AUGUSTINE'S WORLD: An Introduction to His Speculative Philosophy
Donald X. Burt, O.S.A.


Chapter 9

ORIGINS

I. INTRODUCTION

The preceding pages have addressed Augustine's answer to the question: "What is it to be a human being?" This chapter will examine his answers to the questions:

1. Where did we and the world of our experience come from?

2. What are the essential components of the world of our experience, i.e. those components that are characteristic of everything in the actual world?

Augustine believed that the process whereby the universe was formed will always be beyond human understanding. (1) Many elements will remain mysterious and confusing, grudgingly yielding glimmers of the truth. Even so, he was convinced that the effort to discover the nature and origin of the universe is a worthwhile endeavor. Indeed, it is for many humans the first step in the discovery of God. As Augustine remarked in one of his sermons:

I can't see God just now as he is in himself. I can only search for him in his works, first through an examination of this material world and then through an examination of my own soul. (2)

We humans must begin our search for God with the physical universe because we cannot understand ourselves unless we know something about the context of our lives. We do not live independently of the world around us and what we see there can have important implications for self-understanding and our happiness. The world around us has a crucial part to play in whether we live out our lives in hope or despair. It is hard to be happy in a world of chaos existing only temporarily on the brink of nothingness.

Various theories have been offered to explain the world of our experience. Some (like Marx) have maintained that it is eternal and that the order that we perceive is the result of a evolutionary process that is driven by laws of nature. No one and no thing is responsible for the origin of the universe. It simply always "was". Only change needs explanation and such explanation can be found in the unthinking and uncaring laws of nature. There is no great "Mind" behind the existence of the changing universe. It simply IS and was so and will be so eternally.

Others will agree that the universe is eternal but maintain that order is not. At one time all things existed in a state of chaos (a not surprising condition for such a conglomeration of disparate things). Order came about over time either as the result of chance encounters and bondings, or because of the purposeful action of some powerful independent mind (Nous). Among those holding this opinion, some maintain that the movement from chaos to order is linear. Once ordered, the universe will never again be chaotic. Others argue that the process is cyclic, that the universe will go through an eternal repetition of states of chaos and order.

As we have seen in chapter two, the Manichaeans of Augustine's day offered a different and much more imaginative explanation. They taught that the universe of our experience is nothing more than the temporary battle-ground of cosmic forces of Good and Evil. The world did not exist eternally nor was it brought into existence ex nihilo. It came about by the mixing together of the primordial good and evil "gods" that had existed eternally. Their conflict will not be forever. The time will come when once again the forces will be separated. The universe (including humans) will cease to exist, and for the rest of eternity the two "gods" will exist separated in an uneasy balance of power. In the Manichaean scheme of things, as in many of the other ancient theories, individual humans live out their temporary existence as helpless pawns moved by forces beyond their control.

In stark contrast the Christian explanation of the universe's origin, the one defended by Augustine and examined in this chapter, is one that is centered on a creative act motivated by love. This ordered world was brought from nothing by an Infinite Being who even now must hold it in existence by continuing concurrence with the original creative act. The universe thus came into existence as the result of the free act of an Infinitely Perfect Person [as opposed to some blind "force"] who knew what he was doing, who freely chose to create, who created to accomplish some purpose, and who cared about the result. The universe is not haphazard, and humans (created and conserved by an all-knowing, all-powerful Person who cares about them), have a reason for living and hoping.

II. CREATION EX NIHILO (From Nothing)

Augustine saw reality as diversity, a combination of lesser and greater beings. It includes non-living material things (earth, water, air, fire), corporeal beings enlivened by a material principle of life (plants and animals), unified composites of matter and spirit (human beings), and pure created spirits (angels). Each level of being is good in its own way and together they constitute the "splendor of order" that makes the universe beautiful. (3)

The common characteristic of all these beings is that they are mutable. Both the world of matter and the world of spirit is ever-changing. Bodies deteriorate; minds flit from this to that. All of them seem ephemeral, as delicate as an angel's breath. Given the transient nature of the universe, the questions Augustine had to consider were:

1. How could such passing things come to be at all?

2. What is the source of the characteristic of mutability that all share?

3. What is the source of their differences, the reason why they exist at differing levels of being?

In answering these questions, Augustine depended on two sources: faith and experience. Through faith he was able to receive information about the beginnings of things from the pages of Sacred Scripture, especially the book of Genesis. Through experience he was able to see that reality was characterized by change and that time was nothing more than the measure of that change. By experience he was able to perceive the specificity of existing things which demanded that each being be set apart from every other by individual perfections which determined that it be this and nothing other.

His knowledge of the writings of those who had gone before, both Christian and Non-Christian, introduced him to various theories describing the origin of the universe, but the final and most powerful influence on him was the story of creation told in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Over the course of his long life, Augustine wrote five lengthy commentaries on that story, culminating in the twelve books of his Literal Commentary On Genesis. (4) Even after so much time and effort, he recognized that many of his conclusions were open to objection. (5) For example, he notes that there that there are at least six different interpretations of the very first lines of Genesis ["In the beginning God made heaven and earth"] and none of them contradict any certain truth of the Christian faith. The possibility of so many interpretations of the same text did not surprise him. He recognized that it was the Divine Teacher within each reader that revealed the "truth" which God wished to communicate at that moment, a "truth" that the Sacred Writer probably never suspected. (6)

Because of his own experience of the world and the testimony of Scripture, Augustine was certain that the world had been created. This fact was not only the clear message of Genesis; it was also proclaimed by the things he saw each day. As he wrote in his Confessions:

We look upon the heavens and the earth, and they shout to us that they were made. (7)

He argues that it could not be otherwise. If this changing world was not made, then there could be nothing in it now that was not there before. The phrase "Not being made" connotes an independence in existence, to exist necessarily, to have always been what one is now. The fact that creatures change indicates that this permanence in existence is not part of their being. As he observed:

To the degree that anything is no longer what it was, and is now what it once was not, it is in the process of dying and beginning anew. (8)

Changing things are transients in the kingdom of being. They need to be "made" in order "to be" and it is impossible that they could have "made" themselves. Their very visible changing present proclaims a fact about their past. It is a voice that whispers, "We were made by someone else!" This quiet message from experience is confirmed by the clear proclamation of Genesis that the existence and order of the universe was brought about by God's creative act ex nihilo. (9)

The Genesis report of the fact of creation implies other truths. The first truth is that before the creative act there was absolutely nothing in existence except God. Therefore, God's "making" of the universe was far different from the way in which an artist builds a statue. There was no pre-existing matter in creation, no "stuff" that could be molded and formed into the shape of creatures. Before creation there was only God. (10)

A second truth is that God did not use intermediate agents in creation. God did not delegate the creative act to some lesser god or spirit. Creation was the direct act of God, making and maintaining all that there was to be from the highest to the lowest. God is thus intimately involved in the "being" and "support in being" of every existing thing. Each creature is "known" by God and touched directly by his omnipotent power. (11)

A third truth is that although God is intimately involved in every aspect of creation, creatures are not eternal emanations of God's substance. Reason makes clear why this must be the case. It is of the essence of God to be unchangeable. It is of the essence of creatures to be changeable. Since only God is immutable and since only the immutable is eternal, creatures being changeable must have a beginning. To assert that they are eternal emanations of God is to equate them with the Word and Holy Spirit, the Second and Third Persons of the Holy Trinity. (12)

A fourth truth is that God was not in any way forced to create. The universe was formed purely and simply because God freely willed to bring it about. In the Triune God the relationships are necessary and eternal. The Divine Word and the Holy Spirit flow necessarily from the very Nature of the Father. Creation flows from a quite different source: the Divine Will freely choosing to bring into existence something that did not exist before. To ask "Why did God choose?" is to try to find something greater than God's will, something that would move it to choose. But no greater thing exists. Thus, the only answer that can be given to question "Why did God create?" is the same answer explaining any free choice: "The act was chosen because the person loved what was chosen." If it is true that "Good tends to diffuse itself", it is not surprising that the Infinite Good should wish to bring into existence other beings who could share in the divine goodness. (13)

Augustine was certain about creation ex nihilo and the four truths that followed from it. He was much less sure about the exact way in which various species of things came to be. The first verses of Genesis seemed to him to be open to the following interpretations:

1. There was only one act of creation. All individuals and species were created at one time, though some in "seed" form to develop fully sometime later on.

2. there was only one act of creation. All individuals and species that will ever exist were created either actually or in the ordinary power of nature to produce new species and individuals. After the first moment of creation no extraordinary divine intervention in the normal course of nature was required.

3. there is a continuing creation throughout history whereby God continues to create new species and especially souls of individual human beings.

Augustine subscribed to the first interpretation, maintaining that (with the possible exceptions of the souls of later human generations) all creation came existence "in the beginning" (14) Before that, all creatures existed in their "eternal reasons", the various ways in which the Divine Nature could be reflected. (15) Before time nothing was yet made, but everything was possible. Through a single command particular beings either began to exist actually as fully formed creatures [e.g. angels and the firmament] or potentially in their "causes". These causes were of two kinds. There were "primordial causes" (the so-called rationes seminales) which at the appropriate time would produce fully formed new species. There were also those ordinary causes imbedded in existing nature whereby existing species have the power of reproducing others of their kind.

III. THE PROCESS: FORMLESSNESS TO FORMED BEING

Augustine saw in the first verse of Genesis hints about the process of creation. The verse reads:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God's spirit hovered over the water.

Genesis, 1:1-2

He interpreted the passage as referring to two events separated conceptually but not in time:

1. the creation of the "formless matter" that is the root of all change and therefore the foundation of all created being;

2. the production of the first "fully formed" creatures by the imposition on "formless matter" of that measure, form, and order which constitutes created being as an individual, independent existent.

In his view "formless matter" had to be (logically) the first element in the creation of changeable being. It is a pure potentiality which as yet has not been specified by any particular form or perfection. This is the first element in the creative act, establishing the potentiality for whatever is to be formed afterwards. It is the foundation for all mutable being, be it spirit or body. It is the support of passing thoughts, the metabolic processes of living bodies, and the entropic movement of all material things. (16)

In book 12 of his Confessions Augustine admits to an initial difficulty in grasping the concept of a "formless something". His perplexity is not surprising. By definition "formless matter" contains nothing positive to understand. A being becomes intelligible only through those particular perfections which make it to be this being and none other. It is through such positive characteristics that we can distinguish a human being from an oak tree. Formless matter is difficult to comprehend precisely because it is not "non-being" nor is it "being". It is something in the middle, the "condition" for being. Augustine says that when he first came to think of it, he thought of it as some sort of monstrous disordered thing. Since it had none of the form that makes a being a thing of beauty, it seemed to him to be some sort of terrible ontic horror. He finally came to realize that he was looking at the issue the wrong way. Formless matter does not stand for something with a deficient form, for something warped by imperfection. Rather, it is something with no form whatsoever, a pure potentiality to receive form, a "nothing/something", an "is/is not". (18)

All things created depend for their formation on this formless matter. However the sequence of "formlessness" to "formed" is not a temporal sequence. It is rather a mental ordering of the elements necessary for the origin of any created being. Logically the "capacity to receive form" comes before "being formed" but clearly this cannot involve a sequence in time. The roots of time are in change from this to that, but before a being receives a specific form there is no particular "this" which can be subject to change. Time did not exist before changeable formed matter began to exist. God did not create formless matter and then mold specific things from it. His creative act was more like the action of an orator or a singer who forms words or melodies in the very act of making sounds. Augustine explains:

If someone were to ask: "Well, which comes first, the sounding voice or the words?", it would be hard to find someone so stupid as to deny that the words are produced by the sounding voice. Obviously the speaker creates both at the same time but a little reflection makes it plain which of the two is the thing produced and which is the matter from which it is produced. (18)

Like the singing of a song, creation is a one step process, not two. In the beginning, God created those "first things" by simultaneously creating and combining "formless matter" and those perfections [forms] which give specificity and existence to actual beings. Once existing as independent entities, creatures retain their common base in that formless matter that is the root of their mutability, a mutability that is a natural characteristic of something that is made from nothing.

Augustine's argument that this ephemeral "formless matter" logically had to be the first element in God's creative act comes both from faith and reason. He accepted without question and quite literally the text (Wisdom. 11.17) where God's "mighty hand" is said "to have fashioned the universe from formless matter", and he believed that reason confirmed this scriptural testimony by analyzing the nature of change. (19)

Created things are characterized by their mutability. Whatever else they are, they are beings subject to change. To understand the phenomenon of change, it is necessary to posit some substrate that continues through the change. When a created being changes [e.g. hydrogen is combined with oxygen to form water], it does not seem sensible to maintain that the original beings are annihilated and a totally new being is instantaneously created from nothing. Water is not formed by the annihilation of Hydrogen and Oxygen and the simultaneous creation of water. Change is a continuous transition from "this" to "that". A live "President Lincoln" is radically different from a dead "President Lincoln", and yet it seems only reasonable to say that there is a continuity between the person who was enjoying the show in Ford's theater and the dead body that resulted from the nefarious assassination. It would be absurd to say that there is no connection between the two states of affairs, and the connection can only be a "potentiality" for change that endures through any transformation.

By reason of its roots in formless matter, every creature has two characteristics: (1) it is mutable and (2) it exists in time. However, for a particular being to actually exist, it must possess three more characteristics:

1. it must be individualized;

2. it must be able to be distinguished from other things by its own proper form (perfections);

3. it must take its proper place in the order of nature. (20)

Actual being can exist only if it is closed off from all other existing things. It must be "this" or "that" for it "to be" at all. It is separated from its immutable Creator by its mutability, but it must also be separated from the other created beings by a unique definition at this time in this place. My distinction from you depends on our having separate existences which irreversibly close us off from each other. I exist and you exist separated by that existential perfection that later scholastics were to term "subsistence".

The second element in a created being's individuality is the specific set of perfections [form] which constitute its essence as different from all other species [e.g. human vs. plant] and which set the being as a particular thing within that species [e.g. the "I" which is not "You"]. It is in its "ideal form" that created being existed from all eternity in the infinite nature of God. It is through its "imposed form" that a created being begins to exist in its own individuality, mirroring in its own personal way some aspect of its exemplar: the Nature of God as expressed in the Person of the Word. (21)

A creature also needs specification through an individualized finality which drives it to seek its proper place in the universe, that one and only place where it can be at peace. Every being has a goal and in working to reach that goal it fits into the order of the universe. Every created thing is made with a specific weight or gravity which naturally draws it back to God. Just as bodies do not remain in place unless the force of their gravity [Augustine calls it "the appetite of their weight"] has brought them to their proper place of rest, so too spiritual creatures are "restless until they rest in God." (22)

Creation of individual existing things occurs only when these three defining elements are joined with the pure potentiality of formless matter. As Sacred Scripture testifies: "You (O God) have disposed all things by measure, number, and weight." (Wisdom ,11.21):

1. Measure establishes the limits of a particular being, as when plot out a garden to be exactly six feet by eight feet.

2. Number has to do with giving something a specific form since making something to be "countable" implies making it different from all else in its perfections.

3. Weight stands for that internal gravity [finality] that draws a being to that particular goal which, when achieved, brings restful peace.

God can be connected with these three characteristics in a most true sense since it is God who places limits on everything, gives each being its particular form, and arranges all created things in one universal order. In accord with this order every creature begins its existence with its own measure, number, and weight and is capable of change only within the confines of its own individuality according to the divine plan. (23) To change beyond the limits of one's "measure, number and weight" is to cease to exist.

God imposes these three elements in every created being and through them each creature reflects in its own way the perfections of the Trinity itself. It is because of this that it is possible for humans to see the Creator in the things that were made and even to see in the triadic foundation of individual things a hint of the Trinity itself. In a limited sense, it is possible to say of the three individualizing elements in creatures what is said of the Persons of the Trinity: "Each is in each; all are in each; each is in all; all are in all; all are one." (24)

Since each created being reflects the Infinite Good to the extent that it possesses a degree of measure, number, and order, it follows that every part of creation must be called good. Of course there is a hierarchy of good since there are different levels of measure, number, and order in individual beings. Some things exist at a higher level than others. Some have higher perfections. Some have a higher degree of order. But it would be incorrect to describe those humble things at the lowest level of reality as being "evil". They may be "less good" but they are far from evil as long as they reflect even the smallest aspect of the Infinite Good. Evil is the corruption of a being's natural measure, form, or order and [as we have argued in our previous discussion of evil] can be only properly applied to the perverse decision of the human will to choose to act contrary to its "place" in the universe. (25)

Throughout his writings Augustine speaks of a three-fold need in creatures for a conversio, a "bending back" to God. Angels and humans must turn their darkened minds towards God [in the Person of the Word] for the illumination that will allow them to see the truth. Free beings must turn back to God [in the Person of the Holy Spirit] so that they may be able to receive the grace of being able to love rightly. Finally, in every creature from the lowest to the highest, there is the need for a "turning back" of formless matter to God so that unformed creation can receive the specific form [perfection] by which it is to reflect in its own special way the Nature of God manifested in the Person of the Word. Put simply, not only must free beings be converted in order to know God and to love God, all created being must "turn back" to God in order to exist at all. As Augustine writes:

Incomplete created being tends naturally to nothingness because of its formless condition. It does not begin to reflect the perfections of its Exemplar, the Word [the Second Person of the Trinity inseparably united to the Father], until it "bends back" in its own appropriate way to its Creator and thereby receives that form which gives it its proper level of perfection. (26)

Thus history of creation is thus the story of a "going out" and "bending back." The power of God goes out to make from nothing a something, but that something in order to be perfected must constantly be "bending back" to the Creator for continued support. The universe, always on the verge of "nothingness", needs constant support for the fulfillment of its existence. It is something like a "joey" (a young kangaroo) peeking out of its hiding place in the pouch of its nurturing parent. Seeing the terrifying "nothingness" beyond its Creator, the universe quickly turns back to its source to gain strength to face its uncertain future. (27)

There are many mysteries here. For example how can a created being "turn back to its Creator" when it is still unformed? How can "it" be converted when there is yet no "it"? Perhaps the process becomes easier to understand when we remember that there is no time sequence between the creation of "formless matter" and the production of a "formed creature". The action is one. What the process does suggest is that the act of Creation is a dynamic interaction between Creator and creature, that the creature is never far from its Creator. The power of the Father is constantly exercised in keeping fragile creation in existence; the power of the Word is constantly exercised in recalling imperfect being to itself so that it can be measured against it's exemplar's perfections which it must reflect in order to be. And, finally, the power of the Spirit is constantly exercised by a kind of "brooding action" over the process not unlike that of a loving mother helping the development of her young. In sum, creation comes about because of the power of the Father, a "recalling" and perfecting of incomplete creatures by the Word, and the nurturing love of the Spirit overseeing the whole process ... all three actions occurring in an instant and before time. (28)

In his Confessions Augustine points out at that a phrase such as "before time" makes no sense at all. Consequently any speculation about what God was doing before time is a useless exercise. (29) Time began with creation and thus there was no "before or after" until the first fully formed creature began to exist. Time is the measure of change according to "before" and "after" and there was no change to be measured until the first fully formed mutable beings came into existence. (30) There is an objective basis for time in change, the movement from this to that. Such change would exist even if there were no mind to measure it. But time itself remains heavily subjective, existing only in a mind that recognizes the flow in changing things and measures that flow from its own peculiar perspective. All judgments about a "long" time or "short" time are relative to the one making the judgment. For some a century is brief while for others a day can be an eternity. Another's time is always a mystery for me and my understanding of even my own time is hard to put into words. As Augustine says: "If no one asks me what time is, I know; if I try to explain to one who asks, I don't know." (31)

The elements of time are puzzling in themselves. When we reflect on them we discover that what we call "past" no longer exists and what we call "future" does not yet exist. Only the present "is", but we only understand it as part of time by seeing it as passing. (32) The measurement of time is thus unlike the measurement of a road where the beginning and end exist as truly as the "right here" at which we stand. When we measure time, only the "now" actually exists outside our mind. The past exists only in memory; the future only in expectation. (33) In a world where everything seems to be speeding by, the burden of living is that our present cannot be grasped and most of our allotted days exist only in remembered past or anxiously awaited future with all the finality and insecurity that those realms convey. Thinking about our time, we can understand why Augustine ended his own reflections with the prayer:

Just now my years are filled with sighs as I am torn between times past and times yet to come. The course of my time is a mystery for me. My thoughts, indeed the very life of my spirit is tumbled this way and that in the vortex of change. And so it shall be, my God, until finally I am consumed by your love's fire and am melted forever in union with you. (34)

IV. CREATION OF THE ANGELS

The first creatures produced fully formed were the angels. (35) They were intellectual creatures characterized by a spiritual nature which was able to know and to love. It is unclear whether Augustine believed that they had some sort of "spiritualized" body akin to the resurrected bodies of human beings. John Hammond Taylor suggests that Augustine inclined to this opinion but refrained from asserting it with much vigor or conviction. O'Toole agrees with this analysis, adding that in his uncertainty Augustine reflected the ambivalence of both Latin and Greek Fathers on the matter. (36)

It is clear that Augustine believed that the glory of the angels is in their spiritual powers and that because of these they can justify the claim that there is nothing better in creation. One other certainty is that they, like all other creatures, have at the foundation of their being a "formless matter" [in their case a "spiritual" formless matter] which is analogous to a wavering lightless existence needing to be confirmed and illuminated by a turning back to God in the Person of the Word. (37)

In their case the move from "formlessness" to "being formed" has two aspects. The first is in the order of being as it moves from nothingness to formed existence. The second is in the order of knowledge and choice as it moves from "non-illuminated life" to an "illuminated life" through which it is able to see and choose its Creator. Through the first movement angels achieve their existence as living beings; through the second they achieve existence as "happily living beings" now united to the infinite goodness that is their Creator. It is their existential formlessness that makes them to be "changeable beings"; it is their moral formlessness [the ability to choose this or that] that gives them the possibility of being happy or unhappy. In both cases, "being" and "being happy" are dependent on God. In a sense both are movements "ex nihilo". In coming to exist, the spiritual being is directly removed from nothingness. In coming to see and choose God under the illumination and support of divine grace, though the spiritual being is the proximate cause of the knowledge and choice, the ultimate cause is the Creator who gave the creature a nature capable of knowing and choosing.

In the formation of angels there is no time sequence in their being created and their being illuminated. As pure intelligences, their turning back to the Word both confirms their existence and illuminates their mind so that they can know. The content of their knowledge is first and foremost knowledge of God. Here once again there is a mystery. All the angels were "illuminated" [since this went hand in hand with the beginning of their existence] but not all angels were moved by that illumination to choose God and thereby confirm their "happy existence" with God forever. Put simply, some rejected God and fell away. The initial illumination of the angels could not therefore have been the Beatific Vision. If they had had such face to face vision of God, they could not have fallen away. In the presence of the Infinite Good there is no alternative good to choose.

Thus, even though all the angels were flooded with knowledge of the divine [Lucifer perhaps having the most] it was not so overpowering as to "force" them to choose God. The illumination of the angelic intelligence did not imply that all would receive the gift of love from the Holy Spirit which would move them to choose the good. Some did receive that grace and were saved; others did not and were lost. That it happened is clearly taught by Sacred Scripture. Why it happened remained another mystery for which Augustine has no adequate solution. (38)

After the "illumination of" and "choice by" the angels for or against God they became fixed in their destiny forever. Though by nature they remain mutable, they are no longer subject to time. For them there is no past or future only the present timeless day. (39) However, since they continue to interact with the creation below them which is in time [e.g. in their coming to know various things in themselves as these things come to be formed over time] they become participants in temporal affairs through their activity. (40)

The knowledge of those angels who are now eternally confirmed in union with God has four parts:

1. the direct vision of God;

2. indirect knowledge of all creation [including "self"] in its exemplar, the Person of the Word;

3. direct knowledge of "self" as a being radically different from and subordinate to God;

4. direct knowledge of all other creatures "in themselves" as they become fully formed at the appropriate time throughout history. (41)

It is this last sort of knowledge that Augustine sees symbolized in the various stages of creation. The "first day" spoken of in Genesis refers to the angels now fully formed, illuminated, and joined irrevocably to God. They now were able to see all of creation in its hierarchical order [arranged in "six days", if you will]. First, they saw all of creation first in its exemplar, the nature of God in the Person of the Word. Then as individual parts of creation came into existence fully formed, the angels knew them in themselves now as individual creatures separate from the Creator. Seeing creatures as they were in themselves, the brilliant "day" that was the angel did not remain focused on them but quickly turned back to the Creator in an act of love. This progression in the angelic knowledge of creation is symbolized by the verses of Genesis recording the movement from an "evening" [knowing creatures in themselves] to a "morning" and "midday" [knowing creatures in God and as referred back to God]. (42)

V. CORPOREAL CREATION AND THE RATIONES SEMINALES

As we have seen, Augustine believed that all of creation came into existence at the beginning of time through one instantaneous act. Part of creation existed fully formed from the first instant. This included the angels [the "first day"] and the firmament, the beginning of corporeal creation. Just as "spiritual formless matter" was the first element in the creation of the spiritual world, so too "material formless matter" established the foundation for the changeable nature of future fully formed corporeal beings. (42)

Whether or not there was more to the corporeal world than bodies and material energy remained a matter of doubt for Augustine. He could find no coercive evidence one way or the other for a world-soul or for guiding spirits inhabiting the heavenly bodies. What was clear was that God was not the "soul" of the world nor could he be identified with any aspect of the world. He was however intimately involved in corporeal creation by his continuing support of its existence and activity. (44)

All creatures existed from the beginning but some only in rationes seminales, hidden and invisible "causes" of new species latent in the fabric of creation. It was from these primordial causes that later on crops first appeared on earth and the first human beings became fully formed. Once the first individuals in a new species appeared, they in turn began to produce others of their kind through their natural reproductive powers. They contained in themselves the "natural seeds" of all future generations. (45) The rationes seminales, the primordial seeds of things, are analogous to but quite different from the "natural seed" through which living things propagate others of their kind. The rationes seminales served to explain how different species of things appeared at different times. (46) They also helped to explain apparent inconsistencies in the creation story of Genesis. For example, the Genesis story has plants and herbs appearing on the third day while the sun is not formed until the fourth day. How can plants grow without sunlight? Furthermore Genesis (1.12) reports that:

When day (i.e. angels) was made, God made heaven and earth and every green thing of the field before (emphasis added) it appeared above the earth, and all the grass of the field before it sprang forth.

Augustine interpreted such texts to mean that the earth contained the causes which would produce the fully formed vegetative world at some future time determined by the providence of God. As he describes the process:

From the very beginning God created in the earth, in what I might call the roots of time, all of those things which were to appear fully formed in the future. (47)

VI. THE FORMATION OF THE FIRST HUMAN BODIES

In seeking to explain when and how the first humans were formed, Augustine was influenced by the following factors:

1. his conviction that all of creation occurred simultaneously with the beginning of time. After that first moment there was no new creation.

2. the apparent contradiction between the descriptions of the creation of the first humans in Genesis.

He saw examples of these factors in texts such as the following:

God created human beings in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1.27)

But in Genesis 2.7, which has to do with the formation of Adam, we learn that

... the Lord God formed a man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.

And in Genesis 2.22 which has to do with the formation of Eve, we read that:

The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man.

Augustine interpreted the first event [God creating humans in his image] as one that occurred at the very beginning of time. He interpreted the second event and third event [forming the bodies of the first humans] as happening after the first moment of creation. (48) But how could this be? Were the first humans formed at the beginning of time or later on?

Augustine answered that in a way humans were made both in the beginning and sometime later. He explained this paradox by distinguishing between the creation of the souls of the first humans and the formation of their bodies. Human beings are the "image and likeness" of God primarily in their souls, and it was these rational souls that were created fully formed from the beginning of time. Their bodies were also created "in the beginning" but only in their causes. Under the direction of God [and most likely with his special intervention] the potentiality of matter to bring forth human bodies was actualized at a later moment in the history of creation, and at that time those bodies had "breathed" into them their rational souls. At that moment the human species began to exist in a fully formed state.

The first humans existed in body from the beginning but only in their "primordial causes". There was no mature adult, or infant, or fetus, nor indeed the ordinary visible seeds [semen/ovum] through which future generations would be propagated. The bodies were "hidden" in their causes from the beginning much like plants are "hidden" in the tiny seeds which will produce them. When farmers sow a new crop of corn, the visible seeds they hold in their hands are quite unlike the mature growth that they will produce. The seeds store the future in a quite unlikely vessel. The difficulty in the analogy between seeds of corn and the seeds of the first human bodies is that the latter "seeds" were invisible entities hidden in the fabric of creation ... what Augustine calls "primordial pods" [involucris primordialibus] that would develop into entirely new fully formed species. (49)

It seems that at least in the case of the formation of Eve's body a special divine intervention occurred. There are causes which are part of the very fabric of nature which determine what a thing can and cannot do. A grain of wheat does not produce corn and a pure animal cannot produce a member of the human species [or vice-versa]. So too, despite the advances in the science of cloning, it is beyond the natural powers of a human rib to develop into a fully formed human being. And yet this is precisely what Genesis 2.22 reports happened in the formation of Eve. God "built up" from the rib of the man that woman who was to be his companion through life.

Such extraordinary intervention in the processes of nature would not be unknown in the years that followed. The power of God reigns over all the natural processes of creation and that power will sometimes bring about effects which are quite unexpected but are yet consonant with those processes. That a barren woman should bring forth a child, that water be changed instantly into wine is not the expected effect of natural causes but it is not contrary to them. Augustine maintained that one such example of divine intervention occurred in the formation of the body of Eve from Adam's rib. Natural causes were not contradicted by such intervention; they were simply overridden. (50)

Augustine's view on the formation of the body of Adam is not as clear. O'Toole notes that there is some dispute about which of the following explanations was maintained by Augustine:

1. Adam's body was formed through the ordinary causation that occurs in nature as, for example, when water is converted into wine by being absorbed by the vine that will produce the grape which contains the elements of the wine;

2. Adam's body was formed through the blooming of "primordial causes" (rationes seminales) which had in them the potentiality to develop into the first human body at the appropriate time;

3. Adam's body was formed by a special divine intervention working with but supplementing and going beyond the ordinary causes contained in nature [perhaps somewhat analogous to a sculptor who works with a block of granite to form a statue].

An argument that Augustine opted for the third explanation can be made from his apparent conviction that Adam's body was formed as a mature adult, by-passing the normal stages of development through fetus, infant, child, adolescent, adult. Both ordinary and extraordinary processes were provided for in the "primordial causes" but the extraordinary could only be activated by God's special intervention. Though God implanted in creation firm laws for the production of beings, laws which rest on the specific "form" or "number" or "nature" of the being, his will is still supreme over all. Thus, although normally the making of wine from water is a natural process that takes some time, there is no reason why God cannot bring about the effect in an instant. So too, the "causal reasons" implanted in creation from the beginning will normally bring about the slow development of new fully formed beings, but this does not mean that God cannot speed up the process. God's spirit still acts in the world that was made by an exercise of his infinite power. (51)

VII. THE FORMATION OF THE FIRST HUMAN SOULS

Augustine's attempt to explain the origin of the human soul was faced with the following questions:

1. How was the soul of Adam formed and how was it introduced into his body to make of him a human being?

2. How was the soul of Eve formed?

3. How were the souls of the generations that followed formed?

Augustine concluded that the most reasonable answer to the first question was that God created Adam's soul simultaneously with the rest of creation at the beginning of time. Thereafter, at the appropriate time, God "breathed" it into Adam's body. Both elements of the first human being were thus made "in the beginning": the body in its causes, the soul as fully formed. (52)

Augustine's conviction that "creation from the beginning" was the most reasonable explanation of the origin of the first human soul, does not mean that he was not open to other solutions that were in accord with Scripture and common sense. Indeed, he believed that the only certain facts about the soul were the following:

1. it comes from God but it is not part of the substance of God;

2. it is incorporeal;

3. it is not born of God's substance [as a child is born from the substance of its parents];

4. it does not "proceed" from God's substance [as the Word proceeds from the Father];

5. it is made by God;

6. it is not made from a body;

7. it is not made from an irrational soul;

8. it is made from nothing;

9. it is immortal in that it has a life it cannot lose;

10. it is mortal in the sense that it is changeable and can become better or worse.

11. since it is changeable, it [like the angels] has at its roots a "spiritual formless matter" which is the foundation of its mutability. (53)

Augustine believed that Genesis 2.7 ["God breathed into his face the breath of life"] records the moment when God inserted Adam's previously existing soul into his recently formed human body to make the first fully formed human being. (54) This new species of creature was unique in that it was both the image of God in its rational soul and a being of earth in that its body had been formed from the slime of the earth. As Augustine interprets it, the Genesis story ...

... is meant to convey the message that when the first human was formed, he received a rational soul that was not produced from water and earth as were the souls of other animals, but rather was created by the "breath of God". The human was still made to live like the other animals in an animal body, but it was one which now had been vivified by a rational soul. (55)

One might very well ask: "Why would a previously existing rational soul [the very "image of God"] be mixed with a mortal body formed from earth-slime?" It cannot be that it was "forced" to be mixed in its lesser partner. Augustine argues that the union was willingly accepted by the soul and that this desire for the body was not surprising at all. In his opinion, it was just as natural for a human soul to want its body as it is for a human being to want its life. (56)

With respect to Eve's soul, Augustine saw no evidence in Scripture that it came about in any way different from Adam's, i.e. it was fully formed at the very first instant of creation and was "breathed into" her body when it was formed from the rib of Adam. Indeed, the very silence of Scripture supports the "sameness" of the process. If her soul had come about in some radically different way, one might reasonably expect that something would have been said about it. As Augustine says:

If God makes all the souls of human beings coming into this world as He made the first one, Scripture was silent about the others because what is stated as having occurred in the first case could have been reasonably understood as applicable also to the others. (58)

For similar reasons he rejects the solution that Eve's soul was drawn out of or generated by the soul of Adam. If this had happened (he asks), why did not Adam say to her "this is now soul of my soul"? It certainly would have been a more tender description of his love than the earthy words that he did use: "This is the bone of my bone and the flesh of my flesh." (58)

VIII. THE EQUALITY OF MAN AND WOMAN

Adam was the first man; Eve was the first woman. Were they equal? Their souls were both fully formed at the beginning of time by the direct divine creative action ex nihilo. Their bodies also were created then but only in their causes. Sometime later, with the special intervention of God, the body of the male was formed from the "slime" of the earth and subsequently the body of the female was formed from the rib of the male. Does this process of formation suggest equality or subordination? Is there any justification for saying that one or the other is a lower order of being?

Augustine was convinced that both men and women are equally the "images of God" and that in both of them the perfection of this image is found in their souls more than in their bodies. (59) Both had souls which had been "breathed into them" by God, souls which were not made from "earth and water" as were the souls of the rest of the animal kingdom. (60) It could be said of the souls of both that "God alone is better, only the angel is equal, and everything else less." (61) In Eve and Adam, the soul was the vehicle through which their body received the form, order, and proportion of parts which made it also a reflection [but less brilliant] of God himself. (62) With respect to their rational souls, then, Augustine clearly believed that there was no basis for saying that one sex is inferior to the other either in the order of being or in the eyes of God.

However, when he comes to discuss the relationship between man and woman in the family, Augustine agrees with the common belief of the day that there is a quasi-natural subordination of wife to husband. He defends such subordination somewhat laboriously by pointing out that there are two sorts of wisdom in the world: speculative and practical. It is speculative wisdom which enables a person to get a broad picture of reality, to see what is important and unimportant in the light of eternity, to understand what needs to be done in order to achieve a life worthy of a happy eternity. Practical wisdom, on the other hand, is not so much concerned about the future in some ideal world as it is in getting through the troublesome "todays" of this world. Obviously both sorts of wisdom are necessary for a person to live a somewhat balanced life. We need not only ontology; we also need some common sense. Augustine interpreted the Scripture story of the two sisters, the practical Martha and the contemplative Mary, as confirming the point that while both sorts of wisdom are good, the speculative wisdom of Mary is more valuable since it will last into eternity. No skills in "getting through the day" will be required in heaven. The only activity there will be the joyful contemplation of God. (63)

Augustine recognized that practical and speculative wisdom can be found in both men and women. Indeed, he demonstrated this truth in his own life, spending most of his own days involved in practical concerns while corresponding with a number of noble women who led contemplative lives and who wrote to him knowingly about intensely abstruse issues. He still believed, however, that generally speaking women were more gifted in practical wisdom and men more gifted in speculative wisdom. Since the latter is a higher order of wisdom, there is thus some justification for view that it is appropriate for the husband to have the final say in family matters when consensus is impossible. (64)

He is at pains to add that such subordination in society does not imply any special priority of male over female [or vice-versa] in things that really matter. Both are equally images and children of God. Both have equal access to grace in this life. Both have an equal chance at happiness in the next. (65) Neither woman or man is stronger in their "soul-power". Indeed, Augustine may even have recognized the fallacy of saying that the male is more powerful in any sense. He points out that in the formation of the first woman, she gained strength and he lost strength:

... through him she became stronger, being strengthened by his bone, but he became weaker for the sake of her because only flesh was substituted for his lost rib. (66)

Augustine would likely agree that the story was meant to teach something about the ideal relationship between the sexes. Man and woman are meant to be joined in a friendly compact whereby each is strengthened by the other and each shares [or puts up with] the other's weakness.

IX. THE ORIGINS OF LATER GENERATIONS

It seems clear that Augustine believed that the souls of the first man and woman were created fully formed at the beginning of time and were breathed into their bodies sometime later on. He rejected the theory that the soul of Adam was generated from the substance of God or from some pre-existing spiritual creature. He also rejected the view that Eve's soul was drawn out of the soul of Adam much like the bodies of future generations would be generated from the bodies of their parents. He was less certain about the origin of the souls of these future generations.

In his work On Free Will, completed sometime before 395, he lists four possible explanations:

1. the souls are generated by the souls of their parents (a theory later called traducianism);

2. they are created at the moment when they are "breathed into" the body;

3. they were created at the beginning of time and sent by God into the body of the individual at the appropriate time;

4. they were created at the beginning of time and freely chose to enter the body at the appropriate time. (67)

In a later work (A Literal Commentary On Genesis) completed in 415, he reduces the possible explanations to three:

1. all souls were created in the beginning in a "soul-making cause" analogous to the "body-making cause" contained in the procreative powers of the first humans;

2. all souls come from the soul of the first human being (traducianism);

3. individual souls are created directly by God at the moment of their infusion into the body.

All of the explanations on this final list posed problems for Augustine. The third option, creation in time, came into conflict with Augustine's conviction that nothing new was created after the first instant of creation. The first option, creation at the beginning "in causa", gets around this objection by admitting that indeed all souls were created in the beginning but only in their causes. However this raises a new difficulty. Since the only creatures [excepting the souls of Adam and Eve] that existed fully formed from the beginning were the angels and the firmament, one holding that future souls were created "in their causes" would be forced to say that these future souls were either "children of angels" or [worse still] "children of the corporeal heavens". Such assertions seem improbable at best and impossible at worst. (68)

The second option, traducianism, encounters two difficulties. The first is similar to the objection brought up against the theory that Eve's soul came from the soul of Adam: viz., there is simply no mention of such an extraordinary event in the Genesis story, not even in Genesis 4.1ff which recounts the birth of the first children of Adam and Eve [Cain, Abel, and Seth]. The second problem is that it is difficult to conceive of such a process without falling into the error of believing that the soul is somehow material. How can one explain that a purely spiritual substance, one which by definition is simple and without parts, can give of itself to generate another purely spiritual, simple substance. (69)

It is interesting that the list of possible solutions from the Commentary on Genesis, does not include the third solution [creation fully formed at the beginning of time] from Augustine's earlier listing in On Free Will. It is especially puzzling since Augustine certainly maintains that this is precisely the way Adam's soul was formed and at least leans towards the opinion that the same process explains the origin of Eve's soul. Furthermore, in his discussion of Eve's soul he seems to extend the "silence of Scripture" argument to include all souls that come into existence thereafter. (70)

Of course, all "separate creation theories" [each individual's soul is created ex nihilo] share the common difficulty of offering no explanation for the transmission of Original Sin from Adam/Eve to later generations. If all human beings are separated in the formation of the rational soul [the source of sin and virtuous action] how is it that all of us are infected by the sin of the first humans? How can one explain a soul's being born in sin if the only one who had a hand in its making was the sinless God? There was an additional problem for Augustine in the theory that souls of future generations were created at that specific moment when the person began to exist. This contradicted what he considered to be the clear teaching of Scripture that "in the beginning" God created and thereafter rested.

Augustine spent most of his life pondering the advantages and disadvantages of the competing solutions only to conclude that:

I have not dared to make a firm decision for one or the other because I simply do not know which is the correct answer. None are condemned by faith and none is imposed for certain by reason. (71)

The question of the origin of the human soul thus ended for him in a string of possibilities, but he did not seem to be too upset at this. He always felt that it was more important to know where he was going and how to avoid obstacles on the way than to know where he came from. As he said at the very beginning of his search for answers on the origin of the soul:

The person who sails from Rome and then forgets from what shore he sailed is not in danger as long as he knows how to steer the correct course from where he is. (72)

This truth is especially important for one making a pilgrimage through this life. No one needs to worry about where their journey began as long as they knew where it is supposed to end. This is so because, the place of beginning and ending is the same: viz., the heavenly city that is the land of God.

 

REFERENCES
 

1. City of God, 10.13.

2. Commentary on Psalm 41, 6. In other places he admits that this process is difficult. We see creation but God speaks the "truth" about it deep within our being and often we cannot "see" that truth because our mind is clouded. Cf. City of God, 11.2.

3. Cf. City of God, 11.22.

4. Augustine has lengthy examinations of the story of creation in the following works: Confessions, 11-13; On Genesis against the Manicheans; An Incomplete Commentary on Genesis; A Literal Commentary on Genesis; City of God, 11-14.

5. Thus, at the end of his life he makes the following comment on his Literal Commentary on Genesis: "In this work I have asked more questions than I have solved and, for those I have claimed to solve, most have not been answered in any conclusive way. Moreover some solutions have been proposed in a way that demands further investigation." Retractions, 2.24.1.

6. Cf. Confessions, 12.18.27; City of God, 12.19.

7. Confessions, 11.4.6. Cf. City of God, 11.4.2; Commentary on Psalm 26.

8. Confessions, 11.7.9.

9. Against the Priscillianists and Origenists, 1.3. On the history of the concept "creation ex nihilo, cf. Tarsicius Van Bavel, O.S.A., "The Creator and the Integrity of Creation in the Fathers of the Church especially in Saint Augustine," Augustinian Studies, 21 (1990), pp. 4-8. Cf. also William A. Christian, "The Creation of the World", A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine, Roy Battenhouse (ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, 1955, pp. 315-343.

10. Confessions, 11.5.7; The Trinity, 3.7-9; City of God, 12.24-26.

11. City of God, 12.25.

12. Cf. An Incomplete Commentary on Genesis, 3.3.8; A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 8.23.44. Augustine maintains that the fact that the universe must have had a beginning can be demonstrated by reason. Aquinas later took an opposite view arguing that, granted that creation cannot have the quality of "being eternal" [which implies immutability], there is no coercive reason for saying that God could not have created and maintained creatures in time forever. Cf. Summa theologica, I, q. 46, a. 2. Cf. Portalié, A Guide to the Thought of Saint Augustine (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1960), p. 136.

13. City of God, 11.21. Cf. On Genesis Against the Manicheans, 1.3.4; On 83 Diverse Questions, 1.28; A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 4.16.27. Augustine writes: "Whatever was created, God made not by any necessity nor by any need for his own use but by reason of his goodness alone." (City of God, 11.24) "Because God is good, we are!" (On Christian Doctrine, 1.1.32) "God does not create things the way humans build houses because they need shelter or make clothes because they need protection from the elements or raise crops because they need food. God made the universe not because he needed it, but because he wanted it." Commentary on Psalm 134, 10. Cf. Christopher J. O'Toole, The Philosophy of Creation in the Writings of St.Augustine (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1944), p. 4.

14. Augustine's conviction that the act of Creation was instantaneous and never repeated was partially based on the description in Genesis (2.2) which states that after creation God "rested". He read this as meaning that now and from time immemorial we have existed in this period of God's "resting" where the changes in the world, especially the appearance of new species, is to be explained as the development of those primordial causes created "in the beginning" and inserted into the fabric of reality. (Cf. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 4.33) Taylor notes that Augustine's conviction that Creation was a unique act was also supported by his interpretation of a verse (18.1) from the book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach). John Hammond Taylor, S.J. (trans.), St. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 41 (New York: Newman Press, 1982), p. 253, n. 67. Cf. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 6.6.11, where Augustine uses the text to argue that the first human beings were created in the beginning but reached full development sometime later on.

15. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 4.24.41.

16. Cf. Confessions, 13.2-3; A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 1.4.9; 1.5.10; 1.1.2.

17. Confessions, 12.6.6; City of God, 12.5-6; The Nature of the Good, 18; On Genesis Against the Manicheans, 1.5.9; On Faith and the Creed, 2. O'Toole comments that Augustine's "formless matter" is closer to the Greek concept of "chaos" than it is to the "prime matter" of Aristotle and St. Thomas. He admits, however, that it is still a disputed conclusion among scholars. Christopher J. O'Toole, op. cit. p. 17 & 27. Cf. W.J. Roche, "Measure, Number, Weight in Saint Augustine," New Scholasticism, 15 (1941), p. 359.

18. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 1.15.29; 2.11.24. Cf. Confessions, 12.29; 13.33.48; On Genesis Against the Manicheans, 1.6.10; Against Opponents of the Law and Prophets, 1.9.12.

19. Cf. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 1.14.28. Augustine sees veiled references to "formless matter" in various verses of the Genesis narrative. It is suggested in the phrase "heaven and earth" because it has the potentiality for being these. It is called "Earth invisible and without order" and "darkness over the abyss" because it is formless and has no beauty that can be seen or touched. It is called "water" because it lies submissive and workable before the divine workman so that all things might be formed out of it. Cf. On Genesis Against the Manicheans, 1.7.11-12; A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 1.1.3. On "spiritual" formless matter in Augustine, cf. Stanislaus J. Grabowski, The All-Present God (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1954), pp. 88-91.

20. On True Religion, 7.13. Rowan Williams makes the point that God is radically different from creation because creation is mutable. At the same time God is intimately involved in creation in that it becomes a coherent system because of God's bringing each species and individual into existence with a specific way of being (measure), a formal structure (form) and a finality (order, number, weight) which draws each created being towards its own special state of equilibrium or peace. Cf. Rowan D. Williams, "`Good for Nothing?': Augustine on Creation," Augustinian Studies, 25 (1994), pp. 11 ff.

21. Cf. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 5.12.28. Augustine expresses this concept of creation existing from all eternity in its Exemplar in various texts. For example, "In God is to be found the archtypical species of all things, the absolute form of all, or the form of forms". (On Faith and the Creed, 2) "The Wisdom of God [i.e. The Word] through which all things were created, knew them before they were made. The divine archetypes, unchangeable and eternal are attested by Scripture saying `In the beginning was the Word ...'" (John 1.1) (A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 5.13.29). Cf. Ibid, 2.6.12; 5.14.31; 5.15.33; On 83 Diverse Questions, 46.

22. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 4.18.34. In another place Augustine describes the three elements in the move from "formlessness" to "form" in the following words: "All created things that have been made by the divine skill, show a certain unity and form and order. Each of them is one specific thing, as in the individualized natures of bodies and the special powers of souls. Each has its own particular form which [for example] establishes the qualities of bodies and serves as the foundation for the soul's scientific and artistic knowledge. Finally, each created being either preserves or seeks an order special to itself, as [for example] in the various weights and structures of bodies and the various loves and delights of the spirit." The Trinity, 6.10.12.

23. Cf. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 4.3.7; 4.5.12. For a discussion of the meaning of measure, number, and weight, cf. Roche, op. cit., pp. 350-76, and Taylor, op. cit., notes 8-10, pp. 248-49.

24. The Trinity, 6.10.12.

25. On the Nature of the Good, 3-4. There is no doubt that Augustine considered creation to be good. Indeed, its very goodness and beauty is a source of the temptation in wounded human beings to love it too much. But this does not make it evil. As Augustine says [speaking about corporeal creation]: "Every bodily creature is a good thing [even though of the lowest order] and is beautiful in its own way. It has an ordered unity that comes from its own specific form. If it is loved inordinately by a soul who neglects God, even this does not make it evil in itself. (Cf. On True Religion, 20.40; City of God, 11.22; Confessions, 7.15; 2.5; Commentary on Psalm 26/2, 12) Of course Augustine recognized that the world can be the source of both pleasant and disturbing events. He lists the "good and bad" in 3 interesting chapters in the City of God, (22.22-24). But all things considered, his attitude towards this world is perhaps best summarized in his brief statement: "The world is a smiling place." Sermon 158, 7.7. Cf. Van Bavel, op. cit., pp. 8-10.

26. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 1.4.9. In another place Augustine writes: "All the good things in creation would have remained in your Word [as their Exemplar] but would have stayed formless if that same Word had not recalled them to its unity [with Father and Spirit] and given to them their form and being." Confessions, 13.2. Cf. O'Toole, op. cit., p. 22.

27. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 4.18.34.

28. Ibid., 1.18.36.

29. Confessions, 11.12-13. Cf. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 5.5.12; 5.17.35.

30. Confessions, 11.27.36. Augustine explains the difference between time and eternity as follows: "Time does not exist without change or movement. In eternity there is no change. It follows that there can be no time unless a creature is made whose movement would cause some change." [City of God, 11.6] In a letter to Proba Augustine says of the eternity of heaven: "There the days do not come and go in succession and the beginning of one day does not mean the end of another. All days are one simultaneously and without end and the life lived out in these days has itself no end. [Letter 130, 8:15-17; 9.18] The following are helpful commentaries on Augustine's discussion of time: John M. Quinn, O.S.A., "The Concept of Time in St. Augustine," Augustinianum, vol. 5 (1965), pp. 5-57. John M. Quinn, O.S.A., "Four Faces of Time in St. Augustine," Recherches Augustiniennes, vol. 26 (1992), pp. 181-231. Gerard O'Daly, Augustine's Philosophy of Mind (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press: 1987), pp. 152-161. Roland Teske, "The World-Soul and Time in St. Augustine", Augustinian Studies, 14 (1983), pp. 75-92. Donald Ross, "Time, the Heaven of Heavens, and Memory in Augustine's Confessions," Augustinian Studies, 22 (1991), pp. 191-206.

31. Confessions, 11.14.17.

32. Ibid., 11.15.18.

33. Ibid., 11.21.27.

34. Ibid., 11.29.39.

35. Augustine believed that the words recorded at the very beginning of Genesis (1.1-3) refer to the creation and illumination of the angels: "In the beginning ... God created the heavens and the earth ... Then God said: `Let there be light and there was light'." A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 1.9.15; 2.8.16-19.

36. Taylor, op. cit., pp. 238-39. O'Toole op. cit., pp 44ff.

37. Speaking of the formation of angels, Augustine writes: "This was the intellectual light that [now] participates in the eternal and changeless Wisdom of God. First that light was created [i.e. unformed spiritual matter] in which there was produced a knowledge of the Divine Word by whom it was created and this knowledge consisted precisely in this creature's turning from its unformed state to the God who formed it and its [thereby] being created and formed." A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 3.20.31. Cf. Ibid., 1.1.2; 1.4.9; 1.5.10. Confessions, 13.2-3.3-4.

38. On the fall of the angels cf. On Rebuke and Grace, 10.27; City of God, 11.9-13; A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 11.23.30; 11.26.33.

39. Confessions, 12.11.12.

40. Cf. O'Toole, op. cit. 41-44.

41. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 4.32.50. Cf. Ibid., 4.24.41.

42. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 5.5.15. For an extensive description of the process cf. Ibid., 4.31.48. Obviously there was a time sequence in the angelic knowledge of creatures as they existed fully formed since one cannot know an object that does not exist and most "fully formed" creatures began to exist only after a passage of some time. Cf. Ibid., 4.32.49; 4.21-24.38-41; 5.18.36.

43. Ibid, 6.1.2. Cf. Ibid., 5.5.14. O'Toole notes [pp. 63-69] that Augustine followed the science of his day in believing that there were four basic elements in the physical universe: earth, air, water, and fire.

44. Augustine's conclusions on the possibility of a world-soul can be found in Retractions, 1.5.3; 1.11.4, Other texts on the matter include: On the Immortality of the Soul, 15.24; On Music 6.14.43; On the Harmony of the Gospels, 1.23.35. On the question of whether spirits guide the heavenly bodies, cf. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 2.18; Enchiridion, 15.58. On the continuing presence of the spirit of God intimately involved in the operations of the universe, cf. An Incomplete Commentary on Genesis, 4.17. For further discussion cf. O'Toole, op. cit., 58-63; Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine (New York: Random House, 1960), p. 209. Roland Teske, "The World-Soul...", op. cit., pp. 76-80.

45. Cf. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 6.10.17. Augustine remarks that creation is both already perfected and is yet just beginning. It is already perfected in that nothing will exist in its fully formed state that was not present from the beginning in its causes. It is just beginning because in its primordial causal state it contains the seeds of future fully formed perfections that will appear in their own due time. (Ibid, 6.11.18) Cf. O'Toole, op. cit., p. 50.

46. McKeough notes that for Augustine the rationes seminales were not principles of evolution [explaining how one species evolves into another]. Rather they are principles of stability explaining how each species was preserved in its identity from the very beginning until the time came for it to appear fully formed. Michael McKeough, The Meaning of the Rationes Seminales in St. Augustine (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1926, p. 70). On page 71 he lists numerous texts where Augustine discusses the rationes seminales. Cf. C. Boyer, "La théorie Augustinienne des raisons séminales," Miscellanea Agostiniana, II, Rome: 1931, pp. 795-819.

47. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 5.4.11.

48. Ibid., 6.1.

49. Ibid., 6.6.9-11. Cf. Ibid., 6.5.7.

50. Ibid., 9.17-18.31-35. On the formation of Eve's body, Augustine writes: "The substance (nature) of the woman was not created by the activity of any creature already existing (e.g. angels), although it was made from the substance of man (Adam) who was already existing. ... To form or build a rib of a man into a woman could only have been done by God. (Ibid., 9.15.26).

51. Cf. Ibid., 6.13-14.23-24. Cf. O'Toole, op. cit., p. 86. Cf. EugPne Portalié, op. cit., pp. 139-41.

52. For a discussion of Augustine's position in his earlier commentaries on Genesis, cf. Roland Teske, S.J. (trans.), St. Augustine on Genesis, Fathers of the Church Series vol. 84 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1991). Cf. also Teske, "St. Augustine's View of the Original Human Condition in De Genesi contra Manichaeos," Augustinian Studies, 22 (1991), pp. 141-155; Robert J. O'Connell, "The `De Genesi contra Manichaeos' and the Origin of the Soul," Revue des Études Augustiniennes, 39 (1993), pp. 129-41. In his later Literal Commentary on Genesis, Augustine phrases his conclusion on the soul of Adam in the following way: "... his soul in its own proper being was already created with the making of the first day. Once created it lay hidden in the works of God until the proper time came when God "breathed it" into the body formed from the slime of the earth. (A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 7.24.35. It seems clear that the phrase "its own proper being" means that the soul was created in the beginning fully formed specifically as the soul of Adam rather than in spiritual seminal reasons which would eventually bloom into the soul of Adam. Much less does it mean that the soul was created in some sort of corporeal matter or spiritual being (e.g. angels) that would eventually produce the soul as human parents produce the bodies of their children. An extended analysis of Augustine's thinking on the origin of the soul can be found in the following treatments of the subject by Robert J. O'Connell, S.J., St. Augustine's Early Theory of Man, AD 386-391, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968); St. Augustine's Confessions: The Odyssey of Soul (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969); The Origin of the Soul in St. Augustine's Later Works, (New York: Fordham University Press, 1987). The latter work contains an extensive bibliography of recent studies on the question.

53. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 7.27.39; 7.28.43.

54. Ibid., 7.1.2.

55. City of God, 13.24.4.

56. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 7.27.38.

57. Ibid., 10.1.2.

58. In the same place Augustine summarizes his final position on the origin of Eve's soul in the following words: "Since it (the Genesis story) does not say that the soul of the woman was made from the soul of the man, it is reasonable to assume that the writer wished to instruct us not to suppose that the origin of her soul was in any way different from what we knew from Scripture about the origin of Adam's soul: i.e. that the woman received her soul in a similar fashion (A Literal Commentary on Genesis., 10.1.2). Augustine goes on to say that the explanation for Eve's soul is not obvious or certain, but still it remains for him [in his words] a "reasonable assumption".

59. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 3.22.34. Cf. The Trinity, 12.7.12. Cf. also Richard J. McGowan, "Augustine's Spiritual Equality: The Allegory of Man and Woman with Regard to Imago Dei, Revue des Études Augustiniennes, 33 (1987), pp. 259-60. Other helpful discussions on Augustine's view on man-woman relationships include the following: W. M. Alexander, "Sex and Philosophy in St. Augustine," Augustinian Studies, vol. 5, 1974. Gerald Bonner, "Augustine's Attitude to Women and `Amicitia'", Homo Spiritalis: Festgabe für Luc Verheijen OSA, Cornelius Mayer (ed.), Augustinus-Verlag: Würzburg, 1987, 259-275. Kari Elisabeth Borresen, The Nature and Role of Woman in Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (University Press of America: 1961); "Patristic Feminism: The Case of Augustine", Augustinian Studies, 25, 1994, pp. 139-152. Peter Brown, The Body And Society: Men, Women And Sexual Renunciation In Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988). Elizabeth A. Clark, "`Adam's Only Companion': Augustine and the Early Christian Debate on Marriage", Recherches Augustiniennes XXI (1986), pp. 139-162. David G. Hunter, "Augustinian Pessimism? A New Look At Augustine's Teaching On Sex, Marriage and Celibacy", Augustinian Studies, 25, 1994, pp. 153-177. R. J. O'Connell, "Sexuality in Saint Augustine", Augustine Today, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 60-87. Tarsicius J. Van Bavel, O.S.A., "Augustine's View on Women", Augustiniana, vol. 39 (1989) Fasc. 1-2, pp. 6-53. F. Ellen Weaver and Jean Laporte, "Augustine and Women: Relationships and Teachings", Augustinian Studies, vol. 12, 1981.

60. City of God, 13.24.4.

61. The Magnitude of the Soul, 13.22.

62. The Immortality of the Soul, 15.24.

63. Luke, 10.42. Cf. Sermon 103, 1-6. I have argued that the concept of "subordination" in Augustine was rooted in a relationship of friendship whereby the "superior" was in fact a servant of those governed. Cf. Donald X. Burt, "Friendship and Subordination in Earthly Societies", Augustinian Studies, 22 (1991), pp. 83-125.

64. Confessions, 13.32.47. Cf. Questions on the Heptateuch, 1.153. Perhaps Augustine's views on the female gift for the practical was reinforced by his own experience. Both his mother and his wife seem to have been very practical women, the latter seeing to her household and her son while he wrestled with the problem of evil in the universe. Bonner (op. cit., pp. 263-65) notes that Augustine was far from denying speculative wisdom to women nor asserting that all men had it. Thus, he will speak highly of his mother's gift for philosophical debate (e.g. in On Order, 1.11.31 and in The Happy Life, 2.10). Furthermore his later letters indicate that he had many conversations with dedicated and intelligent women on ultimate questions. On the other hand, his often harsh language towards opponents in theological controversies (all of whom were male) suggests that he recognized that being a man was no protection from being a fool.

65. Some texts which bring out the essential equality of the sexes include the following. On being equally images of God: Against Faustus the Manichean, 24.2.2; The Christian Combat, 11.12; On being equally children of God: Commentary on Psalm 26/2, 23; Sermon on the Mount, 1.15.40; A Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, 27-28. On being equally able to receive the grace of God: cf. The Good of Marriage, 12.14; Sermon 51, 13.21; A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 3.22.34.

66. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 9.18.34.

67. Free Will, 3.21.19.

68. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 10.3.4. In a letter to St. Jerome written in 415, Augustine lists the four options of referred to in his work Free Will and humbly asks Jerome for instruction as to the best one. He then goes on to gently suggest to Jerome that the text he uses [John 5.17 .. "My Father works even until now .."] does not necessarily demand creation of souls through time. It can in fact be accommodated to the Genesis Story [which Augustine believed clearly taught one act of Creation after which God rested] in the following way ... that individual soul's were "formed" later on in time from "something" that had existed from the beginning. He then goes on to ask Jerome how he explains the transmission of Original Sin if all souls [except Eve's] were created sometime after the beginning of time. (Letter 166, 3-5.7-12).

69. A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 10.24.40.

70. Thus, he writes: "If God makes all the souls of humans who will exist as he made the first one, Scripture understandably will say nothing about the others because it can be reasonably assumed that what was said of the first one (Adam) applies also to all the rest." Ibid., 10.1.2.

71. On the Soul and its Origin, 4.2.2; 4.11.15-16. Looking back over 30 years of thinking about the matter, he writes "I did not know then and I still do not know the true answer." (Retractions, 1.1.3) Finally, just a few months before he died, he confesses to his last opponent in controversy, Julian, that he is still not sure how it comes to be [as it certainly does] that the whole human race is one in Adam's sin, i.e. whether we are joined simply through the body or also through the soul. (Incomplete Work Against Julian, 2.178) O'Toole is of the opinion that Augustine was inclined towards traducianism with all its problems because [1] it fitted in with his conviction that every being that would exist was created in some way at the beginning of time and [2] it gave an understandable solution to the transmission of Original Sin, a blemish more of the soul than the body. O'Toole, op. cit., p. 93. Fr. O'Connell agrees that in the end Augustine "leaned towards" traducianism but was repulsed by its materialistic interpretation common to his day. He was also comfortable with the interpretation of Creationism which argued that indeed God created all genera of things simultaneously on the first day but that he continues to create "individual instances of those genera even now." (e.g. souls of later generations) This explained how it is said that "God rested" after the initial creative act and yet is also said "to work even till now". It of course did little if anything to solve the mystery of the transmission of original sin. Cf. O'Connell, Origin ... Later Works, (op. cit.) pp. 240-41. On the creation of all genera from the beginning, cf. Grabowski, op. cit., p. 144. Texts in Augustine relevant to this issue include the following: Letter 205, 3.17; A Literal Commentary on Genesis, 4.12.22-23.

72. Free Will, 3.21.61.


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