Pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova (St. Augustine)
“Beauty so ancient and so new,” exclaims the saint as he regrets the tardiness of his turn to God, and yet recognizes the advantages of an “ancient” God whose “mercies never come to an end.” (Lamentations: 3,22) God has “time” to wait for us. This is fortunate, since we tend to approach the riches of divine wisdom only after passing at least a handful of decades on Earth. As I currently enter my eighth decade and feel the flesh growing frail, it becomes ever more evident that our best strategy in approaching senility and death is through rebellion. We can defy the clocks and calendars that imperiously dictate our slow march to the graveyard by growing younger every day in mind and heart. God is by nature both ancient and new, both enduringly forever but also, and quite literally, “right now,” possessing both the wisdom of the elderly and the vibrancy of youth. As in everything else, God brings together opposites that otherwise vie and contend in our all too human lives.
We can only approach, and partially emulate that ancient and youthful divine perfection by indeed aging in body, but simultaneously growing young in soul. The ultimate fulfilment we all long for is to attain the fullest “adult” maturity apportioned to us by Providence (whether in a short life, or a long one), appropriating all the wisdom and perspective it brings (reflected by the wrinkles in our skin and the aches in our bones), but all this cohabiting with a counterintuitive return to childhood. This we regain through the services of the eternal youth that is connatural with the spiritual order of reality. True knowledge and true love are always young. And “unless we change and become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mathew: 18,3)
So aspire to be ancient, but don’t let your mind grow old; and do become childlike in thought, but give up being childish by bitching about your ageing body. It is true and unavoidable that our flesh is born young but grows old, but it is equally, and more profoundly true, that spiritually, we are called to be reborn as the years pass by, and then to grow younger, and younger, and younger. The beauty of a child’s face already prefigures the wisdom of the Ancient of Days.