Monday, May 23, 2016

St Augustine's Correlation: God, Truth, Being itself

Botticelli's concept of St. Augustine

…St. Augustine’s view that God is being itself is based partly upon Platonism (“God is that which truly is” and partly on the Bible—“I am that I am”). The transcendence of time as a condition of full reality is a central theme…[in Augustine’s work].[1]

Of course Augustine was one of the seminal thinkers of all Church history. Along with Aquinas he’s probably one of the two most important theologians of all time. He might be called the last thinker in the tradition of the classical age. His view of the Trinity cemented the Orthodox position and set the Western view of Trinity on it’s trajectory diverging from the eastern Church. His work The City of God is one of the greatest theological master pieces of all time, and to think it’s a letter to friend (a letter the size of the New York Phone book).
Augustine expresses the concept of the super-essential Godhead many times and in many ways. Augustine was a Platonist. In that regard perhaps his greatest innovation was to place the Platonic forms in the mind of God. That is a major innovation because it trumps the Neo-Platonistic following after Plotinus, who conceived of a form of the forms. In Augustinian understanding the equivalent of the “the one” the form that holds all other forms within itself is the mind of God. Augustine never made an argument for the existence of God because for him God was known with certainty and immediacy. God is immediately discerned in the apprehension of truth, thus need not be “proved.” God is the basis of all truth, and therefore, cannot be the object of questioning about truth, since God is he medium through which other truths can be known.[2] Tillich said:
Augustine, after he had experienced all the implications of ancient skepticism, gave a classical answer to the problem of the two absolutes: they coincide in the nature of truth. Veritas is presupposed in ever philosophical argument; and veritas is God. You cannot deny truth as such because you could do it only in the name of truth, thus establishing truth. And if you establish truth you affirm God. “Where I have found the truth there I have found my God, the truth itself,” Augustine says. The question of the two Ultimates is solved in such a way that the religious Ultimate is presupposed in every philosophical question, including the question of God. God is the presupposition of the question of God. This is the ontological solution of the problem of the philosophy of religion. God can never be reached if he is the object of a question and not its basis.[3]

Augustine says God is truth. He doesn’t so much say God is being as he says God is truth. But to say this in this way is actually in line with the general theme we have been discussing, the one I call “super-essential Godhead,” or Tillich’s existential ontology. Augustine puts the emphasis upon God’s name as love, not being. Since he was a neo Platonist he thought of true reality as beyond being and thus he thought of God as “beyond being.”[4] This makes no sense in a modern setting since for us “to be” is reality, and to not be part of being would meaning being unreal. But in the platonic context, true reality was beyond this level of reality and what we think of as “our reality” or “our world” is only a plane reflection of the true reality. We are creatures of a refection in a mud puddle and the thing reflected that is totally removed from our being is the true reality. It was this distinction Tillich tried to preserve by distinguishing between being and existence.
Augustine looked to the same passage in Exodus that Gilson quotes in connection with Aquinas. Augustine’s conclusions are much the same about that phrase “I am that I am.” This is one of his key reasons for his identification between God and truth. He saw the nature of God’s timeless being as a key also to identifying God with truth. The link between God and truth is the Platonic “one.” Augustine puts the forms in the mind of God, so God becomes the forms really. The basis of this identification is based partly upon God’s eternal nature. From that point on it’s all an easy identification between eternal verities, such as truth, eternal being, beauty, the one, and God. The other half of the equation is God’s revelation of himself as eternal and necessary through the phrase, for very similar reasons to those listed already by Gilson, between I am that I am and being itself (or in Augustine’s case the transcended of being). “He answers, disclosing himself to creature as Creator, as God to man, as Immortal to mortal, eternal to a thing of time he answers ‘I am who I am.’”[5]
From Psalm 101:25 he ponders the phrase “generation of generations” rather than the choice of saying your years is endless.” He concludes that this Psalm is not merely saying God is living through a parade of endless years but that God is timeless. He concludes that the generation of generations is a timeless generation. He concludes that God’s years are his substance, they cannot be separated from God himself (as we see ‘substance” can be a way of saying “being). “God’s years are God’s eternity, his eternity is God’s very substance.” Thus God is not only eternal but his being his essence coincide, his eternal nature is the same as his being. Thus God is eternal necessary being.[6]

[1] Reality: Readings in Phlosophy. Indianapolis, Indiana:Hackett Pulbishing company, inc. Carl Avren Levenson, John Westphal, editors, 1994, 54
[2] Donald Keef, Thomism and the Ontological Theology: A Comparison of Systems. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1971, 140.
The “two Ultimates” discussed are philosophy and Religion.
[3] Paul Tillich, Theology of Culture, 12-13
[4] The quotation above from the Levenson and Westphal book says Augistine believe God was being itself, Marion seems to say that Augustine put God beyond being. I think it’s debatable as to which he did because he didn’t say directly which it was. I’m assuming Marion is probably right just because of the time in which he lived and because he was a Platonic thinker.
[5] Levenson and Westphal, Ibid. translated by Edmond Hill
[6] Ibid, trans in Enarrationes in Psalm. 101


Eric Sotnak said...

"God is truth itself"

How so? I accept a correspondence theory of truth. On this view, truth is an accuracy relation between a representation and reality. On this view, it simply makes no sense to identify God with truth.

Joe Hinman said...

sure it does. God is the unbounded condition. the correspondence theory was explicitly part of Tillich's notion in his implied OA. tell me more about the problem.,

Joe Hinman said...

if you send me your email I will send you an article on what I'm talking about that explains what I can't explain.