Augustine on the Impossibility of Speaking Worthily of God

A wonderful word from Augustine regarding the impossible but necessary difficulty of speaking of God:

Have I said anything, solemnly uttered anything that is worthy of God? On the contrary, all I feel I have done is to wish to say something; but if I have said anything, it is not what I wished to say. How do I know this? I know it because God is inexpressible; and if what has been said by me were inexpressible, it would not have been said. And from this it follows that God is not to be called inexpressible, because even when this is said about him, something is being expressed. And we are involved in heaven knows what kind of battle of words, since on the one hand what cannot be said is inexpressible, and on the other what can even be called inexpressible is thereby shown to be not inexpressible. This battle of words should be avoided by keeping silent, rather than resolved by the use of speech.

And yet, while nothing really worthy of God can be said about him, he has accepted the homage of human voices, and has wished us to rejoice in praising him with our words. (De Doctrina Christiana I.6 trans. Edmund Hill)

How can I clutter such thoughts with my own? My best articulation of God is babble; my clearest thought foolishness. I know this because he is God, and were I ever to speak something worthy of him I would cease to be speaking of him. All that is left is for me is to cover my mouth. Bow my head. And worship.


2 thoughts on “Augustine on the Impossibility of Speaking Worthily of God

  1. I think I can relate to Augustine on one level, how can I speak for God that can adequately express what should be said? I read a article in our local paper from a Pastor who was expressing remorse over the empty church pews. It was not the empty pews so much as the lack of concern of those who remained. He asked, “Do we say if God wants the pews to be full, then he will surely fill them”? Where are our tongues and where is the desire to reach the people?

  2. That is always the danger…since nothing can be said rightly about God; or since God will do whatever he wants to do; I don’t have to do anything.

    But as Augustine says, even though nothing truly worthy of God can be said, he nevertheless appreciates the effort!

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