Friday after Pentecost 14
September 7, 2012
The Lord be with you
Before there were cell phones, before there were flat-screen TVs, before there was easy access to the internet, in fact, before there were home computers, I purchased a copy of The Confessions of Saint Augustine. This is the classic devotional book, written over 1500 years ago, that had a profound impact on Western culture, and is still read today.
This book is profoundly different from devotional literature written today. It is far deeper. You can’t read it just before you go to bed, and expect to finish it. You have to chew on what Augustine says. You have to ponder it. You have to reflect on it. In other words, it is just too weighty to read before you fall asleep.
One interesting aspect of the book is that it is written as a direct discourse with God. It is an extended prayer. It is as if you are overhearing Augustine as he confesses his sins, and his faith, throughout his life. It takes you from his birth up to the time he writes his Confessions.
Our book club at church selected the Confessions to read for our last meeting. I pulled out my old copy and began to read. I must admit, it was challenging. One of our assignments was to select some quotes to share. When I got to sharing my quotes, everyone began to wonder if we had read the same book. Sure, it had been a demanding read for them, but at least what they read was English.
It seems that, since the Dark Ages when I bought my copy, a newer translation has been produced. Who knows, maybe several. Connie, taking pity on me, has loaned me her copy. Wow! What a difference! The best way for you to understand the difference is to let you see it. What follow is the same passage, first from my copy of the Confessions, and then from Connie’s copy.
GREAT ART Thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and Thy wisdom infinite. And Thee would man praise; man, but a particle of Thy creation; man, that bears about him his mortality, the witness of his sin, the witness that Thou resistest the proud: yet would man praise Thee; he, but a particle of Thy creation. Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise: for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee. Grant me, Lord, to know and understand which is first, to call on Thee or to praise Thee? and, again, to know Thee or to call on Thee? for who can call on Thee, not knowing Thee? for he that knoweth Thee not, may call on Thee as other than Thou art. Or, is it rather, that we call on Thee that we may know Thee? but how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? or how shall they believe without a preacher? and they that seek the Lord shall praise Him: for they that seek shall find Him, and they that find shall praise Him. I will seek Thee, Lord, by calling on Thee; and will call on Thee, believing in Thee; for to us hast Thou been preached. My faith, Lord, shall call on Thee, which Thou hast given me, wherewith Thou hast inspired me, through the Incarnation of Thy Son, through the ministry of the Preacher.
And now, the same passage, just from Connie’s translation.
i (I) ‘You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised (Ps. 47: 2): great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable’ (Ps. 146:5). Man, a little piece of your creation, desires to praise you, a human being ‘bearing his mortality with him’ (2 Cor. 4: 10), carrying with him the witness of his sin and the witness that you ‘resist the proud’ (I Pet. 5:5). Nevertheless, to praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
‘Grant me Lord to know and understand’ (Ps. 118: 34, 73, 144) which comes first—to call upon you or to praise you, and whether knowing you precedes calling upon you. But who calls upon you when he does not know you? For an ignorant person might call upon someone else instead of the right one. But surely you may be called upon in prayer that you may be known. Yet ‘how shall they call upon him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe without a preacher?’ (Rom. 10: 14). ‘They will praise the Lord who seek for him’ (Ps. 21: 27).
In seeking him they find him, and in finding they will praise him. Lord, I would seek you, calling upon you—and calling upon you is an act of believing in you. You have been preached to us. My faith, Lord, calls upon you. It is your gift to me. You breathed it into me by the humanity of your Son, by the ministry of your preacher.
I don’t know about you, but Connie’s copy is far easier to understand in my opinion. If you should decide to read the Confessions of Saint Augustine, I recommend you purchase a more recent translation than mine.
By the way, Kitty still prefers the cover of the old edition.
Blessings in Christ
Pastor John Rickert
P.S. I understand that a movie will soon be released, titled “Restless Heart,” on the life of Augustine. The title is, of course, take from the quote from above.