Augustine: confessions



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CHAPTER XVIII
22. Thus, O Lord, thus I beseech thee: let it happen as thou hast prepared it, as thou givest joy and the capacity for joy. Let truth spring up out of the earth, and let righteousness look down from heaven,583 and let there be lights in the firmament.584

Let us break our bread with the hungry, let us bring the shelterless poor to our house; let us clothe the naked, and never despise those of our own flesh.585 See from the fruits which spring forth from the earth how good it is. Thus let our temporal light break forth, and let us from even this lower level of fruitful action come to the joy of contemplation and hold on high the Word of Life. And let us at length appear like “lights in the world,”586 cleaving to the firmament of thy Scripture.

For in it thou makest it plain to us how we may distinguish between things intelligible and things tangible, as if between the day and the night--and to distinguish between souls who give themselves to things of the mind and others absorbed in things of sense. Thus it is that now thou art not alone in the secret of thy judgment as thou wast before the firmament was made, and before thou didst divide between the light and the darkness. But now also thy spiritual children, placed and ranked in this same firmament--thy grace being thus manifest throughout the world--may shed light upon the earth, and may divide between the day and night, and may be for the signs of the times587; because old things have passed away, and, lo, all things are become new588; and because our salvation is nearer than when we believed; and because “the night is far spent and the day is at hand”589; and because “thou crownest the year with blessing,”590 sending the laborers into thy harvest, in which others have labored in the sowing and sending laborers also to make new sowings whose harvest shall not be until the end of time. Thus thou dost grant the prayers of him who seeks, and thou dost bless the years of the righteous man. But thou art always the Selfsame, and in thy years which fail not thou preparest a granary for our transient years. For by an eternal design thou spreadest the heavenly blessings on the earth in their proper seasons.

23. For “to one there is given by thy Spirit the word of wisdom”591 (which resembles the greater light--which is for those whose delight is in the clear light of truth--as the light which is given for the ruling of the day592). But to another the word of knowledge is given by the same Spirit (as it were, the “lesser light”); to another, faith; to another, the gift of healing; to another, the power of working miracles; to another, the gift of prophecy; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another, other kinds of tongues--and all these gifts may be compared to “the stars.” For in them all the one and selfsame Spirit is at work, dividing to every man his own portion, as He wills, and making stars to appear in their bright splendor for the profit of souls. But the word of knowledge, scientia, in which is contained all the mysteries593 which change in their seasons like the moon; and all the other promises of gifts, which when counted are like the stars--all of these fall short of that splendor of Wisdom in which the day rejoices and are only for the ruling of the night. Yet they are necessary for those to whom thy most prudent servant could not speak as to the spiritually mature, but only as if to carnal men--even though he could speak wisdom among the perfect.594 Still the natural man--as a babe in Christ, and a drinker of milk, until he is strong enough for solid meat, and his eye is able to look into the sun--do not leave him in a lightless night. Instead, let him be satisfied with the light of the moon and the stars. In thy book thou dost discuss these things with us wisely, our God--in thy book, which is thy “firmament”--in order that we may be able to view all things in admiring contemplation, although thus far we must do so through signs and seasons and in days and years.

CHAPTER XIX
24. But, first, “wash yourselves and make you clean; put away iniquity from your souls and from before my eyes”595--so that “the dry land” may appear. “Learn to do well, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow,”596 that the earth may bring forth the green herb for food and fruit-bearing trees. “And come, let us reason together, saith the Lord”597--that there may be lights in the firmament of heaven and that they may shine upon the earth.

There was that rich man who asked of the good Teacher what he should do to attain eternal life. Let the good Teacher (whom the rich man thought a man and nothing more) give him an answer--he is good for he is God. Let him answer him that, if he would enter into life, he must keep the commandments: let him put away from himself the bitterness of malice and wickedness; let him not kill, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor bear false witness598--that “the dry land” may appear and bring forth the honoring of fathers and mothers and the love of neighbor. “All these,” he replied, “I have kept.” Where do so many thorns come from, if the earth is really fruitful? uproot the brier patch of avarice; “sell what you have, and be filled with fruit by giving to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and follow” the Lord if you would be perfect and joined with those in whose midst he speaketh wisdom--who know how to give rightly to the day and to the night--and you will also understand, so that for you also there may be lights in the firmament of heaven--which will not be there, however, unless your heart is there also. And your heart will not be there unless your treasure is there,599 as you have heard from the good Teacher. But “the barren earth”600 was grieved, and the briers choked the word.601

25. But you, O elect people, set in the firmament of the world,602 who have forsaken all that you may follow the Lord: follow him now, and confound the mighty! Follow him, O beautiful feet,603 and shine in the firmament, that the heavens may declare his glory, dividing the light of the perfect ones604--though not yet so perfect as the angels--from the darkness of the little ones--who are nevertheless not utterly despised. Shine over all the earth, and let the day be lighted by the sun, utter the Word of wisdom to the day (“day unto day utters speech”605) and let the night, lighted by the moon, display the Word of knowledge to the night. The moon and the stars give light for the night; the night does not put them out, and they illumine in its proper mode. For lo, it is as if God were saying, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven”: and suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as if it were a rushing mighty wind, and there appeared cloven tongues of fire, and they sat on each of them.606 And then they were made to be lights in the firmament of heaven, having the Word of life. Run to and fro everywhere, you holy fires, you lovely fires, for you are the light of the world and you are not to be hid under a peck measure.607 He to whom you cleave is raised on high, and he hath raised you on high. Run to and fro; make yourselves known among all the nations!

CHAPTER XX


26. Also let the sea conceive and bring forth your works, and let the waters bear the moving creatures that have life.608 For by separating the precious from the vile you are made the mouth of God609 by whom he said, “Let the waters bring forth.” This does not refer to the living creatures which the earth brings forth, but to the creeping creatures that have life and the fowls that fly over the earth. For, by the ministry of thy holy ones, thy mysteries have made their way amid the buffeting billows of the world, to instruct the nations in thy name, in thy Baptism. And among these things many great and marvelous works have been wrought, which are analogous to the huge whales. The words of thy messengers have gone flying over the earth, high in the firmament of thy Book which is spread over them as the authority beneath which they are to fly wheresoever they go. For “there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard,” because “their sound has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world”610--and this because thou, O Lord, hast multiplied these things by thy blessing.

27. Am I speaking falsely? Am I mingling and confounding and not rightly distinguishing between the knowledge of these things in the firmament of heaven and those corporeal works in the swelling sea and beneath the firmament of heaven? For there are those things, the knowledge of which is solid and defined. It does not increase from generation to generation and thus they stand, as it were, as lights of wisdom and knowledge. But there are many and varied physical processes that manifest these selfsame principles. And thus one thing growing from another is multiplied by thy blessing, O God, who dost so refresh our easily wearied mortal senses that in our mental cognition a single thing may be figured and signified in many different ways by different bodily motions.

“The waters” have brought forth these mysteries, but only at thy word. The needs of the people who were alien to the eternity of thy truth have called them forth, but only in thy gospel, since it was these “waters” which cast them up--the waters whose stagnant bitterness was the reason why they came forth through thy Word.

28. Now all the things that thou hast made are fair, and yet, lo, thou who didst make all things art inexpressibly fairer. And if Adam had not fallen away from thee, that brackish sea--the human race--so deeply prying, so boisterously swelling, so restlessly moving, would never have flowed forth from his belly. Thus, there would have been no need for thy ministers to use corporeal and tangible signs in the midst of many “waters” in order to show forth their mystical deeds and words. For this is the way I interpret the phrases “creeping creatures” and “flying fowl.” Still, men who have been instructed and initiated and made dependent on thy corporeal mysteries would not be able to profit from them if it were not that their soul has a higher life and unless, after the word of its admission, it did not look beyond toward its perfection.

CHAPTER XXI
29. And thus, in thy Word, it was not the depth of the sea but “the earth,”611 separated from the brackishness of the water, that brought forth, not “the creeping and the flying creature that has life,” but “the living soul” itself!612

And now this soul no longer has need of baptism, as the heathen had, or as it did when it was covered with the waters--and there can be no other entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, since thou hast appointed that baptism should be the entrance. Nor does it seek great, miraculous works by which to buttress faith. For such a soul does not refuse to believe unless it sees signs and marvels, now that “the faithful earth” is separated from “the waters” of the sea, which have been made bitter by infidelity. Thus, for them, “tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to those who do not believe.”613

And the earth which thou hast founded above the waters does not stand in need of those flying creatures which the waters brought forth at thy word. Send forth thy word into it by the agency of thy messengers. For we only tell of their works, but it is thou who dost the works in them, so that they may bring forth “a living soul” in the earth.

The earth brings forth “the living soul” because “the earth” is the cause of such things being done by thy messengers, just as the sea was the cause of the production of the creeping creatures having life and the flying fowl under the firmament of heaven. “The earth” no longer needs them, although it feeds on the Fish which was taken out of the deep,614 set out on that table which thou preparest in the presence of those who believe. To this end he was raised from the deep: that he might feed “the dry land.” And “the fowl,” even though they were bred in the sea, will yet be multiplied on the earth. The preaching of the first evangelists was called forth by reason of man’s infidelity, but the faithful also are exhorted and blessed by them in manifold ways, day by day. “The living soul” has its origin from “the earth,” because only to the faithful is there any profit in restraining themselves from the love of this world, so that their soul may live to thee. This soul was dead while it was living in pleasures--in pleasures that bear death in them--whereas thou, O Lord, art the living delight of the pure heart.

30. Now, therefore, let thy ministers do their work on “the earth”--not as they did formerly in “the waters” of infidelity, when they had to preach and speak by miracles and mysteries and mystical expressions, in which ignorance--the mother of wonder--gives them an attentive ear because of its fear of occult and strange things. For this is the entry into faith for the sons of Adam who are forgetful of thee, who hide themselves from thy face, and who have become a darkened abyss. Instead, let thy ministers work even as on “the dry land,” safe from the whirlpools of the abyss. Let them be an example unto the faithful by living before them and stirring them up to imitation.

For in such a setting, men will heed, not with the mere intent to hear, but also to act. Seek the Lord and your soul shall live615 and “the earth” may bring forth “the living soul.” Be not conformed to this world;616 separate yourselves from it. The soul lives by avoiding those things which bring death if they are loved. Restrain yourselves from the unbridled wildness of pride, from the indolent passions of luxury, and from what is falsely called knowledge.617 Thus may the wild beast be tamed, the cattle subdued, and the serpent made harmless. For, in allegory, these figures are the motions of our mind: that is to say, the haughtiness of pride, the delight of lust, and the poison of curiosity are motions of the dead soul--not so dead that it has lost all motion, but dead because it has deserted the fountain of life, and so has been taken up by this transitory world and conformed to it.

31. But thy Word, O God, is a fountain of life eternal, and it does not pass away. Therefore, this desertion is restrained by thy Word when it says to us, “Be not conformed to this world,” to the end that “the earth” may bring forth a “living soul” in the fountain of life--a soul disciplined by thy Word, by thy evangelists, by the following of the followers of thy Christ. For this is the meaning of “after his kind.” A man tends to follow the example of his friend. Thus, he [Paul] says, “Become as I am, because I have become as you are.”618

Thus, in this “living soul” there shall be good beasts, acting meekly. For thou hast commanded this, saying: “Do your work in meekness and you shall be loved by all men.”619 And the cattle will be good, for if they eat much they shall not suffer from satiety; and if they do not eat at all they will suffer no lack. And the serpents will be good, not poisonous to do harm, but only cunning in their watchfulness--exploring only as much of this temporal nature as is necessary in order that the eternal nature may “be clearly seen, understood through the things that have been made.”620 For all these animals will obey reason when, having been restrained from their death-dealing ways, they live and become good.

CHAPTER XXII
32. Thus, O Lord, our God, our Creator, when our affections have been turned from the love of the world, in which we died by living ill; and when we began to be “a living soul” by living well; and when the word, “Be not conformed to this world,” which thou didst speak through thy apostle, has been fulfilled in us, then will follow what thou didst immediately add when thou saidst, “But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”621 This will not now be “after their kind,” as if we were following the neighbor who went before us, or as if we were living after the example of a better man--for thou didst not say, “Let man be made after his kind,” but rather, “Let us make man in our own image and our own likeness,”622 so that then we may be able to prove what thy will is.

This is why thy minister--begetting children by the gospel so that he might not always have them babes whom he would have to feed with milk and nurse as children--this is why he said, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”623 Therefore thou didst not say, “Let man be made,” but rather, “Let us make man.” And thou didst not say, “After his kind,” but after “our image” and “likeness.” Indeed, it is only when man has been renewed in his mind, and comes to behold and apprehend thy truth, that he does not need another man as his director, to show him how to imitate human examples. Instead, by thy guidance, he proves what is thy good and acceptable and perfect will. And thou dost teach him, now that he is able to understand, to see the trinity of the Unity and the unity of the Trinity.

This is why the statement in the plural, “Let us make man,” is also connected with the statement in the singular, “And God made man.” Thus it is said in the plural, “After our likeness,” and then in the singular, “After the image of God.” Man is thus transformed in the knowledge of God, according to the image of Him who created him. And now, having been made spiritual, he judges all things--that is, all things that are appropriate to be judged--and he himself is judged of no man.624

CHAPTER XXIII


33. Now this phrase, “he judges all things,” means that man has dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all cattle and wild beasts, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. And he does this by the power of reason in his mind by which he perceives “the things of the Spirit of God.”625 But, when man was put in this high office, he did not understand what was involved and thus was reduced to the level of the brute beasts, and made like them.626

Therefore in thy Church, O our God, by the grace thou hast given us--since we are thy workmanship, created in good works (not only those who are in spiritual authority but also those who are spiritually subject to them)--thou madest man male and female. Here all are equal in thy spiritual grace where, as far as sex is concerned, there is neither male nor female, just as there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor bond nor free. Spiritual men, therefore, whether those who are in authority or those who are subject to authority, judge spiritually. They do not judge by the light of that spiritual knowledge which shines in the firmament, for it is inappropriate for them to judge by so sublime an authority. Nor does it behoove them to judge concerning thy Book itself, although there are some things in it which are not clear. Instead, we submit our understanding to it and believe with certainty that what is hidden from our sight is still rightly and truly spoken. In this way, even though a man is now spiritual and renewed by the knowledge of God according to the image of him who created him, he must be a doer of the law rather than its judge.627 Neither does the spiritual man judge concerning that division between spiritual and carnal men which is known to thy eyes, O God, and which may not, as yet, be made manifest to us by their external works, so that we may know them by their fruits; yet thou, O God, knowest them already and thou hast divided and called them secretly, before the firmament was made. Nor does a man, even though he is spiritual, judge the disordered state of society in this world. For what business of his is it to judge those who are without, since he cannot know which of them may later on come into the sweetness of thy grace, and which of them may continue in the perpetual bitterness of their impiety?

34. Man, then, even if he was made after thy own image, did not receive the power of dominion over the lights of heaven, nor over the secret heaven, nor over the day and the night which thou calledst forth before the creation of the heaven, nor over the gathering together of the waters which is the sea. Instead, he received dominion over the fish of the sea, and the fowls of the air; and over all cattle, and all the earth; and over all creeping things which creep on the earth.

Indeed, he judges and approves what he finds right and disapproves what he finds amiss, whether in the celebration of those mysteries by which are initiated those whom thy mercy hast sought out in the midst of many waters; or in that sacrament in which is exhibited the Fish itself628 which, being raised from the depths, the pious “earth”629 feeds upon; or, in the signs and symbols of words, which are subject to the authority of thy Book--such signs as burst forth and sound from the mouth, as if it were “flying” under the firmament, interpreting, expounding, discoursing, disputing, blessing, invoking thee, so that the people may answer, “Amen.”630 The reason that all these words have to be pronounced vocally is because of the abyss of this world and the blindness of our flesh in which thoughts cannot be seen directly,631 but have to be spoken aloud in our ears. Thus, although the flying fowl are multiplied on the earth, they still take their origins from the waters.

The spiritual man also judges by approving what is right and reproving what he finds amiss in the works and morals of the faithful, such as in their almsgiving, which is signified by the phrase, “The earth bringing forth its fruit.” And he judges of the “living soul,” which is then made to live by the disciplining of her affections in chastity, in fasting, and in holy meditation. And he also judges concerning all those things which are perceived by the bodily senses. For it can be said that he should judge in all matters about which he also has the power of correction.

CHAPTER XXIV


35. But what is this; what kind of mystery is this? Behold, O Lord, thou dost bless men in order that they may be “fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.” In this art thou not making a sign to us that we may understand something [allegorically]? Why didst thou not also bless the light, which thou calledst “the day,” nor the firmament of heaven, nor the lights, nor the stars, nor the earth, nor the sea? I might reply, O our God, that thou in creating us after thy own image--I might reply that thou didst will to bestow this gift of blessing upon man alone, if thou hadst not similarly blessed the fishes and the whales, so that they too should be fruitful and multiply and replenish the waters of the sea; and also the fowls, so that they should be multiplied on the earth. In like fashion, I might say that this blessing properly belonged only to such creatures as are propagated from their own kind, if I could find it given also as a blessing to trees, and plants, and the beasts of the earth. But this “increase and multiply” was not said to plants or trees or beasts or serpents--although all of these, along with fishes and birds and men, do actually increase by propagation and so preserve their species.

36. What, then, shall I say, O Truth, O my Life: that it was idly and vainly said? Surely not this, O Father of piety; far be it from a servant of thy Word to say anything like this! But if I do not understand what thou meanest by that phrase, let those who are better than I--that is, those more intelligent than I--interpret it better, in the degree that thou hast given each of us the ability to understand.

But let also my confession be pleasing in thy eyes, for I confess to thee that I believe, O Lord, that thou hast not spoken thus in vain. Nor will I be silent as to what my reading has suggested to me. For it is valid, and I do not see anything to prevent me from thus interpreting the figurative sayings in thy books. For I know that a thing that is understood in only one way in the mind may be expressed in many different ways by the body; and I know that a thing that has only one manner of expression through the body may be understood in the mind in many different ways. For consider this single example--the love of God and of our neighbor--by how many different mysteries and countless languages, and, in each language, by how many different ways of speaking, this is signified corporeally! In similar fashion, the “young fish” in “the waters” increase and multiply. On the other hand, whoever you are who reads this, observe and behold what Scripture declares, and how the voice pronounces it in only one way, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.”632 Is this not understood in many different ways by different kinds of true interpretations which do not involve the deceit of error? Thus the offspring of men are fruitful and do multiply.633

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