Friday, April 13, 2007

Moltmann vs Augustine on loving God

What do I love when I love God?

Augustine writes: ‘But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any body or the rhythm of time in its movement; not the radiance of light, so dear to our eyes; not the sweet melodies in the world of manifold sounds; not the perfume of flowers, ointments and spices; not manna and not honey; not the limbs so delightful to the body’s embrace: it is none of these things that I love when I love my God. And yet when I love my God I do indeed love a light and a sound and a perfume and a food and an embrace – a light and sound and perfume and food and embrace in my inward self. There my soul is flooded with a radiance which no space can contain; there a music sounds which time never bears away; there I smell a perfume which no wind disperses; there I taste a food that no surfeit embitters; there is an embrace which no satiety severs. It is this that I love when I love my God.’ (Confessions X.6.8)

Answer: When I love God I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shining of eyes, the embraces, the feelings, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my sense in the creation of your love. In all the things that encounter me, you are waiting for me.
      For a long time I looked for you within myself, and crept into the shell of my soul, protecting myself with an armour of unapproachability. But you were outside – outside myself – and enticed me out of the narrowness of my heart into the broad place of love for life. So I came out of myself and found my soul in my senses, and my own self in others.
      The experience of God deepens the experiences of life. It does not reduce them, for it awakens the unconditional Yes to life. The more I love God the more gladly I exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible well of life, and life’s eternity.

-Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation
(trans. Margaret Kohl, Fortress: 2001), 98.

What do you love when you love God? Do you side with Augustine or Moltmann? Why?

And where does Jesus fit in?


Drew said...

Is it possible to side with both? I shall think on it...

Perhaps a new series: theological face-offs?

Philip Britton said...

I think Augustine, because of his own past carnal exuberance, was inclined to see his own sinfulness manifest in the pleasurable things within creation. He longed therefore for his love of God to somehow rise above physical pleasures. He does, I think, go part way to acknowledging this bias in this section of 'Confessions' when he writes,
"Thou hast taught me, good Father, that to the pure, all things are pure;" and goes on to discuss the teaching on food sacrificed to idols in the new testament.
He does find some balance, I think, in the more often quoted 'conclusion' of this part of 'Confessions',
"For too little doth he love Thee, who loves any thing with Thee, which he loveth not for Thee."

This has been helpfully paraphrased (I think correctly!). He loves to little, he that loves anything apart from thee, and not for thy sake.

This might be where Moltmann finds himself when he shares that his love of created things is heightened by his love of God, and his love of God finds expression in a love of created things.

Anonymous said...

I'm really interested in whether differing conceptions of experience and the self (particularly post-enlightenment and "post-psychology") are a major contribution to this face-off. The "suspect" internal experience is a modern phenomenon...

My immediate response is to "side" with Moltmann, but not in a "the beauty of creation provokes in me a sublime awe that I equate with love" way. And I am aware that I find it difficult to separate my feelings of great thankfulness (for real healing, real restoration, and real provision) from my expression of love.

Obviously, having an Anglican heritage, the possibility of being Augustinian and (just let me have fun here) a Moltmaniac gives me a great and regal sense of balance and impartiality. It's all about balance in the end, right B?

Anthony Douglas said...

I hope you don't mind if I attack the question...but shouldn't it first be 'Who do I love when I love God?'

Sure, I haven't read any context, and it may already have been asked and answered, but what I found missing in both options was a sense of the person. Yes, I love what God has created, both physical and beyond-physical, but chiefly because I know that behind them is an even greater creator. I don't appreciate any of the perks without a consciousness of who they point to (at least, in my better moments, anyway!).

Alternatively, if I can swap the word when for because in their answers, I'm more comfortable. But they both seem to fall short.

Where does Jesus fit in? I'm pretty sure he'd tell us all off for treating love as appreciate rather than go out and serve selflessly!

byron smith said...

Drew: Theological face-offs: nice idea. I might do something about that...

Phil: carnal exuberance - tactfully put. I wonder whether it wasn't simply his sexual background, but the fact that his initial 'conversion' was to Manichaeism and then to Neo-Platonism, neither of which have particularly healthy attitudes towards the body. Admittedly, there are sections where he is more biblical in his affirmation of the goodness of creation, but at other times his residual Neo-Platonism is painfully apparent.

Mikhaela - The "suspect" internal experience is a modern phenomenon... Good point - though many people credit Augustine (particularly in the Confessions) with the West's initial introspective turn. Balance: usually, but one needs to be balanced in one's striving for balance: a balance between sin and obedience? Between life and death? Between God and the Devil?

PS I'm not sure that Moltmann is advocating "the beauty of creation provokes in me a sublime awe that I equate with love". Something I really appreciate about Moltmann is how he links suffering not only to Christ, but also to the Spirit and so makes more sense of the Spirit groaning in Romans 8 than most writers.

Anthony - If I may in turn attack your question: not 'who' but whom do I love...

Replacing 'when' with 'because' probably gets close to the idea that both writers are trying to convey. Neither would be happy with replacing love for God with these other loves. Yet I'd argue we should nonetheless retain 'when', since there are not two loves, but one. My love for neighbour is not a second thing I add on top of my love for God, but one of the primary ways in which the latter is expressed.

And is appreciate vs serve a false dichotemy? A service that does not spring out of a deep affective attachment is not love any more than a deep affective attachment that does not result in service.

Anthony Douglas said...

Well if we're going to get picky...No, I won't point out spelling errors...

Thanks for reminding me about the not two but one post - it was good to have that insight raised again in my consciousness. And while I know neither of them would want to so baldly ignore God in favour of creation, I was still surprised by their lack of ... balance ;-)

I was hoping 'selflessly' might communicate the appreciation element, but I'm with you on the false dichotomy point (OK, couldn't resist!).

byron smith said...

If a dichotomy is going to be false, it may as well be misspelt as well.

Benjamin Ady said...

Augstine was clearly hallucinating. I've never read anything by him that I liked. Maybe we can place a bunch of the blame for all the creepus stuff in the catholic church on him?

Moltmann seems to be on the right track. Does his iteration work in reverse? If I am growing to love the "creation" more, and more immediately, am I by definition loving the god to whom moltmann refers, even if I don't realize or acknowledge it?

byron smith said...

Augustine has been blamed for a lot of things over the years, and often with good reason. However, he's simply too important and subtle a thinker to throw entirely onto the garbage heap. If we want to understand ourselves and our history in the West, Augustine is one of those guys you can't get around. Here are a few quotes that I thought you might like - let me know what you think: here, here, here, here and perhaps especially here.

As for reversing Moltmann, I suspect that he would be quite happy with this: to the extent that we are growing to truly love life and the good world that God has made, we are coming to love God. Of course, there is a kind of 'love' for created things that ignores their origin and purpose and which simply seeks to consume them for the pleasures and experiences able to be gained from them.

John P. said...

For the sake of readability, these two quotes are perfect juxtapositions. However, if i could have one request, it would be that you quote the segment that follows Augustine's famous passage from Confessions X.6.8.

X.6.9. seems to be the "nuance" which you allude to in the last comment. There, Augustine is clearly not rejecting nature off hand, nor the presence of divine in created order. Rather, he is offering a theology of signification...simply, the goodness of created things (like the goodness of words and the goodness of the WORD) is found in its implicit and sometimes explicit pointing towards God.

Of course, I am extremely bias in this discussion...but I would still recommend reading a little further for a fuller picture of Augustine's position.

Dai Corleone said...

I don't understand either of them. Perfume, what's that all about.

byron smith said...

John - good point. I was simply quoting Moltmann in his (selective) quoting.

David - perfume is there as part of the five senses and their place in the love of God.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure the question of where Jesus 'fits in' has been answered yet. How can any discussion on the love God's people experience and embody be adequate without being evangelical, formed and sustained by the lord Jesus?

When I love God I love God's love. Or maybe better I love love itself. Or maybe even better I love love himself! And when I love God who is love, I love Jesus.

Perhaps the question of how this overflows into love for creation should be a secondary one. For what it's worth i would find it hard to not love God's good world for which Jesus died.

byron smith said...

Duncan - well put.

jimlad said...

I agree with both because I believe I experience both, and I also experience and know the pain of the lack of both.

When Moltmann talks of experiencing God as someone outside himself it reminds me of the worshipful manner in which we need to approach God. We cannot be self-centered before God or we are not addressing God, rather an idea of God. I'm not saying He doesn't know what we are saying to Him. He is omniscient.

When Augustine talks of not loving God through loving creation, he reminds me of how when I love creation I make creation, (particularly the part of creation that is me) my God. To put it another way, from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we now have our own knowledge of creation. When we love creation in our terms, we don't honour our Creator.

When Augustine finds this joy of life in God Himself, he enjoys the Creator's version of life and hence he experiences the sensations that we were made to enjoy.

When Moltmann experiences these sensations, he finds new joy in everything God has created. I mean that Moltmann knows the joy of Creation through God, and everything that is created becomes loved by him as it is loved by the one Moltmann was made to love and worship and delight in above all else.

This is why even though our world is so amazing we get bored by it. We can only revel constantly in it if our joy comes from God. Our joy comes from God through Jesus because He alone bowed to God's definition, and yet He allowed Himself to be punished for our self-definition; allowed our self-definition to destroy Him rather than let us go to Hell. And in doing so He reconciled us with Himself, God.

Mike L. said...

I suspect the real question at hand in the statement "What do I love when I love God?" has as much to do with defining the word "love" as it does with defining "God".

Is love equal to finding pleasure in something or is love more like needing something? Is love an emotional response or a realization of your priorites? Or is it both?

There are as many different meanings of love as there are of God. This is the nature of theology and why everything in theology is relative to your worldview and language. This is why so many different theological views and even different religions are all correct when viewed inside their own context.

To me, the "act of loving" is loving God. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as saying the "act of loving" IS GOD. To love God is to love loving. When we love we are actually manifesting God itself.