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.”

“Saint Augustine Against the Stoics: On Divine Foreknowledge and the Freedom of the Will”

“Saint Augustine Against the Stoics: On Divine Foreknowledge and the Freedom of the Will”

I am currently rereading two christian classics, written by the same author: Saint Augustine of Hippo. I am going slowly through “Confessions,” written about ca. 400, and “The City of God,” written between ca.413–426. The last time I read both texts when I was working toward my first M.A. degree at the University of Louisville (KY); that was about 16 years ago, I believe.

I have never read anyone so brilliant, captivating, rigid, and eloquent like Saint Augustine, the great North African church father and the most important christian theologian and philosopher who has graced this earth and the Western world. In this post, I would like to share a few statements with you, which I read from “The City of God,” in which Augustine argues energetically and brilliantly for God’s comprehensive foreknowledge and the freedom of the will, concurrently. He was also arguing against Cicero and the Stoic philosophers who denied divine foreknowledge, but championed the possibility of fate to explain the nature of things in the world and how we as volitional agents relate to the future and the events that yet to take place in the time to come.

Notice how Augustine establishes an intimacy between divine omnipresence, divine foreknowledge, and the prayers of God’s people, as well as the choices and actions they voluntarily make, although known by God, without any divine necessity. Also, notice how Augustine refuses to disconnect and thus balance God’s foreknowledge and the freedom of volitional agents, such as human beings. Augustine argues that the eternality of God is intrinsic to his own Being as God and the foreknowledge of God is ontologically a divine attribute. God’s power over death best explains the reality of God as Life and Giver of life as a gift to human beings. Finally, God’s ability to foresee future sins committed by human beings does not necessitate that individuals will actually sin; rather, people will sin in the future lies in their freedom of the will to choose to sin or not to sin. Yet because of God’s comprehensive foreknowledge of the future, he can predict who will sin at a certain point in the future; nonetheless, this divine prediction does not condition future sins of volitional beings. In other words, God freely foresees future events and human beings (and God) freely choose the outcome of the future, concurrently.

“It follows that we need to not be afraid of that necessity which frightened the Stoics into distinguishing various kinds of causes. They sought to free certain causes from necessity while others were subject to it. Among the causes which they wanted free from necessity they reckoned our wills. Obviously, wills could not be free if subject to necessity…
We do not put the life of God and the foreknowledge of God under any necessity when we say that God must live an eternal life and must know all things. Neither do we lessen His power when we say He cannot die or be deceived. This is the kind of inability which, if removed, would make God less powerful than He is. God is rightly called omnipotent, even though He is unable to die and be deceived. We call Him omnipotent because he does whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer. He would not, of course, be omnipotent, if He had to suffer anything against His will. It is precisely because He is omnipotent that for Him some things are impossible.

The conclusion is that we are by no means under compulsion to abandon free choice in favor of divine knowledge, nor need we deny—God forbid!—that God knows the future, as a condition for holding free choice. We accept both. As Christians and philosophers, we profess both—foreknowledge, as a pat of our faith; free choice, as a condition of responsible living. It is hard to live right if one’s faith in God is wrong.

Far be it from us, then, to deny, in the interest of four freedom, the foreknowledge of God by whose power we are—or are to be—free. It follows, too, that laws are not in vain, nor scoldings and encouragements, nor praise and blame. He foresaw that such things should be. Such things have as much value as He foresaw they would have. So, too, prayers are useful in obtaining these favors which He foresaw He would bestow on those who should pray for them. There was justice in instituting rewards and punishments for good and wicked deeds. For, no one sins because God foreknew that he would sin. In fact, the very reason why a man is undoubtedly responsible for his own sin, when he sins, is because He whose foreknowledge cannot be deceived foresaw, not the man’s fate or fortune or whatnot, but that the man himself would be responsible for his own sin. No man sins unless it is his choice; and his choice not to sin, too, God foresaw.”

“Saint Augustine Against the Stoics on Divine Foreknowledge and the Freedom of the Will”

“Saint Augustine and the Stoics on Divine Foreknowledge and the Freedom of the Will”

I am currently rereading two christian classics, written by the same author: Saint Augustine of Hippo. I am going slowly through “Confessions,” written about ca. 400, and “The City of God,” written between ca.413–426. The last time I read both texts when I was working toward my first M.A. degree at the University of Louisville (KY); that was about 16 years ago, I believe.

I have never read anyone so brilliant, captivating, rigid, and eloquent like Saint Augustine, the great North African church father and the most important christian theologian and philosopher who has graced this earth and the Western world. In this post, I would like to share a few statements with you, which I read from “The City of God,” in which Augustine argues energetically and brilliantly for God’s comprehensive foreknowledge and the freedom of the will, concurrently. He was also arguing against Cicero and the Stoic philosophers who denied divine foreknowledge, but championed the possibility of fate to explain the nature of things in the world and how we as volitional agents relate to the future and the events that yet to take place in the time to come.

Notice how Augustine establishes an intimacy between divine omnipresence, divine foreknowledge, and the prayers of God’s people, as well as the choices and actions they voluntarily make, although known by God, without any divine necessity. Also, notice how Augustine refuses to disconnect and thus balance God’s foreknowledge and the freedom of volitional agents, such as human beings. Augustine argues that the eternality of God is intrinsic to his own Being as God and the foreknowledge of God is ontologically a divine attribute. God’s power over death best explains the reality of God as Life and Giver of life as a gift to human beings. Finally, God’s ability to foresee future sins committed by human beings does not necessitate that individuals will actually sin; rather, people will sin in the future lies in their freedom of the will to choose to sin or not to sin. Yet because of God’s comprehensive foreknowledge of the future, he can predict who will sin at a certain point in the future; nonetheless, this divine prediction does not condition future sins of volitional events. In other words, God freely foresees future events and human beings (and God) freely choose the outcome of the future, concurrently.

“It follows that we need to not be afraid of that necessity which frightened the Stoics into distinguishing various kinds of causes. They sought to free certain causes from necessity while others were subject to it. Among the causes which they wanted free from necessity they reckoned our wills. Obviously, wills could not be free if subject to necessity…
We do not put the life of God and the foreknowledge of God under any necessity when we say that God must live an eternal life and must know all things. Neither do we lessen His power when we say He cannot die or be deceived. This is the kind of inability which, if removed, would make God less powerful than He is. God is rightly called omnipotent, even though He is unable to die and be deceived. We call Him omnipotent because he does whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer. He would not, of course, be omnipotent, if He had to suffer anything against His will. It is precisely because He is omnipotent that for Him some things are impossible.

The conclusion is that we are by no means under compulsion to abandon free choice in favor of divine knowledge, nor need we deny—God forbid!—that God knows the future, as a condition for holding free choice. We accept both. As Christians and philosophers, we profess both—foreknowledge, as a pat of our faith; free choice, as a condition of responsible living. It is hard to live right if one’s faith in God is wrong.

Far be it from us, then, to deny, in the interest of four freedom, the foreknowledge of God by whose power we are—or are to be—free. It follows, too, that laws are not in vain, nor scoldings and encouragements, nor praise and blame. He foresaw that such things should be. Such things have as much value as He foresaw they would have. So, too, prayers are useful in obtaining these favors which He foresaw He would bestow on those who should pray for them. There was justice in instituting rewards and punishments for good and wicked deeds. For, no one sins because God foreknew that he would sin. In fact, the very reason why a man is undoubtedly responsible for his own sin, when he sins, is because He whose foreknowledge cannot be deceived foresaw, not the man’s fate or fortune or whatnot, but that the man himself would be responsible for his own sin. No man sins unless it is his choice; and his choice not to sin, too, God foresaw.”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 10

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 10

“O Lord our God, let the shelter of your wings give us hope. Protect us and uphold us. You will be the Support that upholds us from childhood till the hair on our heads is grey. When you are our strength we are strong, but when our strength is our own we are weak. In you our good abides for ever, and when we turn away from it we turn to evil. Let us come home at last to you, O Lord, for fear that we be lost. For in you our good abides and it has no blemish, since it is yourself. Nor do we fear that there is no home to which we can return. We fell from it; but our home is your eternity and it does not fall because we are away.

Accept my confessions, O Lord. They are a sacrifice offered by my tongue, for yours was the hand that fashioned it and yours the spirit that moved it to acknowledge you. Heal all my bones and let them say Lord, there is none like you.

If a man confesses to you, he does not reveal his utmost thoughts to you as though you did not know them. For the heart may shut itself away, but it cannot hide from your sight. Man’s heart may be hard, but it cannot resist the touch of your hand. Wherever you will, your mercy or your punishment can make it relent, and just as none can hide away from the sun, none can escape your burning heat.

Let my soul praise you, so that it may show its love; and let it avowal of your mercies, so that for these it may praise you. No part of your creation ever ceases to resound in praise of you. Man turns his lips to you in prayer and his spirit praises you. Animals too and lifeless things as well praise you through the lips of all who give them thought. For our souls lean for support upon the things which you have created, so that we may be lifted up to you from our weakness and use the m to help us on our way to you who made them all so wonderfully. And in you we are remade and find true strength.”

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 9

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 9

“But I still did not see that the pivot upon which this important matter is the fact thst it is all of your marking, almighty God, for you do wonderful deeds as none else. My thoughts ranged only amongst material forms. I defined them in two classes, those which please the eye because they are beautiful in themselves and those which do so because they are properly proportioned in relation to something else. I drew this distinction and illustrated it from material examples. I also gave some thought to the nature of the soul, but my misconception of spiritual things prevented me from seeing the truth, although it forced itself upon my mind if only I would see it. Instead I turned my pulsating mind away from the spiritual towards the material. I considered line and colour and shape, and since my soul had no such visible qualities, I argued that I could not see it.

I loved the peace that virtue brings and hated the discord that comes of vices. From this I concluded that in goodness there was unity, but in evil disunion of some kind. It seemed to me that this unity was the seat of the rational mind and was the natural state of truth and perfect goodness; whereas the disunion consisted of irrational life, which I thought of as a substance, but itself a form of life, although I did not think it had its origins in you, my God, who are the origin of all things. I called the unity a ‘monad,’ a kind of mind without sex, and the disunion a ‘dyad,’ consisting of the anger that leads to crimes of violence and the lust that leads to sins of passion. But I did not know what I was saying, because no one had taught me, and I had not yet found out for myself, that evil is not a substance and man’s mind is not supreme good that does not vary.

Crimes against othet men are committed when the emotions, which spur us to action, are corrupt and rise in revolt without control. Sins of self-indulgence are committed when the soul fails to govern the impulses from it derives bodily pleasure. In the same way, if the rational mind is corrupt, mistaken ideas and false beliefs will poison life. In those days my mind was corrupt. I did not know that if it it was to share in the truth, it must be illumined by another light, because the mind itself is not the essence of truth. For it is you, Lord, that keep the lamp of my hopes still burning and shine on the darkness about me. We have all received something out of your abundance. For you are the true Light which enlightens every soul born into the world, because with you there can be no change, no swerving from your course.”