“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.