Sight vs Hearing Knowledge vs Faith

O'Donnell has drawn our attention to an important difference in the language used to report the two experiences. Vision is the predominant image in Milan, but hearing is predominant at Ostia (O'Donnell 1992, 3:128, 133). Now vision means understanding and hearing means faith; for "faith comes by hearing," knowledge by sight. But vision also means lust of the eyes. In Book 3, where Augustine describes his encounter with the

Hortensius and his subsequent reading of Scripture, the repeated use of words associated with vision suggests that Augustine's reading of Scripture failed because it was tainted by concupiscentia oculorum (O'Donnell 1992, 2:170). We have to wonder whether the same is true in Book 7. This is, after all, not merely the Book of intellectual accomplishment, and thus of "vision" in the best sense. It is also the Book in which intellectual accomplishment is shown to be impotent apart from faith in the Mediator:

But then, having read those books of the Platonists, which enjoined me to seek after incorporeal truth, I beheld your invisible attributes understood through what has been made. But because of the darkness of my mind I was not allowed to contemplate what I had grasped. I was certain that you exist and are infinite, but not by being dispersed through places, whether finite or infinite; that you truly exist, you who are always the same, never differing or changing in any part or by any motion; that all other things are from you—as the mere fact that they are at all proves most unmistakably. I was indeed certain of all this, but I was too weak to enjoy you. (7.20.26)

Augustine's vision is still a matter of lust of the eyes, of vain curiosity driven by the pride that God resists. And as always when Augustine is puffed up with his latest "discovery," he babbles on about it endlessly.5 After the passage just cited, he immediately continues:

I went on prattling as if I knew what I was talking about; but unless I were to seek your way in Christ our Savior, I would not be deeply informed but deathly ill. For I had already begun to wish to appear wise. I was full of my punishment, but I did not weep—no, I was puffed up with knowledge. (7.20.26)

Note: "I was puffed up with knowledge." Augustine does not for a moment deny that he had actually attained some knowledge. But what he had sought in pride filled him with still greater pride. His disease was of the will, not the intellect; and his cure likewise must be a moral, not an intellectual transformation:

For where was that charity building on the foundation of humility that is Christ Jesus? And when would those books have taught it to me? (7.20.26)

The Milan vision, then, is an uneasy mixture of intellectual success and moral failure.

The moral success must come in an altogether different way. It must be, as I have already suggested, a matter of will rather than intellect, faith rather than knowledge, hearing the Word rather than seeing the Truth, forging a personal relationship rather than discovering an impersonal standard of judgment. Hence, in contrast to 7.10.16-20.26, we find no active form of 'video' except in one quotation from Scripture. The imagery is all of hearing—and, significantly, of silence. If only we could silence the clamor of all changeable things, we could "lift up our ears" to hear that Word that sounds eternally, without beginning or end, which remains endlessly fresh and makes all things new.

Augustine's babbling is finally stilled, replaced by the divine eloquence of Scripture. One must be silent to hear the Word—as Augustine should have learned from Ambrose long ago; but the lesson was long in sinking in. Notice that at Milan the only Scriptural language is imposed on the experience later, as commentary; at Ostia, the Scriptural language is what motivates the experience in the first place and is the language of the experience itself.6

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment