I have a dog-eared copy of The Confessions of St. Augustine that I am prone to turn to for comfort when my heart is uneasy. My going to Augustine could be compared to going to the grocery store without a list: most often I come away with something entirely different than the thing which *I* thought I most needed, yet I am satiated in the end.
Last night, I sought out a passage on memory.* Instead I became caught in another thicket within the text, book IV [‘Parts of the Whole’].
This semester I am taking a most enjoyable class entitled ‘Theology and Culture’ in which we have been wrestling with a variety of questions, among them this one: As Christians, where can we identify the mark of the Creator in works of other craftsmen? This question of course begs another: to what degree do we expose ourselves to such works, and so on and so forth (the questions get more compelling and in my mind, more interesting, but this is to be a post and not a thesis).
I came across this passage which I had highlighted before. It had thus spoken to me before, but not about these questions. Just as scripture has a polyvalence and can sometimes serve as a growth chart or a road map of where we have been or how much we have grown, so too can formative and nourishing writings like Augustine. We can see in them something additional than the thing which we saw before. Perhaps what we got the first time was all that we could handle; we needed to first swallow that.
That is enough of my food for thought, here is what Augustine himself says about things created and the way that we should use them as pointers to the Creator:
If physical objects give you pleasure, praise God for them and return love to their Maker lest, in the things that please you, you displease him. If souls please you, they are being loved in God; for they also are mutable and acquire stability by being established in him. Otherwise they go their way and perish. In him therefore they are loved; so seize what souls you can take with you to him, and say to them: ‘Him we love; he made these things and is not far distant.’ For he did not create and then depart; the things derived from him have their being in him. Look where he is – wherever there is a taste of truth. He is very close to the heart, but the heart has wandered from him. ‘Return, sinners, to your heart’ (Isa. 46:8 LXX), and adhere to him who made you. Stand with him and you will stand fast. Rest in him and you will be at rest. Where are you going along rough paths? What is the goal of your journey? The good which you love is from him. But it is only as it is related to him that it is good and sweet. Otherwise it will justly become bitter; for all that comes from him is unjustly loved if he has been abandoned. With what end in view do you again and again walk laborious paths (Wisd. 5:7)? There is no rest where you seek for it. Seek for what you seek, but it is not where you are looking for it. You seek the happy life in the region of death; it is not there. How can there be a happy life when there is not even life?**
*For those not familiar with Augustine, he does not just deal with “churchy matters” as we are wont to think of them. His writings on God’s attributes deal with time; given treatment that both intrigued and humbled me in the Confessions and De Trinitate, for example; with space (as in volume, not as in “outer space,”) and memory. He was very psychological in his works, not only his own psyche was probed, but he was the father of the “psychological analogy,” a way to metaphorically try to get at an understanding of the trinity and thus in this understanding, ourselves.
**The italicized portion is my second-favorite Augustinian passage (so far – I have read but three of his works to date: City of God, The Confessions, and De Trinitate).