simply being defensive ahoul iheir nwr tradilions, ¡n which ihcy 'mag-ii i: l1 (ii iJ as huvinga body likr theirs (and tbus their own potcntial lo altain the divine form through ascesis). The* realized lh;ii when Lhey prayed they held a nic.l1 image oí God. Accordlng Im theni, Inhibition ■^ueh im,icin,ilion wnuld have made it impossiblc for thera to pray.
John Gassian reeounts an evenl in his tenth Conference that captures the essence of ilns movement and the rtinnks attathment lo their image nt God, híl teils the tale nfa monk named Sl-iapion, whn had lived a life nt dedicated austerit) and discipline. Despite his .ic:^. m-ril, and hol1, llfe, however, he was a liitle ignnrant nf [heology, and i> ■ him the teaching thai God s appearance incomprehensible iLi.i^i-l ¡no sense. [t seeined .in inven tioii ofintdlecluds and a direct coniradiction of the Scrip tures. Howe ver, v> hen j certa in deacon na med ^hotinus explained ihai r I .i- 'image and likeness" oft rod was co be underitood in a spiritgal sense ■ Cor <iod ould have nu corporcality), the old man tinalb ^.'.vl- : ii and aeeepted :he leaching. ili> ansenl ci-■ orthodox teaching lmv greal joy to .ill in bis Community, who had feared loslng hls ■noul to beresy, and tke\ gathered ^n pray and give thank.n f-nr ibe rescue ol this simple-minded brother. ,LAnd tben, amid these prayers, the mU: man became confused, for he senj«! ih.it ihc human image of t!od which be 11 tl-lJ Im draw before him as hc prayed was nowgonefrom bis heart. Suddenly lie gave wayln ihe bitlercst. :i abundan! tears and sobs. Ml- rhrl-^^ himselfon thegmund and wich ihe mightieM hnw| he cried out:' \h ihc misíbrtuncí rhcyVe taken my God away from me, I ka\L' no One cn hold On In. and I don I know whom to adore or lo address.^" \ visual idea nf God, even oneonl) imagined, was ifnnt impossible, al leasc terriblv diJ'ficuli and even debililating to cjtpunge from the mind.
Augustire and the Problem of che Invi&ible God
Augustine s approva] of ancient Romaai aniconism :lm the liitic of Kini: Numa) i\ consistent with his gcncr^l Position on making visual images oI'IiolI. He dearl) believed that such things were indieative of simple-minded materialism and needed to be eradicated." despite efforts In l'reef ihrlstJans from theetrorsof idolatry, Auguntinelamenied in one t■ r hin Hcrmons that uluk .ir.il images had ncvcrtheliss found j f^l.i.L1 in ilic lhurth and even generated ■ 11--■:iriI-■ Il- criticism ■ ir "Christian superstition" by s:-.iih" of ilu-ir edueated pagan nelghbors. Iteminded that these same pagans defend their own practiee of image veneracion by claiming that thcy"donnl adorc images, but what is signi-Iied 11v LI'.l' im.ijiL1 ^ AugUStinc chalIenges Ihe:r logic- I-Tc askü wI■ ^ 1 i-y jn^ to the trouble of making certaiji images, ■l-.Iilii [Iil- niodel is w- otteo directly available to them, as in the case of the sun or the moon; "lBut Since they can see the sun; which is signified by the image of the sun, why do their turn their backs to what is signified, and their faces to the sign it is signified by?" He acknowledges that if pagans only made their images of things thai were otherwise invisible, they might actually be acting in a logical manner As it is, however, the action of offering worship or prayer to an image of something otherwise visible or available is parallel to asking a favor from a portrait, rather than from the actual perso.il portrayed:
How can you expect him to hear you, when you abandon him, and turn to some lake and totally misleading image of him? It's as if you went in the house of some landowner to beg for something, and he was standing in his courtyard white you turned your back to him and faced his portrait; and if you not only poured out your heart to a picture and not to a man, but did io in rhe presence of the man portrayed in the picture, wouldn't he assume you were making fun of him, or put you down as crai!yn and in any ca.se have you thrown out ot'his houivC?:
But, as if suddenly realizing that his arguments might be used to justify the visible images of invisible things for the sake of prayerful petition, Augustine adds that seeing things and seeing Cod are two different operations. He tells his listeners thai God "made you one thing to see these things with, another with which he himself might be seen—for seeing these things he give you the eyes in your head, for seeing himself he gave you a mind—you cannot therefore be allowed to say in that inane wav, T can't see him J" In the same waft Augustine continues, one cannot see a person's soul but can know that it exists from the evidence of its work to move and control the body.jH His argument here is paralleled in a homily on the Gospel of John in which he distinguishes between seeing the visible miracles of Christ with the external eye and perceiving the transcendent and invisible reality to which those miracles point with the mind. By analogy, he contrasts the way one superficially sees tlie whole of a picture in one glance with tiie fact that one must read a text through to understand its meaning/"
Augustine's concern for protecting the invisibility of God is also evident in his responses to several letters written between 408 and 414, The first, written lo a widow named Italica, offers some comfort in her loss but at the same time refutes a popular idea that, in the resurrection, God will be seen by bodily eyes. He assures her that such an idea is absurd, since God is a spirit and cannot be seen as a body. At the same time, he also reassures her—that a vision of God is promised as a reward of faith. That vision will not, however, be a bodily one, but a spiritual one/" He similarly admonishes a layman named G onsen litis, who has trouble thin king of God as disembodied, like some abstract virtue (for example,
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righteousness or p et>). \ugustine admits that ¡1 is difficult far humans tu conceive of a being without a body, because of their familiar»y with visible, bodily things. Still, In says, Ike invisible, incorporeal, and immutable ]iinity is unbounded and omnipresent. i'his is only known through true i^json and n^i through carnal experience/' Augustine (hen nulling lhree kinds ol things that can be seen: first, actual Corporeal things that one may see in reality; second, those bodily things that one i ma gin« or dreams; and finally, those things lhat have no bodies but are nienta I-. conceived, such as wisdom The Trinity, however, is none ot these, since it cannot even be grasped fully by the mind— Mjmelhing .ls he ^ays, on* somehow grasps through a glass and an enigma (I tior 13:12). Thus. \jlstine urges his readei to drive out and deny even 11:mmenial images that would i":i■■"■-■ God ilic likeness of a body.""
v cw yearr- later, Hugusline takes up rlv same theme i:i his response to a loiter from a woman named Paulina. Apparently, Paulina had asked Augustine to wrile (something lengthy >■ nlH detailed "haboul the invisible < lod .ind whether he can be seen by bodily eyes," (Complying with her request, Augustine wrote a book length treatise that hi later called On Si cii:^ i tint in which hi- asserts that humans Can see (ii>d, no I as we Can see i he sun m earthly objects, b.ic rather w ith the "gaze of the mind" as we -.c* ourselves inwardly. C.i-i11:: Matt ("Blessed are ihc pore in I ■.tar I. for [hey will see i^od '), Augustine ^.L i l 11 i s 11 between bodily seeing jihJ mentally comprehending (as 11 as between present and fit tu re Nigh i}, since we b cl ie^ v1 n 1 u c li of what we can nol see from d el a i I s alnjul out lamilv bistorv lo i'hrisL'.s 1 ■ i = i.lI conception] and :le then tries to reconcile Scripture tcxls that claim that certain persons have seen £3od over against (host that Say that Such sight is impossible.
In the treatise, Augustine specifically commenls on particular passages from 111l1 Hebrew Scriptures in which God appears, including Jacob's assertion that '1 saw -:acc to face and my soul was saved" ■ i !cn 32:30), the statement that Moses spoke with God 'face to i ice1 hod .13:1L lh and Isaiah's test imon> that"'] saw the I of hosts sitting upon a ihrone" I h.i D. Kote that these passages are difficull lo coor dinale with the seemingly opposed claim that "no one has ever seen (jod1' (fohn 1:16). Drawing h^ reader's attention to ihe teaching of his men I or- Ambrose, \ugusline argues ih.ni sensible and i iod .Lre
Jim seen in a similai manner, s nee iJod can will in be seen or not (o be seen, whereas all other objects or ins^ cannot choose to becnnir invisible. Not can someone choose [(■■''see" God, for God's appearance i-, only ,M Clod's own initiative. "Ely nature, therefore; i iod i-, invisible* i l- ='. ■■uly. the Erathei bat also the Trinity it self, one God, and because he is not iinly invisible but also immutable, he appears he will.s in what form he wills s^ that his invisible and immutable nature ma) remain whole within him."'"
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