Saturday, March 30, 2013

Augustine on creation, angels, and numerology

At today's Volfians discussion group we will look at Book XI of Augustine's City of God. I was keen to do this because he discusses Genesis 1, creation, and time.
The broad trajectory is to develop the idea of the two-fold division, the City of men and the City of God, of evil and good.

Parts of this Book impressed me. Others did not.

I was impressed by the Section headings:
5. We are not to think about infinite time before the world, any more than about infinite space outside it. As there was no time before it, so there is no space outside it. 
6. The beginning of the world and the beginning of time are the same.
Over history many philosophers and scientists have had a different view. However, Augustine's view, inspired by Genesis, is actually consistent with a modern scientific view: both time and space began at the "big bang". Scientists only came to this consensus after a long struggle and finding the observational data was only consistent with one of many possible theories [Einstein's theory of general relativity with a "singularity" in the past].

Augustine considers the following puzzling issue raised by Genesis 1.
7. On the nature of the days where there was "morning and evening" before the creation of the sun. 
... these are questions beyond the scope of our sensible experience. We cannot understand what happened as it is presented to us; and yet we must believe it without hesitation...
Here he begins a debatable identification of "light and darkness" in Genesis with good and bad angels, respectively. He is often concerned with angels. It is interesting that issues about them are not at the forefront of discussions about Genesis and creation today.

God's rest on the seventh day of creation "means the rest of those who find their rest in him, just as "the joy of a house" means the joy of those who rejoice in that house."

Augustine rebuts ideas of Origen that the purpose of creation was to put souls into bodies. Rather, "there is only one cause for the creation of the world - the purpose of God's goodness in the creation of good."
....there are three questions to be asked in respect of any created being: ‘Who made it’, ‘How?’ and ‘Why?’. I put forward the answers: ‘God’, ‘Through his word’, ‘Because it is good’.
It is sometimes said, "Genesis tells us the the "who" and the "why", science tells us the "how" and the "when"". I don't think Augustine's view necessarily conflicts with this. Rather he might be answering "how does the scientific description and natural mechanism work?"

But, after this nice quote he begins an apparent tendency to want to invoke numerology and the Trinity, seeing a three-fold division of much of reality and philosophy. He wonders about whether the THREE questions above are related to the Trinity. Philosophy is divided into three parts: physics, logic, and ethics. "There are also three things that are looked for in any artist: natural ability, training, and the use to which he puts them." He moves on to the "perfection of the number six" and seven, too!

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