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St. Augustine


Book XII

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Book XII

Book XII

Book XII

In Book XII, Augustine brings his ideas of memory and time (from Books X and XI) to bear on issues surrounding the story of the creation. His main concern here is to address the diversity of opinion regarding the precise meaning of Genesis by focusing on the use of language. While accepting that scripture has more than one 'true' interpretation, Augustine devotes significant time to delineating the limits of possible exegeses. This Book contains a great deal of hair-splitting with regard to phrases like 'heaven and earth,' and repeats much of Augustine's own reading of Genesis found in Book XI--take the more involute and confusing parts with a grain of salt. This Book retains import chiefly for its basic layout of the concepts of formless matter and the 'heaven of heaven.'

[XII.1-8] Augustine begins with the question of priority in the creation (he loosely defines 'priority' later in Book XII). The text of Genesis describes a nascent earth as 'invisible and unorganized,' in Augustine's reading - an earth comprised of fluid 'formless matter.' Genesis further implies that the initial 'heaven' was not the starry firmament but rather the 'heaven of heaven'--God's 'house,' the angelic order of being nearest to him.

It's important to remember here that Augustine has already posited the non-temporal sense of the phrase 'in the beginning' (Book XI): the beginning is not a time at which God created the heavens and the earth, but rather the eternal, unchanging wisdom (which is also the nature of Christ) in which he created them.

Augustine argues that the visible heavens and earth are not primary in creation; rather, God constructed their concrete physical aspects from a totally 'formless matter' that was created 'first' (again, this 'first' has an ultimately non-temporal sense). This, he says, is the sense of the 'earth invisible and unorganized.'

This formless matter is virtually a quasi-nothingness; it is at the bottom of the Neoplatonic hierarchy of being, furthest from God, since it is matter (which is unlike God) without form (form being more godly than formlessness), and possessing the weakest claim to actual existence. The idea of formless matter is often difficult to grasp - the definition itself refers to the inscrutable quality of this type of 'unintelligible' matter. Augustine again partly blames Manichee theology for muddying his conception of this idea. With an emphasis on the visual, Augustine previously pictured formless matter as 'many different' horrible forms in constant flux rather than viewing it as completely lacking all form.

To reiterate, Augustine emphasizes that formless matter is almost nothing--a kind of 'nothing something' with so little existence that he freely refers to it simply as 'nothing.'

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by hhd618, August 26, 2012

The book was in old English and asked so many questions about god and toward god, which could not be answered. It's meaningless to write Book 1 because he only praised the god rather than the ordinary people who gave him knowledge to write and learn. Without human beings, how could he get over all this obstacles on his way communicating toward god. He is nothing special, and he cannot be too complacent saying that he knows too much about the god.


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Maybe not...

by Kneish, October 16, 2012

Well, being that his view is theocentric, perhaps Augustine sees the human beings as God's helpers. Meaning that if it weren't for God the human being wouldn't have been present at all. So them being present in his life was more of an effort on God's part than it actually was for those who helped. Yes, it wouldnt hurt to give the helpers some acknowledgement for the roles they played, but to Augustine they were probably smaller parts to a greater plan the God orchestrated. Therefore, God actually would deserve the ultimate praise.


16 out of 17 people found this helpful

As far as Plato and the Meno go...

by IAcceptChaos, October 23, 2013

This SparkNote is wrong. Plato didn't really believe that "learning is a kind of remembering, in which the soul rediscovers a truth it knew before birth." This is a dialectical approach that Socrates uses on Meno to disprove the famous "Meno's Paradox," in which Meno asks Socrates "How will you look for virtue if you do not know what it is? If you should meet with it, how will you know that this is the thing you did not know?" I can't believe that SparkNotes would let inaccurate information like this be part of the foundation for another text.


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