Breakfast with Augustine 19

Noli foras ire, in teipsum redi; in interiore homine habitat veritas; et si tuam naturam mutabilem inveneris, transcende et teipsum.

“Do not look outside yourself but turn, rather, inside yourself. In the inner man dwells truth. And if therein you find your mutable nature, transcend even yourself. But remember that when you transcend yourself, you transcend the rational soul. Proceed onward, therefore, to the place where the very light of reason is illuminated.” — De Vera Religione, 39, 72

Saint Augustine always had a way with words. Sometimes, he got his point across clearly and directly, saying things like, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” Sometimes, his poetic eloquence sounds utterly esoteric. With a couple cups of coffee, a little prayer, and a little patience, we can always get to the core of what Augustine wants to tell us. Here is the key to interpreting the mind of Augustine.

Man in search of God and God in search of man.

Vestiges of God are everywhere. God impregnated the universe with rationes seminales — “seeds of reason” — at the onset of creation and gave us the ability to see and interpret these ever present signs of the creator with the innate power of reason. Creation points to God and cries out to us: We did not create our own beauty; God made us!

For Augustine, reason is a mysterious power. “Ratio” is like a light kindled within us by which we participate God’s “inaccesible light.” Darkened by sin, the human soul cannot always see clearly even with the use of reason and therefore fails to achieve its aim of attaining Truth — that is The Truth, with a capital “T” — imperishable, eternal Truth itself. Yet if we exercise our reason properly, we will realize that this truth can only be God. Ipsa Veritas is none other than Christ himself.

The inner man that Augustine refers to in the quote above is the voice of Christ within us. Outward things point not to themselves but beckon us to look inward; and from the inner man below, we are prompted to look upward to on high. If the soul can detach itself from its lowly attachments on earth, it can attain the light of God, see Truth, and be saved from the darkness and misery of sin. To this effect, Augustine writes:

“Now it is surely a miserable slavery of the soul to take signs for things, and to be unable to lift the eye of the mind above what is corporeal and created, that it may drink in eternal light.” — De Doctrina Christiana, III, 5.

Man naturally searches for salvation; God is the one who brings it too us.

19 comments

    • Always happy to have you stop by, Fr Matthew, and I hope other passersby on Biltrix will pay Perpetual Learner a kind visit. Lots to learn over there, folks!

    • That’s great that you are taking a seminar course on St Augustine’s Confessions. One of the best ways to get the fruit from his writings is through group study and discussion. Afterward, the collective effort will surely enhance your personal reading of Augustine for years to come.

      I would like to do a group study or seminar on Augustine’s City of God. That would be quite an ambitious undertaking, but if I can get the group together to pull it off, I am convinced that it will bear a lot of lasting fruit for everyone involved. Like my prospective pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, it’s on my bucket list.

  1. This is really good Biltrix and thank you so much for explaing on how to “veiw and understand his writings.” I must admit I have not read his confessions due to being told, “I at times cannot understand them.” (I have read some of his short quotes) Yet, the urge has always been there to read them, so now I think I will, thanks to you! God Bless, SR

    • There’s a story I’d like to tell sometime about a lesson one of my favorite professors taught me about allowing other people’s opinions determine for you what is too difficult to read. The brunt of it is we were talking about having to understand this secondary author in order to understand a certain primary author, and I said, “but that guy’s practically illegible.” I said this because another professor had convinced me that the autor’s work was almost unintelligible and not worth the time reading.

      “Have you ever read anything by him?” He asked. Feeling rather sheepish, I prepared to swallow a healthy slice of humble pie. He handed me a book and said, “Here, read this and come back tomorrow. I don’t have time for this. My dinner’s probably getting cold” (it was not even 4:00 pm). He picked up his handbag and left the office with me still sitting there. So I read said secondary author, was amazed at how much I actually understood, came back the next day, and had a more intelligent discussion with my mentor.

      Okay, so I told the story (in a nutshell) anyway. Since then, I am very reluctant to discourage anyone from reading anything that I don’t think is harmful, even if I found it to be a difficult read myself. I’d say, give the Confessions a try but see if you can find an up to date translation. It can’t be that hard to understand, since after all, it is one of the most read and appreciated works in Western literature. And even if there are parts that are tough to get through, it is worth plowing through those parts (suggested method) to get to those juicy treasures to delight your soul. I think that rather than regretting it you’ll thank yourself for taking the time to read it. Just thought I’d share that with you, for what it’s worth.

      • Love it! Lesson well learned and one I just learned myself! After all what I do not understand I always have you, don’t I:>)? This is a thought I that will never leave me, Biltrix. Thanks so much. God Bless, SR

    • Funny, I just checked the “better to light a candle…” quote, and found out that it was first attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. Never would have thought she was Augustinian!

      • Anything is possible! I hear the quote on Catholic Radio all the time, and seeing Augustine related the light versus the darkness in several places, I find it very fitting. It was Eleanor’s inner Augustine for sure!

    • The quote truly is Catholic — Augustinian in fact — and therefore, quite fitting. I guess we owe it to the First Lady for illuminating us with this tidbit of Augustinian wisdom. Just another sign of those “Rationes Seminales” the great saint wrote about.

  2. From the short bits I have seen I really like St. Augustine’s writing and would love to read more of his works and learn more about him. Like SR, I would like to read St. Augustine’s Confessions. Not sure how tough it is to read though. God Bless.

    • Augustine was a very prolific writer. His Confessions are the easiest to read by far. Many people find it easy to relate to this autobiography and gain a lot from it, because of the way he describes his own struggles with sin, conversion, and life in the spirit. Chapter 13 is the most difficult by far, because at that point, his thoughts turn to a reflection on time and eternity. Most of the difficulty I experienced reading the Confessions was due to the antiquated translation. I am not familiar with modernized translations, so I need to look into that. However, I would not want anyone to let translation discourage them from reading this great work. If you can handle the Douay-Rheims Bible, you can handle Augustine’s Confessions.

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