St. Augustine on Restlessness and Worship

“Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom. And man desires to appraise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to appraise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to appraise thee, for thou hast made us inclined toward thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.

What makes this quote interesting is Augustine’s ability to see humanity’s natural inclination and goal the worship of God. He says that humanity’s grasp is for the infinite, to appraise it, to lay down the lengths of eternity. We have been made, in Augustine’s mind to appraise the infinite. To seek to speak about the ineffable, to desire to measure infinity itself, and to contemplate that which is beyond contemplation.

God’s mercy and very creation has indeed prompted us that we should delight in Him and His appraisal. For we have been made inclined towards the natural, inclined towards the coming of Christ and the embodiment of Justice. We have been made inclined towards divinity towards Christ Himself, and we are restless, fretting to and fro in blindness until we find rest in the fulfillment of the desire of our already claimed heart. This rest is none other than the rest of salvation, which I believe Augustine is picking up from the New testament book of Hebrews.

The Latin text would more or less translate, at least the way i would translate it: “You have made us inclined towards thyself and our unquiet heart is only quieted in you.”

The allusion to Genesis 1:26-27, God’s
creation of human beings, resounds ex-
plicitly, for our ears, in “thou hast made
us” (fecitis nos). But for Augustine’s read-
ers it was also evident in ad te, “toward
thyself,” because the Latin Bible renders
the act as God’s creating humans “toward
[his] image” (ad imaginam) rather than
“in” it. According to this understanding,
Christ alone is the Image of God, and
human beings are made “toward” that
Image. But Augustine’s “toward thyself”
also implies an innate inclination in hu-
man nature: by our very nature we are
drawn toward God. That is why the hu-
man heart is “restless” amidst all the goods
of the created world. So many things
please, but none of them, finally, satisfies.

–  Robert McMahon

I’m modifying my original position to correct McMahon whose argument I had picked up on, without realizing it when i posted. I’d say that the image-bearing-ness is not toward rather than in, it is both. We are made towards the direction of something we already share in. We may in fact be moving towards the image, as McMahon’s reading of Voegelin seems to imply, however, this is not an either/or.

Likely for Augustine it’s a both/and. Yes the Latin implies motion, but it’s not strictly translated as such, and can also mean according to. I am not sure what the official ruling on the translation is, but I think we’re better off going with the reading that uses according to as the primary, as in, according to a blueprint, and then towards and in.

We are  made inclined to Christ Himself by nature, and that is why the world with all its good cannot ultimately satisfy. Augustine presents the restless heart in his argument about appraisal because he’s linking treasure with our heart, and the greatest treasure is to Augustine, appraising that which cannot be appraised, God Himself.

While we have an incompleteness, we do not have a complete lack of direction. Total depravity makes no sense to Augustine because he still thinks in terms of the necessary goodness of creation, unlike Calvin who interprets his work much later and through a lens that affirms the worst ideas about God. We may have a restless heart, a lack of completion and an unquietness about us, but that is not synonymous with total corruption. These are characteristics that are evidence of the direction we have been created in.

Restlessness, uneasiness and lack of tranquility are marks of the direction we’ve been created in, and what we have been created for. They’re markers to us of the nature of what we truly desire. We truly desire God, we truly desire the justice of the resurrection we truly desire that which God has first given us. We desire to know Him, and this we have been given in Christ. Thus adoration of the blessed sacrament is no waste of time, or cultic idiocy it is what we have been created towards. We are restless until we find what it means to truly rest. In the capacity to contemplate the mystery of Christ Himself, we have reached our goal.

Update: this post has been modified from it’s original contents due to a concern with translation and the idea of Being/Becoming in Genesis 1:26. I added the blockquote via McMahon on Voegelin’s reading of Confessions. It seems to be something I was thinking before I knew someone else had applied this reading, or mayhap I read it long ago when i studied Augustine as an undergrad. either way, there’s a source now.

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27 thoughts on “St. Augustine on Restlessness and Worship

  1. I’m glad you posted this. My thesis is going to focus on Gen 1:26, the OT mindset towards it, the rabbinic mindset, and how it all is brought into clearer focus through the man Jesus. I hope to integrate as much of subsequent Church thought throughout history as I can, but as you would well know, the Imago Dei is no small project, and time and space are of the essence. WHO DAT!

  2. This is a good rendering of St Augustine’s theology. My Ancients course is going to work through Confessions in its entirely this semester, I cannot wait.

    On the other hand, I’m very uneasy with your Latin translation. “Et ait faciamus hominem ad imaginem,” is probably best understood in this sense of man was made “to the image,” as in a house is made to the blueprint. “Ad”can mean “toward,” but it also can mean “according to.” Since you this is the “reason” St Augustine holds this view, I’d be really interested in your source.

    • I’m not trying to undermine the original translation but I just looked at the latin and honestly, translated it myself. I think it’s a both/and here. I guess i’m my own source, i just looked at the latin and thought it was rather obvious.

      If I’m mistaken please correct me, but i thought that this was a fair reading. I just felt that the whole you have made us for yourself was too static a picture for the way he is using language. I’m not sure, but I also think McInerny’s translation of the confessions used towards.

  3. The official English translation says, “let us make man to our image.” If Augustine attempted to pull a “becoming” particularly from that verse, please let me know. I certainly wouldn’t put it past the orator, but I’d be surprised. Generally “becoming” can’t happen until sanctifying grace, which can’t come until the Holy Spirit and the adherence to Christ – the Imago Christi.

    Let me know.

    • the actual translation in garry wills, not Mcinerny is you made us tilted towards you, and our heart is unstable until stabilized in you. that’s in Garry Wills confessions.

      I think you’re right but i’m not sure. I’d think Augustine isn’t speaking about humanity in general, but maybe he is. It depends on how you read it, but I’d think that we can pull a becoming from the verse as long as we keep in mind the sanctifying grace.

      If my translation is wrong, I’ll act accordingly.

    • (1) Gary Wills’ translation is a good translation. Most every translation of Confessions has “tilted toward” or something similar, its not really disputed as far as I know.

      (2) However, attempting to read the Augustinian concept into Gen 1:26 is – in my opinion – eisegesis. “Ad” is not translated “toward” unless explicit motion is involved and so far I’ve yet to find a english translation that doesn’t have the sense of “according to.” Saying humans are created “toward” an image rather than “in” it implies that the human does not have it, as in the man is set toward the city, the man is set in the city.

      (3) I’m still concerned with your statement, “The reason Augustine goes with this reading is that the in the Latin Bible…” when you stated that the translation of 1:26 was your own.

    • 1) fair enough.

      2) another good point. and i think i understand your concern now.

      3) i think we’re actually on the same page now that I understand your concern. let’s just remedy this little snippet.

  4. Good editing, its always nice to dig deeper in the text via discussion. St Augustine is famous for causing such debates, since everyone tends to lay claim to him.

    Imagine that, the answer is both/and – gotta love Catholicism.

    Calvin’s idiocy is primarily because he picked up on all the neo-platonic undertones in Augustine and forgot about the Catholic narrative. Blah… Calvin, was there a worse exegete? Yes, Luther.

    • I always enjoy discussion over a text especially, it becomes less about subjective appropriations and ties itself to a concrete object.

      gotta love Catholicism indeed.

      They’re both up there in the hall of fame of bad exegesis, but which one takes the cake, it’s difficult to say. I nominate Pat Robertson.

  5. It’s a good thing I read the rest of the post and noticed your edit. Harrison is correct. Where you can personally interpret that sentence as you have, you cannot officially use ‘ad’ to mean ‘toward’ without a previous understanding of motion within the context. Theologically, it really does work both ways, but there are dangers to changing the translational meanings of words. Where it may work in this instance, there are many many places where ‘ad’ translated ‘toward’ would cause serious issues. Glad you guys got it all worked out!

  6. Saint Augustine Is my favourite saint and the saint of the church I attended for the first 15 years of my life. He is my favourite because of the following quote:

    “…be on guard against giving interpretations of Scripture that are far fetched or opposed to science, and so exposing the Word of God to the ridicule of unbelievers.” – Saint Augustine.

    I can’t quite understand your use of ‘inclined’.

    Are people who aren’t Christian inclined to believe in a God? Are Buddhists inclined to believe in a God?
    Are people who have acknowledged that its impossible to know either way, Agnostics, inclined to God? Are Atheists inclined to believe in God?

    If by inclined you mean religion is a phenomenon of human consciousness, then sure, I guess it is easier to label that which we do not understand divine.

    “Men think epilepsy divine, merely because they do not understand it… We will one day understand what causes it, and then cease to call it divine. And so it is with everything in the universe.” – Hippocrates

    If by inclined you mean that the humans have trouble understanding how we have come into existence without someone having created us, then sure, I guess it is easier to believe in a creator.

    After all, I guess it is easier to read someone else’s instruction booklet on life rather than spending the time to come up with your own world-view.

    I make these comments in criticism of your use of inclined. If you chose to be Christian, and it works for you, then that’s great, I’m happy for you. But I hardly think we are all inclined to believe in your God. Many different things work for many different people.

    Watch this video I think it carries an important message:

    • I never said that the inclination was one of belief. I don’t think that given our culture humans are inclined to believe in God at all. I was talking about an ontological inclination towards the good the true and the beautiful, in general, and most precisely an inclination towards love.

      I don’t want to come up with my own worldview. I trust that Jesus as God’s king establishes a self-interpreting worldview. Cute video, but I’m a late convert, I converted at 18, knowing full well what I was doing. I wasn’t saying everyone is made inclined to believe in a god, much less the god I’ve chosen to believe in.

      but thanks for posting a reply.

  7. I apologise for misinterpreting what you said. I thought that the following where saying exactly that.

    “We have been made inclined towards divinity towards Christ Himself…”

    “We are made inclined to Christ Himself by nature…”

  8. @doctorcrankenstein

    “Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to appraise thee, for thou hast made us inclined toward thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.”
    – Augustine

    How do you reconcile the point you are making with this quote from your hero that is present in this very blog? We are all most certainly inclined to Christ as the second person of the divine Trinity. Catholicism and Christianity do not “work” for people. To say that is to take a relativistic stance which, should you hold you would be unjustified in your argument. The Buddhist is inclined to Christ. The Muslim is inclined to Christ. The atheist is inclined to Christ. The agnostic is inclined to Christ. We are all drawn to the person of our creator whether we recognize him thus or not.

  9. Sneagan.

    I never said he was my hero, you are taking me out of context. What I said was that he was my favourite, nothing more.

    To illustrate my point: you can have a favourite out of Stalin and Hitler. Does that mean that you idolise them or see them as a hero figure? Of course not.

    I’m not going to address the rest of your post. By saying: “The Buddhist is inclined to Christ…” you have made it quite clear how much of a closed-minded fundamentalist you are so my words would be falling on deaf ears.

    • I think there is a bit of a semantic argument here.

      (1) It would be more liberal and more widely accepted to say humanity is inclined to what is Reasonable, or to being Loved, or a sense of purpose in life. I think it is safe to say these three concepts permeate most cultures. Yet, as a Christian you would be de facto saying all humanity is inclined toward Christ (the Logos, the Word, the Logic), to the Holy Spirit (the “donum,” the gift of Love), and to the Father (the Creator to Creation). I think this is the same for any other religion that has an infrastructure to explain the fundamental experience of man.

      (2) Even in Eli’s statement, “I don’t think that given our culture humans are inclined to believe in God at all. I was talking about an ontological inclination towards the good the true and the beautiful, in general, and most precisely an inclination towards love” – it is a semantic argument since Christians hold God to be the Good, the True, and Love. You cannot be ontologically inclined to Love and Truth and not the Christian God. Unless hes making a cultural statement that we view our inclinations according to culture, but that have been misleading to your question without a distinction.

      (3) With this in mind, your original statement regarding St Augustine would be correct, he believes humanity is inclined to believe in God – for some of the very reasons listed above. He discovered this while sifted through manicheans and then the neo-platonic schools of thought.

      (4) Regarding your comment, I’m concerned at your tone of placing faith and science in contra to one another. (a) I think Faith and Reason are the two wings we use to ascend to God – JPII (b) I think modern science and religion might have a quarrel, but mainly over the fact that science cannot by its own limits make ontological, ethical, or metaphysical statements. Its relegated to its field, as it should be – but most people see science as the only arbiter of truth. (c) I think the Fundamentalist Christians and the Anti-theists (Hitchens, Dawkins, etc.) have created a pseudo-war between Faith and Reason. Lets keep in mind, it was a Catholic priest who submitted the Big Band Theory and the Vatican that held the last Darwin memorial convention.

      Good thoughts.

    • Big Bang Theory* – even though I laughed thinking of what the “Big Band Theory” might entail.

    • I was in fact saying what i think you say I’m saying. In that from shifting it to an ontological inclination we get over the whole belief vs. atheism crap that the anti-theists want to affirm. But i was arguing that we’re inclined towards the good the true and the beautiful which is in fact God. I don’t think this always de facto translates into belief, but most if not all people are inclined towards the good the true and the beautiful.

      The Big Band Theory- a belief that the universe is actually a rubber band, next to another universe which is shaped like a paperclip.

  10. An Interesting perspective saying that God is all that is good, true and beautiful. I don’t agree with it but an interesting outlook nonetheless.

    Nice definition of Big Band Theory Eli =D

    • It is a Thomistic one, every creature is a being (ens), with an essence (the quiddity of the thing – what is it?), that is participating in being (esse).

      Ambrose is a being, in his essence he is human, who participates in being (existence).

      Essence is distinct from being. I can speak of the essence (its nature, quiddity, etc) of a Dinosaur, regardless of whether one exists or not.

      Now the cause of its existence cannot be the essence itself – for essence and existence are distinct – for nothing can produce itself or give itself existence. Two absurd notions rise: (1) A is the cause of B & B is the cause of A; but this is logically impossible. (2) the infinite regress – A is the cause of B, B of C, C of D, etc. Yet, this still would need a cause for A.

      Ergo, there must be something that is the cause of being for all things, that is nothing but being. Therefore if there is a God, He must hold no distinction between existence and being, which means He’d be Being-itself.

      Therefore, God would constitute all being and similarly, any perfection given to a being (ens) would be in the measure of its essence (quiddity – what is it?). Since a Being-itself could not give a perfection greater than itself, any perfection found in being (esse) must first be found in him, most perfectly.

      Take this as you will, but this would be a basic philosophical argument regarding Perfections. Similarly, would be Aristotle’s notion of the God of “pure act,” who has no potential and therefore no movement.

  11. @doctorcrankenstein

    Have you never heard “Deus veritas est” or “Deus caritas est”? I’m surprised. Forgive for my misinterpretation of your meaning behind the word favorite…the word is rarely used to describe preference with a negative connotation.

  12. God is truth, God is love? For some people yes, but not all.

    Favourite wasn’t used negatively. I really respect the fact that someone worthy of sainthood saw science for what it was. Perhaps if Augustine was alive today he would be an advocate of Theistic Evolution?

    Stalin and Hitler was used to show that I didn’t idolise him rather than to express negativity. Perhaps I could of used a better analogy.

  13. i think you’ll find that all three of us are rather benign when it comes to opposing science. Science isn’t anti-faith. It’s just another discipline.

    Theistic evolution is a possibility that the Church allows for, at least when I last checked.

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