Augustine


If one asks, What does it mean to find the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? the answer is not so obvious. Finding means more than getting things straight or discovering the most appropriate analogy in human experience for the Triune God. There can be no finding without a change in the seeker. Our minds, he says, must be purified, and we must be made fit and capable of receiving what is sought. We can cleave to God and see the Holy Trinity only when we burn with love.

Robert Louis Wilken, speaking about St Augustine understanding of the Trinity in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. Seeking the Face of God, 108.

I noted this a couple of days ago and was reminded of it a few minutes ago when I read the addendum to Aaron’s latest post. (And, contrary to what it may seem, this blog does not simply exist to send traffic to his site, but what can I do when he posts stuff like this…?)

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Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kind of animals, shrubs, stones and so forth, and this knowledge he holds as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book I, 19, 39.

Thanks to a FB friend who piqued by curiosity and sent me looking for more. It seems that there is indeed nothing new under the sun! (Note to self: must get back to reading St Augustine sometime; despite the problems with him, I was actually growing quite fond of him last time I read him seriously. And note to any Orthodox Talibanites: no, I am not going to refrain from calling him Saint).

Water issuing from a spring is what is commonly called living water. Water collected from rain in pools and cisterns is not called living water. It may have originally flowed from a spring; yet if it collects in some place and is left to stand without any connection to its source, separated, as it were, from the channel of the spring, it is not called “living water.” Water is designated as “living” when it is taken as it flows. This is the kind of water that was in that fountain.

Saint Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 15.12, in Joel C. Elowsky (ed).  John 1-10 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)149-150.

One must investigate what is meant by “will thirst” in the statement “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again.” … What is meant in the first place would be something like this: he who partakes of supposedly profound thoughts, even if he is satisfied for a little while and accepts the ideas that are drawn out and that he thinks he has discovered to be most profound, will, however, when he has reconsidered them, raise new questions…. But [the Word] says, I have the teaching that becomes a fountain of living water in the one who has received what I have declared. And he who has received of my water will receive so great a benefit that a fountain capable of discovering everything that is investigated will gush forth within him. The waters will leap upward. His understanding also will spring up and fly as swiftly as possible in accordance with this briskly flowing water, the springing and leaping itself carrying him to that higher life that is eternal.

Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 13.13,15-16, in Joel C. Elowsky (ed). John 1-10 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture) 152.

Today, of course, is the Sunday of the Samaritan woman.

 vwkl

… why should we wonder that He rose from supper, and laid aside His garments, who, being in the form of God, made Himself of no reputation? Literally, “emptied Himself,” as in the Greek. And why should we wonder, if He girded Himself with a towel, who took upon Him the form of a servant, and was found in the likeness of a man? Why wonder, if He poured water into a basin wherewith to wash His disciples’ feet, who poured His blood upon the earth to wash away the filth of their sins? Why wonder, if with the towel wherewith He was girded He wiped the feet He had washed, who with the very flesh that clothed Him laid a firm pathway for the footsteps of His evangelists? In order, indeed, to gird Himself with the towel, He laid aside the garments He wore; but when He emptied Himself [of His divine glory] in order to assume the form of a servant, He laid not down what He had, but assumed that which He had not before. When about to be crucified, He was indeed stripped of His garments, and when dead was wrapped in linen clothes: and all that suffering of His is our purification. When, therefore, about to suffer the last extremities [of humiliation,] He here illustrated beforehand its friendly compliances; not only to those for whom He was about to endure death, but to him also who had resolved on betraying Him to death. Because so great is the beneficence of human humility, that even the Divine Majesty was pleased to commend it by His own example; for proud man would have perished eternally, had he not been found by the lowly God. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost. And as he was lost by imitating the pride of the deceiver, let him now, when found, imitate the Redeemer’s humility.

Saint Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 55. 7.

The true teacher of humility is Christ, who humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. But He does not lose His divinity in teaching us humility; in the one He is the Father’s equal, in the other He is assimilated to us. By that which made Him the equal of the Father, He called us into existence; and by that in which He is like unto us, He redeemed us from ruin.

These, then, were the words of praise addressed to Jesus by the multitude, “Hosanna: blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.” What a cross of mental suffering must the Jewish rulers have endured when they heard so great a multitude proclaiming Christ as their King! But what honor was it to the Lord to be King of Israel? What great thing was it to the King of eternity to become the King of men? For Christ’s kingship over Israel was not for the purpose of exacting tribute, of putting swords into His soldiers’ hands, of subduing His enemies by open warfare; but He was King of Israel in exercising kingly authority over their inward natures, in consulting for their eternal interests, in bringing into His heavenly kingdom those whose faith, and hope, and love were centred in Himself. Accordingly, for the Son of God, the Father’s equal, the Word by whom all things were made, in His good pleasure to be King of Israel, was an act of condescension and not of promotion; a token of compassion, and not any increase of power. For He who was called on earth the King of the Jews, is in the heavens the Lord of angels.

Saint Augustine, Tractate on John’s Gospel, 51, 3-4.

Thus, He says, shall come the spiritual birth,—men, from being earthly, shall become heavenly; and this they can only obtain by being made members of me; so that he may ascend who descended, since no one ascends who did not descend. All, therefore, who have to be changed and raised must meet together in a union with Christ, so that the Christ who descended may ascend, reckoning His body (that is to say, His Church) as nothing else than Himself…

Saint Augustine, On the Merrits and Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism, I.60, NPNF 1, 5: 39.

All the faithful know the story of the marriage of the king’s son, and his feast. They know that the Lord’s table is open to all who are willing correctly to receive it. But it is important that each one examines how he approaches, even when he is not forbidden to approach.

The holy Scriptures teach us that there are two feasts of the Lord: one to which the good and evil come, the other to which the evil do not come. So then the feast of which we have just now heard when the gospel was being read has both good and evil guests. All who excused themselves from this feast are evil, but not all those who entered in are good. I now address you, therefore, who are the good guests at this feast. You are taking careful note of the words, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” It is to you I speak. I plead with you not to look vainly for the good apart from the church but to bear with the evil within it.

Augustine, Sermon 90.I, quoted in Manlio Simonetti (ed), Matthew 14 – 28, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament Ib, (InterVarsity Press, 2002) 145.

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