Peter Brown, in his great biography Augustin of Hippo (new edition; London: Faber and Faber, 2000), has a captivating chapter (“The Lost Future”) in which he describes Augustine’s move toward the belief that God is sovereign in the election and salvation of men and that there is a “synthesis of grace, freewill, and predestination,” that man “is utterly dependent upon God.” Below is part of his summary of Augustine’s understanding ‘delight’ as primary in men (pp. 148-49):
Augustine had come to this conclusion through a reassessment of the nature of human motivation. It is this psychological discovery which gives cogency to the interpretation that he placed on Paul. Briefly, Augustine had analysed the psychology of ‘delight’. ‘Delight’ is the only possible source of action, nothing else can move the will. Therefore, a man can act only if can mobilize his feelings, only if he is ‘affected’ by an object of delight. [Ad. Simpl. de div. Quaest. I. qu. ii, 13.] Ten years before, this element had been notably lacing in Augustine’s programme for a ‘well-trained soul’: such a soul would have risen to truth by academic disciplines, supported by ‘sparkling little chains of argument’. Now, ‘feeling’ has taken its rightful place as the ally of the intellect. [e.g. de Musica, VI, xvii, 59. cf. Ep. 4.2]
But ‘delight’ itself is no longer a simple matter. It is not a spontaneous reaction, the natural thrill of the refined soul when confronted with beauty. [e.g. Ennead I, vi, 4 (MacKenna 2, p. 59). This is een very clearly by Burnaby, Amor Dei, p. 89.] For it is just this vital capacity to engage one’s feelings on a course of action, to take ‘delight’ in it, that escapes our powers of self-determination: the processes that prepare a man’s heart to take delight in God are not only hidden, but actually unconscious and beyond his control: [Ad. Simpl. de div. Quaest. I. qu. ii, 22.] ‘The fact that those things that make for successful progress towards God should cause us delight is not acquired by our good intentions, earnestness and the value of our own good will—but is dependent on the inspiration granted us by God. . . . Surely our prayers are, sometimes, so lukewarm, stone-cold, indeed, and hardly prayers at all: they are so distant in our thoughts that we do not even notice this fact with pain—for if we were even to feel the pain, we would be praying again.’ [Ad. Simpl. de div. Quaest. I. qu. ii, 21.]
Augustine came to view ‘delight’ as the mainspring of human action; but this ‘delight’ escaped his self-control. Delight is discontinuous, startlingly erratic: Augustine now moves in a world of ‘love at first sight’, of chance encounters, and, just as important, of sudden, equally inexplicable patches of deadness: ‘Who can embrace wholeheartedly what gives him no delight? But who can determine for himself that what will delight him should come his way, and, when it comes, that it should, in fact, delight him?’ [Ad. Simpl. de div. Quaest. I. qu. ii, 21.] In only a few years, Augustine’s Confessions will show that a work of art could spring from such a dictum.