We live in a world where, once we discover a cause for something, we know the cause and there is nothing more to say. Augustine lives in a world where there can be multiple causes. He has been looking at the nature of death in book 13, and as today’s reading begins he turns his attention to Plato’s views of the soul’s journey after death (reincarnation), then to the great Platonist Porphyry’s views (soul’s eternal bliss, without a body), and then to the Christian’s (resurrection of the body and eternal bliss with God). He moves from there to a discussion about the paradise in which Adam and Eve fell in order to show that the eternal Paradise in which the City of God will spend eternity is better than that original paradise.
I am interested in what Augustine says in chapter 21 about that original paradise being more than just a figurative lesson. He says that he believes it to be “a most faithful narrative of events” and an allegory for us to learn from. In other words, a description of true events can have multiple meanings because the nature of reality is deeper and more multi-voiced than Ockam’s Razor allows. An event can be both true and a sacrament of something beyond itself. Paradise can be both the actual location where Adam and Even lived and walked and ate a fruit, the consequences of which led to death, and that paradise can be something more: “Paradise is the Church, as we read of her in the Song of Songs; the four rivers of Paradise are the four gospels; the fruit-bearing trees are the saints, and the fruit of them is their works; the tree of life is the Holy of Holies, even Christ; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is our possession of free will.”
In our world, once we have explained something (scientifically, by historical criticism, psychologically, as spouse or parent, etc) then we have done the work and there is nothing more to do. For Augustine, finding a cause would have been just the beginning of the work. Finding a scientific explanation for tornadoes does not tell us the really interesting stuff about tornadoes – what do they tell us about the nature and character of God? Why do tornadoes exist in a world God made good? How can I appropriate the lessons of tornadoes? Will there be tornadoes in eternity? Why or why not? The details of Scripture matter because each word tells us something about God’s character and each story is both a description of something true and an invitation into Truth, into the mysterious depths of God’s nature and majesty. All that we see is this kind of invitation. Explaining that my kid woke up early this morning and is sitting next to me does not end the story but begins it. Now, she is an invitation to me into the life of God.
And so, the end of this post.
May you receive His invitations to enter into His life today. From dust you were made and to dust you will return. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Ash Wednesday, 2016