18 January 2014

St Augustine on the Created Beauty


Wherever I look, heaven and earth and all that is in them tell me that I should love you, Lord; and they cease not to tell it to all men, so that there is no excuse for them. But what is it that I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any bodily thing, nor the order of seasons, not the brightness of light that rejoices the eye, nor the sweet melodies of all songs, nor the sweet fragrance of flowers and ointments and spices: not manna nor honey, not the limbs that carnal love embraces. It is not these I love when I love God. Yet in a sense I do love light and melody and fragrance and food and embrace when I love my God – the light and the voice and the fragrance and the food and embrace in the soul, when that light shines upon my soul which no place can contain, that voice sounds which no time can take from me, I breathe that fragrance which no wind scatters, I eat the food which is not lessened by eating, and I lie in the embrace which satiety never comes to sunder. It is this that I love, when I love my God.
And what is the object of my love? I asked the earth and it answered: “I am not he”; and all things that are in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the depths and the creeping things, and they answered: “We are not your God; seek higher.” I asked the winds that blow, and the whole air with all that is in it answered: “Anaximenes was wrong; I am not God.” I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and they answered: “Neither are we God whom you seek.” And I said to all the things that throng about the gateways of the senses: “Tell me of my God, since you are not he. Tell me something of him.” And they cried out in a great voice: He made us. My question was my gazing upon them, and their answer was their beauty. I asked the whole frame of the universe about my God and it answered me: “I am not he, but he made me.”
Surely this beauty should be self-evident to all of sound mind? Then why does it not speak to everyone in the same way? Animals great and small see it, but cannot put a question about it; for in them reason does not sit in judgement upon the evidence of their senses. But men can question it, and so should be able clearly to see the invisible things of God understood by things which are made; but they love created things too much and become subject to them, and subjects cannot judge. All these things refuse to answer those who ask, unless they ask with power to judge. If one person merely sees the world, while another not only sees but questions it, the world does not change its speech – that is, its outward appearance which speaks – in such a way as to appear differently to the two people; but it presents exactly the same face to each, saying nothing to the one, but answering the other: or rather it gives its answer to all, but it is only understood by those who hear its outward voice through their senses and compare it with the truth within themselves. For truth says to me: “Your God is not heaven or earth or any corporeal thing.”
St Augustine, Confessions X.6; Word in Season V.