Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Silence of the Lambs analysis - part 35: Augustine on that which God said to Moses


In part 37 of the analysis, the events that take place in Memphis, Tennessee, and how some of these events comprise a representation of the Passover, were discussed. Also mentioned in part 37 was the biblical book of Exodus, which recounts the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. In the late French philospher Etienne Gilson's book, The Christian Philospophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, there is an interesting passage in which St. Augustine (a predecessor of Aquinas) is quoted on the subject of God's existence. In this passage, mention is made of some of the events in Exodus, and based on the passage, a connection can be drawn between these events and Aquinas's concept of God's simplicity. The quoted material below is from St. Augustine's Tractates on the Gospel of John , in Gilson (all emphasis is in original):

"Nevertheless, pay good attention to the words spoken here, by Our Lord, Jesus Christ: If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins. What is this "I am" - I am what? There is nothing added; and because there is nothing added, his word embarrasses us. We were waiting for him to say what he was, yet he did not say it...

"For God had also said to Moses: I am Who am. Who can rightly say what is this I am? By his angel, God sent his servant Moses to deliver his people from Egypt...God was sending him trembling, reluctant but obedient. In order to find some excuse Moses said to God who, he knew, was speaking to him through the angel: if the people ask me, who then is the God that sent thee? What shall I reply? And the Lord said to him, I am Who am; then he repeated: it is He Who Is who has sent me to you. Here, again, he did not say: I am God; or I am the maker of the world; or I am the creator of all things; or again, I am the propagator of this very people who must be liberated; but he only said this: I am Who Am; then, you will say to the children of Israel, He Who Is. He did not add, He Who Is your God; He Who Is the God of your fathers; but he only said this: He Who Is sent me to you.

"Perhaps it was difficult for Moses, even as it is difficult for us too - and even more difficult for us - to understand these words: I am Who Am; and, He Who Is, has sent me to you. Moreover, even if Moses understood them, how could they to whom God was sending him have understood them? God has then postponed what man cannot understand and added what he could understand. This he added, indeed, when he said: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Exod., III, 13-15). This you can understand; but what thought can comprehend I am?"

The simplicity of God is implied by the statement in the above, "I am Who am."

a. St. Augustine, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 38.8, in Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Notre Dame: The University of Notre Dame Press, 1956. pp 85-86.


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