Knowing god and man

Another important combination is found in a book written in the retreat of Cassiciacum while preparing for baptism: The Soliloquies, where, in dialogue with Reason, Augustine puts it this way:“I want to know God and man and nothing more”. God and man are always together because man is the only being who asks questions and seeks to give answers; only man feels the burning desire for happiness, which Augustine calls God.

Knowledge of GOD, for Augustine is a beautiful and good pretension. How can God be known if he is neither seen nor touched? Yet we seek him; we feel him inside when we feel the overwhelming attraction, common to all men, towards happiness, truth and life.

We know we are limited and finite, but we feel bearers of a push towards infinity. If we seek him, it means that, in some way, we have known him. Who of you has not looked for an object that you have never seen and possessed? We look for something we had and now we no longer have, but we want to find it. So it is with God. If we seek him, it means that we have possessed him and do not remember where he is. How many times do we remember the surname of a person but we have forgotten the first name! However, repeating the name, associating it with some other memory or friend, trying and retrying, at some point also the first name comes back. So it is with God. Concerned about earthly matters, we have forgotten him. .

Therefore, we must seek him; but where? In the memory. For Augustine, “memory” is not only the place where memories are deposited, but is the faculty by which man is a being who thinks and loves. Where, I do not know, but he will surely be somewhere. However, if I rummage, make an attempt, try something, God is present in the "trace", which is like a presentiment, a perception, an intuition. Outside of man, we see the "trace" in the beauty of creation. In man, the trace becomes "image".

For Augustine, where there is God there is also MAN and vice versa. It is the other side of the coin. Man is body and soul together, a profound unity, that thinks, loves and is free. He is the greatest being of creation, to the extent that Augustine does not hesitate to call him “being of great nature”, “capable of God”; that is, capable of uniting with Him and, through the exercise of his freedom, throwing awry his plans. This being so great is a profound mystery (grande profundum), an abyssal depth in front of which Augustine is aghast: “Truly great is this power of memory!”. This man, however, at the same time, is a great sick person (magnus aegrotus), capable of sublime impulses, up to reaching God, but also humiliating descents which cast serious doubt on his dignity. Think of injustice, violence, hatred, all the evils of this world which man is capable of; history is full of so much evil. Recognising that man is a mixture of dizzying heights and nauseating vileness is wisdom, respect for the person.

Augustine is convinced that man is a being "open" to the Other, to others and to the world; man is momentum, fever of the heart, love, passion. This is a very modern concept. Jean Paul Sartre says that man is passion but “useless”; Albert Camus call him “absurd”. The only difference, and it is no small matter, is that while Augustine believes in transcendence, in God, and therefore speaks of man as passion, attraction towards infinity, with a purpose in life, Sartre, Camus and others do not believe in God; for them, man has no purpose in life, so yes, man is passion, but useless; just as man is an absurdity; he is doomed, like the mythical Sisyphus, to roll a large boulder up the hill, but it always returns to where it was, and this continues throughout the whole of his life. Life is absurd because it is absurd to dominate evil.

back