Table of Contents
The Confessions of Saint Augustine Chapters 3-5
Chapter 3. Everywhere God Wholly Fills All Things But Neither Heaven Nor Earth Contains Him.
3. Since then, You fill heaven and earth, do they contain You? Or, as they contain You not, do You fill them, and yet there remains something over? And where do You pour forth that which remains of You when the heaven and earth are filled? Or, indeed, is there no need that You who contains all things should be contained of any, since those things which You fill You fill by containing them? For the vessels which You fill do not sustain You, since should they even be broken You will not be poured forth. And when You are poured forth on us, (Acts 2:18) You are not cast down, but we are uplifted; nor are You dissipated, but we are drawn together. But, as You fill all things, fill them with Your whole self, or, as even all things cannot altogether contain You, do they contain a part, and do all at once contain the same part? Or has each its own proper part — the greater more, the smaller less? Is, then, one part of You greater, another less? Or is it that You are wholly everywhere while nothing altogether contains You?
Chapter 4. The Majesty of God is Supreme and His Virtues Inexplicable.
4. What, then, are You, O my God — what, I ask, but the Lord God? For who is Lord but the Lord? Or who is God save our God? Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most piteous and most just; most hidden and most near; most beauteous and most strong, stable, yet contained of none; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud and they know it not; always working, yet ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. You love, and burn not; You are jealous, yet free from care; You repent, and have no sorrow; You are angry, yet serene; You change Your ways, leaving unchanged Your plans; You recover what You find, having yet never lost; You are never in want, while You rejoice in gain; You are never covetous, though requiring usuary. Matthew 25:27) That You may owe, more than enough is given to You, [Supererogatur tibi, ut debeas] yet who has anything that is not Yours? You pay debts while owing nothing; and when You forgive debts, lose nothing. Yet, O my God, my life, my holy joy, what is this that I have said? And what says any man when He speaks of You? Yet woe to those who keep silence, seeing that even they who say most, are as the dumb.
Chapter 5. He Seeks Rest in God and Pardon of His Sins.
5. Oh! How shall I find rest in You? Who will send You into my heart to inebriate it, so that I may forget my woes, and embrace You my only good? What are You to me? Have compassion on me, that I may speak. What am I to You that You demand my love, and unless I give it You are angry, and threaten me with great sorrows? Is it, then, a light sorrow not to love You? Alas! Alas! Tell me of Your compassion, O Lord my God, what You are to me. Say unto my soul, I am your salvation. So, speak that I may hear. Behold, Lord, the ears of my heart are before You; open them, and say unto my soul, I am your salvation. When I hear, may I run and lay hold on You. Hide not Your face from me. Let me die, lest I die, if only I may see Your face.
As we look to these next chapters, Augustine is pondering the very nature of God. And what he discovers is that there is much about God that to his mind seems to be a paradox. God fills the earth, yet does not contain it. God is in all things, but is not all things. We owe God a debt, but God never loses anything. Even though we cannot pay the debt, God is no less complete.
Moreover, the actions of God are equally paradoxical. God is poured out in us, but nothing ever flows out. In fact we are made more full by God. Augustine recognizes that in the contemplation of God there will always be this paradox, since in fact, we can never understand God. Chapter 4 begins with a question that we cannot answer, namely, “Who is God?” This is in fact such a difficult reality for us. We seek and strive to understand mysteries. Science longs to solve the problems that plague us. We want to know with certainty who this God is that loves us. But God is so far beyond all we can imagine it simply is not possible.
Does this mean the exercise is pointless? Of course not. Even the little ways we can know God more fully are of great benefit to us. Even in very small ways we grow in tremendous grace because God’s love for us is so vast, so great, so awesome. Even when we become broken by sin, God is not poured out of us. In fact, all we can do is to place ourselves in the magnificence of God and be filled with awe. We can only realize the brokenness of our own lives and ask God to come into our hearts. We must begin with a simple admission that we cannot save ourselves and as a result we need a Savior. But the good news is that we have one. (To learn more about Pelagius, read this article from the New Catholic Encyclopedia.)
Questions to Ponder
We speak of God both in terms of transcendence and imminence. In other words, God is all-powerful (transcendent) and yet loves us more than we can know (imminent). How do you experience and have you experienced the transcendence of God?
It is not always easy to believe our brokenness and sinfulness can be forgiven by God. How do you experience the forgiveness of God? How is it you prepare for the sacrament of Confession?
In what ways do you speak of God even though you can never fully speak perfectly of God?