Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Re-Reading Augustine's Confessions on Augustine's Feast Day

St Augustine & St Monica, Ary Scheffer
This semester I'm teaching a graduate class called "Classics of Christian Devotion," and the first text we'll be reading is Augustine's Confessions.  I've read the Confessions perhaps a dozen times, and am re-reading the book again for this class.  Never do I get tired of this text.  Every time I read the Confessions I become utterly transfixed by the poetic beauty of Augustine's writing and theology.  Yes, there are aspects of the book, as well as facets of his thought expressed elsewhere, that I find deeply troubling.  But the Confessions is, to say the least, a remarkable text that wonderfully expresses the heartfelt longing of one person to experience the Beauty that is God.

On this feast day of St. Augustine of Hippo, I thought I'd simply quote some lines from the first few pages of book I of the Confessions, in which Augustine asks the question, "What are you, then, my God?" and then answers the question with a poetic cataloging of God's attributes which is, I think, particularly stunning in the Latin and showcases the rhetorical gifts Augustine possessed:
You are most high, excellent, most powerful, omnipotent, supremely merciful and supremely just, most hidden yet intimately present, infinitely beautiful and infinitely strong, steadfast yet elusive, unchanging yourself though you control the change in all things, never new, never old, renewing all things yet wearing down the proud though they know it not; ever active, ever at rest, gathering while knowing no need, supporting and filling and guarding, creating and nurturing and perfecting, seeking although you lack nothing (15-16 of Boulding's translation).
summe, optime, potentissime, omnipotentissime, misericordissime et iustissime, secretissime et praesentissime, pulcherrime et fortissime, stabilis et incomprehensibilis, immutabilis mutans omnia, numquam novus numquam vetus, innovans omnia et in vetustatem perducens superbos et nesciunt. semper agens semper quietus, conligens et non egens, portans et implens et protegens, creans et nutriens et perficiens, quaerens cum nihil desit tibi.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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