In his Confessions Augustine recounts his early education, an education which many of us would be proud to impart to our own children. From a young age he was steeped in the Greek tragedies, Roman histories, and classical languages of Greek and Latin. Yet as he reflects upon these matters he expresses deep sorrow over how his heart was led astray by his own carnal lusts and isolation from his Maker. The classical education he had received had become the fodder for his idolatry and hubris (word the ancient philosophers would have used for “pride”).
“Two loves, then, have made two cities. Love of self, even to the point of contempt for God, made the earthly city, and love of God, even to the point of contempt for self, made the heavenly city. Thus the former glories in itself, and the latter glories in the Lord. The former seeks its glory from men, but the latter finds its highest glory in God, the witness of our conscience.” (City of God, Book XIV)
My sophomore year at the University of Alabama included my first introduction to Music History. Yes, the first introduction—music appreciation or history was not part of my K-12 education. The first of the college music history classes included the Greeks through the medieval period and on to the Classical period. The overall purpose of music history, as far as I could tell, was to get as quickly as possible to the development of the symphony and beyond, to the instrumental music that is most commonly performed. It’s called the Common Practice Period for a reason.
It is sometimes overlooked that the New Testament as a whole is largely the work of masterful exegesis. When St. Augustine said that the New Testament is in the Old concealed and that the Old is in the New revealed, it was the finest summary of the interpretive principle that governed its authors. In this sense, the literature of the New Testament owes its creation not simply from divinely inspired writers but from divinely inspired readers.
As best as I can tell, the longest chapter in Augustine’s City of God is the eighth chapter of Book XXII, which is about miracles Augustine either saw personally or heard about from reliable sources. After the hardships of Books XIX, XX and XXI, which largely deal with hell and judgment and what an awful place the Earth is, Book XXII delivers us through the pearly gates and into the beatific vision.
In my previous post I looked at the structure of change, and I argued that Augustine’s view of how people change is well suited to the nature of the human soul. Humans are not only thinking beings, nor is ignorance our only problem. Humans are creatures of desire, and our thoughts gravitate toward the things we love. Therefore, any change involves not only thinking on the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, but also finding rest in (i.e. loving) our purpose as beings made by and for a Triune, Divine Creator.
Heraclitus (in)famously claimed that all is flux; that change is the only constant. Excluding the Triune, Infinite Being, there is plausibility to the more limited claim that all finite beings are flux, that change is a constant. The frail, clumsy body of a child grows into the strong, supple one of an adult. Even the soul of man grows out of infancy into maturity, out of frailty into fortitude, graced by wisdom and virtue.
Philosophers from Augustine to Einstein have sought to define time; but, judging from our language, we have settled it in more no-nonsense fashion.We speak of saving time, spending time, wasting time, investing time, losing time, buying time—the metaphor buried beneath such phrases is hard to miss: time is a commodity. Like gold, wheat, and cattle, it comes in limited quantities, has relative worth, and is subject to demand, supply, and chance.
In his dissertation, The Classical Trivium, Marshal MacLuhan notes, “From the time of neo-platonists and Augustine to Bonaventura and to Francis Bacon, the world was viewed as a book, the lost language of which was analogous to that of human speech” (7). In De Doctrina Christiana, for instance, St. Augustine notes, “There are things and signs,” and that the most obvious expression of such a phenomenon is language and letters.
There comes a point when walks do more good than books. You know the feeling: the page grows opaque; the same sentence spins like a pinwheel three or four times across the eyes; and your thoughts, like snow geese, join in sudden migratory flight. At times like this, the best thing isn’t reading. It’s walking: donning your fleece, rounding the block, and listening once more to the wild poetry of the poplars—not so you can stop thinking, but so you can truly start again.
Wordsworth knew the good of outdoor learning and wrote some lines about it: