Lacking nothing, needing nothing: Augustine's God

What then are you, my God? What, I ask, but the Lord God? For who is the Lord but the Lord? Or who is God but our God (Ps 17:32). Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, utterly omnipotent; utterly merciful and utterly just; utterly hidden and utterly present; utterly beautiful and utterly strong; constant and incomprehensible; unchanging but changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new and leading the proud into old age without their knowing it (see Job 9:5); always active, always resting; gathering though needing nothing; sustaining and filling and protecting; creating and nourishing and completing; seeking even though you lack nothing [quaerens cum nihil desit tibi]. You love, but not hotly; you are jealous but without anxiety; you repent but without remorse; you grow angry but remain calm; you change your works but do not change your plan; you take back what you find, though you never lost it; you are never in need but rejoice at your gains; you are never greedy, but demand profits (Lk 15:17). People pay you more than you require (see Lk 10:35) so that you may be in their debt, but who has anything that is not yours? Owing nothing, you repay debts; you pay off debts and you lose nothing.And what have we just said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? Or what does anyone say when he speaks of you? But woe to those who do not speak of you, since those whospeak mostsay nothing! [Vae tacentibus de te quoniam loquaces muti sunt. ] (Augustine, Confessions, I, 4:4)James ODonnell thinks the loquaces are Manicheans and other philosophers, so he doesnt think its a general statement about negative theology, but is similar to what Augustine says in his exposition of Ps 144:7, where he refers to "certain eloquent mutes who praise the creature but forget the Creator" [quidam eloquentes muti, laudantes creaturam, obliviscentes Creatorem]. Many translations, including mine above, see it as an expression of the wonderful paradox: we have to speak about Godwoe to those who dontbut should never forget that our much-speaking says nothing. It is a view that Augustine shared with Aquinas: we can only say of God what he is not; what he is escapes us now.The Latin adjective mutus was used not only of people who do not or cannot speak, but also of animals incapable of speechits apparently onomatopoetic: they moo or low or grunt.

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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