-■i. one who can in\ isihly see t.öd invisibly can ¿ling lo Luid Lu an incorporeal way.""'
In othet places, Augustine offers inoi'.- simple idnv*ni lions that, despite lile mam- anthropomorphic depiclions of t iod in (he Bible. God dues not have a physical body like humans he has no lap or arms, no bosom or hand-S-In hin- I lord traciale on John's fiospek he e*plains this ami eve i goes on to say the eye^ that -¡(x^ rod are noi the eyes ol flesh but the eyes of thu pure hear!. And this is even Irue of I lu- Soo prior to Lile in í inly those who an not "grasp the iruisible'"areheld by the visible and thus slip into idolatry."'Even so, Augustine allows Ujt the scriptural "appearances" ol God to ihe patriarchs sujigesl ihm bodily eye h see some intimation at" ibe dh lue, although not a full mi complete
Iiis examination of these Í lid Testament appearance^ however, distinguishes \ugustine from earlier (, hristian wrilers on the subject, based on his argument about ihe invisibility of the I>ivine, he refused to allow thai Abraham's visitors were an actual manifestation of the Holy Trirm ■■". or an appearmee <-<\ the Divine Word with lwo angels. On the other hand, he countered the still-prevalent view ihat proposed the Lv. ine Word aí- the Person abk to be visible iti creation even before the int-jrniilion- -.l view lh.it became commonplace in [fie late lourlh-L t-i: iiir> polemics against 11 en Arians among others.
Foi esa t u p I :.-■ in I :i e ea 11 y to m id - fa urth centu ryn Eu sebius 1 ■ I Caesa rea had iirgul'lI ill al only tile Second Perso n .. > ■ li ! d ^ I : A ni;e shape a nd take oil the form ni a human and appear to Abraham, and :hal ¡1 would be imp -ous to suggest ill. 11 the unchangeable, Almighty <■ '«<■.'■ amkl llave been meant by the story."1 Kusebius's iiuerpretarion of the appearances of Cod m the Hebrew Scriptures, unlike IrenaeusVor TerluI ianVdoes nol emerge ooi of a polemic with Gnostics or even from an early etYort to establish the dislinetion of three Persons of ike Triniiy againsl a Salvl-lian theology, as much as out of a careful exposition "I " be question ol how the Divine was niaoifesl ti» human il y before [he ioCarrlaliocl. Ill his esegeiis of Isaiah 6, I usebiusasks what (or 11--■ : 1. - the prophet actually saw when he Uesçrihed his vision the I nid sitting on a C h roue.
Citing the tests from lIïl- Gospel of John as evidence that no one fine I oiling Isaiah ) lias ever seen the Unbegotien i iod, I usebius insists i h,h the prophet could onh have seen the onl> begotten God, who con descended to human view, and he goes on in insis[ [hat il was [he Word (and not God i-. :io appeared to Abraham, Isaac, laco':-:. Moses, and ! zekiel, further noting thai each <-<\ ihese appearances was disiinui, which may have been, for him an indication of their still incomplete or even enigmatic nature,+l In an earlier treatise, Eusebius porlrays .J] [líese as a ppea ranees o I I he Word, hot he notes that only the " PerteCt ' !l im in a human form, because .1 was reserved only to them In be able to see IV k i lv I !. 11 ni i ts fu ture incar nate shape. The other ap|>ea ra rices í b urn ill g bush or pillar of cloud) inspired liar and wonder, hut they also protected the people from a sight they could not bear.41
In Augustine's opinion, however, claiming I hat the Word appeared to these prophets and patriarchs undermined the equality, shared natures, and common activity of all three members of the Godhead. Augustine discussed the hospitality of Abraham in some detail in his treatise On the Trinity. Pointing out the problem of plural manifestation (three men) but singular address ("Lord"), he too interpreted the story as a figure of the Trinity and corrected those (for example, Justin, Ireneaus, and Tertullian) who maintain that while two were angels, one of them was the Son,11 visible in his own proper substance even before he was born" since "only the Father is referred to by the words "to the invisible and only God1" (1 Tim 1:17). Such a view was impossible in Augustine's opinion because the Son could not have been found in human form prior to his incarnation: "Surely he had not already 'emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, made in the likeness of men and found in the condition of a man1" (Phil 2:7). Moreover, he noted, none of the three appeared to be superior in stature, age, or authority to the others. And, while Abraham addressed the one who remained as "Lord,'1 Lot bowed low before the other two and greeted them as Lords as well. Thus Augustine concluded that all three were angels but that they also served as a figure of the Trinity. The one that remained with Abraham represented the Father while the two that went on to Sodom the Son and the Holy Spirit^ for the latter are said to be sent by the One who is never sent (the Father)"
Augustine's refusal to see the manifestations of God found in the Old Testament as actual appearances of the Word was motivated by his resistance to any kind ol distinction in Lhe Trinity and to a differentiation between visible and invisible Persons that was untenable to him. Moreover, he rejected literal readings of the texts as if God really appeared as some kind of material form. The full or true nature of the Divine simply cannot be seen. Such a position is demonstrated in his subsequent analysis of the other stories of God's theophanies>to Moses in particular (for example, Exod 3:2 and 33:21-23), as perhaps manifestations of any one of the three* since "right-minded faith understands these words of the supreme and supremely divine and changeless substance in which the one and only God is both Father and Son and Holy Spirit. All these visions, however, were produced through tJie changeable creation subject to the changeless God, and they did not manifest God as he is in himself, but in a symbolic manner as times and circumstances required.11" [n other words, God, whether as Father* Son, or Spirit, can be seen but only in a form chosen by the Divine will and never in its fullness, in appearances granted out of consideration tor human weakness. And thus* while earlier thinkers allowed visibility only to the Son, in the fifth century Augustine, at least, eliminated it as a particular character is-
tic of Only one member of the Trinity, yet he opened up the possibility that humans might see symbolic manifestations of the whole Godhead. And, although he doesn't have this in mind, we may speculate whether these manifestations could include visual art.
At the end of his great work City of Gody he speaks about the kind of vision with which the saints will see God in the world to come, when the flesh will have become spiritual and bodily sight will be transformed into spiritual sight Citing Paul's claim that our present insight is only partial (as through ¿1 mirror or in a riddle—] Cor 13:12), he can also cite Paul's promise that someday it will be "face to face" as the holy angels already see God. Of course, this vision will be of a different order from the kind of "fleshly" or corporeal sight we now possess. God will be seen in the future time by eyes that are transformed and possess the ability to discern immaterial or spiritual truth and then "perhaps God will be known to us and visible to us in the sense that God will be spiritually perceived by each one of us in each one of us, perceived in one another, perceived by each in themselves, God will be seen in the new heaven and the new earth, in the whole creation as it then will be; God will be seen in every body, by means of bodies, wherever the eyes of the spiritual body are directed with their penetrating gaze Here, in a sense, Augustine adapts the Pa 11 line notion that all creation reveals God and in all creation (including the human race) one may see Godh At the same time, Augustine insists that Paul's promised future vision of God will be a kind of disembodied perception—a sight received in the mind, not through the eyes.
Was this article helpful?