Friday, February 11, 2005

Book I, Chapters 1-5

I love the way Augustine talks about God here. He speaks in ordinary language and concepts, with keen intelligence and common sense. He never thinks to attempt to prove that God exists, or not. It is simply not an issue for him. As in Old Testament Hebrew thought, Augustine assumes that God exists, and like a good Greek philosopher, he asks the right questions. In addition, Augustine brings very significant life experiences, described later in the Confessions, in his approach to God. From this broad base of wisdom, Augustine explores the concept of God.

It seems that throughout history, every school of philosophy or theology has its own, almost self-contained, concepts and language (metaphysics?) for talking about, and proving or disproving, the existence of God. Their theories all ultimately fail, of course, because, as Augustine shows, God cannot be completely defined, analyzed, or explained by any purely intellectual human method or knowledge. Augustine implicitly subverts all self-enclosed proofs of God's existence, past and present. But, Augustine doesn't dispose of his own intellect. Rather, he uses all of his human faculties, including his intellect and experiences, to sense, imagine, appreciate, and comprehend the totally otherness of God.

In this journal, I am only reacting to the text as I read it. For a succinct, objective, comprehensive overview of Augustine and proof of the existence of God see:
The Existence of God inthe Philosophy of St. Augustine

Augustine's approach to God blends seamlessly into Father Luigi Giussanni's writings on the religious imagination of man:

Abstract, logical processes take us only us only so
far. If carried to an extreme, systems of thought
lose a connection to reality and become
self-confirming. We live in the rarified realm of
pure thought. We deny that some things are evident
and that they make themselves known to use: there is
a presence "one must admit."

- above quote from the preface of The Religious Sense, by Fr. Luigi Giussani.

We see Augustine's emphasis on interiority. He says that God has stimulated man to praise him. He says that God is within us. He talks about our hearts being restless. He says that when he prays, he calls God into himself. He says, "Oh that you would come into my heart and so inebriate it that I would forget my own evils and embrace my one and only good which is you!"

Though Augustine starts off talking about the infinite power and wisdom of God, love of God is implied throughout and spoken of explicitly in section 4, which is a beautiful passage that I can only imagine is even more beautiful and poetic in the original latin.

Augustine says that we should praise God. One area that I do not fully understand is the praising of God. I am not sure why, since God shouldn't need man's praise. I read, in Thomas Merton's book on the Psalms, I think, that we should praise God in order for us to cultivate an appreciation of God's love for us. I'm not sure if that makes sense or works. As far as being stimulated to praise God, I know that I spontaneously praise God were when I am expecting something bad to happen to me, and I am unexpectedly delivered from it! Occasionally, I will praise God when something good happens, irregardless. I do realize that in expressing spontaneous praise of God, I am expressing an acknowledgment of our complete dependence on God.

At first thought, Augustine does seem to have a pessimistic view of human nature. He says that man goes about carrying his own mortality, evidence of his own sin, and evidence that God resists the proud. An optimist might have said that the good news is that man has abundant Grace and eternal life available to him by the blood of Christ. However, on balance, and based on my experiences with other people, I am inclined to say that Augustine's view is realistic.

The overall subject of this section is Augustine's experience of the infinite and unconditional power, wisdom, and love of God who is present everywhere, both inside of us and outside of us, without bound. What I most appreciate is Augustine's attempt, using ordinary language, to try and imagine God. And what he imagines is in agreement with what I imagine. I have difficulty with the issue of praise. And unfortunately, to be honest, I do not share or experience the magnitude or broad, emotional depth of Augustine's love for God.


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