Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Confessions: Chapter XV
Chapter XV.—While Writing, Being Blinded by Corporeal Images, He Failed to Recognise the Spiritual Nature of God.
24. But not yet did I perceive the hinge on which this impotent matter turned in Thy wisdom, O Thou Omnipotent, “who alone doest great wonders;” 329 and my mind ranged through corporeal forms, and I defined and distinguished as “fair,” that which is so in itself, and “fit,” that which is beautiful as it corresponds to some other thing; and this I supported by corporeal examples. And I turned my attention to the nature of the mind, but the false opinions which I entertained of spiritual things prevented me from seeing the truth. Yet the very power of truth forced itself on my gaze, and I turned away my throbbing soul from incorporeal substance, to lineaments, and colours, and bulky magnitudes. And not being able to perceive these in the mind, I thought I could not perceive my mind. And whereas in virtue I loved peace, and in viciousness I hated discord, in the former I distinguished unity, but in the latter a kind of division. And in that unity I conceived the rational soul and the nature of truth and of the chief good 330 to consist. But p. 76 in this division I, unfortunate one, imagined there was I know not what substance of irrational life, and the nature of the chief evil, which should not be a substance only, but real life also, and yet not emanating from Thee, O my God, from whom are all things. And yet the first I called a Monad, as if it had been a soul without sex, 331 but the other a Duad,—anger in deeds of violence, in deeds of passion, lust,—not knowing of what I talked. For I had not known or learned that neither was evil a substance, nor our soul that chief and unchangeable good.
25. For even as it is in the case of deeds of violence, if that emotion of the soul from whence the stimulus comes be depraved, and carry itself insolently and mutinously; and in acts of passion, if that affection of the soul whereby carnal pleasures are imbibed is unrestrained,—so do errors and false opinions contaminate the life, if the reasonable soul itself be depraved, as it was at that time in me, who was ignorant that it must be enlightened by another light that it may be partaker of truth, seeing that itself is not that nature of truth. “For Thou wilt light my candle; the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness; 332 and “of His fulness have all we received,” 333 for “that was the true Light which lighted every man that cometh into the world;” 334 for in Thee there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” 335
26. But I pressed towards Thee, and was repelled by Thee that I might taste of death, for Thou “resistest the proud.” 336 But what prouder than for me, with a marvellous madness, to assert myself to be that by nature which Thou art? For whereas I was mutable,—so much being clear to me, for my very longing to become wise arose from the wish from worse to become better,—yet chose I rather to think Thee mutable, than myself not to be that which Thou art. Therefore was I repelled by Thee, and Thou resistedst my changeable stiffneckedness; and I imagined corporeal forms, and, being flesh, I accused flesh, and, being “a wind that passeth away,” 337 I returned not to Thee, but went wandering and wandering on towards those things that have no being, neither in Thee, nor in me, nor in the body. Neither were they created for me by Thy truth, but conceived by my vain conceit out of corporeal things. And I used to ask Thy faithful little ones, my fellow-citizens,—from whom I unconsciously stood exiled,—I used flippantly and foolishly to ask, “Why, then, doth the soul which God created err?” But I would not permit any one to ask me, “Why, then, doth God err?” And I contended that Thy immutable substance erred of constraint, rather than admit that my mutable substance had gone astray of free will, and erred as a punishment. 338
27. I was about six or seven and twenty years of age when I wrote those volumes—meditating upon corporeal fictions, which clamoured in the ears of my heart. These I directed, O sweet p. 77 Truth, to Thy inward melody, pondering on the “fair and fit,” and longing to stay and listen to Thee, and to rejoice greatly at the Bridegrooms voice, 339 and I could not; for by the voices of my own errors was I driven forth, and by the weight of my own pride was I sinking into the lowest pit. For Thou didst not “make me to hear joy and gladness;” nor did the bones which were not yet humbled rejoice. 340
Augustin tells us (De Civ. Dei, xix. 1) that Varro, in his lost book De Philosophia, gives two hundred and eighty-eight different opinions as regards the chief good, and shows us how readily they may be reduced in number. Now, as then, philosophers ask the same questions. We have our hedonists, whose “good” is their own pleasure and happiness; our materialists, who would seek the common good of all; and our intuitionists, who aim at following the dictates of conscience. When the pretensions of these various schools are examined without prejudice, the conclusion is forced upon us that we must have recourse to Revelation for a reconcilement of the difficulties of the various systems; and that the philosophers, to employ Davidsons happy illustration (Prophecies, Introd.), forgetting that their faded taper has been insensibly kindled by gospel light, are attempting now, as in Augustins time (ibid. sec. 4), “to fabricate for themselves a happiness in this life based upon a virtue as deceitful as it is proud.” Christianity gives the golden key to the attainment of happiness, when it declares that “godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come ” (1 Tim. 4.8). It was a saying of Bacon (Essay on Adversity), that while “prosperity is the blessing of the old Testament, adversity is the blessing of the New.” He would have been nearer the truth had he said that while temporal rewards were the special promise of the Old Testament, spiritual rewards are the special promise of the New. For though Christs immediate followers had to suffer “adversity” in the planting of our faith, adversity cannot properly be said to be the result of following Christ. It has yet to be shown that, on the whole, the greatest amount of real happiness does not result, even in this life, from a Christian life, for virtue is, even here, its own reward. The fulness of the reward, however, will only be received in the life to come. Augustins remark, therefore, still holds good that “life eternal is the supreme good, and death eternal the supreme evil, and that to obtain the one and escape the other we must live rightly” (ibid. sec. 4); and again, that even in the midst of the troubles of life, “as we are saved, so we are made happy, by hope. And as we do not as yet possess a present, but look for a future salvation, so it is with our happiness,…we ought patiently to endure till we come to the ineffable enjoyment of unmixed good.” See Abbé Anselme, Sur le Souverain Bien, vol. v. serm. 1; and the last
Chapter of Professor Sidgwicks Methods of Ethics, for the conclusions at which a mind at once lucid and dispassionate has arrived on this question.76:331
“Or an unintelligent soul; very good mss. reading sensu, the majority, it appears, sexu. If we read sexu, the absolute unity of the first principle or Monad, may be insisted upon, and in the inferior principle, divided into violence and lust, violence, as implying strength, may be looked on as the male, lust was, in mythology, represented as female; if we take sensu, it will express the living but unintelligent soul of the world in the Manichæan, as a pantheistic system.”—E. B. P.76:332
Ps. 18.28. Augustin constantly urges our recognition of the truth that God is the “Father of lights.” From Him as our central sun, all light, whether of wisdom or knowledge proceedeth, and if changing the figure, our candle which He hath lighted be blown out, He again must light it. Compare Enar. in Ps. xciii. 147; and Sermons, 67 and 341.76:333
Jas. 4.6, and 1 Pet. 5.5.76:337
It may assist those unacquainted with Augustins writings to understand the last three sections, if we set before them a brief view of the Manichæan speculations as to the good and evil principles, and the nature of the human soul:—(1) The Manichæans believed that there were two principles or substances, one good and the other evil, and that both were eternal and opposed one to the other. The good principle they called God, and the evil, matter or Hyle (Con. Faust. xxi. 1, 2). Faustus, in his argument with Augustin, admits that they sometimes called the evil nature “God,” but simply as a conventional usage. Augustin says thereon (ibid. sec. 4): “Faustus glibly defends himself by saying, We speak not of two gods, but of God and Hyle; but when you ask for the meaning of Hyle, you find that it is in fact another god. If the Manichæans gave the name of Hyle, as the ancients did, to the unformed matter which is susceptible of bodily forms, we should not accuse them of making two gods. But it is pure folly and madness to give to matter the power of forming bodies, or to deny that what has this power is God.” Augustin alludes in the above passage to the Platonic theory of matter, which, as the late Dean Mansel has shown us (Gnostic Heresies, Basilides, etc.), resulted after his time in Pantheism, and which was entirely opposed to the dualism of Manichæus. It is to this “power of forming bodies” claimed for matter, then, that Augustin alludes in our text (sec. 24) as “not only a substance but real life also.” (2) The human soul the Manichæans declared to be of the same nature as God, though not created by Him—it having originated in the intermingling of part of His being with the evil principle, in the conflict between the kingdoms of light and darkness (in Ps. cxl. sec. 10). Augustin says to Faustus: “You generally call your soul not a temple, but a part or member of God ” (Con. Faust. xx. 15); and thus, “identifying themselves with the nature and substance of God” (ibid. xii. 13), they did not refer their sin to themselves, but to the race of darkness, and so did not “prevail over their sin.” That is, they denied original sin, and asserted that it necessarily resulted from the souls contact with the body. To this Augustin steadily replied, that as the soul was not of the nature of God, but created by Him and endowed with free will, man was responsible for his transgressions. Again, referring to the Confessions, we find Augustin speaking consistently with his then belief, when he says that he had not then learned that the soul was not a “chief and unchangeable good” (sec. 24), or that “it was not that nature of truth” (sec. 25); and that when he transgressed “he accused flesh” rather than himself; and, as a result of his Manichæan errors (sec. 26), “contended that Gods immutable substance erred of constraint, rather than admit that his mutable substance had gone astray of free will, and erred as a punishment.”77:339
Ps. 51.8, Vulg.
Next: Chapter XVI
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