Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book XI/Chapter 31
Chapter XXXI.—How the Knowledge of God Differs from that of Man.
41. O Lord my God, what is that secret place of Thy mystery, and how far thence have the consequences of my transgressions cast me? Heal my eyes, that I may enjoy Thy light. Surely, if there be a mind, so greatly abounding in knowledge and foreknowledge, to which all things past and future are so known as one psalm is well known to me, that mind is exceedingly wonderful, and very astonishing; because whatever is so past, and whatever is to come of after ages, is no more concealed from Him than was it hidden from me when singing that psalm, what and how much of it had been sung from the beginning, what and how much remained unto the end. But far be it that Thou, the Creator of the universe, the Creator of souls and bodies,—far be it that Thou shouldest know all things future and past. Far, far more wonderfully, and far more mysteriously, Thou knowest them. For it is not as the feelings of one singing known things, or hearing a known song, are—through expectation of future words, and in remembrance of those that are past—varied, and his senses divided, that anything happeneth unto Thee, unchangeably eternal, that is, the truly eternal Creator of minds. As, then, Thou in the Beginning knewest the heaven and the earth without any change of Thy knowledge, so in the Beginning didst Thou make heaven and earth without any distraction of Thy action. Let him who understandeth confess unto Thee; and let him who understandeth not, confess unto Thee. Oh, how exalted art Thou, and yet the humble in heart are Thy dwelling-place; for Thou raisest up those that are bowed down, and they whose exaltation Thou art fall not.
- Dean Mansel’s argument, in his Bampton Lectures, as to our knowledge of the Infinite, is well worthy of consideration. He refers to Augustin’s views on the subject of this book in note 13 to his third lecture, and in the text itself says: “The limited character of all existence which can be conceived as having a continuous duration, or as made up of successive moments, is so far manifest that it has been assumed almost as an axiom, by philosophical theologians, that in the existence of God there is no distinction between past, present, and future. ‘In the changes of things,’ say Augustin, ‘there is a past and a future; in God there is a present, in which neither past nor future can be.’ ‘Eternity,’ says Beethius, ‘is the perfect possession of interminable life, and of all that life at once;’ and Aquinas, accepting the definition, adds, ‘Eternity has no succession, but exists all together.’ But whether this assertion be literally true or not (and this we have no means of ascertaining), it is clear that such a mode of existence is altogether inconceivable by us, and that the words in which it is described represent not thought, but the refusal to think at all.” See notes to xiii. 12, below.
- “With God, indeed, all things are arranged and fixed; and when He seemeth to act upon sudden motive, He doth nothing but what He foreknew that He should do from eternity” (Aug. in Ps. cvi. 35). With this passage may well be compared Dean Mansel’s remarks (Bampton Lectures, lect. vi., and notes 23–25) on the doctrine, that the world is but a machine and is not under the continual government and direction of God. See also note 4, on p. 80 and note 2 on p. 136, above.
- See p. 166, note 2.
- Ps. cxlvi. 8.