Wonder as a Path to Augustinian Contemplation

This post was adapted from a retreat given by Fr. Allan Fitzgerald, OSA on Augustine's Routes to Contemplation.

Another route to contemplation was Augustine’s gazing at the world with wonder and allowing the world to take him beyond itself.

Here we meet Augustine the poet and artist. Let us begin with the famous meditation in Book Ten of the Confessions:

I asked the earth and it answered: “I am not he”; and all things that are in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they answered: “We are not your God, seek higher”. I asked the winds that blow, and the whole air with all that is in it answered: “Anaximenes was wrong; I am not God”. I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, the stars, and they answered: “Neither are we God whom you seek”. And I said to all the things that throng about the gateways of the senses: “Tell me of my God, since you are not he. Tell me something of him”. And they cried out in a great voice: “He made us”. My question was my gazing upon them, and their answer was their beauty.

Saint Augustine (Confessions, X, 6, 8)

Note the expression of wonder: “My question was my gazing upon them, and their answer was their beauty”. This tells us lot of the contemplative bent of this poet and artist.

Right after that the meditation continues in an upward movement, quite Platonic:

And I turned to myself and said: “And you, who are you?” And I answered: “A man”. Now clearly there is a body and a soul in me, one exterior, one interior. From which of these should I have enquired of my God? I had already sought him by my body, from earth to heaven, as far as my eye could send its beams on the quest. But the interior part is the better, seeing that all my body’s messengers delivered to it, as ruler and judge, the answers that heaven and earth and all things in them made when they said: “We are not God” and “He made us”. The inner man knows these things through the ministry of the outer man: I the inner man knew them, I the soul, through the senses of the body. I asked the whole frame of the universe about my God and it answered me: “I am not he, but he made me”. (Conf X, 6)

Saint Augustine (Confessions, X, 6)

This same upward movement from created things to beyond them can be seen in his De Trinitate where says:

You certainly only love what is good, and the earth is good with its lofty mountains and its folded hills and its level plains, and a farm is good when its situation is pleasant and its land fertile, and a house is good with its harmonious symmetry of architecture so spacious and bright, and animals are good with their animated bodies, and the air is good when mild and salubrious, and food is good when tasty and health-giving, and health is good being without pains or weariness, and a man’s face is good when it has fine proportions and a cheerful expression and a fresh complexion, and the heart of a friend is good with its sweet accord and loving trust, and a just man is good, and riches are good because they are easily put to use, and the sky is good with its sun and moon and stars, and angels are good with their holy obedience, and speech s good as it pleasantly instructs and suitable moves the hearer, and a song is good with its melodious notes and its noble sentiments. Why go on and on? This is good and that is good. Take away this and that and see good itself if you can. In this way you will see God, not good with some other good, but the good of every good. 

Saint Augustine (De Trinitate VIII, 2, 4)

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1 year ago

I recently took a test and found out that my spirituality was Augustinian. These articles on contemplation are so enlightening. I understand my prayer life better. I had been learning about the wrong spiritualities for my personality! Hah