3).

 

The "thorns" and "gall" of worldly pleasures are God's way of leading people back to Him, and this first begins by turning the Christian away from the outside world toward his inmost soul. Being thus admonished to return to myself under your leadership I entered into my inmost being. This I could do, for you became my helper. I entered there, and by my soul's eye, such as it was, I saw above that same eye of my soul, above my mind, an unchangeable light." (7.10.16)

 

When was it that you have not walked with me, 0 Truth, teaching me what to shun and what to seek.  By means of sense I gazed upon the outside world, as far as I could, and I looked upon this bodily life of mine, as so too upon these very senses of mine. From there I entered into the recesses of my memory, those manifold and spacious chambers. . .1 considered them an stood aghast, I could discern nothing of these things without you. . .1 can find no safe place for my soul except in you. In you may my scattered longings be gathered together, and from you may no part of me ever depart. . . (10.40.65). The inward journey for Augustine meant a ruthless immolation of his self-esteem. He had to admit he, not God or some alien substance, was responsible for sin. His struggles to be continent taught him that such virtues were gifts of God's grace. "Give what you command, and command what you will. You enjoin continence. "And as I knew," says a certain man, 'that no one could be continent except God gave it,' and this also was a point of wisdom to know whose gift it was [Eph. 3.20] (10.29.40; 10.30.45). Augustine had battled like Paul, his soul had one law and his body seemed to have another. To will and to know the good was not at all sufficient to accomplish the good. Augustine felt a paralysis of will:

 

"Mind commands mind to will: there is no difference here, but it does not do so. Whence this monstrous state? Why should it be? I say that it commands itself to will a thing: it would not give this command unless it willed it, and yet if does not do what it wills. It does not will it in its entirety: for this reason it does not give this command in its entirety." (8.9.21)

 

This inability to will is itself both a sin, and the punishment for the Original Sin of Adam was absolutely certain when I willed a thing or refused to will it that it was I alone who willed or refused to will. Already I was beginning to see that therein lay the cause of my sin. I saw that what I did against my will was something done to me (something suffered), rather than something I actually did. I concluded that if was not my fault, but my punishment, but I quickly confessed that I was not punished unjustly for I thought of you as being just (7.3.4).

 

He is corrected and humbled: he once would rather have seen that God was opposed by necessity and evil, rather than "confess that my mutable nature had gone astray of Us own accord and that to err was now [his] punishment" (4.15.26).

 

Only when Augustine humbles himself admitting he needs grace to be continent can he be healed. He relinquishes the pride that made him blame a Manichaean alien substance for evil: evil is ontologically nothing, for God alone exists (3.7.12; 7.5.7). Evil lies in perversity of the will, turning from God. Indeed, the human will can be so monstrous it can choose evil gratuitously. When Augustine steals pears and throws them to the pigs in book 2, he is appalled: "Foul was the deed and I loved it" (2.4.9). This deliberate transgression, this "in-your- face" willful depravity made him more despicable than the worst criminal of the ancient world-Catiline. For not even Catiline had loved his crimes.

 

Here Christ is important in two ways: Christ represents the humility one must have as a Christian to be saved; and he represents the grace giving continence. Only the soul humbled before God can expect to have his rebellious body rightly subject to his soul: the proud soul's punishment is tyrannous lust (cf. 7.7.11). Continence is the "cure" for the wandering and dispersion of soul from God, and it can be gained only through Christ:

 

 Hear you: the Word (= Christ) cries out for you to return, and with him there is a place of quiet that can never be disturbed, where your love cannot be forsaken, it itself does not forsake that place. . .you will be restored and made anew (4.11.16)

 

Our life came down to us, and he took away our death, and he slew it out of the abundance of his own life... return hence to him.. [Christ] departed from our eyes, so that we might return into our own hearts and find him there. He departed, by to, he is here. He would not stay long with us, and yet he does not leave us. . . My soul confesses to him, and he heals it, for it has sinned against him. Oyou sons of men, how long will you be dull of heart 0 . Even now after the descent of life to you, do you not wish to ascend and to live? But How can you ascend when you have set yourselves up high and have placed your mouth against heaven O? Descend, so that you may ascend, so that you may ascent to God. For you have fallen by ascending against God (4.12.19).

 

Pride was Augustine's downfall, the desire to escape responsibility for his sin, and correspondingly the pride to think that he could accomplish good on his own. "All my goods are things you have established. They are your gifts. My evils are MY misdeeds and your judgments, Augustine confesses (10.4.5). He learns to credit God even with the evils he has NOT done (2.7.15). Augustine surrenders his will to God learning "to will not what I willed but what [God] willed" (9.1.1). With this humble surrender to God's grace comes the gift of continence, which (as we noted) is the key which ends the wandering and dispersion of the soul. With such self containment, the soul focuses tenaciously on God by continence we are gathered together and brought back to the One from who we have dissipated our being into many things. So much the less does he love you who loves anything else, even together with you, which he does not love for your sake. 0 Love, who are forever aflame and are never extinguished, charity my God, set me aflame. You enjoin continence: give what you command and command what you will (10.29.40).

 

To return inwardly is to find the memory of God we all possess as Adam's progeny, even as we inherit his Original Sin (10.20.29). "The woman who has lost the drachma and searched for it with a lamp could not havefound it unless she remembered it," Augustine writes (10.18.27). A thing may disappear from sight, "but its image is retained within us and the thing is searched for until it is restored to sight. When it is found, it is recognized by the image which is within" (10.18.27).

 

Augustine writes of this search:

 

 Hear you: the Word (= Christ) cries out for you to return, and with him there is a place of quiet that can never be disturbed, where your love cannot be forsaken, it itself does not forsake that place. . .you will be restored and made anew (4.11.16)

 

Our life came down to us, and he took away our death, and he slew it out of the abundance of his

own life... return hence to him.. [Christ] departed from our eyes, so that we might return into our own hearts and find him there. He departed, by to, he is here. He would not stay long with us, and yet he behold, how far within my memory I have traveled in search of you, lord, and beyond it I have not found  you? . . Wheresoever I found thruth, there I found my God, truth itself, and since I first learned about you, you abide in my memory and I find you there wheni recall you to mind and take delight in you (10.24.35).

 

This is not to say that God is ONLY truth, for he is al Being and Goodness. But rather that Augustine finds God when he can find the spiritual reality his mind and memory embody. The spiritual mind retains memory of God, and God is rediscovered through the inward journey which discovers BOTH self and God. It is a long road of introspection, of confession of God's greatness and human humility which ends one's wandering and brings one back at last to that primary perception.

 

Too late have I loved you, 0 Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have 1 loved you! Behold, you were within me, while I was outside: it was there that I sought you and, a deformed creature, I rushed head- long upon thses things of beauty which you have made. You were within me, but I was not with you.

 

They kept me far from you, those fair things, which if they were not in you, would not even exist at all. You have called to me, and have cried out, and have shattered by deafness. You have blazed forth with light, and have shone upon me, and you have put my blindness to flight. You have sent forth fragance, and I have drawn in my breath, and I pant after you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst after you. You have touched me, and I have burned for your peace (10.27.38).

 

Even though Augustine finds God in finding himself, even though he humbles himself and lets his pride be battered and extinguished by the rod of God's discipline, this sacrifice and offering does not ensure goodness.

 

There still remains part of him which remains unpredictable and unknown. "Man is a mighty deep, whose very hairs you have numbered, 0 Lord, and they are not lessened before you. But man's hairs are easier to count than his affections and the movements of his heart" (4.14.22). Great is the power of memory, Augustine writes, and yet I do not comprehend all that I am (10.8.15) Within me are those lamentable dark areas wherein my own capacities lie hidden from me (10.32.48). Augustine even knows something of God that he does not know about himself (10.5.7). God is predictably, changelessly good, but Augustine worries that he finds music and singing just TOO beautiful, and he is anxious when his eyes delight in following a rabbit run across the green. Such excruciating scrupulosity says much about the grave difficulty of saving humanity in the fourth century. "Weep for me, weep for me," Augustine pleads. "0 Lord my God, graciously hear me, and turn you gaze upon me, and see me, and have mercy on me, and heal me. For in your sight I have become a riddle to myself and that is my infirmity" (10.33.50).