St. Augustine's Confessions By St. Augustine Summary and Analysis Book 13: Chapters 1-38

Summary

All of creation depends on God's goodness, and God chose to create because of the abundance of his goodness. Augustine examines the action of the Holy Trinity in the creation by looking at the verse "the Spirit moved over the waters." Just as a human has being, knowledge, and will but is one person, so the Holy Trinity has those qualities but is one God. Augustine examines the rest of the Genesis creation story: He interprets "the firmament" as the holy scriptures, "the sea and the dry land" as the unfaithful and the Church, "bearing fruit" as the good works of the faithful, "moving things of the sea and winged things that fly" as the sacraments and miracles, "let us make man in our image" as rebirth through belief in Christ, "beasts" as the impulses of the soul, "increase and multiply" as referring to the thoughts of human reason, "food" as the joy found in knowledge of God. The Holy Spirit allows people to see and know these truths. The last day of the creation was for rest; so, too, will the faithful rest with God on the eternal Sabbath day.

Analysis

Book 13 opens with a restatement of Augustine's theme from the opening of Book 1: the utter dependence of human beings upon God, even for the impulses of faith and for the desire to return to God. Augustine recalls his wanderings and his return to rest in the God who constantly called him back. Even light itself, the spiritual light meant by God's creating command, "let there be light," seeks to return and gaze upon God. In Book 13, Augustine makes clear the identification between himself, humanity, and the entire creation. All three have fallen away from God, all three long to return, and all three depend completely upon God for the ability to love God and to turn themselves toward God. In this way, Augustine's story is not only his own; it is a metaphor for human fallenness, and for the longing of the entire created universe to rest at last in its perfect and eternal Creator.

As you may expect from the highly figurative interpretations of Genesis 1:1-2 in Books 11 and 12, Augustine finds in the creation story a metaphor for the creation and life of the Church, the community of the Christian faithful, which is sustained by the action of the Holy Spirit, the third aspect of the Holy Trinity. Although Augustine initially mentions the Trinity in Book 12.7, here, the Trinity gets much fuller treatment, as Augustine explains the properties of the three "persons" of the One God. The Father can be identified with being or existence: God the Father is eternal, perfect, and unchanging. The Son can be identified with knowledge: God the Son is the Word, the eternal Wisdom that gave order and meaning to the creation. The Holy Spirit can be identified with the will: God the Holy Spirit is the activity of God, at work throughout history and specifically within the body of the Church. Augustine identifies these qualities of the Trinity with qualities of human beings, reinforcing Augustine's notion that humanity is created in the spiritual image of God. J.J. O'Donnell and other scholars have noted that the Trinity also serves as a structural element for the last three books of the Confessions: Book 11, with its contrasts between human time and God's eternity, corresponds to the "being" of God; Book 12, with its intense focus on the textual word of God as contrasted to the eternal Word who is Christ, corresponds to the "knowledge" of God; and Book 13, with its focus on the activity and faith journey the Church as sustained by the Holy Spirit, corresponds to the "will" of God.

In Augustine's hands, the rest of the creation story becomes a miniature history of the Church: "Dry land" becomes the community of the faithful, thirsty for God, while the "seas" of the world of unbelievers rage restlessly around them. The crux of this history comes in God's statement "let us make man in our image." For Augustine, God's statement of creation is literally a command to spiritual rebirth. To become a person made in "God's image" means to accept Christ fully — to "put on Christ," as Augustine read under the pear tree, and thereby become a new person, leaving behind the old Adam. This has been Augustine's journey, but it is also the journey that every member of the Church — and in Augustine's view, every human being — is called to make.

Book 1 of the Confessions opens with the observation that "our heart is restless until it rests in you." It is, therefore, appropriate that Augustine ends Book 13 with rest. Literally, it is the rest of the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the Genesis story, when God rested from the work of creation (Genesis 2:1). Figuratively, it is the rest of eternal life, and more importantly, the rest that the soul finds upon its return to God. Augustine introduces a particularly interesting figure in Book 13.9, where he observes that love is the weight that pulls him into his proper place. The Platonic ascent of the soul is one of Augustine's major themes throughout the Confessions: Poised between the immaterial realm of God and the material realm of the physical world, the human soul attempts to rise toward God, leaving behind lesser, material things. Normally, the "weight" that pulls Augustine down, away from God, is his physical being, the temptations of the material world — specifically, for Augustine, the "weight" of sexual desire. But in 13.9, love is the weight that pulls Augustine not downward, but toward his proper place. Augustine's metaphor here is flame, whose "weight" draws it upward. Not coincidentally, flame is also the symbolic attribute of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:3), the subject of Book 13. The love that the Holy Spirit brings is exactly the opposite of cupidity, and it is this love that draws Augustine into his own proper equilibrium.

Glossary

the fish a symbol for Christ, from the phrase "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior," whose first letters in Greek spell the Greek word for "fish."

Galatians quoting from Paul's letter rebuking the Christians in Galatia for insisting on the observance of Jewish law, rather than relying upon faith (Gal. 3:1).

friend of the bridegroom a reference to John 3:29: "The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice." In its original context, the "friend" is John the Baptist, but Augustine is applying the symbolism more broadly, to any faithful soul.

Onesiphorus praised for his assistance to St. Paul in 2 Timothy 1:16.

Epaphroditus a companion of St. Paul; see Philippians 2:25-30. Paul thanks the Christian community at Philippi for their gifts to him, sent via Epahproditus (Philippians 4:18).

Elijah (or Elias) prophet of the Old Testament. He is miraculously fed by a poor widow (1 Kings 17:9-24) and by ravens (1 Kings 17:6).

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