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Memories of St. Augustine

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him nothing was made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." [John 1:1-5]

"Where, then, did I find you that I could learn of you? For you were not in my memory before I learned of you. Where else, then, did I find you, to learn of you, unless it was in yourself, above me?" [Confessions of St. Augustine, X.xxvi.37]

Perhaps by this second passage, the reader is meant to understand that the memory of God, who's origin the Bishop was at pains to explain, could be found in no place or time other than the experience of eternity which is given to those who search with the soul for "[that] light which is not bound by space" [Conf. X.vi.8]. This would seem to be borne-out by the passage, "What, then, do I love when I love God? Who is this Being who is so far above my soul? If I am to reach him, it must be through my soul." [Conf. X.vii.11].

This, however, does little to lay bare the nature of the experience to which Augustine wishes to direct us -- the experience by which it became known to him that which Is spaceless in dimension and without dimensions in time. What does it mean for a being both in time and bounded by space to recall from memory the experience of something akin to the fullness of Being which is no-where but in eternity? A suggestion of the formative experience seems to be presented in the passages following the question, "Of these three divisions [of time], then, how can two, the past and the future, be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet?" [Conf. XI.xiv.17].

The reading of one Jim Highland (Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 25 (2005), pp. 91-108) would suggest that Augustine means to direct the attentive mind towards living in the "present eternity", in which "the humble of heart are Your dwelling place", as opposed to the "present time", in which it is captivated by the parade of images and of events which are apprehended as mere objects of sensual consumption. The implication would then be that the memory of God in eternity comes about as a result of the transfiguration of the human will, its redirection towards the divine source, by which it becomes transparent to the light of the eternal Word. This would seem to be made possible by the turning away of the mind from the expectation of things yet to become in favour of attention [Conf. XI.xxviii.37] to the world of being giving form to formless matter and their intimation to the mind of immutable Being [Conf. VII.xvii.23]. The memory of eternity would, in effect, come about not strictly as the result of an erotic or intellectual ascent, but as the culmination of an ascent and submission which disintegrates the psychological resistance of the will to the descent of grace.

In this light, the child Augustine's introduction to the written word of the Gospel and thereby to the existence of God served as the seed of a paideia, which would culminate in his vision of Continence, and the final submission of his heart in the garden of Milan. The memory of the Gospel served as the anchor of a search which would not find logical conclusion in the errors of the Manichees or the astrologers, nor complete existential fulfillment in the philosophical practices of the Stoa or the Academy. The memory of that childhood education, combined with the memories of education as to the error of conflating spiritual and material realities, of actually committing error, of the division of his will, and of the stories of previous conversions, served as the basis for Augustine's own turning around and thereby of the experience of grace which resulted in the possibility of a memory of the presence of eternity. Said differently, the memory of time spent in search of the happiness of eternity in the presence of God served as the formative basis for the memory of that presence in the wake of his acceptance of grace; the memory of the agony of time served as the foundation of the memory of the happiness of eternity. This memory of the agony of temporal existence may be said to consist of the recollection of the mind's attentiveness spent on the "present time", of expectation spent on the willing into existence of form or the anticipation of such coming-into-being (ie. of the acquisition of form by something which is not), and of the remembrance of things expected, attended-to, and now departed.

This later qualification of the memory of things past as the memory of the entrance and departure of form from matter, however, cannot be made possible by simple recollection to the mind's eye of sensual images and impressions. It rather requires something akin to anamnesis -- the recollection of the eternal principles of being -- which Augustine himself describes as the assenting to truths which he found buried deep within himself, having been spurred to discover them by the attention called to them by others [Conf. X.x.17]. Here then, the reader is called to bear witness to testimony of a dialectical debate within time as giving rise to a moment of the recollection of extra-temporal reality. The curiosity of this, as Augustine intimates, is that time -- understood as constituted by the coming and going of form from, what "was", primordial, formless (and therefor timeless) matter [Conf. XII.viii.8] -- provides human reason with the conditions necessary for the apprehension of that which is eternal (ie. form and number), and for the intimation of eternity and thereby of God. The memory of the embodiment and disembodiment of form, of one's own judgment as to the qualitative likeness or unlikeness of a body to form, and of knowledge gained via personal commitment (to borrow from Polanyi) to scientific principles (in the sense of epistemé), would seem to be ways by which one recollects from memory that which one never learned. Temporal memory thus seems mysteriously to serve as the midwife of eternal memory.

Thereafter, memory could then serve as the means by which the transfigured mind might orientate its attentiveness and anticipation towards the transcendent reality of Being rather than the becoming of time, thereby both making the memory of eternity, within time, possible, and making possible its presence within time through the works of faith and charity of the faithful.

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