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The Two Visions of St. Augustine

A common thread of faith and reason runs through the two different theological visions of St. Augustine in his Confessions. This can be seen by comparing the ascent, the vision, the descent, and language in the two visions. Although other parts of the text will be referred to, the central part of these visions are as follows:

Vision 1: "... in an instant of awe, my mind attained to the sight of the God who IS. Then, at last, I caught sight of your invisible nature, as it is known through your creatures. But I had no strength to fix my gaze upon them. In my weakness I recoiled and fell back..."

Vision 2: "And while we spoke of the Eternal Wisdom, longing for it and straining for it with all the strength of our hearts, for one fleeting instant we reached out and touched it. Then, with a sigh, leaving our spiritual harvest bound to it, we returned to the sound of our own speech,..." (Page 197)

The two excerpts are written in similar styles. Both contain strong Platonist language, such as references to the line (the image of climbing to knowledge in the second vision, page 197), the cave ("confusion of images," in the first vision, page 151), and the sun (the transient quality of the first vision, page 152). The language in each vision also refers to the method of ascent. In the first vision, Augustine makes his ascent by reason, seen through words like, "my thoughts," "the power of reason," and "bodily sense." In the second vision, Augustine and his mother, Monica, make the ascent by the power of love. This is seen by words such as, "flame of love," "our hearts," and "strength of our hearts." (Page 197)

The method of ascent to each vision is significant when considering the role that faith and reason play in each. Together, the method of ascent, faith, and reason represent Augustine's journey to faith.

The first ascent is necessarily made by the mind and reason, necessarily because Augustine has not yet received faith, which would enable him to go farther. (Page 151) Augustine begins his ascent with questions about the nature of his mind. He tries to answer these through the consideration of material things, the soul, and reason itself. (Page 151) Everything that he deliberates is arrived at by a reasonable chain of thought that takes place in his mind.

Augustine and his mother, Monica, make the second ascent through love for God (or faith). (Page 197) Because faith reveals divine knowledge, which is more important than human knowledge, reason becomes of secondary importance. The ascent of Augustine and Monica, his mother, begins with the question of what a saint's eternal life would be like. (Page 197) The ensuing dialogue starts with the consideration of material things and moves to the soul, like the first vision. (Pages 151, 197) However, they are enabled by faith to move beyond this to consider things that are beyond reason (such as the "eternal Wisdom," page 197), which was impossible in the first vision. In fact, many of the aspects discussed in the second vision are beyond reason and must be understood by the heart, or faith. (Page 197)

The question as to the significance of Monica's presence may arise. When considered in an allegorical context, the presence of Augustine's mother in the second vision is significant. In the first vision, Augustine is thinking in his own mind, with no other opinions available. This represents the solitary state he is in with relation to God. In the second vision, Augustine is involved in a dialogue, with his mother, a saintly woman. This symbolizes his new ability to communicate with God.

In both visions, the chain of thought, whether through reason or faith, leads to a concept of God. In the first vision, this idea is an "instant of awe" where Augustine recognizes God. (Page 151) This instant has not been longed for or desired. However, in the second vision, the chain of thought leads to a "touching" of the eternal Wisdom, which is the purpose of the ascent. The success of Augustine and Monica in the second vision lies in the power of their hearts, or their faith (Page 197), where the fault of Augustine in the first vision lies in the weakness of his will and soul. (Page 151) It is also interesting to note that in the first vision he sees the general God, where in the second vision Monica and Augustine see the specific qualities of God. From this, the reader may conclude that enhanced faith leads to a more complete knowledge of God. This is supported by the idea that divine knowledge is more reliable than human knowledge

The period of Augustine's life in which these visions took place is significant in his development of faith. The first vision is in the beginning of Augustine's conversion to Christianity. (Book 7, Pages 133-156) Because of his lack of faith (and therefore a lack of knowledge acquired by faith), he cannot be close to God and must rely on sight (or reason) to know Him. (Page 151). This is the opposite of the second vision, where Augustine and Monica have completed their conversion and are able to touch (or experience) God. (Page 151) This reiterates the idea that enhanced faith leads to a more complete knowledge of God.

As Monica and Augustine are not eternal, as the vision is, their vision can only last for a short period. Augustine "recoils" from his first vision due to a weakness in his faith, his will, and his intellect. (Page 152) Nothing of the vision remains but its memory, which makes him long for the love and acceptance of God, and helps his faith grow. (Page 152) The significant change in the strength of Augustine's will and intellect are seen in his fall from the second vision. As his will and intellect are stronger, he and Monica descend rather than fall from the vision. (Page 197) They know that the vision exists, and that it remains theirs to live it in heaven. (Page 198) The "spiritual harvest" refers to spiritual benefits that they will reap.

After close examination, it is obvious that faith and reason play a fundamental role in connecting the two visions of Augustine. In this text, faith and reason are unmistakably related, as has been demonstrated repeatedly.

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