The faith that comes by hearing depends crucially on the will: the will must be humble to encounter the divine humility of the Incarnation, and through that encounter the will is cleansed of its sin. Now recall the structural principle I discussed earlier: the three temptations of 1 John 2:16. These sins are a devilish counterfeit of the Trinity. Ambitio saeculi (the subject of Books 4 and 6) distorts God the Father as Power; concupiscentia oculorum (Books 3 and 7) distorts God the Son as Wisdom; concupiscentia carnis (Books 2 and 8) distorts God the Holy Spirit as Love. This structure undergirds a confluence of themes and images that serve to differentiate the two experiences all the more sharply. Book 7 is the Book of God the Son. Augustine discovers the discarnate Word as timeless, immaterial Truth, but not the Incarnate Word as friend, food, and fatherland. Why not? Because his will, his love, has not yet been transformed by the Holy Spirit, active through faith, which comes by hearing. That encounter of course comes only in Book 8.
In the absence of the Holy Spirit—God as Love—there is, not surprisingly, very little affective engagement in the Book 7 "ascent." What love there is comes in not as cause but as effect. It comes first at the top of the "ascent," as Augustine is falling back from the heights; and it is, moreover, painfully unrequited. Thus in 7.10.16:
You beat back the weakness of my gaze, beaming upon me with intensity, and I trembled with love and horror.
I lacked the power to fix my gaze there. My weakness was rebuffed, and I returned to my accustomed ways, taking nothing back with me but a loving memory and the desire for a food that I had smelled but could not yet eat.
This is not the active love of charity but a feeble and inert wistfulness. Augustine does say "I was amazed that I now loved you," but the stress goes not on 'loved' but on 'you': I was amazed that what I loved was you, not some phantasm in your stead. It is not the love, such as it was, that amazed Augustine; it was the wonderful relief of finally getting his natural theology right.
At Ostia, love is not a tenuous, inert, and half-frightening effect of the intellectual ascent. It is the impetus for the ascent, which is no longer intellectual at its core. The first stage of the Milan experience is reached when "I saw with the eye of my mind"
(7.10.16); whereas the vision at Ostia began as "we were panting with the mouth of our heart after the heavenly streams of your fount" (9.10.23). 'Heart' (cor) for Augustine means the whole person, with the emphasis on the conative, affective side, since it is that "side" of us that is truly "the indivisible, authentic centre of human life" (O'Donnell 1992, 2:13)—for Augustine, after all, we are what we love. The vocabulary of love permeates the ascent: carnalium sensuum delectatio, prae illius vitae iucunditate, erigentes nos ardentiore affectu, to stick with just one sentence. And at the peak of the ascent, attingimus earn modice toto ictu cordis.
One is reminded, of course, of a similar phrase from the height of the Milan ascent: pervenit ad id quod est in ictu trepidantis aspectus (7.17.23); and that in turn evokes Paul's description of the general resurrection, which will happen in ictu oculi (1 Corinthians 15:52). Augustine's transformation of the image is masterful. For Paul, "in ictu. oculi" is just a vivid way of expressing swiftness.7 "In ictu trepidantis aspectus" hints not only at the instantaneous nature of his intellectual grasp—for although coming-to-know takes time, knowing is, in its way, timeless; it is our nearest approach in this life to the eternity of Truth itself—but also at its transience; Augustine loses the vision in the very next sentence. 'Aspectus' is not surprising, given all the visual imagery here, but 'trepidantis' invites a double-take. This is not an effortless blink, but an unsettled and agitated glance. (We should not forget that 'trepido' implies bustle as well as alarm. Augustine is neither at rest nor at ease yet: cor nostrum inquietum est...) How different is "toto ictu cordis. " Bustle, fear, transience: all are gone. And it is no longer a matter for the eyes alone, whether the body's or the mind's; here Augustine and Monnica summon all the energy of their deepest selves, their cordes.
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