Monday, September 05, 2005

Book VII, Chapters 14-21, understanding God plus mystical experiences

Augustine continues to describe his ever increasing understanding of the omnipresent, omnipotent, good God, especially the aspect of God’s being as it includes all of creation. Augustine describes mystical experiences that seem to coincide with and reinforce his new understanding.

Note that God is still a substance, although a supreme substance. Perhaps I’m scrutinizing the language too much, but it still sounds half-Manichean. A word like entity would seem more neutral than substance. I’m also a little surprised that given how Platonic Augustine is at this point that he doesn’t use a noun that is more abstract or intangible. Substance sounds so physical. But then again, we must admit how Manichean Augustine’s thinking was.

Augustine describes wickedness as a turning away from God, the supreme substance, towards lower things. Augustine tells us that he was swept away by the beauty of God, but that he fell back to lower things, having been pulled down by carnal weight. Yet he retains the memory of these mystical unions with God.

Although a Catechumen, Augustine is not yet a Christian. He could not appreciate and love God to the fullest yet until he had embraced Christ. There had been a school (informal school) of neo-Platonic intellectuals in Milan at the time with which Augustine had studied and been influenced by. He had read a number of books of Platonic (includes neo-Platonic) philosophy. At this point his image of Jesus was of one possessing the highest wisdom, sort of a neo-Platonic philosopher-hero. Augustine notes as a point of criticism, that the Platonists lacked some of the Christian virtues, especially charity and humility. I do not know if his comments about Christian virtue were written in hindsight or if he felt this way at this point in his life.

Finally, Augustine is seized by the writings of St. Paul who Augustine says expresses everything that he found true in Platonism.


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