Seeing God

From City of God XXII.29 (426)

As we shall one day be made to participate, according to our slender capacity, in God’s peace, both in ourselves, and with our neighbor, and with God our chief good, in this respect the angels understand the peace of God in their own measure, and men too, though now far behind them, whatever spiritual advance they have made. For we must remember how great a man he was who said, “We know in part, and we prophesy in part, until that which is perfect is come;” and “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” … This vision is reserved as the reward of our faith; and of it the Apostle John also says, “When Christ shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” By “the face” of God we are to understand his manifestation, and not a part of the body similar to that which in our bodies we call by that name…

Even in this life, in which the prophetic power of remarkable men is no more worthy to be compared to the vision of the future life than childhood is to manhood, Elisha, though distant from his servant, saw him accepting gifts. Shall we, then, say that when that which is perfect is come, and the corruptible body no longer oppresses the soul, but is incorruptible and offers no impediment to it, the saints shall need bodily eyes to see, though Elisha had no need of them to see his servant?… Nevertheless, the bodily eyes also shall have their office and their place…

The expression of Scripture, “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God,” may without difficulty be understood as if it were said, “And every man shall see the Christ of God.”  And he certainly was seen in the body, and shall be seen in the body when he judges quick and dead.  And that Christ is the salvation of God, many other passages of scripture witness, but especially the words of the venerable Simeon, who, when he had received into his hands the infant Christ, said, “Now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for mine eyes have seen your salvation.”

As for the words of the above-mentioned Job, as they are found in the Hebrew manuscripts, “And in my flesh I shall see God.” No doubt they were a prophecy of the resurrection of the flesh. Yet he does not say “by the flesh.” And indeed, if he had said this, it would still be possible that Christ was meant by “God.” For Christ shall be seen by the flesh in the flesh.  But even understanding it of God, it is only equivalent to saying, I shall be in the flesh when I see God…

It may very well be, and it is thoroughly credible, that we shall in the future world see the material forms of the new heavens and the new earth in such a way that we shall most distinctly recognize God everywhere present and governing all things, material as well as spiritual, and shall see God, not as now we understand the invisible things of God, by the things which are made, and see God darkly, as in a mirror, and in part, and rather by faith than by bodily vision of material appearances, but by means of the bodies we shall wear and which we shall see wherever we turn our eyes.

St. Augustine (354-430) was a theologian and philosopher who served as Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. He was a voluminous author, whose writings about God’s grace, the Sacraments, and the Church have been profoundly influential in the development of Western Christianity. City of God is his masterwork, a wide-ranging treatise on politics, ethics, and Biblical theology. His feast day is August 26.


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