Augustine: What Is the Object of my Love

And what is the object of my love? I asked the earth and it said: ‘It is not I.’ I asked all that is in it; they made the same confession (Job 28: 12 f). I asked the sea, the deeps, the living creatures that creep, and they responded: ‘We are not your God, look beyond us.’ I asked the breezes which blow and the entire air with its inhabitants said: ‘Anaximenes was mistaken; I am not God.’

I asked heaven, sun, moon and stars; they said: ‘Nor are we the God whom you seek.’ And I said to all these things in my external environment: ‘Tell me of my God who you are not, tell me something about him.’ And with a great voice they cried out: ‘He made us’ (Ps. 99: 3). My question was the attention I gave to them, and their response was their beauty.

Then I turned towards myself, and said to myself: ‘Who are you?’ I replied: ‘A man.’ I see in myself a body and a soul, one external, the other internal. Which of these should I have questioned about my God, for whom I had already searched through the physical order of things from earth to heaven, as far as I could send the rays of my eyes as messengers? What is inward is superior. All physical evidence is reported to the mind which presides and judges of the responses of heaven and earth and all things in them, as they say ‘We are not God’ and ‘He made us’. The inner man knows this—I, I the mind through the sense-perception of my body. I asked the mass of the sun about my God, and it replied to me: ‘It is not I, but he made me.‘

Surely this beauty should be self-evident to all who are of sound mind. Then why does it not speak to everyone in the same way? Animals both small and large see it, but they cannot put a question about it. In them reason does not sit in judgement upon the deliverances of the senses. But human beings can put a question so that ‘the invisible things of God are understood and seen through the things which are made’ (Rom. 1: 20). Yet by love of created things they are subdued by them, and being thus made subject become incapable of exercising judgement. Moreover, created things do not answer those who question them if power to judge is lost.

There is no alteration in the voice which is their beauty. If one person sees while another sees and questions, it is not that they appear one way to the first and another way to the second. It is rather that the created order speaks to all, but is understood by those who hear its outward voice and compare it with the truth within themselves.

Truth says to me: ‘Your God is not earth or heaven or any physical body.’ The nature of that kind of being says this. They see it: nature is a physical mass, less in the part than in the whole. In that respect, my soul, I tell you that you are already superior. For you animate the mass of your body and provide it with life, since no body is capable of doing that for another body. But your God is for you the life of your life.

-Augustine, Confessions, Book X, vi (9-10)

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