Augustine on the Delta Factor?


As I read my Lenten reflections, Augustine’s “On the Psalms” (sadly, the ACW series translation only got as far as Psalm 37) I hear little squeaks of Percian linguistics peeking through Augustine’s take on Psalm 9…

“Thou hast blotted out their name forever to the age of ages [Psalm 9:7]. The name of the wicked has been blotted out; for they who have come to believe in the true God can no longer be called wicked. Their name is blotted out forever: as long, that is, as this world shall last. To the age of ages. Now what is this age of ages? Is it not that of which this world is, as it were, an image and shadow? The course of the seasons following one another, the waning and waxing of the moon, the sun returning to the same position year by year, spring, summer, autumn and winter each passing away only to come round again – all this is a kind of imitation of eternity. But the duration underlying an immutable continuity is termed the age of ages. It may be compared with a line of poetry, first conceived in the mind and then uttered by the tongue. The mind gives form to the spoken word; the one fashioned an abiding work of art, the other resounds in the air and dies away. Thus, too, the age which passes takes its pattern from that unchangeable age which is termed the age of ages. The latter abides in the divine workmanship, that is to say, in the Wisdom and Power of God, whereas the former is worked out in the government of creation.”

Further along, looking at verse 11, Augustine rounds out the notion thus:

“And let them trust in thee who know they name [Psalm 9:11]. Again, the Lord says to Moses: I am who am; and though shalt say to the children of Israel: HE who is hath sent me. Let them trust in thee, then, who know thy name, so that they may not trust in the things that flow by on the rapid stream of time, possessing nothing but the future  “will be” and the past “has been.” For the future, when it comes, at once becomes the past; with longing we await it, with sorrow we see it pass away. [Augustine revisits this idea in greater detail in his Confessions.] But in God’s nature there will be nothing future, as if not yet existing, nor yet past as if existing no longer, but only that which is; and this is what we mean by eternity. Those, then who know the name of Him who said I am who am, and of whom it was said, He who is hath sent me, must cease to trust in and set their hearts upon the things of time, and must betake themselves to the hope of things eternal.”

The question, then, is this: Is the “search” Percy talks about a sort of fumbling around in these ages looking for that age of ages the way Helen Keller fumbled around with her fingers before she grasped the idea of water? Furthermore, when one stumbles upon the search, does he do so as a gift from God or is there something within our nature that desires to find that age of ages even if we’re as deaf, dumb and blind as Ms. Keller?



  1. Regarding the final question, I’m with Luigi Giussani on this idea. We are by our nature filled with the desire to find that “age of ages” and our nature is rooted in the grace of God who made us in His image and likeness. The fumbling is as inescapable as the desire that propels it.

  2. I heard more than a squeak during Advent:

    “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.

    Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.

    However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.

    In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.

    When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.”

    This excerpt from a sermon by St. Augustine (Sermo 293, 3: PL 1328-1329) is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Third Sunday in Advent known as Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday.

  3. Anya,

    An appropriate citation as we come within a week’s voyage of the land known as “Laetare Sunday”!

    Thanks for this – and for taking the time to respond. Yes, there is some overt searching going on here, isn’t there?

    You can see here and in my own quote Augustine’s enduring concerns for language as an unrepentant rhetorician of sorts.

    Speaking of rhetoric, I wonder if anyone has ever done a rhetorical analysis of the gospel writers – who has the best pen? I’d say John might win – but that Paul is quite the linguistic acrobat in his own right!


  4. Louise Orrock says

    I have added comments because you have a comment section. However, I obviously don’t add posts. However, I have a blog on with one post called ‘Medical science is fiction’. However, when I log in there are numerous other posts from the Gerasene Writers’ Conference. I certainly have not plagiarised this site to add to my own blog and I would also appreciate it if no-one added posts to my blog. I don’t know how to delete them but I’ll try and do so tomorrow. I assume nobody here did it.

    • Louise,

      That is strange. I just checked out your blog – but there were no Gerasene posts that I could see. At any rate, be rest assured that we’re busy enough trying to keep this blog afloat without muscling in on someone else’s territory.

      So glad to hear from you, though! How are things in England this time of year?


  5. Big Jon Bully says

    Profound stuff, thanks JOB.

  6. I noticed today that as well as printing some poems off that I downloaded a document, so perhaps someone who stayed here one summer – |I’ve been away the last three summers – decided to set up a blog for me as a record or tribute in case I didn’t make it back.

    To be honest, although I’m not working I haven’t covered the whole of London although have thought I should go to one new area each week, but no area looks particularly healthy: there is gassing in public places, as in New York, and restaurants and other public places, such as galleries, can smell like hospitals. There are roundabouts with no traffic lights, or not covering all the crossings. The food can be good and seems plentiful, and is cheaper than Manhattan, but you can also buy things that are not that fresh, and the spices in restaurants can be worse than I experienced in the US. It was mild from late autumn to Christmas, and hasn’t been consistently cold since, but there was virtually no sun for the first couple of months, and there has been rain almost every night, although not all night and yesterday just for a few seconds when I stepped outside, since then in my area. Let me know if you have any particular questions. How is it in the US?

    • Well, in Wisconsin these days we’ve been having 50-60 degree weather (F) and had our first nearly 70 degree (F) day today. The snow is about melted, but don’t let that fool you: any day we could get hit with a sudden snow storm that puts us back in a blanket of white. All the same, this March seems relatively mild compared to this month’s weather in years past.

      Also, food is much cheaper – perhaps because much more plentiful – here in Wisconsin. In fact, I need only visit my in-laws’ farm down the road to see some of that food walking around, lowing, baa-ing, oinking, or what-have-you.

      The spices are good here too. We grow our own peppers – hot, bell and otherwise.

      Thanks, Louise.


      • Although, come to think of it, I don’t think you call them peppers – the green things that run the gamut of heat – Scottish Bonnets is one name you might use for what we call the habanero.


  7. And I forgot to say that although I go to restaurants and cafes less and then it is perhaps not as obvious as in New York, people don’t seem to be eating that much – they usually have drinks – and I’m not sure when it’s money or when it’s loss of appetite.

    • Ah, the boredom and banality of our pleasures – forget about being each our own pope – we’ve each become our own Tannhauser!

      “Zu viel! Zu viel! O, dass ich nun erwachte!”



  8. So long as you didn’t upload it yourself and as a magnificent gesture allow my name to be associated with it even if I added my own things later.

  9. For the full series (and a relatively new translation) of St. Augustine’s Expositions of the Psalms, check out the version published by New City Press.

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