Posts tagged ‘Augustine’

July 2, 2013

my life shall be a real life

Passages from Confessions (Book X) by Augustine of Hippo (including the passage from which Petrarch takes his inspiration in “The Ascent of Mount Ventoux” and also reminiscent in places of “Holy Sonnet XIV” by John Donne as well as “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins):

These things do I within, in that vast chamber of my memory. For there are near me heaven, earth, sea, and whatever I can think upon in them, besides those which I have forgotten. There also do I meet with myself, and recall myself—what, when, or where I did a thing, and how I was affected when I did it. There are all which I remember, either by personal experience or on the faith of others. Out of the same supply do I myself with the past construct now this, now that likeness of things, which either I have experienced, or, from having experienced, have believed; and thence again future actions, events, and hopes, and upon all these again do I meditate as if they were present.

…Great is this power of memory, exceeding great, O my God—an inner chamber large and boundless! Who has plumbed the depths thereof? Yet it is a power of mine, and appertains unto my nature; nor do I myself grasp all that I am. Therefore is the mind too narrow to contain itself. And where should that be which it does not contain of itself? Is it outside and not in itself? How is it, then, that it does not grasp itself? A great admiration rises upon me; astonishment seizes me. And men go forth to wonder at the heights of mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the extent of the ocean, and the courses of the stars, and omit to wonder at themselves.

…But where in my memory do You abide, O Lord? Where do You there abide? What manner of chamber have You there formed for Yourself? What sort of sanctuary have You erected for Yourself? You have granted this honour to my memory, to take up Your abode in it; but in what quarter of it You abide, I am considering. …You are the Lord God of the mind; and all these things are changed, but You remain unchangeable over all, yet vouchsafe to dwell in my memory, from the time I learned You. But why do I now seek in what part of it You dwell, as if truly there were places in it? You dwell in it assuredly, since I have remembered You from the time I learned You, and I find You in it when I call You to mind.

Where, then, did I find You, so as to be able to learn You? For You were not in my memory before I learned You. Where, then, did I find You, so as to be able to learn You, but in You above me? Place there is none; we go both backward and forward (Job 23:8) and there is no place. Everywhere, O Truth, do You direct all who consult You, and at once answer all, though they consult You on various things. Clearly do You answer, though all do not with clearness hear. All consult You upon whatever they wish, though they hear not always that which they wish. He is Your best servant who does not so much look to hear that from You which he himself wishes, as to wish that which he hears from You.

Too late did I love You, O Fairness, so ancient, and yet so new! Too late did I love You! For behold, You were within, and I without, and there did I seek You; I, unlovely, rushed heedlessly among the things of beauty You made. You were with me, but I was not with You. Those things kept me far from You, which, unless they were in You, were not. You called, and cried aloud, and forced open my deafness. You gleamed and shine, and chase away my blindness. You exhaled odours, and I drew in my breath and do pant after You. I tasted, and do hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.

When I shall cleave unto You with all my being, then shall I in nothing have pain and labour; and my life shall be a real life, being wholly full of You. But now since he whom Thou fillest is the one Thou liftest up, I am a burden to myself, as not being full of You. Joys of sorrow contend with sorrows of joy; and on which side the victory may be I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. My evil sorrows contend with my good joys; and on which side the victory may be I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. Woe is me! Lo, I hide not my wounds; You are the Physician, I the sick.

March 12, 2012

mad to be saved

Kind compliment from a former student:

The only people for me are the mad ones. The ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time. The ones who never yawn or say a commonplace word but burn burn burn like fabulous Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

From Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Calls to mind Psalm 131 for me and this much-loved passage from Augustine’s Confessions, book I, chapter 1:

You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

February 9, 2012

the world of words had a glamour and wonder

In reading The Classical Trivium by Marshal McLuhan, I’ve appreciate much about it, including his idea that the patterns of grammar are grounded in the patterns of the physical creation and that both the worlds of language and creation provide rich and myriad symbols pointing to “the creative Trinity” (36). See this passage for example (which McLuhan cites from Colson’s Quintilian in a footnote on page 27)

The analogist argues from the unchanging order which prevails in the heavenly bodies, in the tides, in the continuity of species … language is conceived as a world in itself, much as we conceive of the visible world … he [the analogist] is as confident … as the scientific man today … as impatient of the suggestion of disorder … the world of words had a glamour and wonder for them which it cannot have for us.

Or this wonderful passage from Augustine’s De magistro (cited glowingly by McLuhan on pages 34-35):

The natural arts are concerned with the orderly repetitive changes of nature. These are veiled or vestigial signs. The task of the liberal arts is to translate them into simple signs and formulae of such signs, namely into steady and luminous symbols of thought … By means of the liberal arts, things manipulated by the exterior man are formulated by the interior man, with the help of analytic reflection ordered to truth as regulated by the formal modes of language and mathematics.

November 17, 2011

the world is like an oilpress

I’m not sure that Augustine lists some of the most intense and subtle pressures in this world, and I wish that he more fully identified the splendor (or the inevitable response that this splendor elicits from the meek and hungry): the ongoing expression of broken hallelujahs under pressure (as sung about by Leonard Cohen). However, this image of Christ (“another sort of man”) under pressure is profoundly true and echos the “ooze of oil” that is so central an image in the poem “God’s Grandeur” by Hopkins.

Thus the world is like an oilpress: under pressure. If you are the dregs of the oil you are carried away through the sewer; if you are genuine oil you will remain in the vessel. But to be under pressure is inevitable. Observe the dregs, observe the oil. Pressure takes place ever in the world, as for instance, through famine, war, want, inflation, indigence, mortality, rape, avarice; such are the pressures on the poor, the worries of the states: we have evidence of them. …We have found men who grumble under these pressures and who say: “how bad are these Christian times!” …Thus speak the dregs of the oil which run away through the sewer; their color is black because they blaspheme: they lack splendor. The oil has splendor. For here another sort of man is under the same pressure and friction which polishes him, for is it not the very friction which refines him?

From Augustine’s Sermons (ed. Denis, xxiv. 11. and quoted in Meaning in History by Karl Lowith).

July 22, 2011

what I live on

Speaking of Augustine, Wilken writes:

Like all great Christian thinkers he consciously moved within a tradition he had himself not created. He was most comfortable with a page of the Bible open before him in a basilica in the midst of the community of faith to which he was accountable. The church fathers wrote “as those who are taught” (Isa. 50:4).

From The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God by Robert Louis Wilken, pp. xix-xx.

In a revealing aside in a sermon preached on the anniversary of his ordination Augustine said, “I nourish you with what nourishes me; I offer to you what I live on myself.”

Ibid, p. 42.

July 15, 2011

they flash upon that inward eye

Petrarch, in his letter called “The Ascent of Mount Ventoux,” quotes a passage from book ten of Augustine’s Confessions: “And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.”

Petrarch cites this passage as he sets his gaze on the wonder of what it means to be human. Augustine is talking specifically about the wonders of human memory (what we might call the subconscious, the heart or the imagination). “Memory” was the fifth canon of rhetoric and Augustine was a master of the complex rhetorical theory associated with it. He conceived of each human mind as an elaborate city (or even universe) of conscious and unconscious thoughts and sensory impressions that maintain a life of their own. Augustine even speculates about how our memories contain God himself (in some incomplete sense, he is quick to point out).

When reading the poem below by William Wordsworth (which is also primarily about the power of memory), it strikes me that he is deliberately referencing this passage from Augustine and Petrarch, comparing these flowers in his mind to the stars and the waves.


William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Spring flowers that I photographed years ago at St Andrews:

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