St Augustine, Interiorities, and the Problem of Space

Even though I have come out against ADS, I am not at all opposed to St Augustine, per se. Nor should one be. His Confessions is masterful and he did honestly deal with a lot of issues that have plagued philosophers for a long time. Theologically, while I believe he erred on a lot of points, I think he was consistent and trying to work out a full-orbed worldview. I applaud him and continually stand in awe. For a good overview of his life and work, see Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo: A Life.

One book on hermeneutics that fascinated me was James K. A. Smith’s The Fall of Interpretation. Smith argues that “interpretation” is ubiquitous. It is futile to get to “the bible’s own interpretation.” We are never going to get to that “pure spring” of biblical truth. We can get to biblical truth, yes, but it is always mediated. Whether Smith is ultimately correct is beside the point at the moment (interestingly, Smith, a Calvinist, if his arguments are correct, has refuted the heart of Sola Scriptura–it is this book that eventuall…never mind)

One of Smith’s arguments is from Augustine’s Confessions. Smith follows St Augustine who said that language makes public the private intentions of the “other.” Language must span a gulf between interiorities, since the other has no means of entering my soul. (and here is the key point). The space between souls requires the mediation of signs, which in turn requires interpretation. Interpretation, therefore, is ubiquitous.

In other words, there is this “gap” in reality at all times. Again, I suspect it goes back to ADS. If God is absolutely simple essence, and God is utterly transcendent (that I agree), then one can never know/approach/commune with God directly. One simply can’t commune with super holy utter essence without oneself being subsumed with that essence. Therefore, one must posit an intermediary. But is this a “created intermediary?” It may not have to be and I am sure some Augustinians have a good response to this, but it’s hard to see what that response may be. I know this isn’t the direction Augustine is taking it (though Aquinas came to this conclusion).

Augustine is right to posit a “gap” between I and the Other (the other in this case being knowledge and communion with God). However, if one adopts an essence/energies distinction, one can maintain one doesn’t commune with the essence of God but one does commune with God himself via his energies (St Basil, Letter 234).

Transcendence and Immanence are maintained and come together in the Holy Trinity.

2 comments on “St Augustine, Interiorities, and the Problem of Space

  1. danielj says:

    Man. You are an interesting dude.How did you get to Orthodoxy from Calvinism?

  2. danielj says:

    Man. You are an interesting dude.How did you get to Orthodoxy from Calvinism?

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