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On the Book of Nature


A Selection of Quotes from the Works of Augustine of Hippo

The Moral Appeal of the Book of Nature

But had you begun with looking on the book of nature as the production of the Creator of all, and had you believed that your own finite understanding might be at fault wherever anything seemed to be amiss, instead of venturing to find fault with the works of God, you would not have been led into these impious follies and blasphemous fancies with which, in your ignorance of what evil really is, you heap all evils upon God.

At si universam creaturam ita prius aspiceres, ut auctori Deo tribueres, quasi legens magnum quendam librum naturae rerum atque ita si quid tibi te offenderet, causam te tamquam hominem latere posse tutius credere quam in operibus Dei quicquam reprehendere auderes, numquam incidisses in sacrilegas nugas et blasphema figmenta, quibus non intellegens, unde sit malum, Deum implere conaris omnibus malis.

Contra Faustum, XXXII, 20


Universality of the Book of Nature

It is the divine page that you must listen to; it is the book of the universe that you must observe. The pages of Scripture can only be read by those who know how to read and write, while everyone, even the illiterate, can read the book of the universe.

Liber tibi sit pagina divina, ut haec audias; liber tibi sit orbis terrarum, ut haec videas. In istis codicibus non ea legunt, nisi qui litteras noverunt; in toto mundo legat et idiota.

Enarrationes in Psalmos, 45, 7 (PL 36, 518)


The Voice of the Book of Nature

Some people, in order to discover God, read a book. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above and below, note, read. God whom you want to discover, did not make the letters with ink; he put in front of your eyes the very things that he made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?

Alius, ut inveniat Deum, librum legit. Est quidam magnum liber ipse ipsa species creaturae: superiorem et inferiorem contuere, attende, lege. Non Deus, unde eum cognosceres, de atramento litteras fecit: ante oculois tuos posuit haec ipsa quae fecit. Quid quaeris maiorem vocem?

Sermones, 68, 6 [= MAI 126, in PLS 2,501-512]


The Firmament as a Symbol of Scripture

15.16 Or who, except Thou, our God, made for us that firmament of authority over us in Thy Divine Scripture? as it is said, For heaven shall be folded up like a scroll; and now is it stretched over us like a skin. For Thy Divine Scripture is of more eminent authority, since those mortals by whom Thou dispensest it unto us, underwent mortality. And Thou knowest, Lord, Thou knowest, how Thou with skins didst clothe men, when they by sin became mortal. Whence Thou hast like a skin  stretched out the firmament of Thy book, that is, Thy harmonizing words, which by the ministry of mortal men Thou spreadest over us. For arebbe degna d'essere vissuta» id firmament of authority, in Thy discourses set forth by them, more eminently extended over all that be under it; which whilst they lived here, was not so eminently extended. Thou hadst not as yet spread abroad the heaven like a skin; Thou hadst not as yet enlarged in all directions the glory of their deaths.
15.17 Let us look, O Lord, upon the heavens, the work of Thy fingers; clear from our eyes that cloud, which Thou hast spread under them. There is Thy testimony, which giveth wisdom unto the little ones: perfect, O my God, Thy praise out of the mouth of babes and sucklings. For we know no other books, which so destroy pride, which so destroy the enemy and the defender, who resisteth Thy reconciliation by defending his own sins. I know not, Lord, I know not any other such pure words, which so persuade me to confess, and make my neck pliant to Thy yoke, and invite me to serve Thee for nought. Let me understand them, good Father: grant this to me, who am placed under them: because for those placed under them, hast Thou established them.
15.18 [...] Let them praise Thy Name, let them praise Thee, the supercelestial people, Thine angels, who have no need to gaze up at this firmament, or by reading to know of Thy Word. For they always behold Thy face, and there read without any syllables in time, what willeth Thy eternal will; they read, they choose, they love. They are ever reading; and that never passes away which they read; for by choosing, and by loving, they read the very unchangeableness of Thy counsel. Their book is never closed, nor their scroll folded up; seeing Thou Thyself art this to them, and art eternally.

15. 16. Aut quis nisi tu, Deus noster, fecisti nobis firmamentum auctoritatis super nos in Scriptura tua divina? Caelum enim plicabitur ut liber, et nunc sicut pellis extenditur super nos. Sublimioris enim auctoritatis est tua divina Scriptura, cum iam obierunt istam mortem illi mortales, per quos eam dispensasti nobis. Et tu scis, Domine, tu scis, quemadmodum pellibus indueris homines, cum peccato mortales fierent. Unde sicut pellem extendisti firmamentum Libri tui, concordes utique sermones tuos, quos per mortalium ministerium superposuisti nobis. Namque ipsa eorum morte solidamentum auctoritatis in eloquiis tuis per eos editis sublimiter extenditur super omnia, quae subter sunt, quod, cum hic viverent, non ita sublimiter extentum erat. Nondum sicut pellem caelum extenderas, nondum mortis eorum famam usquequaque dilataveras.
15. 17. Videamus, Domine, caelos, opera digitorum tuorum; disserena oculis nostris nubilum, quo subtexisti eos. Ibi est testimonium tuum sapientiam praestans parvulis. Perfice, Deus meus, laudem tuam ex ore infantium et lactentium. Neque enim novimus alios libros ita destruentes superbiam, ita destruentes inimicum et defensorem resistentem reconciliationi tuae defendendo peccata sua. Non novi, Domine, non novi alia tam casta eloquia, quae sic mihi persuaderent confessionem et lenirent cervicem meam iugo tuo et invitarent colere te gratis. Intellegam ea, Pater bone, da mihi hoc subterposito, quia subterpositis solidasti ea.
15. 18. [...] Laudent nomen tuum, laudent te supercaelestes populi angelorum tuorum, qui non opus habent suspicere firmamentum hoc et legendo cognoscere verbum tuum. Vident enim faciem tuam semper, et ibi legunt sine syllabis temporum, quid velit aeterna voluntas tua. Legunt, eligunt et diligunt; semper legunt et numquam praeterit quod legunt. Eligendo enim et diligendo legunt ipsam incommutabilitatem consilii tui. Non clauditur codex eorum nec plicatur liber eorum, quia tu ipse illis hoc es et es in aeternum [...].

Confessiones, Book XIII, 15, 16-18.