When speaking of Martha and Mary, Augustine’s emphasis lies with Mary as a type of the life to come: “Mary…has shown us a likeness of this joy beforehand…she rested from every occupation and was absorbed with the truth according to the manner of which this life is capable, and thus has foreshadowed the future life that shall last forever. For Augustine, Martha and Mary signify types of life separated by what is possible in this life and what is possible after death. “In these two women two kinds of life are represented: present life and future life…temporal life and eternal life…In Martha was to be found the image of things present, in Mary that of things to come. Alternatively, for Cassia, both Martha and Mary signify lives that Christians regularly lead on earth. One has to draw lines between Cassian and Augustine carefully: both Cassian and Augustine are convinced that the contemplation we will experience face to face is radically superior to the contemplation we experience now, and both are willing to consider that we progress towards that contemplation in this life as a regular part of the ascetic’s life, as we saw in Chapter 2. Contemplation is more than barely begun in this life according to Cassian. Contemplation is a regular part of the reading of scripture and prayer experiences of the Christian ascetic. For Augustine, on the other hand, “active” and “contemplative” most naturally name this life and the next. Contemplation is barely begun in this life, and is a rare experience, according to the mature Augustine.—Ascetic Pneumatology from John Cassian to Gregory the Great
, page 185
Where to begin...there is so much wrong with this—and so much right!
First off, we see the problem with the allegorical interpretation of scripture. Mary and Martha are reduced to types. But, if Mary represents the future, then how come she's experiencing it right now?! She is already experiencing a restful life in Christ, sure there will be more in the future, as both Augustine and Cassian acknowledge. But, there is indeed a foretaste of it now.
Second, Augustine is wrong to say that it is rare and barely begun! This flows out of his extreme embrace of the fallenness of humanity. His earlier stuff, before he encountered Pelagius, is a bit more optimistic. But once he began to refute Pelagius, he became more extreme on the extent of the fall. I'm not enough of an Augustine scholar to know if he ever says that the image of God is destroyed in humanity, but he certainly extends the extent to which is it effaced. Cassian is closer to right here. We can experience a much greater degree of the contemplative life here and now than Augustine allows here.
What's right? We only get a foretaste. But what a foretaste it can be! But it's still only a foretaste.
Now, I wonder how Augustine reconciles his extreme pessimism here with his optimism here?!
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