Saint Augustine, Master of Mystagogy

On March 27, Fr. Roger R. Corriveau defended his thesis before the Pontificio Ateneo Sant’Anselmo (Rome) : Deep Is Calling on Deep. The Mystagogy of Augustine’s Confessions And His Homilies on the Gospel of John

My Assumptionist fascination with St. Augustine led me to the idea of illumination as typical of his spirituality. Goulven Madec, thinking the topic too overworked, suggested focusing my interest to Augustine’s metaphors of listening and seeing. He distinguished the timebound discourse of scientia from the instantaneous vision of sapientia. The first confines God within anthropomorphism, the other denies any possibility of knowing God. A subsequent distinction made by Pseudo-Dionysius, between kataphatic and apophatic theology, helps to understand the distinction between scientia and sapientia. Kataphasis states what God is; apophasis denies the possibility of undestanding what God is. But insisting on God’s transcendence does not deny God’s proximity. Augustine believed that God’s Verbum is intrinsically present within human spirit, enabling mind’s consciousness of sensibilia, memory and imagination, and its innate intelligibilia that give meaning to experience and creativity, by judging them from the standards of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Ideas then arise from the Verbum’s presence within soul. So the Verbum as maiester interior enables interpersonal relationships effected through language and thus creates community among us.

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The Verbum’s interior presence explains what Augustine meant in confessing Christ’s presence, even while he was wandering outside himself: tu eras interior intimo meo et superior summo meo (conf. 3.11). His spirituality is not static “interiority.” Plato’s “hierarchy of being,” that spans from nonbeing to Being-Itself, furnishes the idea of the heart’s dynamism, moving inwardly and upwardly as conuersio toward God and self-transcendence or outwardly and downwardly as auersio away from God as self-degradation. Conversion is an inward journey, uia, toward the Father-Land, patria. Augustine’s idea of soul transcending itself inwardly and upwardly signals how salvation and Incarnation are movements meeting each other along the same way. Just as the one road brought the beloved son and his loving father together, the Incarnation is the Word’s outward and downward journey away from the Father to become human in time and space and embrace us in our transcendence toward God. Once descended from the Father as single, Christ now ascends into eternity and infinity as totus Christus. Salvation is effected by baptismal assimilation into his return. Within this diuinum commercium the Word and one’s soul are the same life, breathing from the same Spirit. Augustine’s Homilies on Johns’s Gospel develop the Lucan parable that inspired his Confessions. Both echo one of his favorite correlations: restless wayfaring in space-time along the uia to arrive at the threshold of timeless rest at home (conf. 1.1) in the patria.

Inspired by Goulven Madec’s appreciation of Augustine and by the astounding scholarship clustered around Études Augustiniennes, I framed my thesis within the distinctions between scientia / uia and sapientia / patria, corresponding to kataphatic and apophatic theology. Augustine warned: (Deus) qui scitur melius nesciendo (ord. 2.44). They are resolved only within his apophatic spirituality of the heart: amor ipse notitia est (trin. 9.4-5,12; 15.3)! Theology and anthropology are of a piece for Augustine, which is why he is so intriguing. 

From AA News of the Assumption 10/2020 n° 14