In a striking passage in Confessions 1.13.21, Augustine has this to say about his weeping over the death of Vergil’s Dido while not weeping over his own death:
quid enim miserius misero non miserante se ipsum et flente Didonis mortem, quae fiebat amando Aenean, non flente autem mortem suam, quae fiebat non amando te, deus, lumen cordis mei et panis oris intus animae meae et virtus maritans mentem meam et sinum cogitationis meae?
“For what is more wretched than a wretched man not feeling wretched for himself and weeping over the death of Dido, which was happening because of her loving Aeneas, but not weeping over his own death, which was happening because of his not loving you, God, light of my heart and bread of the internal mouth of my soul and power marrying my mind and bosom of my thinking?”
Coupled with the references to Vergil’s Aeneid are references to Johannine language about God. Hence God is, first of all, the light of the heart (lumen cordis mei). Augustine then alludes to one of the central texts for sacramental theologizing, the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6:48ff. (ego sum panis vitae [I am the bread of life], etc.). In referring to his partaking of the bread that is Christ, Augustine uses arrestingly physical language, but applies it to the inner man. This “bread,” that is, is eaten spiritually: panis oris intus animae meae. Augustine’s soul has a mouth, and this mouth is what feeds on the bread of Christ.
E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
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