Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin: Chapter 8
Chapter 8.—Different Modes of Conceiving.
But since the eye of the mind cannot look at all things together, in one glance, which the memory retains, these trinities of thought alternate in a series of withdrawals and successions, and so that trinity becomes most innumerably numerous; and yet not infinite, if it pass not beyond the number of things stored up in the memory. For, although we begin to reckon from the earliest perception which any one has of material things through any bodily sense, and even take in also those things which he has forgotten, yet the number would undoubtedly be certain and determined, although innumerable. For we not only call infinite things innumerable, but also those, which, although finite, exceed any ones power of reckoning.
13. But we can hence perceive a little more clearly that what the memory stores up and retains is a different thing from that which is thence copied in the conception of the man who remembers, although, when both are combined together, they appear to be one and the same; because we can only remember just as many species of bodies as we have actually seen, and so great, and such, as we have actually seen; for the mind imbibes them into the memory from the bodily sense; whereas the things seen in conception, although drawn from those things which are in the memory, yet are multiplied p. 152 and varied innumerably, and altogether without end. For I remember, no doubt, but one sun, because according to the fact, I have seen but one; but if I please, I conceive of two, or three, or as many as I will; but the vision of my mind, when I conceive of many, is formed from the same memory by which I remember one. And I remember it just as large as I saw it. For if I remember it as larger or smaller than I saw it, then I no longer remember what I saw, and so I do not remember it. But because I remember it, I remember it as large as I saw it; yet I conceive of it as greater or as less according to my will. And I remember it as I saw it; but I conceive of it as running its course as I will, and as standing still where I will, and as coming whence I will, and whither I will. For it is in my power to conceive of it as square, although I remember it as round; and again, of what color I please, although I have never seen, and therefore do not remember, a green sun; and as the sun, so all other things. But owing to the corporeal and sensible nature of these forms of things, the mind falls into error when it imagines them to exist without, in the same mode in which it conceives them within, either when they have already ceased to exist without, but are still retained in the memory, or when in any other way also, that which we remember is formed in the mind, not by faithful recollection, but after the variations of thought.
14. Yet it very often happens that we believe also a true narrative, told us by others, of things which the narrators have themselves perceived by their senses. And in this case, when we conceive the things narrated to us, as we hear them, the eye of the mind does not seem to be turned back to the memory, in order to bring up visions in our thoughts; for we do not conceive these things from our own recollection, but upon the narration of another; and that trinity does not here seem to come to its completion, which is made when the species lying hid in the memory, and the vision of the man that remembers, are combined by will as a third. For I do not conceive that which lay hid in my memory, but that which I hear, when anything is narrated to me. I am not speaking of the words themselves of the speaker, lest any one should suppose that I have gone off to that other trinity, which is transacted without, in sensible things, or in the senses: but I am conceiving of those species of material things, which the narrator signifies to me by words and sounds; which species certainly I conceive of not by remembering, but by hearing. But if we consider the matter more carefully, even in this case, the limit of the memory is not overstepped. For I could not even understand the narrator, if I did not remember generically the individual things of which he speaks, even although I then hear them for the first time as connected together in one tale. For he who, for instance, describes to me some mountain stripped of timber, and clothed with olive trees, describes it to me who remembers the species both of mountains, and of timber, and of olive trees; and if I had forgotten these, I should not know at all of what he was speaking, and therefore could not conceive that description. And so it comes to pass, that every one who conceives things corporeal, whether he himself imagine anything, or hear, or read, either a narrative of things past, or a foretelling of things future, has recourse to his memory, and finds there the limit and measure of all the forms at which he gazes in his thought. For no one can conceive at all, either a color or a form of body, which he never saw, or a sound which he never heard, or a flavor which he never tasted, or a scent which he never smelt, or any touch of a corporeal thing which he never felt. But if no one conceives anything corporeal except what he has [sensuously] perceived, because no one remembers anything corporeal except what he has thus perceived, then, as is the limit of perceiving in bodies, so is the limit of thinking in the memory. For the sense receives the species from that body which we perceive, and the memory from the sense; but the mental eye of the concipient, from the memory.
15. Further, as the will applies the sense to the bodily object, so it applies the memory to the sense, and the eye of the mind of the concipient to the memory. But that which harmonizes those things and unites them, itself also disjoins and separates them, that is, the will. But it separates the bodily senses from the bodies that are to be perceived, by movement of the body, either to hinder our perceiving the thing, or that we may cease to perceive it: as when we avert our eyes from that which we are unwilling to see, or shut them; so, again, the ears from sounds, or the nostrils from smells. So also we turn away from tastes, either by shutting the mouth, or by casting the thing out of the mouth. In touch, also, we either remove the bodily thing, that we may not touch what we do not wish, or if we were already touching it, we fling or push it away. Thus the will acts by movement of the body, so that the bodily sense shall not be joined to the sensible things. And it does this according to its p. 153 power; for when it endures hardship in so doing, on account of the condition of slavish mortality, then torment is the result, in such wise that nothing remains to the will save endurance. But the will averts the memory from the sense; when, through its being intent on something else, it does not suffer things present to cleave to it. As any one may see, when often we do not seem to ourselves to have heard some one who was speaking to us, because we were thinking of something else. But this is a mistake; for we did hear, but we do not remember, because the words of the speaker presently slipped out of the perception of our ears, through the bidding of the will being diverted elsewhere, by which they are usually fixed in the memory. Therefore, we should say more accurately in such a case, we do not remember, than, we did not hear; for it happens even in reading, and to myself very frequently, that when I have read through a page or an epistle, I do not know what I have read, and I begin it again. For the purpose of the will being fixed on something else, the memory was not so applied to the bodily sense, as the sense itself was applied to the letters. So, too, any one who walks with the will intent on something else, does not know where he has got to; for if he had not seen, he would not have walked thither, or would have felt his way in walking with greater attention, especially if he was passing through a place he did not know; yet, because he walked easily, certainly he saw; but because the memory was not applied to the sense itself in the same way as the sense of the eyes was applied to the places through which he was passing, he could not remember at all even the last thing he saw. Now, to will to turn away the eye of the mind from that which is in the memory, is nothing else but not to think thereupon.
Next: Chapter 9
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