I have been made a question unto myself

“Quaestio mihi factus sum”

I have been made a question unto myself – Saint Augustine

“I confess that I am unhinged, that I do not know who I am. But I highly recommend that we all hold hands and make a common confession that we are all unhinged and do not know who we are. We all want to know who we are and what our lives are “about” – that is our first, last, and constant concern. That is the passion of our lives, and it is a deeply religious passion. For better or worse (it depends on which day you ask me), we do not simply live but we wonder why; for better or worse, we do not simply live but we dream of things that never have been
and wonder why not (Edward “Teddy” Kennedy’s beautiful eulogy of Robert “Bobby” Kennedy). We are not content with life, with the limits that the present and the possible press upon us, but we strive and strain for something or other, we know not what. My modest contribution to that ageless restlessness of the human heart, the one small thing I hope to add to the philosophia perennis, is this: We do not know who we are –
that is who we are. “Quaestio mihi factus sum” (it sounds better in Latin) is the way Augustine put it: “I have been made
a question unto myself,” echoing St. Paul (Rom. 7:15). Who am I? I am one who finds his life a question, whose life is
always being put in question, which is what gives life its salt. We seek but do not find, not quite, not if we are honest,
which does not discourage the religious heart but drives it on and heightens the passion, for this is one heightens the passion, for this is one more encounter with the impossible. We may and we must have our opinions on the subject; we must finally reach a judgment and take a stand about life, but my advice is to attach a coefficient of uncertainty to what we say, for even after we have taken a stand, we still do not know who we are. We do not Know The Secret (notice the caps!). Let there be no misunderstanding: I am not recommending a life of ignorance or of fence-sitting, of the comfort of finding the spot that precedes the “either/or,” the fictitious peace of a space that somehow eludes the pull of competing forces,
without siding or deciding one way or the other. Far from it; I have defined life in terms of salt and passion, religious passion, a passion for the impossible. But I am saying that the condition of this passion is non-knowing, that non-knowing
is the inescapable element in which decisions are reached, which intensifies their passion. This non-knowing is not a
simple garden-variety ignorance but rather more like what the mystics call a docta ignorantia, a learned or wise ignorance, that knows that we do not know and knows that this non-knowing
is the inescapable horizon in which we must act, with all due decisiveness, with all the urgency that life demands. For life
does not take a break, it does not let up its demands on us for a hour or two while we all break for lunch and a bit of a nap. We are required to act, but our decisions are covered by a thin film, a quiet and uneasy sense, of unknowing. I am not trying to be discouraging. Far from it. I do not regard “the secret” to be all bad news but part of an upbeat and salutary minimalism that proceeds on the assumption that we get the best results by confessing fully the difficulty of the human condition and not putting too high a spin on things or too good a face on our predicament.”
– From On Religion, by John D Caputo

 

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