Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reading #32: Augustine: Only God is Eternal

The Confessions

"and I should sooner doubt that I live than that Truth is not, which 
is clearly seen, being understood by those things which are made."

     And being thence admonished to return to myself, I entered even
into my inward self, Thou being my Guide: and able I was, for Thou
wert become my Helper. And I entered and beheld with the eye of my
soul (such as it was), above the same eye of my soul, above my mind,
the Light Unchangeable. Not this ordinary light, which all flesh may
look upon, nor as it were a greater of the same kind, as though the
brightness of this should be manifold brighter, and with its greatness
take up all space. Not such was this light, but other, yea, far other
from these. Nor was it above my soul, as oil is above water, nor yet
as heaven above earth: but above to my soul, because It made me; and
I below It, because I was made by It. He that knows the Truth, knows
what that Light is; and he that knows It, knows eternity. Love knoweth
it. O Truth Who art Eternity! and Love Who art Truth! and Eternity
Who art Love! Thou art my God, to Thee do I sigh night and day. Thee
when I first knew, Thou liftedst me up, that I might see there was
what I might see, and that I was not yet such as to see. And Thou
didst beat back the weakness of my sight, streaming forth Thy beams
of light upon me most strongly, and I trembled with love and awe:
and I perceived myself to be far off from Thee, in the region of unlikeness,
as if I heard this Thy voice from on high: "I am the food of grown
men, grow, and thou shalt feed upon Me; nor shalt thou convert Me,
like the food of thy flesh into thee, but thou shalt be converted
into Me." And I learned, that Thou for iniquity chastenest man, and
Thou madest my soul to consume away like a spider. And I said, "Is
Truth therefore nothing because it is not diffused through space finite
or infinite?" And Thou criedst to me from afar: "Yet verily, I AM
that I AM." And I heard, as the heart heareth, nor had I room to doubt,
and I should sooner doubt that I live than that Truth is not, which
is clearly seen, being understood by those things which are made.

And I beheld the other things below Thee, and I perceived that they
neither altogether are, nor altogether are not, for they are, since
they are from Thee, but are not, because they are not what Thou art.
For that truly is which remains unchangeably. It is good then for
me to hold fast unto God; for if I remain not in Him, I cannot in
myself; but He remaining in Himself, reneweth all things. And Thou
art the Lord my God, since Thou standest not in need of my goodness.
     And it was manifested unto me, that those things be good which
yet are corrupted; which neither were they sovereignly good, nor unless
they were good could he corrupted: for if sovereignly good, they were
incorruptible, if not good at all, there were nothing in them to be
corrupted. For corruption injures, but unless it diminished goodness,
it could not injure. Either then corruption injures not, which cannot
be; or which is most certain, all which is corrupted is deprived of
good. But if they he deprived of all good, they shall cease to be.
For if they shall be, and can now no longer he corrupted, they shall
be better than before, because they shall abide incorruptibly. And
what more monstrous than to affirm things to become better by losing
all their good? Therefore, if they shall be deprived of all good,
they shall no longer be. So long therefore as they are, they are good:
therefore whatsoever is, is good. That evil then which I sought, whence
it is, is not any substance: for were it a substance, it should be
good. For either it should be an incorruptible substance, and so a
chief good: or a corruptible substance; which unless it were good,
could not be corrupted. I perceived therefore, and it was manifested
to me that Thou madest all things good, nor is there any substance
at all, which Thou madest not; and for that Thou madest not all things
equal, therefore are all things; because each is good, and altogether
very good, because our God made all things very good.
     And to Thee is nothing whatsoever evil: yea, not only to Thee,
but also to Thy creation as a whole, because there is nothing without,
which may break in, and corrupt that order which Thou hast appointed
it. But in the parts thereof some things, because unharmonising with
other some, are accounted evil: whereas those very things harmonise
with others, and are good; and in themselves are good. And all these
things which harmonise not together, do yet with the inferior part,
which we call Earth, having its own cloudy and windy sky harmonising
with it. Far be it then that I should say, "These things should not
be": for should I see nought but these, I should indeed long for the
better; but still must even for these alone praise Thee; for that
Thou art to be praised, do show from the earth, dragons, and all deeps,
fire, hail, snow, ice, and stormy wind, which fulfil Thy word; mountains,
and all hills, fruitful trees, and all cedars; beasts, and all cattle,
creeping things, and flying fowls; kings of the earth, and all people,
princes, and all judges of the earth; young men and maidens, old men
and young, praise Thy Name. But when, from heaven, these praise Thee,
praise Thee, our God, in the heights all Thy angels, all Thy hosts,
sun and moon, all the stars and light, the Heaven of heavens, and
the waters that be above the heavens, praise Thy Name; I did not now
long for things better, because I conceived of all: and with a sounder
judgment I apprehended that the things above were better than these
below, but altogether better than those above by themselves.
     There is no soundness in them, whom aught of Thy creation displeaseth:
as neither in me, when much which Thou hast made, displeased me. And
because my soul durst not be displeased at my God, it would fain not
account that Thine, which displeased it. Hence it had gone into the
opinion of two substances, and had no rest, but talked idly. And returning
thence, it had made to itself a God, through infinite measures of
all space; and thought it to be Thee, and placed it in its heart;
and had again become the temple of its own idol, to Thee abominable.
But after Thou hadst soothed my head, unknown to me, and closed mine
eyes that they should not behold vanity, I ceased somewhat of my former
self, and my frenzy was lulled to sleep; and I awoke in Thee, and
saw Thee infinite, but in another way, and this sight was not derived
from the flesh.
     And I looked back on other things; and I saw that they owed their
being to Thee; and were all bounded in Thee: but in a different way;
not as being in space; but because Thou containest all things in Thine
hand in Thy Truth; and all things are true so far as they nor is there
any falsehood, unless when that is thought to be, which is not. And
I saw that all things did harmonise, not with their places only, but
with their seasons. And that Thou, who only art Eternal, didst not
begin to work after innumerable spaces of times spent; for that all
spaces of times, both which have passed, and which shall pass, neither
go nor come, but through Thee, working and abiding.
     But he that no otherwise understands In the Beginning He made,
than if it were said, At first He made, can only truly understand
heaven and earth of the matter of heaven and earth, that is, of the
universal intelligible and corporeal creation. For if he would understand
thereby the universe, as already formed, it may be rightly demanded
of him, "If God made this first, what made He afterwards?" and after
the universe, he will find nothing; whereupon must he against his
will hear another question; "How did God make this first, if nothing
after?" But when he says, God made matter first formless, then formed,
there is no absurdity, if he be but qualified to discern, what precedes
by eternity, what by time, what by choice, and what in original. By
eternity, as God is before all things

Study Questions:

1.  Can you find in this passage an argument showing that only God is eternal (without beginning)?
2.  Can you find an argument that God is distinct from the creation?
3.  Can you find an argument that time began with creation?
4.  What is the distinction in substance between God and the creation?
5.  For Augustine, why is the knowledge of God important?  In what sense does he not know himself unless he knows God?