Aurelius Augustinus to J. W. Worthy
Peace in our dear Lord Jesus Christ
Be assured that this letter, despite its divagations, honors the declared purpose in your correspondence, and truly does deal with America. From my vantage here in Africa, it may be that I can offer certain new perspectives. If it please you to accept my contribution, I might hope even to make amends for the disappointment I caused.
Without in any way desiring to speak magisterially, I do beg to remind you that your evidence for my sinful youth (nor do I represent it otherwise) is dependent, after all, on my own Confessions, which I explicitly so entitled in order to demonstrate sincerity. Our lives are governed by our Creator's hand upon us, most especially so in our youth. His moment of Creation comprises all earth's remote epochs. He raises us up out of the very dust, and we still bear the rude character of those forebears in whose bowels he plants His primordial command: "Be fruitful and multiply." If He has singled mankind out before others to praise Creation, by no means must He speak to us through human intellect alone. My youth was driven by that ancient command crying out in my blood. Who is to say whether I heard it aright? --I called my son Adeodatus, Godgiven.
For God speaks to us, as to our brethren of bush and forest, by the same irresistible impulses which instruct them. Consider the gregariousness which you so deplore among the primates, is it not shared by the termite in his hill, with relish gobbling up the feces of his neighbor, as by the Leviathan of the deep, singing and embracing to the rhythms of his herd? Creation leads onward, upward, the leaf refined as calyx of sepals for the corolla of delicate petals to enclose exquisitely fertile stamen and carpels, each of these miraculous organs a refinement on the common leaf, which the flowering plant continues to produce in profusion. Indeed without the leaf the glorious blossom were not thinkable. Leaf and blossom are one in God's eyes, as are ape and man. Like the primal urge to mate, the human longing for harmony with the tribe is implanted in our breast by Creation itself.
Bear with me, good Professor, I have not forgot your topic, your America. But permit me to dwell for a moment on just how our bestial gregariousness relates to the human gift to understand the world, as it flowers in praise of the Creator. Take language, gurgling up from solidarity and cooperativeness among the tribe, enabling many individuals to act as one in a thousand vital ways. God's Creation proceeds, and appoints language as man's supreme tool for analytical thinking, even while that basic simian / human urge to chatter still dominates. We protest our innocence of alien thoughts, we clamor the tribe's wishes as our very own, for we are dependent as termites on a highly organized society for safety, sustenance, psychic comfort. --But just as the dense foliage on the plant is destined also to produce a blossom, so our God given intellect must eventuate in independent thought. Thinking is no gregarious activity, but requires isolation from our brethren, and finally opposition to them.
Our forbidding climes here in Africa attract many hermits, not only Christians, but Zoroastrians, Mithraists, all seeking to commune with the One, the only One to whom they have no cause to lie. Solitude may have been unavoidable in your unsettled New World, but I think some of you were also driven by the genuine desire to escape the cozy populations. You were driven unceasingly westward, from sea to sea, and as America became blessed with hermits, the taciturn loner emerged as characteristic Westerner. Even back in the Old Colonies there were those who found their way to blessed solitude. There alone can we seek complete honesty.
In good company we gladly select what is proper, helpful, politic to say, we are careful how we say it. We seek not Truth but community and harmony, correctness. It is not possible to overestimate the importance of making a good impression. Hence my Confessions go directly to God, before whom no man makes a good impression. Henry David need but stand for an hour alone in the woods, to feel truthfulness slowly creep over him. It is not different on my sandy wastes of Africa nor, I suspect, out on your Great Plains.
And should we ever stumble upon the truth, lo, there He is! We theologians liked to parse His utterance: "I am the way and the Truth and the Light," finding in each noun a member of the Trinity. However that may be, if we can ever discover just how things really are, even in the smallest corner of Creation, there we hit upon God.
With blessings and good will attending you solitary mavericks in the Dustbowl,
Please Return to
or view the correspondence with Augustine. Write to Professor Worthy.