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The wondrous beauty of the universe

It seems that, to prevent misunderstandings, it would be good to offer a few texts in which it is clear that St. Augustine did not hate the earth and did not urge people to hate God's good creation. Other texts could be cited.

By this supremely and equally and immutably good Trinity were all things created. They themselves are not supremely and equally and immutably good, but still they are individually good and all of them together are very good (Gen 1:31) because the wondrous beauty of the universe consists in them all. (Augustine, Enchiridion, ch. 3, 10)What shall I say about why you should praise him? Because the Lord is good. There, briefly, in a single word, the praise of the Lord, our God, is explained: The Lord is good. But he is not good in the way that the things he made are good. For God made all things very good (Gen 1:31), and not only good but very good: heaven and earth and all the things in them he made good, he made very good. If all these things he made good, what is he who made them? Since he made them good, much better is he who made them than the things he made. You cannot find anything better to say of him than Because the Lord is good, so long as you understand that he is properly good from whom all other things are good. He made all the good things; he is the One whom no one made. He is good by his own goodness not by sharing someone elses good; he is good in himself and not by adhering to some other good. But for me adhering to God is good (Ps 72/73, 28). He did not need anyone else to become good, while all other things, to be good, need him. (Augustine, In Ps 134, 3; PL 37:1740)And you, Lord, saw everything you had made and, behold, it was very good (Gen 1:31). We also see all those things and, behold, they are all very good. In each of the kinds of your work, when you said let them be made and they were made, for that one and for this one you said that it was good. I have counted seven times when you saw that what you made was good, and the eighth time was when you looked at all that you made, and you saw not only that they were good but that they were very good, because you were seeing them all together. The individual things are simply good; taken all together they are good, and very good. Beautiful bodies express this, too, because a body made of beautiful bodies is far more beautiful than the individual members which in an orderly way constitute the whole body, even though individually they too are beautiful. (Augustine Confessions, Bk. 13, 28:43)

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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I have heard that consistency is for small minds, which Augustine's certainly was not. And for a prolific writer like him, working in a pre-digital age, it must have been difficult to check what he had previously written. Besides, striking or even startling expression is usually considered a grace in an author.Nevertheless, in work intended for the instruction and edification of others less gifted, rapturous praise of creation in one passage and dismissal of it in another as an impediment to love of the eternal might simply confuse readers. But it may account in part for the many commentaries on his writings. The more ambivalent one's insights, the more elucidation they require, I suppose.Augustine did have an excellent precedent in Christ, who declared that no one could be his disciple who did not hate father and mother, although he did not model that behavior himself when he accompanied his mother to a wedding and allowed her, a little reluctantly, to push up the start of his public ministry. And she clearly did not think she was hated when she told the wine stewards to "do whatever he tells you," utterly confident that he could not refuse anything she asked of him.That too has inspired much commentary, and we are all the richer for it, I suppose.

I think there is a typo in the last sentence, which should read: "Beautiful bodies express this, too, because a body made of beautiful members is far more beautiful than the individual members which in an orderly way constitute the whole body, even though individually they too are beautiful. (Augustine Confessions, Bk. 13, 28:43)" The comedy here is that I earnestly tried to figure out what a body made of "beautiful bodies" might be, but was completely flummoxed by it. So I looked around the house for an English copy of the Confessions with no luck. ( Should have gone straight to Wikipedia to find one on line. ) My husband's Latin version cleared things up, but also brought home the way Fr. K translates the Latin into graceful English. As the new translation of the Mass reminds us every time, it is not an easy thing to do.

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