Okay, those screams you have been hearing for the past two weeks? The screams of frustration? Those have been mine. I’ve been reading St. Augustine, and he’s been driving me absolutely bonkers. Yup, that’s right. I’m having issues with a saint. So, obviously I’m going to get some extra time in Purgatory for that. I’m pretty sure I “yelled” at him, and it’s quite possible that there may have been some banging of my little fist.
What, you ask, has been irritating me so much? Well, okay, I get that he used to belong to the Manicheans and that they had this whole dualistic good/bad soul/body thing going on. And, somehow, this ties in with matter being bad and the spirit being good. For a lot of the book, St. Augustine keeps going on asking about how God can be matter and is He matter and maybe He can’t be matter, since matter is by nature finite and he is infinite, but that maybe in a non-matter way he surrounds and permeates all of creation.
I’m like, “What does it matter?!? Get on with it already!” It doesn’t do, for me, to keep questioning the same thing over and over if you never seem to make any progress with the question. (And he *knew* there were going to be people reading the book, he even says so at one point. So, you can’t say that it was his personal thing — I mean it was, but he also knew he had an audience.) Now you know that I have very little patience for repetition, especially repetition that I don’t find to be personally useful. (What was that? Pride and no patience? Getting lower on the Purgatory food-scale by the minute, you say?)
At this point, I’m more than halfway through the book. And I’m thinking that St. Augustine is really going to need a good pool-noodling, that is if I ever manage to make it into Heaven. THEN! He starts talking about memory! Again with the matter and substance. I’m not sure why everything has to be a tangible object with him, but he starts off with talking about memory in these concrete terms. Okay, so he’s trying to conceptualize this. I can give him a few pages to work this out, all right, but I’m still irritated about the whole God/matter/substance issue, so my patience is thin.
One particular passage which irritated me was:
“When, therefore, I remember memory, then memory is present to itself by itself, but when I remember forgetfulness then both memory and forgetfulness are present together – the memory by which I remember the forgetfulness which I remember.” — St. Augustine, “Confessions”
He kept talking about the paradoxical nature of remembering an absence, and to me, the answer was so simple, the fact that he didn’t think of it was irritating. Me: “It’s not that you are remembering an absence of remembering, but that you are remembering the awareness of the absence of remembering, which is an entirely different thing, and one which does not cause a paradoxical event.”
It’s so simple! Why doesn’t he get it?! Well, I’m sure he’s sitting up there in Heaven saying much the same things about me….
Enough with the memory issue. Now…let’s move on to time! Oh yes, we can really irritate Jenn speaking about time! And how past and future cannot exist, since we only exist and can act in the present. He makes this statement, “The past increases by the diminuation of the future until by the consumption of all the future all is past.”
This is now irritating me so much that I am squawking about St. Augustine to everyone: Fr. John, Lynn, my boss, coworkers, friends…. An excerpt from an e-mail discussion, me speaking, “Here he is more stating the phenomenon of how the future becomes the past, through the passage of the present.”
Donny: “You are probably right since I don’t have the context. I think now I will check my college for the book. Then we can discuss it properly. It is astonishing! I think it it one of the most extraordinary phenomenon that we can direct, and ceaselessly, experience. I like the word diminuation (great choice here) meaning decline: change toward something smaller or lower (after I looked it up). But it still seems to me that he is indicating a resolution in time, that it is not cyclical (a big bang to singularity over and over, although another theory is that space will expand and never contract) or infinite.”
Me: “I think he is more to questioning the paradoxical question of how can time be ever turning from future to present to past, when we can ever only be in a present, for a past has already happened and a future is yet to come, and how, in that manner, can we come to measure either time, since time is a subjective reality and unable to be measured in a finite quantity since every fraction of ‘now’ can only ever be experienced ‘now’.”
Donny: “Well put. I think he is, like all of, trying the grapple with the concept of time. We have had to give time measurement to give greater relevance to the passage of our lives. Birthdays, a good example. This is fine for us but does not explain time. Although what phenomenon can be considered explained. We have only theories about those observations.”
It does help me a lot to have someone to bounce ideas off of, but St. Augustine is still really irritating me. Now that I have been irritated by matter, memory and time, those plate glass windows behind me look awfully tempting for smacking my head into in frustration. When expressing my vexation to a coworker, she kindly points out to me the location of the paper shredder and suggests that maybe I would like some nice Eastern religion books on metaphysics.
Well, that’s not going to help! I’ll still be frustrated, and moreso that I didn’t make it through the book!
Then, at the height of my vexation, I read this,
“And I shall not have to endure the questions of those people who, as if in a morbid disease, thirst for more than they can hold and say, ‘What did god make before he made heaven and earth?’ or, ‘How did it come into his mind to make something when he had never before made anything?'”
WHAT?!?!? How can he be irritated at other people’s questions when HIS questions are so irritating?!? I can almost hear him snortling at me. Is it funny that I’m getting so upset? Probably. 🙂
I’m now really hoping that Fr. John will be able to help me with this, because I can’t think that being so irritated with a saint can be a good thing, and I really don’t like being irritated. In the meantime, I’ve prayed for understanding. One night, I decided to put down the book, and I picked up “Spe Salvi” instead. And here I found:
“Saint Thomas Aquinas, using the terminology of the philosophical tradition to which he belonged, explains it as follows: faith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see. The concept of ‘substance’ is therefore modified in the sense that through faith, in a tentative way, or as we might say, ‘in embryo’ — and thus according to the ‘substance’ — there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this ‘thing’ which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not ‘appear’), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence.” — Pope Benedict XVI
Okay, this helps a little with the irritation. Perhaps he is so wrapped up with the substance of things because of this notion of faith as a stable disposition of the spirit — a substance, so to say, in which we can let the Truth of eternal life take root in us and grow. Even though St. Augustine goes about it oddly for the purposes of my own understanding, perhaps his struggle with the substantial or unsubstantial nature of God is more to the point a struggle with understanding how it is that a God who is infinite interacts with us who are body/soul mixes in a concrete way, speaking to us as he made us. In short, sacrament.
So, maybe it’s not an empty question to wonder about the concrete nature of God, but perhaps in so doing we delve deeper into the mystery of the sacraments.
And this post can now be re-titled, “Why I Am Not (yet) a Saint.”