Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Paradox of God’s Omnipresence (Confessions 1:2.2-1.6)

CreationSt. Augustine begins with a series of paradoxical questions about the nature of God. If the heart naturally longs for God, how does the soul encounter him? Do we first invoke him or praise him, or do we first know him or call upon him? What is the role of faith? Following intuitions from Scripture, Augustine notes that beyond the natural knowledge of God is the preaching of the Gospel. The incarnation leads to the progression of first hearing, then believing, to calling and seeking, and then ultimately to finding and praising. It is in finding that we fulfill the natural longing that God has placed in each heart.

Yet how do we conceive of this relation between the soul and God? How can God be said to “come into us” or “fill us”? How can we contain an infinite God? In fact God is everywhere wholly present, yet cannot be contained wholly by anything or anyone. Augustine notes;

“Yet all those things which you fill, you fill with the whole of yourself . . . Are you not everywhere in your whole being, while there is nothing whatever that can hold you entirely?” (1.3.3).

God is series of paradoxes, “supremely merciful and infinitely just, most hidden yet intimately present, infinitely beautiful and infinitely strong, steadfast yet elusive, unchanging yourself though you control the change of all things, never new, never old, renewing all things. . .” (1.4.4).

Ultimately it is through the eyes of faith that Augustine is able to understand. He says “Lord open the ears of my heart.” “The house of my soul is too small for you to enter: make it more spacious by your coming. It lies in ruins: rebuild it” (1.6).

One is reminded of C.S. Lewis’ final Narnia book, The Last Battle, where Lewis compares Narnia to the experience of heaven.

The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.

  Elsewhere quoting the text of Isaiah 7:9 (Old Latin of the LXX), Augustine will say, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” (Answer to Faustus, 12:46, and 22:53)[i] This phrase is probably the source of Anselm’s famous motto is “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum).

Text © Scott McKellar 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[i] Answer to Faustus, a Manichean, Trans. Roland Teske, S.J., The Works of Saint Augustine for the 21st Century, Ed. Boniface Ramsey, (New York, New City Press, 2007),12:46 (p. 156), 22.53 (p. 335). Cf. also his Sermon 118.1 where he says “faith precedes, understanding follows.” Sermons III/4 (94A-147A) Trans. Edmond Hill O.P., The Works of Saint Augustine for the 21st Century, Ed. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., (New York, New City Press, 1992), p. 225.

 

 

 

 


[i] Answer to Faustus, a Manichean, Trans. Roland Teske, S.J., The Works of Saint Augustine for the 21st Century, Ed. Boniface Ramsey, (New York, New City Press, 2007),12:46 (p. 156), 22.53 (p. 335). Cf. also his Sermon 118.1 where he says “faith precedes, understanding follows.” Sermons III/4 (94A-147A) Trans. Edmond Hill O.P., The Works of Saint Augustine for the 21st Century, Ed. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., (New York, New City Press, 1992), p. 225.

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