Sunday, October 17

Augustine: Confessions Book 1. revisited redux

In my last post on the Confessions, I had indicated that I needed return to two topics. The first of them, was this:

Chapter 3-5. The next five chapters start a long discussion about the relationship of God to the Universe and Augustine (and his soul) to God. I confess I do not comprehend the thrust of his argument. I hope to return to this later.

This seemed important, but I didn't follow the argument. Here is Chapter 3.

3. Since, then, thou dost fill the heaven and earth, do they contain thee? Or, dost thou fill and overflow them, because they cannot contain thee? And where dost thou pour out what remains of thee after heaven and earth are full? Or, indeed, is there no need that thou, who dost contain all things, shouldst be contained by any, since those things which thou dost fill thou fillest by containing them? For the vessels which thou dost fill do not confine thee, since even if they were broken, thou wouldst not be poured out. And, when thou art poured out on us, thou art not thereby brought down; rather, we are uplifted. Thou art not scattered; rather, thou dost gather us together. But when thou dost fill all things, dost thou fill them with thy whole being? Or, since not even all things together could contain thee altogether, does any one thing contain a single part, and do all things contain that same part at the same time? Do singulars contain thee singly? Do greater things contain more of thee, and smaller things less? Or, is it not rather that thou art wholly present everywhere, yet in such a way that nothing contains thee wholly?
This seems to be saying it is hard to understand the true nature of God, but using more words. This is reminiscent of some of the Psalmody.

And the next chapter (4)

4. What, therefore, is my God? What, I ask, but the Lord God? “For who is Lord but the Lord himself, or who is God besides our God?” Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful and most just; most secret and most truly present; most beautiful and most strong; stable, yet not supported; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud, and they know it not; always working, ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. Thou dost love, but without passion; art jealous, yet free from care; dost repent without remorse; art angry, yet remainest serene. Thou changest thy ways, leaving thy plans unchanged; thou recoverest what thou hast never really lost. Thou art never in need but still thou dost rejoice at thy gains; art never greedy, yet demandest dividends. Men pay more than is required so that thou dost become a debtor; yet who can possess anything at all which is not already thine? Thou owest men nothing, yet payest out to them as if in debt to thy creature, and when thou dost cancel debts thou losest nothing thereby. Yet, O my God, my life, my holy Joy, what is this that I have said? What can any man say when he speaks of thee? But woe tothem that keep silence--since even those who say most are dumb.
Ok, now I'm getting somewhere. In the previous chapter (3), he asked "what is God?". In this chapter (4) he answers it, in some detail. So where do we go next? Well, Chapter 5 what else?
5. Who shall bring me to rest in thee? Who will send thee into my heart so to overwhelm it that my sins shall be blotted out and I may embrace thee, my only good? What art thou to me? Have mercy that I may speak. What am I to thee that thou shouldst command me to love thee, and if I do it not, art angry and threatenest vast misery? Is it, then, a trifling sorrow not to love thee? It is not so to me. Tell me, by thy mercy, O Lord, my God, what thou art to me. “Say to my soul, I am your salvation.” So speak that I may hear. Behold, the ears of my heart are before thee, O Lord; open them and “say to my soul, I am your salvation.” I will hasten after that
voice, and I will lay hold upon thee. Hide not thy face from me. Even if I die, let me see thy face lest I die. The house of my soul is too narrow for thee to come in to me; let it be enlarged by thee. It is in ruins; do thou restore it. There is much about it which must offend thy eyes; I confess and know it. But who will cleanse it? Or, to whom shall I cry but to thee? “Cleanse thou me from my secret faults,” O Lord, “and keep back thy servant from strange sins.” “I believe, and therefore do I speak.” But thou, O Lord, thou knowest. Have I not confessed my transgressions unto thee, O my God; and hast thou not put away the iniquity of my heart? I do not contend in judgment with thee, who art truth itself; and I would not deceive myself, lest my iniquity lie even to itself. I do not, therefore, contend in judgment with thee, for “if thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”
Well, we established in 3 that God was hard to understand and vast. In 4 we learn more of Augustines understanding of the nature of God. However, there is now a vast chasm between Augustine (a man) and God. He cries to God for salvation. And says he will "confess his transgressions unto thee". Thus we receive the motivation for this text.

Finally, I'll apologize to you the reader in that I had indicated I would return to the Original sin chapter, but I'm going to keep you (and me) in suspense until a later time.