The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

"You Have Made Us For Yourself O Lord": A commentary by Fr. Pat Codd O.S.A.


“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” [Augustine Confessions Bk I. Par. 1].
 
Commentary on the above quotation from Saint Augustine’s Confessions.
By Pat Codd,o.s.a.
 
Notes on the Latin version of the quotation
 
“Fecisti nos ad te, Domine, et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.”
 
A.   First of all, take the words ‘ad te’/‘to you’ and the words ‘in te’/‘in you’. The preposition ‘ad’ signifies ‘motion towards’ an object. The preposition ‘in’ signifies rest in an object or place. Augustine wishes to indicate here that humanity is on a journey or pilgrimage through the present life to union with God where we find rest at our journey’s end. For the sake of brevity, the words ‘ad te’ are usually translated into English as: ‘for yourself’, thus obscuring somewhat what Augustine was actually saying.
 
B.   Next it’s important to understand the significance of the word ‘heart’/‘cor’ in Augustine’s writings: In his Commentary on the Confessions, Professor J. J. O’Donnell states: “‘Heart’ in Augustine is a word whose use is clearly influenced by contact with its scriptural employment; it is in Augustine an expression for the indivisible, authentic centre of human life, where the tensions of a sinful world are most clearly felt. The term is, as others have observed, unphilosophical, even untheological, but it is eminently scriptural and Augustinian”.
 
C.    Then we notice that Augustine says “Our heart is restless”, where we would expect him to say “Our hearts are restless”. Augustine cannot think of Jesus Christ without at the same time thinking of what he calls The Whole Christ, – a corporate concept of “Christ and His members”. This idea led him to talk of the One Heart of Christ – where we find rest.
In the following quote, Augustine expresses delight in the significance of our becoming Christians at baptism: “Let us congratulate ourselves and give thanks for having been made not only Christians but Christ. . . . Be filled with wonder, rejoice and be glad; we have been made Christ. For, if he is the head, and we the members, then he and we are the whole man. . . . The fullness of Christ, then, is both head and members”. [Aug. Homily 21.8 on St John’s Gospel]. Augustine follows St Paul in wishing to show by his concept of the Body of Christ how and where Christ, after his death and resurrection, is now embodied or incorporated on earth, namely in the lives of the Christians. Since the moment Jesus left this world it is by becoming present in Christians, at their baptism, and working through them that He continues to establish the Reign of God in the world.
 
D.   Finally, the word “until” indicates a temporary dimension to the “restlessness” and expresses hope and longing for rest. 
                             
 
Restlessness, Longing and Desire as traits of Augustine’s Spirituality
Saint Augustine prayed: O God, may I know myself, may I know you [Aug. Solil. II.1]. His knowledge of himself and the wisdom gained from years of study and meditation on the Scriptures convinced him that the life of the Christian is one of a restlessness, a desire and a longing that can only find rest in God. His training in rhetoric – legal argument – gave Augustine the ability to recount the course of his quest for God. In his Confessions, he is so keen to share his discovery with his readers that in the first paragraph he declares the result of his quest. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
What follows in the Confessions, in beautiful and often poetic language, is the account of his ramblings that eventually led him to God. He discovered that we are not self-sufficient beings who can form some sort of extrinsic relationship with God. Our relationship with God is internal and personal. We are made for God – to be at rest in God; we have an exigency, a need, a kind of a built-in demand for God. It’s something that is sacramental to us – a source of grace helping us to seek union with God. The desires that seek their satisfaction in anything but God lead to unhappiness. Prayer stimulates the desire and focuses it on its object – God – strengthening the longing and the desire for union with the desired – God.   
There is a great generosity in the way Augustine reveals himself to us in the Confessions.  One can feel privileged at coming to know such a man intimately. His self-awareness leads him to ask questions about himself. “Is my self-appraisal correct?” If it is correct, “Why am I as I see myself to be?” His questioning went beyond himself. He was interested in all aspects of life and a keen observer of nature and the beauty of the world around him. He asked questions about that beauty, seeking its source. His quest for answers made him conscious of his inner restlessness, and of a deep longing within himself searching for something to satisfy it. He sought answers in the pleasures of the senses, in the theatre, in music, companionship with friends. But nowhere did he find lasting contentment. The field of his quest was broadened. Gradually he became acquainted with the writings of the philosophers and their search for wisdom and truth. A great step forward for him was his discovery of the concept of an incorporeal being.
Through the influence of his Christian mother, Monica, he had come to believe in the existence of God, and to admire Jesus Christ. But he was not baptised; neither had he accepted the Christian faith of his mother. Augustine traversed many highways and many byways; some lead to dead ends, others proved circuitous. His reading finally led him to the Letters of St Paul in the Bible. As he continued to read and converse with his friends, his knowledge of God increased and a concept of what he sought grew clearer; it gradually dawned on him that what he was seeking is God. He came to recognize that the source of the quest and the object of the quest are one and the same: a loving God had implanted in the human heart a longing for union with Himself. Augustine realized that that is how we humans are made. We have a built-in need for God, a need placed there by God in the first place. We become aware of this inner longing, and if we search for its object, we find its source too.
 
SOME QUOTES TO ILLUSTRATE AUGUSTINE’S RESTESSNESS
 “Upon you I call, O God, my mercy, who made me and did not forget me when I forgot you. Into my soul I call you, for you prepare it to be your dwelling by the desire you inspire in it. Do not forsake me now when I call upon you, who before ever I called on you forestalled me by your persistent, urgent entreaties, multiplying and varying your appeals that I might hear you from afar, and turn back and begin to call upon you who were calling me” [Aug. Conf. XIII.1.1].
 
 “Woe betides the soul which supposes it will find something better if it forsakes you, Lord! Toss and turn as we may, now on our back, now side, now belly – our bed is hard at every point, for you alone are our rest * . But lo! Here you are; you rescue us from our wretched meanderings and establish us on your way; you console us and bid us: “Run: I will carry you, I will lead you and I will bring you home” [Aug. Conf . VI.16.26]. * Translator’s note: Augustine’s favourite theme of restlessness and rest in God is here given special poignancy by the evocation of insomnia.
 
“Every human being, of whatever kind or quality, wishes to be happy. There isn’t anybody who doesn’t want that, and want it in such a way as to want it above everything else; or rather, in such a way that whoever wants other things wants them for the sake of this one thing. People are carried away by the most diverse longings, and one longs for this, another for that. There is nobody, however, who does not long for a happy life.” [Aug. Sermon 306.3].
 
The final paragraphs of the ‘Confessions’ . Rest in the Lord.
 “Give us peace, Lord God, for you have given us all else; give us the peace that is repose, the peace of the Sabbath, and the peace that knows no evening. This whole order of exceedingly good things, intensely beautiful as it is, will pass away when it has served its purpose: these things too will have their morning and their evening.                                                                                                                    “But the seventh day has no evening and sinks towards no sunset, for you sanctified it that it might abide forever. After completing your exceedingly good works, Lord, you rested on the seventh day though you achieved them in repose; and you willed your book (Scripture) to tell us this as a promise that when our works are finished we too may rest in you, in the Sabbath of eternal life.                                                                                                                                   “And then you will rest in us, as now you work in us, and your rest will be rest through us as now those works of yours are wrought through us. But you yourself, Lord, are ever working, ever resting. You neither see for a time nor change for a time nor enjoy repose for a time, yet you create our temporal seeing and time itself and our repose after time.                                                                           
“Once our heart had conceived by your Spirit we made a fresh start and began to act well, though at an earlier stage we had been impelled to wrongdoing and abandoned you; but you, O God undivided and good, have never ceased to act well. Some of our works are indeed good, thanks to your Spirit, but they will not last forever, and when they are done we hope that we shall rest in your immense holiness. But you, the supreme Good, need no other good and are eternally at rest, because you yourself are your rest” [Aug. Conf. XIII. 50, 51, 52, 53].   
 
by Fr. Pat Codd O.S.A. (New Ross)    
                                                                         




Article posted on 16th of April 2013

Click here for a printable version of this page
Web Analytics