Jesus, the Only Way to God – Augustine

Augustine had sought God through an exotic Eastern cult and then through the best that Greco-Roman philosophy had to offer before he finally found Him through the Catholic Christianity that he had rejected as a teen. So he could proclaim from personal experience that Jesus is the one mediator, the only Way to intimate knowledge of God.  “Late have I loved you, beauty ever ancient, ever new!”

Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so.

Supernatural Light

I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the incommutable light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe.

The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light.

Eternal Truth, Beloved Eternity

O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread.

I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me.”

Jesus Christ, the One Mediator & Only Way

Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus [1Tim. 2:5], who is also God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever. He called out, proclaiming I am the Way and Truth and the Life [Jn. 14:6], nor had I known him as the food which, though I was not yet strong enough to eat it, he had mingled with our flesh, for the Word became flesh so that your Wisdom, through whom you created all things, might become for us the milk adapted to our infancy.

Late Have I Loved You

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

This post on Jesus as the one mediator, the only way to God contains the famous line “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”  It is an excerpt from the Confessions of St. Augustine (Lib. 7, 10, 18; 10, 27: CSEL 33, 157-163, 255).  It appears in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast (liturgical memorial) of Saint Augustine on August 28th. 

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St. Augustine of Hippo
St. Augustine, born in Roman N. Africa to a devout Catholic mother and a pagan father, was a notoriously rebellious Catholic teenager who lived with his girlfriend, joined an exotic Eastern cult, and ran away from his mother. Augustine became a brilliant and renowned teacher of rhetoric and was appointed by the emperor to teach in Milan, Italy, at that time the administrative capital of the Western Roman Empire. While there, he happened to hear the preaching of the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, who baptized him at the Easter vigil of AD 386. St. Augustine ultimately renounced his secular career and put away his mistress.  He became first a monk, then a priest, then the bishop of Hippo, a small town on the N. African Coast. The voluminous writings of this Early Church Father span every conceivable topic in theology, morality, philosophy, and spirituality. St. Augustine of Hippo is commonly recognized as the greatest teacher in the Western Church between the New Testament and St. Thomas Aquinas and is one of the Doctors of the Church.  He died in AD 430.  (bio by Dr. Italy).  For more info on Augustine, see When the Church Was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers.
  • Reed

    Catholic Christianity, as we understand it today, did not exist in Augustine’s time. The Church he embraced was rooted in the East and resembles Orthodox Christianity much more than the western church that Roman Catholicism became. Orthodoxy has much to teach us about these early saints (pre-1100).

  • Marcellino D’Ambrosio

    Since the days of the Early Fathers, there has been development in practice and style in both Eastern Orthodox and Latin Rite Catholic churches in various points of style, liturgy, law, custom, theology. I don’t think it helpful to get into East/West competition. Rather, as Pope John Paul II wrote, the Church needs to breathe with both its lungs, East and West. The East has much to teach the West about the saints pre-1100 and much more. But the converse is also true. Rather than focus on what we have to teach each other, let’s seek humbly to learn from each other, to the glory of God and the unity of the Body of Christ.

  • Reed

    This is not to establish a competition, so I am a little surprised at the defensiveness of your reply. The point was intended to counterbalance the impression that Augustine was formed by the Catholicism which is so familiar to us and similar to well-known, more modern saints. He was a man of his culture (middle Eastern) and time when the Church was struggling to understand herself. This information places him in a context that reveals much about his experience, both secular and spiritual, and illuminates his sanctity. I think that awareness increases appreciation.

  • Marcellino D’Ambrosio

    Hi Reed. Actually, Augustine was not Middle Eastern. He was born in North Africa, which was thoroughly Latin Roman in culture. Unlike his mentor Ambrose, he could not read Greek well so did not have a lot of first-hand acquaintance with Greek Fathers that were not available in Latin translation. Culturally, the drift between East and West began around AD 290 and was sadly well underway by the time Augustine was born. You are right that we can’t read 1950’s Roman Catholic culture back into 5th century North Africa; but neither can we retroject contemporary Eastern Orthodox culture back there. Good historical and theological examination of Augustine has been done by many, including Roman Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox. Augustine belongs to us all!

  • David Brooks

    Read most of St. Augustine in ’90’s love the “burned for you’re Peace.” He was a struggling human (as we all are). Liked the ladies. He found that which Jesus had. The consciousness of God’s presense: The “Christ Consciousness.” “Greater things can you do…”
    In the confessions, he wondered why most of his fellow monks didn’t prescribe to pursuit of “perfection.” He claimed they didn’t want to be perfect, less they have to quit their Sins!
    Jesus Sermon on the Mount gave tenants many can’t or won’t comprehend, with minds engrossed in the World. There is a fine line between “Holiness (heavenly) and being of the world.”
    I often think, “don’t be so heavenly minded, that you’re of no worldly good.” Understanding Jesus and St. Augustine requires, most often- heaven thinking; by being too deep into the world, it’s hard to grasp life’s purpose and precious precepts,- it is akin to throwing” Pearls to Swine.” Interpretors of scripture (ignorance of priceless precepts) usually trample them into the mud.