Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 12 Sections 16 43 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 12, Sections 16–43 (Heaven and Earth) | Summary



Augustine now acknowledges that some people may disagree with his explanation of the creation of heaven's heaven and earth. Nonetheless, he insists that God's substance does not change, nor does his will. He did not bring creation about by a "new act of will." Augustine lists the rest of his interpretations of the meaning of the Creation story, which are hardly disputable in his view. For example, God's house is a spiritual structure that shares God's eternity and remains unstained.

Augustine speaks of wisdom in Section 20, saying wisdom is "the eldest of all created things." He is not referring to the Wisdom coeternal with God through which all things are made. Rather, he is referring to "the intellectual order of being which by contemplating the Light becomes light itself." This wisdom is the "rational, intelligent mind of the Church, which he calls God's "chaste city" and "our mother," who is "free and eternal in heaven." Augustine continues to speak about the Church in heaven, a "lightsome house," with which he has fallen in love, and for which his "pilgrim-soul sighs." He prays that God will claim him as his own within this house: "like a lost sheep I have gone astray, but on the shoulders of my shepherd, your builder, I hope to be carried back to you."

Augustine continues to praise the Catholic Church, which exists both on earth and in heaven's heaven, now calling it Jerusalem in Section 23. She is his mother and his homeland, while God is her Father, guardian, and husband.

Augustine takes time to step back from his analysis, beginning in Section 27. For the rest of Book 12 he continues to answer hypothetical opponents to his interpretations of Genesis as well as provide his own alternative interpretations. But at the same time he allows that there is room for different interpretations, so long as they are based in a genuine desire to understand the meaning behind scripture and that they are true at the core. There is one Truth, but many approaches to it. Moreover, if someone were to ask him if his writings say exactly what Moses, the reputed author of Genesis, intended, he would have to say, "I do not know."


Augustine takes pains to point out that God does not change as a result of creation, neither in his substance nor in his will. This is because God does not exist in time. Thus, from God's perspective (the now), everything occurs at the same time. "He does not first will something, then something else," Augustine says. "Whatever he wills, he wills once only and all together and eternally, not in repetitive fashion, nor this today and that tomorrow ... A will like that is subject to change, and anything changeable is not eternal; but our God is eternal." The reader, then, should understand the days of creation as allegorical or metaphorical, in Augustine's view.

The undefiled Church is described at length in these sections, at least partially in answer to the Donatists, according to the editors of Maria Boulding's translation of The Confessions. The Donatists expected an entirely pure Church on earth, which is not possible, but Augustine sees God's house, the celestial realm, as synonymous with the Church in heaven. Heaven's heaven is a chaste city, the new Jerusalem to which the pilgrim is bound. Augustine uses the symbol of Jerusalem elsewhere in The Confessions to refer to God's house. In more than one place, he refers to the Church as "mother," and that symbol is repeated here. The shepherd, of course, is Jesus, who will carry Augustine to his Father. Jesus is the mediator between God and man. He is also the "builder" because it is through him (the "Word") that creation comes into existence. Wisdom, when capitalized, refers to Jesus, the Second Person of God. When wisdom is not capitalized it refers to heaven's heaven, the chaste city, and the Church in heaven. In fact, Augustine's view was that the church on earth includes both saints and sinners.

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