Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 20 (God and Time, and the Natural World)

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 20 (God and Time, and the Natural World)

“A fickle-minded man, whose thoughts were all astray because of his conception of time past, might wonder why you, who are God almighty, Creator of all, Sustainer of all, and Maker of heaven and earth, should have been idle and allowed countless ages to elapse before you finally undertook the vast work of creation. My advice to such people is to shake off their dreams and think carefully, because their wonder is based on a misconception.

How could those countless ages have elapsed when you, the Creator in whom all ages have their origin, had not yet created them? What time could there have been that was not created by you? How could time elapse if it never was?

You are the Maker of all time. If, then, there was any time before you made heaven and earth, how can anyone say that you were idle? You must have made that time, for time could not elapse before you made it.

But if there was not time before heaven and earth were created, how can anyone ask what you were doing ‘then’? if there was no time, there was no ‘then’.

Furthermore, although you are before time, it is not in time that you precede it. If this were so, you would not be before all time. I it s in eternity, which is supreme over time because it is a never-ending present, that you are at once before all past time and eternall al future time. For what is now the future, once it comes, will become the past, whereas you are unchanging, your years can never fail. Your years neither go nor come, but our years pass and others come after them, so that they all may come in their turn. Your years are completely present to you all at once, because they are at a permanent standstill. They do not move on, forced to give way before the advance of others, because they never pass at all. But our years will all be complete only when they have all moved into the past. Your years are one day, yet your day does not come daily but is always today, because your today does not give place to any tomorrow nor does it take the place of any yesterday. Your today is eternity. An this is how the Son, to whom you said I have begotten you this day, was begotten co-eternal with yourself, You made all time; you are before all time; and the ‘time’, if such we may call it, when there was no time was not time at all.

It is therefore true to say that when you had not made anything, there was not time, because time itself was of your making. And no time is co-eternal with you, because you never change; whereas, if time never changed, it would not be time.”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 19 (What was God doing before he made the heavens and the earth?)

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 19 (What was God doing before he made the heavens and the earth?)

“Those who ask ‘What was God doing before he made heaven and earth?’ are still steeped in error which they should have discarded.’If he was at rest’, they say, ‘and doing nothing, why did he not continue to do nothing for ever more, just as he had always done in the past? If the will to create something which he had never created before was new in him–if it was some new motion stirring in him–how can we say that his is true eternity, when a new will, which had never been before, could arise in it? For the will of God is not a created thing. It is there before any creation takes place, because nothing could be created unless the will of its Creator preceded its creation. The will of God, then, is part of his substance. Yet if something began to be in God’s substance, something which had not existed beforehand, we could not rightly say that his substance was eternal. But if God’s will that there should be creation was there from all eternity, why is it that what he has created is not also eternal?’

People who speak in this way have not learnt to understand you, Wisdom of God, Light of our minds. They do not yet understand how the things are made which come to be in you and through you. Try as they may to savour the taste of eternity, their thoughts still twist and turn upon the ebb and flow of things in past and future time. But if only their minds could be seized and held steady, they would be still for a while and, for that short moment, they would glimpse the splendour of eternity which is for ever still. They would contrast it with time, which is never still, and see that it is not comparable. They would see that time derives its length only from a great number of movements constantly following one another into the past, because they cannot all continue at once. But in eternity nothing moves into the past: all is present. Time, on the other hand, is never all present at once. The past is always driven on by the future, the future always follows on the heels of the past, and both the past and the future have their beginning and their end in the eternal present. If only men’s minds could be seized and held still! They would see how eternity, in which there is neither past nor future, determines both past and future time. Could mine be the hand strong enough to seize the minds of men? Could any words of mine have power to achieve so great a task?

My answer to those ask ‘What was God doing before he made heaven and earth?’ is not ‘He was preparing Hell for people who pry into mysteries’. This frivolous retort has been made before now, so were are told, in order to evade the point of the question. But is one thing to make fun of the questioner and another to find the answer. So I shall refrain from giving this reply. For in matters of which I am ignorant I would rather admit the fact than gain credit by giving the wrong answer and making a a laughing-stock of a man who asks a serious question.

Instead of this I will say that you, my God, are the Creator of all creation, and if we man the whole of creation when we speak of heaven and earth, I unreservedly say that before he made heaven and earth, Go made nothing. For if he did make anything, could it have been anything but a creature of his own creation? I only wish I knew everything that I could profit by knowing with as much certainty as I know that no creature was madebeforee any creation took place.”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 18 (On Jesus Christ as the Immortal and Eternal Word and Truth of God)

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 18 (On Jesus Christ as the Immortal and Eternal Word and Truth of God)

“It is in this way, then, that you mean us to understand your Word, who is God with you, God with God, your Word uttered eternally in whom all things are uttered eternally. For your Word is not speech in which each part comes to an end when it has been spoken, giving place to the next, so that finally the whole may be uttered. In your Word all is uttered at one and the same time, yet eternally. If were not so, your Word would be subject to time and change, and therefore would be neither truly eternal nor truly immortal.

This I know, my God, and I thank you for the knowledge. I know it, O Lord my God. I confess it to you. And whoever is not ungrateful for the certainty of your truth knows it and praises you for it as I do. For we know, O Lord, that the extent to which something once was, but no longer is, is the measure of its death; and the extent to which something once was not, but now is, is the measure of its beginning. Your Word, then, in no degree either gives place to anything or takes place of anything, because it is truly immortal and eternal. Therefore it is by a Word co-eternal with yourself that you say all that you say; you say all at once and the same time, yet you say all eternally; and it is by this Word that all things are made which you say are to be made. You create them by your Word alone and in no other way. Yet the things which you create by your Word do not all come into being at one and the same time, nor are they eternal.

Why is this so, O Lord God? In some degree I see what it is, but I do not know how to put it in words except by saying that whatever begins to be, or ceases to be, does so at the moment when the eternal reason knows that it should begin to be or cease to be, although in the eternal reason there is no beginning and no ending. The eternal reason is your Word, who is also the Beginning, because he also speaks to us. So he tells us in the Gospel by word of mouth. Your Word, the Beginning, made himself audible to the bodily ears of men, so that they should believe in him and, by looking for him within themselves, should find him in the eternal Truth, where the one good Master teaches all who listen to him. It is there that I hear your voice, O Lord, telling me that only a master who really teaches us really speaks to us: if he does not teach us, even though he may be speaking, it is not to us that he speaks.

But who is our teacher except the Truth which never changes? Even when we learn from created things, which are subject to change, we are les to the Truth which does not change. And there truly learn, as we stand by and listen to him and rejoice at hearing the bridegroom’s voice, restoring ourselves to him who gave us our being. He is therefore the Beginning, the abiding Principle, for unless he remained when we wandered in error, there would be none to whom we could return and restore ourselves. But when we return from error, we return by knowing the Truth; and in order that we may know the Truth, he teaches us, because he is the Beginning and he also speaks to us.”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 17 (In praise of the godly Mother)

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 17 (In praise of the godly Mother)

“There are many things which I do not set down in this book, since I am pressed for time. My God, I pray you to accept my confessions and also the gratitude I bear you for all the many things which I pass over silence. But I will omit not a word that my mind can bring to birth concerning your servant, my mother. In the flesh she brought me to birth in this world: in her heart she brought me to birth in your eternal light. It is not of her gifts that I shall speak, but of the gifts you gave to her. For she was neither her own maker nor her own teacher. It was you who made her, and neither her father nor her mother knew what kind of woman their daughter would grow up to be. It was by Christ’s teaching, by the guidance of your only Son, that she was brought to honour and obey you in one of those good Christian families which form the body of your Church…

In this way my mother was brought in modesty and temperance. It was you who taught her to obey her parents rather than they who taught her to obey you, and when she was old enough, they gave her in marriage to a man whom she served as his lord. She never ceased to try to gain him for you as a convert, for the virtues with which you have adorned her, and for which he respected, loved, and admired her, were like so many voices constantly speaking to him of you.

He was unfaithful to her, but her patience was so great that his infidelity never became a cause of quarelling between them. For she looked to you to show him mercy, hoping chastity would come with faith. Though he was remarkably kind, he had a hot temper, but my mother knew better than to say or do anything to resist him when he was angry. If his anger was unreasonable, she used to wait until he was calm and composed and then took the opportunity of explaining what she had done…

In the end she won her husband as a convert in the very last days of his life on earth. After his conversion she no longer had to grieve over those faults which had tried her patience before he was a Christian. She was also the servant of your servants. Those of them who knew her praised you, honoured you, and loved you in her, for they could feel your presence in her heart and her holy conversation gave rich proof of it. She had been faithful to one husband, had made due returns to those who gave her birth. Her own flesh and blood had had first claim on her piety, and she had a name for acts of charity. She had brought up her children and had been in travail afresh each time she saw them go astray from you.

Finally, O Lord, since by your gift you allow her to speak as your servants, she took good care of all of us when we had received the grace of your baptism and werr living as companions before she fell asleep in you. She took good care of us, as though she had been the mother of us all, and served each one as though she had been his daughter.”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 16 (Writing about God as Vocation

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 16 (Writing about God as Vocation)

“The day came when my release from the profession of rhetoric was to become a reality, just as, in my mind, I was free frol it already. The deed was done, and you rescued my tongue, as you had already rescued my heart. Praising you and full of joy I set out for the house in the country with all my friends and relations. Once we were there I began at last to serve you with my pen.

The books I wrote are evidence of this, although the old air can still be sensed in them, as though I were still panting from my exertions in the school of pride. In them are recorded the discussions I held with my friends who were with me and my deliberations with myself when I was alone in your presence… But time could never suffice for me to set down on paper all the great blessings which you bestowed upon me, particularly at that time, since I must hurry on on to tell of greater things.”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 15 (His Conversion)

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 15 (His Conversion)

“O Lord, my Helper and my Redeemer, I shall now tell and confess to the glory of your name how you released me from the fetters of lust, which held me so tightly shackled and from my slavery to the things of this world. I continued to lead my usual life, but I was growing more and more unsettled and day after day I poured my heart to you…My inner life was a house divided against itself. In the heat of the fierce conflict which I had stirred up against my soul in our common abode, my heart…

There was a small garden attached to the house where we lodged. We were free to make us of it as well as the rest of the house because our host, the owner of the house, did not live there. I now found myself driven by the tumult in my breast to take refuge in this garden, where no one could interrupt that fierce struggle, in which I was my own contestant, until it came to its conclusion. What the conclusion was to be you know, O Lord, but I did not. Meanwhile I was beside myself with madness that would bring me sanity. I was dying a death that would bring me life. I knew the evil that was in me, but the good that was soon to be born in me I did not know. So, I went out into the garden…We sat down as far as possible from the house. I was frantic, overcome by violent anger with myself for not accepting your will and entering into your covenant. Yet in my bones I knew that this was what I ought to do. In my heart of hearts, I praised it to the skies. And to reach this goal I needed no chariot or ship. I need not even walk as far as I had come from the house to the place where we sat, for to make the journey, and to arrive safely, no more was required than act of will. But it must be resolute and whole-hearted act of the will, not some lame wish which I kept turning over and over in my mind, so that it had to wrestle with itself, part of it trying to rise, part failing to the ground.

I probed the hidden depths of my soul and wrung its pitiful secrets from it, and when I mustered them all before the eyes of my heart, a great storm broke within me, bringing with it a great deluge of tears. I stood up and left Alypius so that I might weep and cry to my heart’s content, for it occurred to me that tears were best shed in solitude. I moved way far enough to avoid being embarrassed even by his presence…. Somehow I flung myself down beneath a fig tree and gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes, the sacrifice that is acceptable to you. I had much to say to you, my God, not in these very words but in this strain: Lord, will you never be content? Must we always taste your vengeance? Forget the long record of our sins. For I felt that I was still the captive of my sins, and in my misery I kept crying ‘How long shall I go on saying ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?’

I was asking myself these questions, weeping all the while with the most bitter sorrow in my heart, when all at once I heard the sing-song voice of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain ‘Take it and read, take it and read’. At this I looked up, thinking hard whether there was any kind of game in which children used to chant words like these, but I could not remember ever hearing them before. 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…So I hurried back to the place where Alypius was sitting, for when I stood up to move away I had put down the book containing Paul’s Epistles. I seized it and opened it, and in silence I read the first passage on which my eyes fell: Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetite. I had no wish to read more and no need to so. For in an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded in my heart and all the darkness of bout was dispelled.”

Reading again through saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 14

Reading again through saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 14

“I began to search for a means of gaining the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I could not find this meas until I embraced the mediator between God and men, Jesus Christ, who is a man, like them, and also rules as God over all things, blessed for ever. He was calling to me and saying I am the way; I am truth and life. He it was who united with our flesh that food which I was too weak to take; for the Word was made flesh so that your Wisdom, by which you created all things, might be milk to suckle us in infancy. For I was not humble enough to conceive of the humble Jesus Christ as my God, nor had I learnt what lesson his human weakness was meant to teach. The lesson is that your Word, the enteral Truth, which far surpasses even the higher part of your creation, raises up to himself all who subject themselves to him. From the clay of which we are made he built for himself a lowly house in this world below, so that by this means he might cause those who were to be made subject to him to abandon themselves and come o his side. He would cure them of the pride that swelled up in their hears and would nurture love in its place, so that they should no longer stride ahead confident in themselves, but might realize their own weakness when at their feet they saw God himself, enfeebled by sharing this garment of our mortality. And at last, from weariness, they would cast themselves down upon his humanity, and when it rose they too would rise…

So, granted that what the Scriptures say is true, I accepted that Christ was perfect man. I did think of him as having only the body o fa man or man’s body and sensitive soul without his reasoning mind, bu as a man complete. And I thought he was superior to other men, not because he Truth in person, but because in him human nature had reached the highest point of excellence and he had a more perfect share of divine wisdom.”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s Confessions”: Day 13

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s Confessions”: Day 13

“But then I would ask myself once more: ‘Who made me? Surely it was my God, who is not only good but Goodness itself. How, then, do I come to possess a will that can choose to do wrong and refuse to do good, thereby providing a just reason why I should be punished? Who put this will into me? Who sowed this seed of bitterness in me, when all that I am was made by my God, who is Sweetness itself? If it was the devil who put i there, who made the devil? if he was a good angel who became a devil because of his own wicked will, how did he come to possess the wicked will which made him a devil, when the Creator, who is entirely good, made him a good angel and nothing else?’

These thoughts wept me back again into the gulf where I was being stifled. But id id not sink as far as that hell of error where no one confesses to you his own guilt, choosing to believe that you suffer evil rather than that man does it.

Now that I had realized that what is incorruptible is better than that which is not, I took this as the basis for further research and acknowledge that, whatever your nature might be, you must be incorruptible. For no soul has ever been, or ever will be, able to conceive of anything better than you, who are the supreme, the perfect Good. And since, as I now believed, there could be no possible doubt that the incorruptible is better than the corruptible, it followed that you must be incorruptible; otherwise I should be able to think of something that was better than my God. So, once I had seen that the incorruptible is superior to the corruptible, I had to search for you in the light of this truth and make it the starting point of my inquiry into the origin of evil, that is, the origin of corruption, by which your substance cannot possibly be violated.

For there is no means whatsoever by which corruption can injure our God, whether by an act of will, by necessity, or by chance. This is because he is God and what he wills is good and he is himself that same Good; whereas to be corrupted is not good. And you are never compelled, my God, to do or suffer anything against your will, because your will is not greater than your power. It would be greater only if you were greater than yourself, for the will and power of God are God himself. Neither can anything unforeseen happen to you, because you know all things and nothing, whatever its nature, exists except by reason of the very fact that you know it. Need I say more to prove that the substance which is God cannot be corruptible since, if it were, it would not be God?”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 12

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 12

“I was eager for fame and wealth and marriage, but you only derided these ambitions. They caused me to suffer the most galling difficulties, but the less you allowed me to find pleasure in anything that was not yourself, the greater, I know, was your goodness to me. Look into my heart, O Lord, for it t was your will that I should remember these things and confess them to you. I pray now that my soul may cling to you, for it was you who released it from the deadly snare in which it was so firmly caught. It as in a state of misery and you probed its wound to the quick, pricking it on to leave all else and turn to you to be healed, to turn to you who are above all things and without whom nothing could exist.

Yet I know that it does matter why a man is happy. There is a world of difference between the joy that comes from faith and the shallow happiness that I was looking for…. My soul, then, must be beware of those who say that what matters is the reason why a man is happy. They will say that it was drunkenness that made the beggar happy, while my soul looked for happiness in honour. But what sort of honour did it hope to find? Not the kind which is to be found in you, O Lord.

If we were immortal, I used to say, and could live in a perpetual state of bodily pleasure, with no fear of losing it, why should we not be happy? What else could we desire? I did not realize that the very root of my misery was that I had sunk to such depths and was so blind that I could not discern the light of virtue and of beauty that is loved for its own sake, for true beauty is seen by the inner eye of the soul, not by the eye of the flesh. And I never wondered what was the source of my pleasure in discussing these topics, shameful as they were, with my friends, nor did I ask myself why, however great my indulgence in sensual pleasure, I could not find happiness, even in the sense in which I then conceived of it…

What crooked paths I trod! What dangers threatened my soul when it rashly hoped that by abandoning you it would something better! Whichever way it turned, on front or back or sides, it lay on a bed that was hard, for in you alone the soul can rest. You are there to free us from the misery of error which leads us astray, to set us on your own path and to comfort us by saying, ‘Run on, for I shall hold you up. I shall lead you and carry you on the tend.'”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 11

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 11

“I wanted to be just as certain of these things which were hidden from my sight as that seven and three make ten, for I was not so far out of my wits as to suppose that not even this could be known. But I wanted to be equally sure about everything else, both material things for which I could not vouch by my own senses, and spiritual things on which I could form no idea except in bodily form. If I had been able to believe I might have been cured, because in my mind’s eye I
should have been had clearer vision, which by some means might have been directed towards your eternal, unfailing truth. But it is often the case that a man who has had experience of a bad doctor is afraid to trust himself even to a good one, and in the same way my sick soul, which could not be healed except through faith, refused this cure for fear of believing a doctrine that was false. My soul resisted your healing hand, for it was you who prepared and dispensed the
medicine of faith and made it so potent a remedy for the diseased of the world.

From now on I began to prefer the Catholic teaching. The Church demanded that certain things should be believed even though they could not be proved, for if they could be proved, not all men could understand the proof, and some could not be proved at all. I thought that the Church was entirely honest in this and far less pretensions than the Manichees, who laughed at people who took things on faith, made rash promises of scientific knowledge, and then put forward a whole system of preposterous inventions which they expected their followers to believe on trust because they could not be proved. Then, O Lord, you laid your most gentle, most merciful finger on my heart and set my thoughts in order, for I began to realize that I believed countless things
which I had never seen or which had taken place when I was not there to see—so many events in the history of the world, so many facts about places and towns which I had never seen, and so much that I believed on the world of friends or doctors or various other people.

Unless we took these things on trust, we should accomplish absolutely nothing in this life. Most of all it came home to me how firm and unshakable was the faith which told me who my parents were, because I could never have known this unless I believed what I was told. In this way you made me understand that I ought not to find fault with those who believed your Bible, which you have established with such great authority amongst almost all the nations of the earth, but with those who did not believe it; and that I ought to pay no attention to people who asked me how I could be sure that the Scriptures were delivered to mankind by the Spirit of the one true God who can tell no lie. It was precisely this that I most needed to believe, because in all the conflicting books of philosophy which I had read no mislead propositions, however contentious, had been able, even for one moment, to wrest from me my belief in your existence and in your right to govern human affairs; and this despite the fact that I had no knowledge of what you are.

My belief that you existed and that our well-being was in your hands was sometimes wrong, sometimes weak, but I always held to it even though I knew neither what I ought to think about your substance nor which way would lead me to you or lead me back to you. And so, since we are too weak to discover the truth by reason alone and for this reason need the authority of sacred books, I began to believe that you would never have invested the Bible with such conspicuous
authority in every land unless you had intended it to be the means by which we should look for you and believe in you. As for the passages which had previously struck me as absurd, now that I had heard reasonable explanations of many of them I regarded them as of the nature of profound
mysteries; and it seemed to me all the more right that the authority of Scripture should be respected and accepted with the purest faith, because while all can read it with ease, it also has a deeper meaning in which its great secrets are locked away. Its plain language and simple style make it accessible to everyone, and yet it absorbs the attention of the learned, by this means it gathers all men in the wide sweep of its net, and some pass safely through the narrow mesh and come to you. They are not many, but they would be fewer still if it were not that this book stands out alone on so high a peak of authority and yet draws so great a throng in the embrace of its holy humility.

My mind dwelt on these thoughts and you were there to help me and listen to my sighs. You were my helmsman when I ran adrift, and you did not desert me as I traveled along the broad way of the world.”