What Will Your Delights Be?

Lent 2014: Readings from Augustine

The gentle shall  inherit the land (Ps 36:11). This land is the one of which we have often spoken, holy Jerusalem, which will be freed from this alien condition and will live forever with God and from God. “They will inherit the land.” And what will be their delight? And they will delight in an abundance of peace.” Let the wicked man delight here in the amount of his gold, the amount of his silver, in the number of his slaves, and in the number of his palm trees, roses, wine-bibbing, and his sumptuous and luxurious banquets. Is this the power you envy, the flower that delights you? ... 

What will your delights be? “And they will delight in an abundance of peace.” Your gold will be peace; your silver will be peace; your estates will be peace; your life will be peace; your God will be peace. Whatever you desire will by your peace. Here below what is gold can’t be silver; what is wine can’t be bread; what is light for you can’t be drink. But God will be all of that to you. You will eat him so as not to hunger; you will drink him so as not to thirst; you will be enlightened by him so as not to go blind; you will be supported by him so you do not faint; he who is whole and undivided will possess you whole and undivided. You will not suffer any limitation because someone else possesses all this with you. You will have it all, and he will have it all, because you and he will be one thing, that one thing that he shall have who possesses you. These are the things reserved for the peaceful person. (EnPs 36/1, 6; PL 36, 362-63)

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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 "You will have it all, and he will have it all, because you and he will be one thing, "

This sounds like a bit like a mystic speaking here -- "you and he will be one thing".  Was Augustine a mystic himself?  I've read some of his descriptions of his spiritual experiences, but none of them seem to be the sort of extraordinary experience of absolute Love which unites the soul with that Love, and in some way that union causes ecstacy in the mystic.  This description of eventual experience of Heaven does seem to say that God and the soul will be one in some sense, but the text doesn't mention the ecstacy that is typical of mystical experience.  This is strange to me because St. Augustine does speak a lot about "heart".

Augustine spends a chapter of his Confessions talking about a moment of ecstasy shared with his mother in Ostia. See chapter 10 in http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/confessions.xii.html (paragraph 25).

And when our conversation had brought us to the point where the very highest of physical sense and the most intense illumination of physical light seemed, in comparison with the sweetness of that life to come, not worthy of comparison, nor even of mention, we lifted ourselves with a more ardent love toward the Selfsame,296 and we gradually passed through all the levels of bodily objects, and even through the heaven itself, where the sun and moon and stars shine on the earth. Indeed, we soared higher yet by an inner musing, speaking and marveling at thy works.

And we came at last to our own minds and went beyond them, that we might climb as high as that region of unfailing plenty where thou feedest Israel forever with the food of truth, where life is that Wisdom by whom all things are made, both which have been and which are to be. Wisdom is not made, but is as she has been and forever shall be; for “to have been” and “to be hereafter” do not apply to her, but only “to be,” because she is eternal and “to have been” and “to be hereafter” are not eternal.

And while we were thus speaking and straining after her, we just barely touched her with the whole effort of our hearts. Then with a sigh, leaving the first fruits of the Spirit bound to that ecstasy, we returned to the sounds of our own tongue, where the spoken word had both beginning and end.297 But what is like to thy Word, our Lord, who remaineth in himself without becoming old, and “makes all things new”298?

 

 

But I'm not sure that that corresponds to the point you raise.

Augustine was very careful to distinguish between the divine and the human. They come together in Christ, of course, and he speaks of the Three as constituting an unum in the Trinity, but he does not use that word of our union with God, I believe. When he writes: "You will not suffer any limitation because someone else possesses all this with you. You will have it all, and he will have it all, because you and he will be one thing, that one thing that he shall have who possesses you," the statement that "you and he will be one thing" refers to the other person with whom you share the blessings, which are not diminished by being shared by many--a frequent theme in Augustine's sermons--; it doesn't mean you and God.  

Thanks, JAK.   But I"m not questioning whether Augustine was claiming identity with God.  To be "one thing" can mean a complex unit.  I can't imagine his claiming to actually *be* God.

What I've never seen in his descriptions of his highest prayer is a description of an experience which includes an ecstatic reation to the object of the experience.  I'd say that such supremely pleasant feeling is a defining characteristic of "mystical experience".  In other words, he doesn't seem to have received the sort of experience that Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross did.  At least I've never come across such a one in him, but I imagine I could easily be wrong.

Interesting that he considers the joint experience of God of more than one person.  When people thought of gods as very concrete realities that would have posed a philosophical problem, wouldn't it.  His thinking is so far in advance of the other philosophers of his day that I really don't think of him as teaching and preaching to any ordinary folks with primitive outlooks.  I think of his audience as a sophisticated one, but to read him right one shouldn't make that assumption.

Ann:  There's a debate about Augustine's audience: was it largely educated, upper-class, or your average very mixed group.  I incline to the latter view.

It is wonderful to see how often Augustine uses words like "pleasure" or "delight" to describe what one may experience in the Christian life, especially given post-Reformation debates that played down the experience of grace, perhaps in reaction to Protestant emphases. 

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