Augustine: My God, Where Are You?

I also say: My God, where are you? I see you are there, but I sigh for you a little (Job 32: 20) when I ‘pour out my soul upon myself in the voice of exultation and confession, the sound of one celebrating a festival’ (Ps. 41: 6). Yet still my soul is sad because it slips back and becomes a ‘deep’, or rather feels itself still to be a deep. My faith, which you have kindled to be a light before my feet (Ps. 118: 105) in the night, says to it: ‘Why are you sad, soul, and why do you disturb me? Hope in the Lord’ (Ps. 41: 6). ‘His word is a light to your feet’ (Ps. 118: 105). Hope and persevere until the night passes which is the mother of the wicked, until the Lord’s wrath passes, whose sons we also once were (Eph. 2: 3).

We were ‘once darkness’ (Eph. 5: 8), the remnants of which we bear in the body which ‘is dead because of sin’ (Rom. 8: 10), ‘until the day breathes and the shadows are removed’ (Cant. 2: 17). ‘Hope in the Lord. In the morning I will stand up and will contemplate you. I will ever confess to him. In the morning I will stand and I will see the salvation of my face’ (Ps. 41: 6–12), my God ‘who shall vivify even our mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells in us’ (Rom. 8: 11). For in mercy he was ‘borne above’ the dark and fluid state, which was our inward condition. From him during this wandering pilgrimage, we have received an assurance that we are already light (Eph. 5: 8).

While still in this life, we are ‘saved by hope’ (Rom. 8: 24) and are ‘sons of light’ and sons of God, ‘not sons of the night and of darkness’ (1 Thess. 5: 5) which we once were. In this still uncertain state of human knowledge, you alone mark the difference between them and us. You test our hearts (Ps. 16: 3) and call light day and darkness night (Gen. 1: 5). Who can distinguish between us except you? But ‘what do we possess which we have not received’ from you? (1 Cor. 4: 7). From the same stuff some vessels are made for honourable functions and others are made for dishonourable uses (Rom. 9: 21).

-Augustine, Book XIII, xiv (15)

Augustine: I Call Upon You, My God, My Mercy

I call upon you, my God, my mercy (Ps. 58: 18). You made me and, when I forgot you, you did not forget me. I call you into my soul which you are preparing to receive you through the longing which you have inspired in it. Do not desert me now that I am calling on you. Before I called to you, you were there before me.1 With mounting frequency by voices of many kinds you put pressure on me, so that from far off I heard and was converted and called upon you as you were calling to me.

Moreover, Lord, you wiped out all the evils which merited punishment, so as not to bring the due reward upon my hands (Ps. 17: 21), by which I fell away from you. In any good actions of mine you were there before me; in my merits you were rewarding ‘the work of your own hands by which you made me’ (Ps. 118: 73). Before I existed you were, and I had no being to which you could grant existence.

Nevertheless here I am as a result of your goodness, which goes before all that you made me to be and all out of which you made me. You had no need of me. I do not possess such goodness as to give you help, my Lord and my God. It is not as if I could so serve you as to prevent you becoming weary in your work, or that your power is diminished if it lacks my homage. Nor do I cultivate you like land, in the sense that you would have no one to worship you if I were not doing so. But I serve and worship you so that from you good may come to me. To you I owe my being and the goodness of my being.

-Augustine, Book XIII, i (1)

Augustine: In My Needy Life, Lord

In my needy life, Lord, my heart is much exercised under the impact made by the words of your holy scripture. All too frequently the poverty of human intelligence has plenty to say, for inquiry employs more words than the discovery of the solution; it takes longer to state a request than to have it granted, and the hand which knocks has more work to do than the hand which receives. We hold on to the promise, which none can make null and void.

‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Rom. 8: 31). ‘Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives and the door is opened to the one who knocks’ (Matt. 7: 7–8). These are your promises, and when the promise is given by the Truth, who fears to be deceived?

-Augustine, Confessions, Book XII, i (1)

Augustine: My Entire Hope Is Exclusively in Your Very Great Mercy

My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will. You require continence. A certain writer has said (Wisd. 8: 21): ‘As I knew that no one can be continent except God grants it, and this very thing is part of wisdom, to know whose gift this is.’ By continence we are collected together and brought to the unity from which we disintegrated into multiplicity.

He loves you less who together with you loves something which he does not love for your sake. O love, you ever burn and are never extinguished. O charity, my God, set me on fire. You command continence; grant what you command, and command what you will.

You command me without question to abstain ‘from the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the ambition of the secular world’ (1 John 2: 16). You commanded me to abstain from sleeping with a girl-friend and, in regard to marriage itself, you advised me to adopt a better way of life than you have allowed (1 Cor. 7: 38). And because you granted me strength, this was done even before I became a dispenser of your sacrament.

But in my memory of which I have spoken at length, there still live images of acts which were fixed there by my sexual habit. These images attack me. While I am awake they have no force, but in sleep they not only arouse pleasure but even elicit consent, and are very like the actual act. The illusory image within the soul has such force upon my flesh that false dreams have an effect on me when asleep, which the reality could not have when I am awake. During this time of sleep surely it is not my true self, Lord my God? Yet how great a difference between myself at the time when I am asleep and myself when I return to the waking state. Where then is reason which, when wide-awake, resists such suggestive thoughts, and would remain unmoved if the actual reality were to be presented to it? Surely reason does not shut down as the eyes close.It can hardly fall asleep with the bodily senses. For if that were so, how could it come about that often in sleep we resist and, mindful of our avowed commitment and adhering to it with strict chastity, we give no assent to such seductions? Yet there is a difference so great that, when it happens otherwise than we would wish, when we wake up we return to peace in our conscience. From the wide gulf between the occurrences and our will, we discover that we did not actively do what, to our regret, has somehow been done in us.

It cannot be the case, almighty God, that your hand is not strong enough to cure all the sicknesses of my soul and, by a more abundant outflow of your grace, to extinguish the lascivious impulses of my sleep. You will more and more increase your gifts in me, Lord, so that my soul, rid of the glue of lust, may follow me to you, so that it is not in rebellion against itself, and so that even in dreams it not only does not commit those disgraceful and corrupt acts in which sensual images provoke carnal emissions, but also does not even consent to them.

You are omnipotent, ‘able to do more than we ask or think’ (Eph. 3: 20). It is no great matter for you to cause the impulse to give no pleasure at all or no more than can be checked at will in the chaste mind of a sleeping man, not merely in later life but at my present age. Nevertheless, I have now declared to my good Lord what is still my present condition in respect of this kind of evil. I ‘exult with trembling’ (Ps. 2: 11) in what you have granted me, and grieve at my imperfect state.

I hope that you will perfect in me your mercies to achieve perfect peace (cf. Ps. 30: 7–8) which I shall have with you, inwardly and outwardly, when ‘death is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15: 54).

-Augustine, Confessions, Book X, xxix (40)-xxx (42)

Augustine: Where Then Did I Find You

Where then did I find you to be able to learn of you? You were not already in my memory before I learnt of you. Where then did I find you so that I could learn of you if not in the fact that you transcend me? There is no place, whether we go backwards or forwards; there can be no question of place.

O truth, everywhere you preside over all who ask counsel of you. You respond at one and the same time to all, even though they are consulting you on different subjects. You reply clearly, but not all hear you clearly. All ask your counsel on what they desire, but do not always hear what they would wish. Your best servant is the person who does not attend so much to hearing what he himself wants as to willing what he has heard from you.

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all.

You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

-Augustine, Confessions, Book X, xxvi (37)-xxvii (38)

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)

Augustine: You, Lord, Are My Judge

You, Lord, are my judge. For even if ‘no man knows the being of man except the spirit of man which is in him’ (1 Cor. 2: 11), yet there is something of the human person which is unknown even to the ‘spirit of man which is in him.’ But you, Lord, know everything about the human person; for you made humanity.

Although in your sight I despise myself and estimate myself to be dust and ashes (Gen. 18: 27), I nevertheless know something of you which I do not know about myself. Without question ‘we see now through a mirror in an enigma’, not yet ‘face to face’ (1 Cor. 13: 12). For this cause, as long as I am a traveller absent from you (2 Cor. 5: 6), I am more present to myself than to you. Yet I know that you cannot be in any way subjected to violence, whereas I do not know which temptations I can resist and which I cannot.

There is hope because ‘you are faithful and do not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, but with the temptation make also a way of escape so that we can bear it’ (1 Cor. 10: 13). Accordingly, let me confess what I know of myself. Let me confess too what I do not know of myself. For what I know of myself I know because you grant me light, and what I do not know of myself, I do not know until such time as my darkness becomes ‘like noonday’ before your face (Isa. 58: 10).

-Augustine, Confessions, Book X, v (7)

Augustine: Who Will Enable Me to Find Rest in You?

Who will enable me to find rest in you? Who will grant me that you come to my heart and intoxicate it, so that I forget my evils and embrace my one and only good, yourself? What are you to me?

Have mercy so that I may find words. What am I to you that you command me to love you, and that, if I fail to love you, you are angry with me and threaten me with vast miseries? If I do not love you, is that but a little misery? What a wretch I am! In your mercies, Lord God, tell me what you are to me. ‘Say to my soul, I am your salvation’ (Ps. 34: 3). Speak to me so that I may hear. See the ears of my heart are before you, Lord. Open them and ‘say to my soul, I am your salvation.’ After that utterance I will run and lay hold on you. Do not hide your face from me (cf. Ps. 26: 9). Lest I die, let me die so that I may see it.

-Augustine, Confessions, Book I, v.

Augustine: Who Are You, my God?

Who then are you, my God? What, I ask, but God who is Lord? For ‘who is the Lord but the Lord’, or ‘who is God but our God?’ (Ps. 17:32). Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, deeply hidden yet most intimately present, perfection of both beauty and strength,stable and incomprehensible, immutable and yet changing all things, never new, never old, making everything new and ‘leading’ the proud ‘to be
old without their knowledge’ (Job 9:5, Old Latin version); always active, always in repose, gathering to yourself but not in need, supporting and filling and protecting, creating and nurturing and bringing to maturity, searching even though to you nothing is lacking: you love without burning, you are jealous in a way that is free of anxiety, you ‘repent’ (Gen. 6:6) without the pain of regret, you are wrathful and remain tranquil. You will a change without any change in your design. You recover what you find, yet have never lost.

Never in any need, you rejoice in your gains (Luke 15:7); you are never avaricious, yet you require interest (Matt. 25:27). We pay you more than you require so as to make you our debtor, yet who has anything which does not belong to you? (1 Cor. 4: 7).

You pay off debts, though owing nothing to anyone; you cancel debts and incur no loss. But in these words what have I said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What has anyone achieved in words when he speaks about you? Yet woe to those who are silent about you because, though loquacious with verbosity,’ they have nothing to say.

-Augustine, Confessions, Book I, iv.

Augustine: Calling Upon God

‘You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised (Ps. 47: 2): great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable’ (Ps. 146:5). Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being ‘bearing his mortality with him’ (2 Cor. 4:10), carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that you ‘resist the proud’ (I Pet. 5:5).

Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

‘Grant me Lord to know and understand’ (Ps. 118:34, 73, 144) which comes first—to call upon you or to praise you, and whether knowing you precedes calling upon you. But who calls upon you when he does not know you? For an ignorant person might call upon someone else instead of the right one. But surely you may be called upon in prayer that you may be known. Yet ‘how shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe without a preacher?’ (Rom. 10: 14). ‘They will praise the Lord who seek for him’ (Ps. 21: 27). In seeking him they find him, and in finding they will praise him.

Lord, I would seek you, calling upon you—and calling upon you is an act of believing in you. You have been preached to us. My faith, Lord, calls upon you. It is your gift to me. You breathed it into me by the humanity of your Son, by the ministry of your preacher.

How shall I call upon my God, my God and Lord? Surely when I call on him, I am calling on him to come into me, But what place is there in me where my God can enter into me? ‘God made heaven and earth’ (Gen. 1:1). Where may he come to me? Lord my God, is there any room in me which can contain you? Can heaven and earth, which you have made and in which you have made me, contain you? Without you, whatever exists would not exist. Then can what exists contain you? I also have being. So why do I request you to come to me when, unless you were within me, I would have no being at all?

-Augustine, Confessions, Book I, i.