Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 30 (God, Grant us Rest and Peace!)

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 30 (God, Grant us Rest and Peace!)

In the past 30 days (our initial rereading began in July), we have been rereading and meditating upon Confessions (ca.397- ca. 401) by Aurelius Augustinus (ca.354- ca. 430), which he wrote in Latin. Many thinkers and scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, have argued that Confessions is the most important intellectual work and spiritual autobiography ever written in Christian history and Western history of literature. Technically, Confessions is the most important work in African Christianity and African literary and intellectual production, as its author was not Western, but African, and was born in Africa, not in Europe. Augustine was born in the small town of Tagaste, Numidia (Libya in Northern Africa) in 354 to a mixed racial family and grew up in an ethnically diverse environment; his African Christian mother Monica was of the Berber background (She is the most important human character in Augustine’s autobiography); his father Patricius (Patrick) was one of the representatives of Roman authority in the African town of Tagaste. He attended went school in Madaura and later in Carthage.

Augustine served as an instructor of rhetoric at Carthage (ca. 376-83), Rome, (383-4), and then at Milan (384-6). He was an excellent theologian, and a brilliant prolific writer in the footsteps of his African theological predecessors (“Church fathers”) Tertullian and Athanasius. He attended school in Madaura and later in Carthage. In 391, he was ordained as a priest and presided as Bishop of Hippo and over the African provinces there. Augustine was the greatest (African) Christian theologian in the history of Christianity.

Among his most influential works include the City of God (De civitate Dei) (412-426), Against the Skeptics (Contra Academicos (387), On the Immortality of the Soul (De immortalitate anima (387), On Free Will (De libero arbitrio) (388), On True Religion (De vera religione), On Christian Discipline (De disciplina Christiana) (398), Confessions (Confessiones) (397-401), On Baptism (400), On Nature and Grace (De natura et gratia), On The Trinity (De Trinatate) (415-420), The Predestination of the Saints (428), The Gift of Perseverance (429). Following Tertullian’s theological logic on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, Augustine brings greater clarity, with theological force and intellectual brilliance, to expound on the nature of the divine life and the interconnecting actions and interdependent movements of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

In his masterpiece, The City of God, Augustine articulates cogently a theological and philosophical vision of human history–one that puts God at the center of human history; thus, global history is theocentric for Augustine–God’s eschatological plan for human destiny, and the rapport between God and his creation. He explained the fall of the Roman Empire as the result of the overwhelmingly polytheistic culture and moral bankruptcy, and the refusal of the Romans to worship and give honor to the true and eternal God. Augustine believed that the fall of the Roman Empire was part of the divine providence and God’s plan of human history. In other words, God had acted negatively toward the Empire because of its moral and theological shortcomings, as well as the problems of balancing justice and equality between the citizens. Overall, for Saint Augustine, Rome fell because of a tremendous politico-theological failure. Augustine’s philosophy of history has had a significant impact on medieval European historians, writers, and philosophers, especially in the way they perceived and articulated the place of Europe in global history: both on the sacred and secular level. As a work of intellectual and philosophical history, in The City of God, Augustine articulates a unified understating of global history that would shape European medieval history and define the West’s sense of itself in the economy and providence of God.

It is from this perspective, I am pleased to share with you the final meditation on the Confessions; the words that I reproduce in the paragraphs below are Augustine’s final words or prayer, which he wrote on the last page of his spiritual autobiography.

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 30 (God, Grant us Rest and Peace!)

“O Lord God grant us peace, for all that we have is your gift. Grant us the peace of repose, the peace of the Sabbath, the peace which has no evening. For this worldly order in all its beauty will pass away. All these things that are very good will come to an end when the limit of their existence is reached. They have been allotted their morning and their evening.

But the seventh day is without evening and the sun shall not set upon it, for you have sanctified it and willed that it shall last forever. Although your eternal repose was unbroken by the fact of creation, nevertheless, after all your works were done and you had seen that they were very good, you rested on the seventh day. And in your Book we read this as a presage that when our work in this life is done, we too shall rest in you in the Sabbath of eternal life, though our works are very good only because you have given us the grace to perform them.

In that eternal Sabbath you will rest in us, just as now you work in us. The rest that we shall enjoy will be yours, just as the work that we now do is your work done through us. But you, O Lord, are eternally at work and eternally at rest. It is not in time that you see or in time that you move or in time that you rest: yet you make what we see in time; you make time itself and the repose which comes when time ceases.

We see the things which you have made, because they exist. But they only exist because you see them. Outside ourselves we see that they exist, and in our inner selves we see that they are good. But when you saw that it was right that they should be made, in the same act you saw them made.

It was only after a lapse of time that we were impelled to do good, that is, after our hearts had received the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Before then our impulse was to do wrong, because we had deserted you. But you, who are the one God, the good God, have never ceased to do good. By the gift of your grace some of the works that we do are good, but they are not everlasting. After them we hope that we shall find rest, when you admit us to the great holiness of your presence. But you are Goodness itself and need no good besides yourself. You are for ever at rest, because you are your own repose.

What man can teach another to understand this truth? What angel can teach it to an angel? What angel can teach it to a man? We must ask it of you, seek it in you; we must knock at your door. Only then shall we receive what we ask and find what we seek; only then will the door be opened to us.”

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