Yet I judged Augustine's doctrine of God to be fundamentally mistaken. After all, wasn't his project a prime example of the fruitless quest to integrate biblical doctrine with Hellenistic philosophy -- in his case, Plotinian metaphysics? Wasn't God, in Augustine's view, essentially static, timeless and impassible?
For the first time in a number of years (too many!), I'm rereading the Confessions cover-to-cover, this time in the splendid translation by Henry Chadwick (Oxford, 1991). I'm revisiting the question whether God in Augustine's conception, if I may draw upon Barth's terminology here, is a prisoner of God's own divine aseity. Many of you are familiar with how the work begins -- and if you're not, I urge to leave this post immediately and start reading the book for yourself. In the opening pages of Book I, Augustine begins doxologically, with a meditation on what it means to praise God and how this relates to knowing God. He then proceeds to what, on the face of it, might seem to be an unpromising line of inquiry: metaphysical speculation on how an infinite divine presence can be said to fill all created things with the wealth of God's fullness without being exhausted or partitioned.
So who is this God and how might God be named?
Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, deeply hidden yet most intimately present, perfection of both beauty and strength, stable and incomprehensible, immutable and yet changing all things, never new, never old, making everything new and 'leading' the proud 'to be old without their knowledge' (Job 9:5, Old Latin version)" (I.4).So far it sounds like a prototype of the classical theism that would dominate medieval Scholastic thought. But note the polarities -- I'm not sure of a better way to put it -- that Augustine uses to describe God as the list of attributes continues:
always active, always in repose, gathering to yourself but not in need, supporting and filling and protecting, creating and nurturing and bringing to maturity. searching even though nothing to you is lacking: you love without burning, you are jealous in a way that is free of anxiety, you "repent" (Gen. 6:6) without the pain of regret, you are wrathful and remain tranquil (ibid.).Now this God, in my reading at least, seems not at all inert but supremely active, transcendent yet more immanent than any creaturely reality. To be sure, this deity is not enmeshed in creaturely finitude and suffering, as theopaschites ancient and modern have sought to conceive God; yet neither is God aloof or disinterested in the lives of God's creatures. This God is a far cry from the proverbial Unmoved Mover. In a word, it seems to me that the way Augustine describes God -- in this brief passage at least -- is not univocal but rather a bit more...dialectical.