Theology and Science, Vol. 3, No. 3, 2005
A Green Augustine: On Learning to Love Nature Well
ARTHUR O. LEDOUX
Abstract Augustine of Hippo has expressed a vision of beauty in nature that could, if better known, encourage traditional Christians and secular ecologists to afﬁrm the ground they have in common. For Augustine the ideal would be to see nature as God sees it, feeling deeply both its beauty and its impermanence, loving nature without clinging to it. With such clear seeing would come love and the motivation for sustained and skillful action. This paper discusses Augustine’s paradigm and what blocks us from seeing it, and then frames principles for an authentically Augustinian response.
Key words: Augustine; Ecology; Creation; Nature; Genesis; Love; Providence; Miracle; Sin
Birds of heaven, happy birds, forgive me, for I have sinned against you too. . . . [T] here was such a glory of God all about me; birds, trees, meadows, sky, only I lived in shame and dishonored it all and did not notice the beauty and glory. (Markel, Father Zossima’s brother in Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.)
Introduction to a paradigm
Our eco-crisis is in part a crisis of spirit. The fundamental attitudes toward nature our actions express deeply matter, for we never abuse what we truly love. Since the lives of so many beings and species depend on how we humans respond to this crisis, it behooves us to uncover and examine the fundamental attitudes we are enacting. Perhaps it is not too late to change the way we think; perhaps we can uncover paradigms that would encourage the transformations we need. At ﬁrst, it may seem bizarre to seek such a paradigm in the works of Augustine of Hippo. When Gordon Kaufman, for example, recently criticized Christianity for focusing so intently on God’s relationship to humanity that concern for ‘‘nature’’ became peripheral at best, he mentions Augustine as a prime offender.1 In addition, there is indeed evidence for this view. Over and over again Augustine calls on us to turn within to seek God: ‘‘with my body’s senses I had already sought him from earth to heaven, . . . but what lay within me was better.’’2 The turn within was ‘‘better’’ because Augustine discovered that ‘‘You were more intimately present to me than my innermost being.’’3
ISSN 1474-6700 print/ISSN 1474-6719 online/05/030331-14 ª 2005 Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences DOI: 10.1080/14746700500317313 332 Theology and Science
However, there is more here than meets the eye. The point of turning within was emphatically not to become mired in self-absorption but to transcend the painfully limited self, open fully to a loving God, and then become a transformed person, a new creation4 who is committed to seeing the world the way God sees it and to doing God’s will. Perhaps surprisingly Augustine turns out to be strongly critical of the biased way in which humans commonly view nature. He himself went through a revolution in his thinking about nature, which opened him to a perspective that is both nuanced and afﬁrmative. Given the seminal importance of Augustine to the Christian tradition, this is a paradigm worth recovering and considering.5
Common seeing: the need for a new paradigm
Augustine thinks that we most commonly view nature with either greed or aversion. Greed distorts our perception of nature. Instead of seeing nature as it is in itself, we use the lens of ‘‘utility’’ and see only opportunities for gain. We prefer things like bread and gold that serve our desires over things like mice and ﬂeas that are real but inconvenient, ‘‘[a]nd so strong is this preference, that, had we the power, we would abolish the latter from nature altogether, whether in ignorance of the place they hold in nature, or, though we know it, sacriﬁcing them to our own convenience.’’6 These words about the impact of human ignorance and self- centeredness on nature seem prophetic; this is a mind-set that can lead to the extinction of species. Aversion too warps our view of nature. We fear the many dangers nature harbors for us7 and are disgusted with such signs of decay as corpses and excrement ‘‘whose dissolution is loathsome to us in our fallen state by reason of our own mortality.’’8 We can easily identify with this revulsion, yet there is already a hint of a new perspective here: decay repels us because it reminds us of our own death, implying this is more a problem with us than with nature. Augustine understood the deeply human source of such negative views of nature. Morally, greed and aversion are typically9 expressions of the deep- rooted selﬁshness in all humans, sad manifestations of our fallen and sinful nature.10 Intellectually, aversion especially was reinforced by Augustine’s fervent involvement with Manicheism and then neo-Platonism. Augustine had spent nine years as a Manichee, viewing the physical world as a realm mired in darkness and evil, contaminated by matter which was independent of and antagonistic to light and God. Manichees thought it tragic for a soul to be trapped in a body; they empathized with the plight of all living beings that were likewise imprisoned11 and sought to liberate all souls through ascetic practices. The turmoil of light and dark, which is the world of nature, is a sign of God’s weakness, not an expression of God’s glory.12 Ideally, such a world would not exist. Neo-Platonism was far more sophisticated. Matter was no longer a hostile independent principle but rather the least real and most mutable emanation of the supremely real and eternal One. The world of nature was a realm of shadows that A Green Augustine 333 dimly reﬂected the beauty and goodness of this ultimate transcendent principle. There is deep ambivalence here. On the one hand, the world of nature does embody as much beauty and goodness as its material limitations allow; it is a noble image of higher realities, which elicits appreciation from the sensitive observer.13 Nonetheless, the great goal of human life is to raise ones mind above the ever-shifting shadows and seek ecstatic (re)union with the One as ultimate source. This ascent requires a turning away from the body and its desires, which are a major hindrance to higher intellectual and spiritual life.14 The world of nature is not a consciously positive creation of the One; it is a fading emanation.15
A revolution in seeing: the paradigm shifts
As formidable as these negative views of nature were, however, Augustine’s thought here underwent a profound redirection. He came in the end to afﬁrm that ‘‘[t] here is no wholesomeness for those who ﬁnd fault with anything You have created’’16 and that ‘‘[h]e who denies that all things . . . are in the hand of the one Almighty is a madman.’’17 What has intervened, of course, was his conversion to Christianity whose doctrines of creation, incarnation, and resurrection so strongly afﬁrm the positive value of the bodily. Now he insists that ‘‘[e]verything that exists is good . . . . You have made all good things . . . [and] there are absolutely no substances that You have not made.’’18 Christianity has overwhelmed all other inﬂuences on Augustine’s thought and it is a major source of whatever eco-friendly themes we can ﬁnd there. It initially directed his thinking onto a revolutionary new track and its inﬂuence over his positive valuation of the body only deepened over time.19 His most lyrical writing about nature came in the last book of the City of God,20 which he ﬁnished only four years before his death. Christianity presented him with a view of nature that ran against his grain; he struggled hard to understand and assimilate what his faith afﬁrmed. We get a sense of his challenge when we note that Augustine grappled at length with the creation narratives at the beginning of Genesis no fewer than ﬁve times throughout his career: (1) On Genesis, against the Manichees (389); (2) On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, an Unﬁnished Book (394); (3) Confessions, Books 11 – 13 (397 – 401); (4) On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis (401 – 415); and (5) City of God, Book 11 (413 – 426).
What God sees: wondrous implications of the paradigm
What Augustine learned from these repeated encounters with Genesis was profound and invaluable, ‘‘God saw all that he had made and he found it very good.’’21 As Augustine puts it, ‘‘Solely by your abundant goodness has your creation come to be and stood ﬁrm . . . everyone one of them [is] exceedingly good because they are from you, the one supreme Good.’’22 He has harsh words for those who think God is too spiritual to be involved in this alien physical world, 334 Theology and Science a view he himself had once held,23 ‘‘People who allege this are mad, because they do not contemplate your works through your Spirit, nor recognize you in them.’’24 In Augustine’s view, what does God see in nature to the degree that we can comprehend it as guided by revelation? What would we see if we could contemplate God’s works through the Spirit? Taking our cue from Genesis, what God sees, and what we would see is wondrous goodness and beauty. We would ﬁrst be led beyond greed. When we contemplate nature simply from the viewpoint of reason, we see what is true which is ‘‘what value a thing in itself has.’’ On the other hand, looking with ‘‘the necessity of the needy or the desire of the voluptuous,’’ our minds stray toward darkness.25 In short, we need to respect the integrity nature has quite independent of us, ‘‘it is not with respect to our convenience or discomfort but with respect to their own nature that the creatures are glorifying to their Artiﬁcer.’’26 Likewise, we would see how limiting aversion is to our understanding. When we ﬁnd the things of nature repellent, we ‘‘do not consider how admirable these things are in their own places, how excellent in their own natures, how beautifully adjusted to the rest of creation, and how much grace they contribute to the universe.’’27 Even when it comes to maggots and ﬂies feasting on corpses and excrement,
every creature has a special beauty proper to its nature, and when a man ponders the matter well, these creatures are a cause of intense admiration and enthusiastic praise of their all-powerful Maker. . . . He creates them tiny in body, keen in sense, and full of life, so that we may feel a deeper wonder at the agility of a mosquito on the wing than at the size of a beast of burden on the hoof, and may admire more intensely the works of the smallest ants than the burdens of the camels.28
At times Augustine’s enthusiasm for nature is rhapsodic:
Shall I speak of the manifold and various loveliness of sky and earth and sea; of the plentiful supply and wonderful qualities of the light; of sun, moon, and stars; of the shade of trees; of the colors and perfume of ﬂowers; of the multitude of birds, all differing in plumage and in song; of the variety of animals, of which the smallest in size are often the most wonderful—the works of ants and bees astonishing us more than the huge bodies of whales? Shall I speak of the sea, which itself is so grand a spectacle when it arrays itself as it were in vestures of various colors, now running through every shade of green and again becoming purple or blue? Is it not delightful to look at it in storm . . .?29
In addition, the more we learn of nature’s ways, the more wonder we feel. The human body, for example, is weak and mortal and has innards that seem repellent. Yet even here, there is providential goodness and beauty.
And this would be all the more apparent if we knew more precisely how all its parts are connected and adapted to one another. . . . But if these could be known, then even the inward parts, which seem to have no beauty, would so delight us with their exquisite ﬁtness as to afford a profounder satisfaction to the mind . . . than the obvious beauty which gratiﬁes the eye.30 A Green Augustine 335
Augustine reaches the pinnacle of rhapsody when he afﬁrms that the world of nature is, quite simply, a miracle.31
For who is there that considers the works of God, whereby this whole world is governed and regulated, who is not overwhelmed with miracles? If he considers the vigorous power of a single grain of any seed whatever, it is a mighty thing, it inspires him with awe.32
Christ’s ﬁrst miracle was to change water into wine, yet in effect, this happens every year when rain falls on vineyards. Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, yet every day new beings are born, and ‘‘it is a matter of greater wonder for one to be who was not before than for one who was to come to life again.’’33 Moreover, as wonderful as all the particular miracles of nature are, the sheer existence of the natural world is itself the greatest miracle.34 Note that as extravagant as these claims seem to be, Augustine is sure they are rooted in scripture. Repeatedly he invokes Romans 11:36 (‘‘For from him and through him and in him are all things’’), Wisdom 8:1 (‘‘Wisdom reaches from end to end mightily and governs all graciously’’) and Wisdom 1:7 (‘‘The Spirit of the Lord has ﬁlled the whole world’’). Now for us to see the world the way God sees it is to touch on nothing less than mystical union with God. When our self becomes fully open to and aligned with God’s perspective, we seem to become transparent, ‘‘to people who contemplate creation in the Spirit of God, ‘It is not you who are seeing this’. . . . God views its goodness through the person’s human eyes.’’35 Even as the subject who is seeing becomes transparent to God, so too does the object that is seen, ‘‘God is loved in what he has made,’’36 so what we are doing is to ‘‘let him love himself through us.’’37 Our situation is much deeper than we thought it was; we thought we were seeing and loving the things of nature. In fact, God is seeing and loving God’s self through us. To be an open pathway for such seeing and loving is, Augustine thinks, to participate in the inner life of the Trinity38 and to have a foretaste of the beatiﬁc vision in paradise.39
Blocks to seeing: resistance to the paradigm
‘‘Surely this beauty is apparent to all whose faculties are sound?’’40 Of course, as Augustine knows, this beauty is not typically apparent to us; such awareness is, at best, exceedingly rare. In this life, our vision is clouded and imperfect; it is blocked because our faculties are not sound. The faculties that are imperfect and need healing are the senses, mind, and heart.
The senses are obviously necessary to intuiting God’s presence in nature; they are our avenue of entrance into the realm of the physical. The stronger and more reﬁned our senses, the more we will have the ability to notice the intricacies of 336 Theology and Science nature and marvel at its providential design. How can we admire what we do not experience?
The senses are not sufﬁcient; ‘‘animals see . . . but they are not able to question.’’ Alternatively, ‘‘[h]uman beings have the power to question, so that by understanding the things he has made they may glimpse the unseen things of God.’’41 The mind can work with the deliverances of the senses and explore for connections and meanings that are not at ﬁrst obvious. However, the mind can also make mistakes, for it is limited in strength and extent. The mind often lacks the strength to recognize the wider meaning of an event because it has become dulled through repetition. Water turning into wine is amazing, but ‘‘we do not wonder at [it] because it happens every year [through the growth, harvesting, and treatment of grapes]: it has lost its marvellousness by its constant recurrence.’’ Birth is amazing, but ‘‘so many are born daily, [that] none marvel.’’42 The mind is often limited in extent as well; we can so easily miss the forest for the trees: ‘‘beauty does not strike us, because by our mortal frailty we are so involved in a part of it, that we cannot perceive the whole in which these fragments that offend us are harmonized with the most accurate ﬁtness and beauty.’’43
The gravest block to our seeing nature’s divine goodness and beauty lies here. What makes us anything but transparent to the awesome presence of God is our own deep-rooted selﬁshness. Instead of seeing nature as it is in itself, as an exquisite ﬂow of divine creativity, we look at it to ﬁnd ways to try to satisfy our cravings. Augustine calls these cravings forms of ‘‘concupiscence’’ or ‘‘cupidity,’’ the desire to enlarge and afﬁrm our separate sense of self, to gratify our yearnings for pleasure, power, and glory.44 With these cravings, we come face to face with the fundamental mystery of sin, with our impulse to resist or forget God and to become instead a god to oneself, in effect worshiping ones proud ego and being willing to sacriﬁce anything else to its gratiﬁcation. Genesis explains this with the story of Adam and Eve, but however it came about, Augustine is convinced that our human nature is now fallen and corrupted. Our will, instead of following its natural inclination to love God and all things in God, has now become misdirected or perverse in loving itself above all else. Our faculties have become distorted and untrustworthy; how can we trust them to tell us the unbiased truth if they are constantly subject to the pressure of selﬁsh craving? Nature becomes a mere resource for exploitation; appreciation and care for other creatures evaporates. What hope is there that our damaged faculties could ever free themselves from bondage to craving and open the way to beatiﬁc vision? A Green Augustine 337
From time to time you lead me into an inward experience quite unlike any other, a sweetness beyond understanding. . . . But I am dragged down again by my weight of woe, sucked back into everyday things and held fast in them; grievously I lament, but just as grievously am I held.45
What to do: living in the paradigm
It may seem at times for Augustine we can do nothing; our efforts to heal ourselves are sabotaged by the very faculties trying to do the work. The famous story of Augustine’s conversion showed him that even his most heroic efforts to do what he knew he needed to do fell short.46 Only God’s grace could release him from the waywardness of his own cravings and direct him toward health. His emphasis on the utter need for grace for us to do anything good is so pervasive and subtle that he came to be ofﬁcially designated the ‘Doctor of Grace’.47 Yet Augustine thinks his stress on grace in no way undermines the need for effort. Mysteriously, the effect of grace on us is so delicate that it moves us to act without violating our free will;48 in the moment of choice effort and grace become virtually indistinguishable.49 Augustine is constantly urging us on, ‘‘Let us work hard every day at making progress toward God.’’50 The work of transformation we are called on to do will concern all dimensions of our being; senses, mind, and heart. In addition, the work will express itself in a life where contemplation and action are balanced and mutually supportive.51 Consider the following four interrelated practices that would encourage transformation.
1. Cultivate a healing faith. Essential to our work on behalf of nature is the belief that it can be fruitful; depression or despair over our sinful and wounded condition may make action impossible. What we need is a faith that can heal a wounded heart,52 a faith that we can be saved from the futility of so much selﬁsh craving. This would be not so much faith in ourselves but faith that God can work through us to do what is needed. Yet faith in God’s power or love or even existence may be battered by the experience of evil both within and around us. How can we cultivate a faith that sustains us in the face of overwhelming obstacles both inner and outer? Augustine’s most direct answer is simple and even child-like: ask for it. Since faith is a gift from God, pray to God asking for that gift. This stance of humble supplication runs directly counter to our sense of self-sufﬁciency, and it is precisely in softening our pride that beneﬁts can come. Now this has the air of paradox about it since we would seem to need faith in God before prayer would make any sense. Could we not just as well say that prayer indicates faith, instead of saying that prayer requires faith? The very desire to pray expresses some level of faith that could unfold and strengthen as we begin to pray. Even the simple awareness of the need to pray is a sign of potential or incipient faith. In today’s parlance, Augustine’s point would be simple: just do it. 338 Theology and Science
2. Contemplate nature and ﬁnd God. Augustine encourages us to ‘consider attentively’ our experience of nature. Part of what we ﬁnd in such mindful contemplation, is great beauty; ‘‘My questioning was my attentive spirit, and their reply, their beauty.’’53 Steady attention reveals that this beauty is shot through with mutability and death. We see directly ‘‘the shifting nature of the present time in which there is nothing substantial, nothing lasting.’’54 We see with Jesus that when we ‘‘consider the lilies’’ we ﬁnd a beauty that is not only greater than ‘‘Solomon in all his glory’’ but also ‘‘tomorrow cast into the oven.’’55 Indeed, part of their beauty lies precisely in their mutability. Even as individual words must pass away so that the meaning of a whole speech can emerge, so too ‘‘You have endowed them [beautiful things] so richly because they belong to a society of things that do not all exist at once, but in their passing away and succession together form a whole.’’56 None of the things of nature is substantial, none is to be treated as if it were God; each rather is a creature of God, ‘‘What am I loving when I love you?. . . . I put my question to the earth . . . the sea . . . and they replied, ‘We are not God; seek higher.’. . . I questioned the gusty winds . . . the sky. . . . Then they lifted up their mighty voices and cried, ‘He made us.’’’57 Nothing in nature is God, but considered attentively, they lead to God, ‘‘This work of His is so great and wonderful that . . . even the most diminutive insect cannot be considered attentively without astonishment and without praising the Creator.’’58 Considering passing beauties leads us to Beauty; considering passing creatures leads us to the Creator.
3. Contemplate God and ﬁnd nature. As contemplating nature has led us toward God, the great desire now may be to love God directly and without the mediation of the natural world. Having used nature as a stepping-stone, we may now yearn for the joy of completion that comes from resting in union with God, for ‘‘our hearts are restless until they rest in You.’’59 Twice in the Confessions Augustine describes with loving care the path a soul can take in its ascent to God.60 Both begin in the physical world but then strive to detach completely from nature and then from the content of the mind and then from the mind itself. Indeed the goal is to detach from all that is not God and thereby become absorbed in God, to ‘‘hear him unmediated, whom we love in all these things, hear him without them . . . and in a ﬂash of thought touch that eternal Wisdom who abides above all things.’’61 This theme of detached transcendence has stirred much criticism of Augus- tine.62 It seems to be an unwelcome hangover from his days of Manichean and neo-Platonic antipathy to the body. Even the very sympathetic H. Paul Santmire treats this ‘‘metaphor of ascent’’ in Augustine as unfortunate and tries to contain the damage by arguing that the theme is isolated and relatively minor.63 However, I suspect that the theme is not an aberration and that it can play a distinctive and crucial role in Augustine’s view of nature. Consider the saying of Jesus that ‘‘whoever ﬁnds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will ﬁnd it.’’64 This seems to imply that trying to ﬁnd a truly good and happy life by ones own independent effort will fail; the project is too self-centered. If we renounce self-centeredness for the sake of God- centeredness, then God will give as a gift what we thought we had to earn on our A Green Augustine 339 own, ‘‘seek ﬁrst his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well;’’65 we can have faith in God’s grace. Augustine’s words on this point are characteristically pungent, ‘‘But when you cradled my stupid head and closed my eyes to the sight of vain things so that I could absent me from myself awhile, and my unwholesome madness was lulled to sleep, then I awoke in you.’’66 Self-transcendence becomes self-realization. On Augustine’s behalf, we could make a parallel point about nature. If we try to understand nature’s deepest meaning through our everyday relations with it, we will fail; our greed, aversion, and ignorance will block our seeing. But if we temporarily suspend such relationships with nature and focus instead on nature’s creator, nature’s true goodness and beauty will be apparent to us. Augustine summarizes the whole train of thought in a single rich sentence:
It is a great and very rare thing for a man, after he has contemplated the whole creation, corporeal and incorporeal, and has discerned its mutability, to pass beyond it and by the continued soaring of his mind to attain to the unchangeable substance of God and, in that height of contemplation, to learn from God Himself that none but He has made all that is.67
At the very pinnacle of ecstatic contemplation what we seem to ﬁnd is not God as an isolated and singular being, but God as the creator of ‘‘all that is,’’ God as the ground of all being.68 Presumably the closer one comes to union with God, the more one sees as God sees and loves what God loves.69 Since Augustine’s God is one of exuberant creativity and providential love, how could the movement of ascent to God not be followed by a movement of return to self and nature, a return that is now suffused by a love that is free of distorted craving and so appreciates nature in its beautiful integrity? Those who lose nature for God’s sake will ﬁnd nature.
4. Love nature in God and God in nature. From the point of view of our awareness, then, there is a profound interdependence of nature and God—to contemplate one deeply is to ﬁnd the other. Our fundamental problems arise when we try to isolate one from the other. When we do not love nature in God, that is, when we approach nature without any sense of its divine source, we do not fully see its beautiful integrity and so, it seems, we inevitably relate to it with greed and aversion. When we think we can truly satisfy our cravings by loving creatures, we love them as if they would never die, forgetting their creaturely status. In our cravings, we seek to grasp them and so doom ourselves to anxiety and sorrow.70 We wind up expecting more from nature than it can possibly deliver. Alternatively, when we do not love God in nature, that is, when we approach God alone without any reference to God’s creation, we imply a negative judgment on that creation as disconnected from divinity. Trying to love God in this way may actually be a form of escape from a world that is disappointing to us, an aversion which evades our responsibility to engage the world with wisdom and love, at best a consolation and at worst an opiate: we ‘‘must never overlook the claims of truth and duty. No man [sic] has the right to lead such a life of contemplation as to forget in his own ease the service due to his neighbor.’’71 340 Theology and Science
In sum, we must not forget either the divine source of nature or its mutability. Seeing our fellow creatures as they really are, we can love them deeply but without attachment, ‘‘let them be loved in God, because they are changeable and gain stability only when ﬁxed in him.’’72
Conclusion: extending the paradigm
Now loving nature in God means more than wishing it well; it means skillful and compassionate action aimed at its beneﬁt. If we can accept Pope John Paul II’s principle that ‘‘respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of creation,’’73 then Augustine’s teaching on love of neighbor would become immediately relevant to love of nature. The effect would be profound and provocative. We would see that when we love nature in the right way, we are participating in the very nature of God because God is love.74 We would see that love of God and of nature could not be split up.75 We would realize that ‘‘our love must not be feigned but sincere, seeking the happiness of our [fellow creatures], and expecting no other proﬁt at all than their happiness.’’76 Indeed the most concrete way to love God would be to love the poor and the suffering creatures with which God identiﬁes God’s self.77 The tasks that face such a love of nature are enormous,78 but if we are made in the image of a creative and providential God and aided by God’s grace, then what signs there are of ‘‘human genius’’ and of our ‘‘exuberant invention’’ and ‘‘wonderful—even stupefying—advances’’79 may yet bring us hope. Augustine’s paradigm of nature and of our relationship to it has intriguing qualities. On the one hand, it is grounded in the very heart of ancient Christian orthodoxy and so it could appeal to people who might otherwise be dubious of ecology. On the other hand, it connects some of the basics of ecology to a sweeping vision of nature that some will ﬁnd inspiring. That is what we need a paradigm to do: direct the mind, engage the heart, and encourage the long-term actions we will need to undertake as a species. In the end, we may be glad to have encountered a green Augustine.
1 Gordon D. Kaufman, ‘‘Ecological Consciousness and the Symbol ‘God’,’’ Buddhist- Christian Studies 20 (2000): 5. As Kaufman notes (fn. 4), this weakness in the Christian tradition has been widely seen; cf. Kaufman, Santmire, Sittler, White, Cobb, McFague, Ruether et al. 2 Augustine, Confessions, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1997), X.6.9. Cf. Sermon 348, 2: ‘‘Whoever does not want to fear, let him probe his inmost self. Do not just touch the surface; go down into yourself; reach into the farthest corner of your heart.’’ 3 Confessions, III.6.11. 4 II Co 5:17. A Green Augustine 341
5 The work of H. Paul Santmire is very instructive in this regard. Cf. especially his The Travail of Nature (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1985), chapter 4: ‘‘The Flowering of the Promise: Augustine.’’ 6 City of God, 11.16. 7 City of God, 11.22: ‘‘there are many things, such as ﬁre, frost, wild beasts, and so forth which do not suit but injure this thin-blooded and frail mortality of our ﬂesh.’’ 8 Literal Commentary on Genesis, 3.14.22. 9 ‘‘Typically’’ because passions can be holy and not sinful if they are motivated by holy love; fear and hatred of what is evil, e.g. is a virtue. Cf. City of God, 14.7,9 10 See below the discussion of concupiscence in Section V. 11 ‘‘I am in everything; . . . I am the life of the world; I am the milk that is in all trees; . . .’’ C. R. C. Allberry, A Manichean Psalmbook, (Part II), (Manichean Manuscripts in the Chester Beatty Collection, vol. II), 1938, 54, quoted in Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1969), 52 fn. 9. 12 One of the more colorful expressions of this view was the teaching that the ﬁrst bodily humans, Adam and Eve, and through them all subsequent humans, were not the creation of God but rather the offspring of demons. Cf. J. Kevin Coyle, ‘‘Mani, Manicheism,’’ Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. A. Fitzgerald, O.S.A. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1999), 522, 523. 13 ‘‘But could there be a more beautiful image? Could there be a better ﬁre than ours, after the ﬁre yonder [i.e. the platonic Form of ﬁre]? Could one conceive a better earth than thus, after the earth yonder?’’ (Plotinus Enneads, Bk. II.9.4). 14 ‘‘The body is for the soul a prison and a tomb; the world its cave or cavern’’ (Plotinus, Enneads, Bk. IV.8.3). ‘‘Let him who can follow and come within and leave outside the sight of his eyes and not turn back to the bodily splendors which he saw before. When he sees the beauty in bodies he must not run after them; we must know that they are images, traces, shadows, and hurry back to That which they image’’ (Plotinus, Enneads, Bk. I.6.8). 15 Here’s how Augustine puts it, ‘‘The Platonists are not so foolish as, with the Manicheans, to detest our present bodies as an evil nature; for they attribute all the elements of which this visible and tangible world is compacted, with all their qualities, to God their Creator. Nevertheless, from the death-infected members and earthly construction of the body they believe the soul is so affected that there are thus originated . . . the whole viciousness of human life’’ (City of God, 14.5). 16 Confessions, 7.14.20. 17 City of God, 10.14. 18 Confessions, 7.12.18; Cf. City of God, 11.22: ‘‘no nature at all is evil’’ and 19.13: ‘‘there cannot be a nature in which there is no good. Hence not even the nature of the devil himself is evil in so far as it is nature, but it was made evil by being perverted.’’ 19 The classic study is Margaret R. Miles, Augustine on the Body (Missoula, Mt: Scholars Press, 1979; American Academy of Religion Dissertation Series No. 31). Cf. also how R. J. Teske compares themes in De Vera Religione (389 CE, two years after his baptism) with themes in De Doctrina Christiana (397 CE): ‘‘While in vera rel. to love one’s neighbor as oneself is to love him as a soul, since ‘bodies are not what we are’ (46.89), in doctr. Chr. love of neighbor is a love for the whole that includes body and soul (I.26 – 27). . . . In vera rel. we are told that we ought not to love our bodies (46.86, 89), though in doctr. Chr. we ﬁnd that we love our bodies by a natural law God has given us (I.28 – 29)’’ (R. J. Teske, ‘‘Love of Neighbor in St Augustine’’, Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum No. 26 (Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 1987) vol. 3, 82 – 83). 20 22.24. 21 Genesis 1:31. 22 Confessions, 13.2.2. 23 Cf. Confessions, 5.10.19: ‘‘I thought it contemptible to believe that you bore the appearance of human ﬂesh and were conﬁned to our bodily shape and our members.’’ 342 Theology and Science
24 Confessions, 13.30.45. 25 City of God, 11.16. 26 City of God, 12.4. 27 City of God, 11.22. 28 Literal Commentary on Genesis 3.14.22. Cf. On True Religion, 41.77: ‘‘I could speak at great length without any falsehood in praise of the worm. . . .’’ 29 City of God, 22.24. 30 City of God, 22.24. 31 Santmire calls this Augustine’s ‘‘omnimiraculous apperception of the whole of natural and human history’’ (The Travail of Nature, 63). 32 Tractates on the Gospel of John, 8.1. 33 Ibid. Cf. also Sermon, 242.1. 34 City of God, 21.7: ‘‘God . . . made the world full of countless miracles in sky, earth, air, and waters, while itself is a miracle unquestionably greater and more admirable than all the marvels it is ﬁlled with. . . .’’ 35 Confessions, 13.31.46. 36 Ibid. 37 Sermon, 128.2.4. This is the full sentence, ‘‘In order that we may be able to love God, we must let him dwell in us, let him love himself through us, that is, let him move us, enkindle us, and arouse us to love him.’’ 38 ‘‘Since God is Love, we enter by charity, the Spirit’s gift, into the intimacy of Trinitarian life, the fulﬁllment of the deepest longings of mankind for life, wisdom, and love.’’ In Mary T. Clark, ‘‘The Spirituality of St Augustine,’’ Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 42. 39 City of God, 22.29: ‘‘God will be so known by us and shall be so much before us that we shall see Him by the spirit in ourselves, in one another, in Himself, in the new heavens and new earth, in every created thing which shall then exist and also by the body we shall see Him in every body which the keen vision of the eye of the spiritual body shall reach.’’ Cf. Santmire, 65. 40 Confessions, 10.6.10. 41 Ibid. 42 Tractates on the Gospel of John, 8.1. 43 City of God, 12.4. 44 Cf. Augustine’s famous examination of conscience in Confessions, 10.30.41 – 36.49, where he identiﬁes three forms of concupiscence: craving for physical pleasure, craving for mental distraction, and craving for honor. 45 Confessions, 10.40.65. 46 Confessions, 8.8.19 – 12.29. 47 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2005, fn. 59 available at http:// www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm 48 On Grace and Free Will, 4.7, 6.13. 49 As in the climax of Augustine’s conversion: ‘‘Suddenly I heard a voice ...‘Pickitupand read’. . . . Stung into action I . . . read in silence the passage on which my eyes ﬁrst lighted. . . . [T]he light of certainty ﬂooded my heart’’ (Confessions, 8.12.29). 50 Sermon 16A.13. Cf. City of God, 19.4: The occupation of virtue is ‘‘to wage perpetual war with vices.’’ 51 Cf. City of God, 19.19. 52 ‘‘Since the mind itself, though naturally capable of reason and intelligence, is disabled by besotting and inveterate vices not merely from delighting and abiding in, but even from tolerating His unchangeable light, until it has been gradually healed and renewed and made capable of such felicity, it had, in the ﬁrst place, to be impregnated with faith and so puriﬁed’’ (City of God, 11.2). 53 Confessions, 10.6.9. 54 City of God, 20.3. A Green Augustine 343
55 Matthew 6:28 – 30. Augustine refers to this passage at City of God, 10.14. 56 Confessions, 4.10.15. Also 4.11.17. In On True Religion, 22.42, he likewise notes that we can hear a song only if the individual notes ﬁrst sound and then pass away. 57 Confessions, 10.6.9. 58 City of God, 22.24. 59 Confessions, 1.1.1. Cf. Sol 1.24: ‘‘So when you are such that none of the things of earth delight you at all, then believe me, at that same moment, at that very point in time, you will see what you long for.’’ 60 (1) Confessions, 7.17.23: ‘‘Thus I pursued my inquiry by stages, from material things to the soul that perceives them ...to that inner power of the soul...to the power of discursive reason . . . and stretched upward to the source of its own intelligence, withholding its thoughts from the tyranny of habit and detaching itself from the swarms of noisy phantasms. . . . And then my mind attained to That Which Is, in a ﬂash of one tremulous glance.’’ (2) Confessions, 9.10.24 – 5: ‘‘step by step [we] traversed all bodily creatures ...[h]igher still we mounted . . . and we arrived at the summit of our own minds; and this too we transcended ...[a]ndaswetalkedandpanted for it [Wisdom], we just touched the edge of it by the utmost leap of our hearts. . . . If the tumult of the ﬂesh fell silent for someone, and silent too were the phantasms of earth, sea, and air, silent the heavens, and the very soul silent to itself, that it might pass beyond itself by not thinking of its own being . . . hear him unmediated, whom we love in all these things, hear him without them . . . and in a ﬂash of thought touch that eternal Wisdom who abides above all things.‘‘ 61 Confessions, 9.10.25. 62 Cf. George Lawless, ‘‘Augustine’s Decentering of Asceticism,’’ Augustine and his Critics, eds Robert Dodaro and George Lawless (London: Routledge, 2000), 142 – 143, esp. note 7. 63 Santmire, Travail, 68 – 69: ‘‘these dualisms ...do not seem to have played a major formative role in the explicit theological constructions of his mature thought regarding the biophysical world as a whole.’’ 64 Matthew 10:39. 65 Matthew 6:33. 66 Confessions, 7.14.20. 67 City of God, 11.2. 68 Cf. Epistle 187.14, ‘‘God so ﬁlls all things as to be not a quality of the world but the very creative being of the world.’’ 69 Cf. On True Religion, 55.112, ‘‘I am certainly sure that every angel that loves this God loves me too. . . . Whoever has God as his chief good, helps me in him and cannot grudge my sharing in him.’’ Similarly, as angels are to humans, humans would be to nature, loving all and helping where they can. 70 ‘‘Let my soul use these things to praise you, O God, creator of them all, but let it not be glued fast to them by sensual love, for they are going whither they were always destined to go, toward extinction; and they rend my soul with death-dealing desires, for ...in them it ﬁnds no place to rest’’ (Confessions, 4.10.15). 71 City of God, 19.19. Augustine certainly ‘‘walked the walk’’ here in his devotion to his duties as bishop. 72 Confessions, 4.12.18. 73 Pope John Paul II, ‘‘Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation,’’ New Year’s Day, 1990 quoted in Elizabeth A. Johnson, ‘‘God’s Beloved Creation,’’ America 184, 13 (16 April 2001): 8 – 12. 74 I John 4:8, 16. 75 ‘‘Do you think that when you love your sister and brother you are loving her or him alone and not Christ as well? That is impossible. . . . Love cannot be split up. Begin loving somewhere, and the rest will follow’’ (Commentary on the First Letter of John, 10.3 quoted in T. J. Van Bavel, ‘‘The Double Face of Love in St Augustine, The Daring 344 Theology and Science
Inversion: Love is God’’ Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum, 26 (Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 1987) vol. 3, 70 – 71). 76 Commentary on the First Letter of John, 6.4 quoted in van Bavel 79 – 80. 77 ‘‘Each of you expects to receive Christ seated in heaven. Turn your attention to Him lying in the street. Direct your attention to Christ who is hungry and suffering from the cold, Christ in need and a stranger.’’ (Sermon, 25.8.8 quoted in van Bavel, 80). Van Bavel points out (p. 80) that Augustine refers to the text of Matthew 25:31 – 46, where Christ identiﬁes himself with the needy and outcast, 275 times in his writings and that Augustine himself called it ‘‘the passage in Holy Scripture which has made the deepest impression’’ on him (Sermon, 389.5). 78 ‘‘[T]he pope proposes a series of righteous actions: be converted from a consumerist lifestyle, address poverty, avoid war and its devastating ecological effects, promote education in ecological responsibility starting with the family and appreciate the beauty of nature, which tells of the glory of God.’’ Elizabeth A. Johnson, ‘‘God’s Beloved Creation.’’ 79 City of God, 22.24.
Arthur O. Ledoux is Professor of Philosophy and lecturer for the Center for Augustinian Study and Legacy at Merrimack College, North Andover, MA. He has presented papers on Augustine and inter-religious dialogue to academic conferences in Calcutta, India, Chiang Mai, Thailand, and at several regional meetings of the American Academy of Religion.