In his autobiography, Confessions, Augustine shares his experience of the First Person of the Trinity as being beyond all human categories, and yet he unselfconsciously prays to his God as if the Uncreated, Unknown were his Divine Lover. He prays to God, “everywhere You are present in your entirety, and no single thing can contain you in your entirety. . . .my God, my Life, my holy sweetness.”1 Augustine could express this loving, very personal familiarity with the Creator because he trusted the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, that God is available for relationship that God is good, and that God sees all creation as good, and loves all beings. His non-attachment to sensory, physical reality was facilitated by his belief that he himself and all things are only real to the extent that God is continually creating everything in each moment and that if God were to withdraw from creation, everything would disappear. Everything passes and the only thing that is real and unchangeable is God.
As long as the invisible, transcendent God is manifesting creation, everything has stability and a certain duration, but everything is also passing and becoming new in each moment.2 For Augustine, everything is passing away except the infinite Presence of the Creator who cannot be seen directly through our human senses. And yet, this invisible Presence is activating our senses from within.
For Augustine, each person and each creature is ultimately good, created in God’s image. God creates all things so that God can love all things and each being is held in being by God’s love. So, Augustine’s deep purpose is to love all that God loves. In loving this world of time and space Augustine perceives creation as transparent to the Unseen Creator. He writes, most famously,
What do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of the body nor the glory of time, not the brightness of light shining so friendly to the eye, not the sweet and various melodies of singing, not the fragrance of flowers and unguents and spices, not manna and honey, not limbs welcome to the embraces of the flesh; it is not these that I love when I love my God. And yet I do love a kind of light, melody, fragrance, food, embracement when I love my God; for He is the light, the melody, the fragrance, the food, the embracement of my inner self–there where is a brilliance, that space cannot contain, a sound that time cannot carry away, a perfume that no breeze disperses, a taste undiminished by eating, a clinging together that no satiety will sunder. This is what I love when I love my God.
In everything that he sees and hears, Augustine is seeing and hearing Someone he can’t see or hear. He trusts that what he can’t see with his eyes is making his sight possible, and that what he can’t hear is making his listening possible.
St. Augustine. The Confessions of St. Augustine. Trans. by Rex Warner. N.Y.: New American Library, 1963, paperback, p. 19.
Ibid., p. 150.