Augustine: confessions



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CHAPTER XII
15. These things I have considered as thou hast given me ability, O my God, as thou hast excited me to knock, and as thou hast opened to me when I knock. Two things I find which thou hast made, not within intervals of time, although neither is coeternal with thee. One of them is so formed that, without any wavering in its contemplation, without any interval of change--mutable but not changed--it may fully enjoy thy eternity and immutability. The other is so formless that it could not change from one form to another (either of motion or of rest), and so time has no hold upon it. But thou didst not leave this formless, for, before any “day” in the beginning, thou didst create heaven and earth--these are the two things of which I spoke.

But “the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss.” By these words its formlessness is indicated to us--so that by degrees they may be led forward who cannot wholly conceive of the privation of all form without arriving at nothing. From this formlessness a second heaven might be created and a second earth--visible and well formed, with the ordered beauty of the waters, and whatever else is recorded as created (though not without days) in the formation of this world. And all this because such things are so ordered that in them the changes of time may take place through the ordered processes of motion and form.

CHAPTER XIII
16. Meanwhile this is what I understand, O my God, when I hear thy Scripture saying, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth, but the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss.” It does not say on what day thou didst create these things. Thus, for the time being I understand that “heaven of heavens” to mean the intelligible heaven, where to understand is to know all at once--not “in part,” not “darkly,” not “through a glass”--but as a simultaneous whole, in full sight, “face to face.”472 It is not this thing now and then another thing, but (as we said) knowledge all at once without any temporal change. And by the invisible and unformed earth, I understand that which suffers no temporal vicissitude. Temporal change customarily means having one thing now and another later; but where there is no form there can be no distinction between this or that. It is, then, by means of these two--one thing well formed in the beginning and another thing wholly unformed, the one heaven (that is, the heaven of heavens) and the other one earth (but the earth invisible and unformed)--it is by means of these two notions that I am able to understand why thy Scripture said, without mention of days, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” For it immediately indicated which earth it was speaking about. When, on the second day, the firmament is recorded as having been created and called heaven, this suggests to us which heaven it was that he was speaking about earlier, without specifying a day.

CHAPTER XIV


17. Marvelous is the depth of thy oracles. Their surface is before us, inviting the little ones; and yet wonderful is their depth, O my God, marvelous is their depth! It is a fearful thing to look into them: an awe of honor and a tremor of love. Their enemies I hate vehemently. Oh, if thou wouldst slay them with thy two-edged sword, so that they should not be enemies! For I would prefer that they should be slain to themselves, that they might live to thee. But see, there are others who are not critics but praisers of the book of Genesis; they say: “The Spirit of God who wrote these things by his servant Moses did not wish these words to be understood like this. He did not wish to have it understood as you say, but as we say.” To them, O God of us all, thyself being the judge, I give answer.

CHAPTER XV


18. “Will you say that these things are false which Truth tells me, with a loud voice in my inner ear, about the very eternity of the Creator: that his essence is changed in no respect by time and that his will is not distinct from his essence? Thus, he doth not will one thing now and another thing later, but he willeth once and for all everything that he willeth--not again and again; and not now this and now that. Nor does he will afterward what he did not will before, nor does he cease to will what he had willed before. Such a will would be mutable and no mutable thing is eternal. But our God is eternal.

“Again, he tells me in my inner ear that the expectation of future things is turned to sight when they have come to pass. And this same sight is turned into memory when they have passed. Moreover, all thought that varies thus is mutable, and nothing mutable is eternal. But our God is eternal.” These things I sum up and put together, and I conclude that my God, the eternal God, hath not made any creature by any new will, and his knowledge does not admit anything transitory.

19. “What, then, will you say to this, you objectors? Are these things false?” “No,” they say. “What then? Is it false that every entity already formed and all matter capable of receiving form is from him alone who is supremely good, because he is supreme?” “We do not deny this, either,” they say. “What then? Do you deny this: that there is a certain sublime created order which cleaves with such a chaste love to the true and truly eternal God that, although it is not coeternal with him, yet it does not separate itself from him, and does not flow away into any mutation of change or process but abides in true contemplation of him alone?” If thou, O God, dost show thyself to him who loves thee as thou hast commanded--and art sufficient for him--then, such a one will neither turn himself away from thee nor turn away toward himself. This is “the house of God.” It is not an earthly house and it is not made from any celestial matter; but it is a spiritual house, and it partakes in thy eternity because it is without blemish forever. For thou hast made it steadfast forever and ever; thou hast given it a law which will not be removed. Still, it is not coeternal with thee, O God, since it is not without beginning--it was created.

20. For, although we can find no time before it (for wisdom was created before all things),473 this is certainly not that Wisdom which is absolutely coeternal and equal with thee, our God, its Father, the Wisdom through whom all things were created and in whom, in the beginning, thou didst create the heaven and earth. This is truly the created Wisdom, namely, the intelligible nature which, in its contemplation of light, is light. For this is also called wisdom, even if it is a created wisdom. But the difference between the Light that lightens and that which is enlightened is as great as is the difference between the Wisdom that creates and that which is created. So also is the difference between the Righteousness that justifies and the righteousness that is made by justification. For we also are called thy righteousness, for a certain servant of thine says, “That we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”474 Therefore, there is a certain created wisdom that was created before all things: the rational and intelligible mind of that chaste city of thine. It is our mother which is above and is free475 and “eternal in the heavens”476--but in what heavens except those which praise thee, the “heaven of heavens”? This also is the “heaven of heavens” which is the Lord’s--although we find no time before it, since what has been created before all things also precedes the creation of time. Still, the eternity of the Creator himself is before it, from whom it took its beginning as created, though not in time (since time as yet was not), even though time belongs to its created nature.

21. Thus it is that the intelligible heaven came to be from thee, our God, but in such a way that it is quite another being than thou art; it is not the Selfsame. Yet we find that time is not only not before it, but not even in it, thus making it able to behold thy face forever and not ever be turned aside. Thus, it is varied by no change at all. But there is still in it that mutability in virtue of which it could become dark and cold, if it did not, by cleaving to thee with a supernal love, shine and glow from thee like a perpetual noon. O house full of light and splendor! “I have loved your beauty and the place of the habitation of the glory of my Lord,”477 your builder and possessor. In my wandering let me sigh for you; this I ask of him who made you, that he should also possess me in you, seeing that he hath also made me. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep478; yet upon the shoulders of my Shepherd, who is your builder, I have hoped that I may be brought back to you.”479

22. “What will you say to me now, you objectors to whom I spoke, who still believe that Moses was the holy servant of God, and that his books were the oracles of the Holy Spirit? Is it not in this ‘house of God’--not coeternal with God, yet in its own mode ‘eternal in the heavens’--that you vainly seek for temporal change? You will not find it there. It rises above all extension and every revolving temporal period, and it rises to what is forever good and cleaves fast to God.”

“It is so,” they reply. “What, then, about those things which my heart cried out to my God, when it heard, within, the voice of his praise? What, then, do you contend is false in them? Is it because matter was unformed, and since there was no form there was no order? But where there was no order there could have been no temporal change. Yet even this ‘almost nothing,’ since it was not altogether nothing, was truly from him from whom everything that exists is in whatever state it is.” “This also,” they say, “we do not deny.”

CHAPTER XVI


23. Now, I would like to discuss a little further, in thy presence, O my God, with those who admit that all these things are true that thy Truth has indicated to my mind. Let those who deny these things bark and drown their own voices with as much clamor as they please. I will endeavor to persuade them to be quiet and to permit thy word to reach them. But if they are unwilling, and if they repel me, I ask of thee, O my God, that thou shouldst not be silent to me.480 Speak truly in my heart; if only thou wouldst speak thus, I would send them away, blowing up the dust and raising it in their own eyes. As for myself I will enter into my closet481 and there sing to thee the songs of love, groaning with groanings that are unutterable now in my pilgrimage,482 and remembering Jerusalem with my heart uplifted to Jerusalem my country, Jerusalem my mother483; and to thee thyself, the Ruler of the source of Light, its Father, Guardian, Husband; its chaste and strong delight, its solid joy and all its goods ineffable--and all of this at the same time, since thou art the one supreme and true Good! And I will not be turned away until thou hast brought back together all that I am from this dispersion and deformity to the peace of that dearest mother, where the first fruits of my spirit are to be found and from which all these things are promised me which thou dost conform and confirm forever, O my God, my Mercy. But as for those who do not say that all these things which are true are false, who still honor thy Scripture set before us by the holy Moses, who join us in placing it on the summit of authority for us to follow, and yet who oppose us in some particulars, I say this: “Be thou, O God, the judge between my confessions and their gainsaying.”

CHAPTER XVII


24. For they say: “Even if these things are true, still Moses did not refer to these two things when he said, by divine revelation, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ By the term ‘heaven’ he did not mean that spiritual or intelligible created order which always beholds the face of God. And by the term ‘earth’ he was not referring to unformed matter.”

“What then do these terms mean?”

They reply, “That man [Moses] meant what we mean; this is what he was saying in those terms.” “What is that?”

“By the terms of heaven and earth,” they say, “he wished first to indicate universally and briefly this whole visible world; then after this, by an enumeration of the days, he could point out, one by one, all the things that it has pleased the Holy Spirit to reveal in this way. For the people to whom he spoke were rude and carnal, so that he judged it prudent that only those works of God which were visible should be mentioned to them.”

But they do agree that the phrases, “The earth was invisible and unformed,” and “The darkened abyss,” may not inappropriately be understood to refer to this unformed matter--and that out of this, as it is subsequently related, all the visible things which are known to all were made and set in order during those specified “days.”

25. But now, what if another one should say, “This same formlessness and chaos of matter was first mentioned by the name of heaven and earth because, out of it, this visible world--with all its entities which clearly appear in it and which we are accustomed to be called by the name of heaven and earth--was created and perfected”? And what if still another should say: “The invisible and visible nature is quite fittingly called heaven and earth. Thus, the whole creation which God has made in his wisdom--that is, in the beginning--was included under these two terms. Yet, since all things have been made, not from the essence of God, but from nothing; and because they are not the same reality that God is; and because there is in them all a certain mutability, whether they abide as the eternal house of God abides or whether they are changed as the soul and body of man are changed--then the common matter of all things invisible and visible (still formless but capable of receiving form) from which heaven and earth were to be created (that is, the creature already fashioned, invisible as well as visible)--all this was spoken of in the same terms by which the invisible and unformed earth and the darkness over the abyss would be called. There was this difference, however: that the invisible and unformed earth is to be understood as having corporeal matter before it had any manner of form; but the darkness over the abyss was spiritual matter, before its unlimited fluidity was harnessed, and before it was enlightened by Wisdom.”

26. And if anyone wished, he might also say, “The entities already perfected and formed, invisible and visible, are not signified by the terms ‘heaven and earth,’ when it reads, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’; instead, the unformed beginning of things, the matter capable of receiving form and being made was called by these terms--because the chaos was contained in it and was not yet distinguished by qualities and forms, which have now been arranged in their own orders and are called heaven and earth: the former a spiritual creation, the latter a physical creation.”

CHAPTER XVIII


27. When all these things have been said and considered, I am unwilling to contend about words, for such contention is profitable for nothing but the subverting of the hearer.484 But the law is profitable for edification if a man use it lawfully: for the end of the law “is love out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.”485 And our Master knew it well, for it was on these two commandments that he hung all the Law and the Prophets. And how would it harm me, O my God, thou Light of my eyes in secret, if while I am ardently confessing these things--since many different things may be understood from these words, all of which may be true--what harm would be done if I should interpret the meaning of the sacred writer differently from the way some other man interprets? Indeed, all of us who read are trying to trace out and understand what our author wished to convey; and since we believe that he speaks truly we dare not suppose that he has spoken anything that we either know or suppose to be false. Therefore, since every person tries to understand in the Holy Scripture what the writer understood, what harm is done if a man understands what thou, the Light of all truth-speaking minds, showest him to be true, although the author he reads did not understand this aspect of the truth even though he did understand the truth in a different meaning?486

CHAPTER XIX487


28. For it is certainly true, O Lord, that thou didst create the heaven and the earth. It is also true that “the beginning” is thy wisdom in which thou didst create all things. It is likewise true that this visible world has its own great division (the heaven and the earth) and these two terms include all entities that have been made and created. It is further true that everything mutable confronts our minds with a certain lack of form, whereby it receives form, or whereby it is capable of taking form. It is true, yet again, that what cleaves to the changeless form so closely that even though it is mutable it is not changed is not subject to temporal process. It is true that the formlessness which is almost nothing cannot have temporal change in it. It is true that that from which something is made can, in a manner of speaking, be called by the same name as the thing that is made from it. Thus that formlessness of which heaven and earth were made might be called “heaven and earth.” It is true that of all things having form nothing is nearer to the unformed than the earth and the abyss. It is true that not only every created and formed thing but also everything capable of creation and of form were created by Thee, from whom all things are.488 It is true, finally, that everything that is formed from what is formless was formless before it was formed.

CHAPTER XX


29. From all these truths, which are not doubted by those to whom thou hast granted insight in such things in their inner eye and who believe unshakably that thy servant Moses spoke in the spirit of truth--from all these truths, then, one man takes the sense of “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” to mean, “In his Word, coeternal with himself, God made both the intelligible and the tangible, the spiritual and the corporeal creation.” Another takes it in a different sense, that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” means, “In his Word, coeternal with himself, God made the universal mass of this corporeal world, with all the observable and known entities that it contains.” Still another finds a different meaning, that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” means, “In his Word, coeternal with himself, God made the unformed matter of the spiritual and corporeal creation.” Another can take the sense that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” means, “In his Word, coeternal with himself, God made the unformed matter of the physical creation, in which heaven and earth were as yet indistinguished; but now that they have come to be separated and formed, we can now perceive them both in the mighty mass of this world.”489 Another takes still a further meaning, that “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” means, “In the very beginning of creating and working, God made that unformed matter which contained, undifferentiated, heaven and earth, from which both of them were formed, and both now stand out and are observable with all the things that are in them.”

CHAPTER XXI


30. Again, regarding the interpretation of the following words, one man selects for himself, from all the various truths, the interpretation that “the earth was invisible and unformed and darkness was over the abyss” means, “That corporeal entity which God made was as yet the formless matter of physical things without order and without light.” Another takes it in a different sense, that “But the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss” means, “This totality called heaven and earth was as yet unformed and lightless matter, out of which the corporeal heaven and the corporeal earth were to be made, with all the things in them that are known to our physical senses.” Another takes it still differently and says that “But the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss” means, “This totality called heaven and earth was as yet an unformed and lightless matter, from which were to be made that intelligible heaven (which is also called ‘the heaven of heavens’) and the earth (which refers to the whole physical entity, under which term may be included this corporeal heaven)--that is, He made the intelligible heaven from which every invisible and visible creature would be created.” He takes it in yet another sense who says that “But the earth was invisible and unformed, and darkness was over the abyss” means, “The Scripture does not refer to that formlessness by the term ‘heaven and earth’; that formlessness itself already existed. This it called the invisible ‘earth’ and the unformed and lightless ‘abyss,’ from which--as it had said before--God made the heaven and the earth (namely, the spiritual and the corporeal creation).” Still another says that “But the earth was invisible and formless, and darkness was over the abyss” means, “There was already an unformed matter from which, as the Scripture had already said, God made heaven and earth, namely, the entire corporeal mass of the world, divided into two very great parts, one superior, the other inferior, with all those familiar and known creatures that are in them.”

CHAPTER XXII


31. Now suppose that someone tried to argue against these last two opinions as follows: “If you will not admit that this formlessness of matter appears to be called by the term ‘heaven and earth,’ then there was something that God had not made out of which he did make heaven and earth. And Scripture has not told us that God made this matter, unless we understand that it is implied in the term ‘heaven and earth’ (or the term ‘earth’ alone) when it is said, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.’ Thus, in what follows--’the earth was invisible and unformed’--even though it pleased Moses thus to refer to unformed matter, yet we can only understand by it that which God himself hath made, as it stands written in the previous verse, ‘God made heaven and earth.’” Those who maintain either one or the other of these two opinions which we have set out above will answer to such objections: “We do not deny at all that this unformed matter was created by God, from whom all things are, and are very good--because we hold that what is created and endowed with form is a higher good; and we also hold that what is made capable of being created and endowed with form, though it is a lesser good, is still a good. But the Scripture has not said specifically that God made this formlessness--any more than it has said it specifically of many other things, such as the orders of ‘cherubim’ and ‘seraphim’ and those others of which the apostle distinctly speaks: ‘thrones,’ ‘dominions,’ ‘principalities,’ ‘powers’490--yet it is clear that God made all of these. If in the phrase ‘He made heaven and earth’ all things are included, what are we to say about the waters upon which the Spirit of God moved? For if they are understood as included in the term ‘earth,’ then how can unformed matter be meant by the term ‘earth’ when we see the waters so beautifully formed? Or, if it be taken thus, why, then, is it written that out of the same formlessness the firmament was made and called heaven, and yet is it not specifically written that the waters were made? For these waters, which we perceive flowing in so beautiful a fashion, are not formless and invisible. But if they received that beauty at the time God said of them, ‘Let the waters which are under the firmament be gathered together,’491 thus indicating that their gathering together was the same thing as their reception of form, what, then, is to be said about the waters that are above the firmament? Because if they are unformed, they do not deserve to have a seat so honorable, and yet it is not written by what specific word they were formed. If, then, Genesis is silent about anything that God hath made, which neither sound faith nor unerring understanding doubts that God hath made, let not any sober teaching dare to say that these waters were coeternal with God because we find them mentioned in the book of Genesis and do not find it mentioned when they were created. If Truth instructs us, why may we not interpret that unformed matter which the Scripture calls the earth--invisible and unformed--and the lightless abyss as having been made by God from nothing; and thus understand that they are not coeternal with him, although the narrative fails to tell us precisely when they were made?”

CHAPTER XXIII

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