Augustine on Faith, Seeking, and Reason (Peters)

I’ve always enjoyed reading Augustine. I also enjoy hearing others explain Augustine’s views and thoughts. One such example is James Peters, The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith. I was skimming over the first section again today and saw this quote I had highlighted. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Augustine envisions human life as a journey of faith. In its ideal form, human life is a journey beginning in faith (fides) and ending in that fully completed state that Augustine calls wisdom (sapientia). In Augustine’s view, the starting point, faith, and the ultimate telos, wisdom, serve as the ideal alpha and omega stages of Christian discipleship. In a classical formulation of this essential component of his philosophy, Augustine remarks, ‘Faith seeks, understanding finds; whence the prophet says, “Unless ye believe, ye shall not understand.”‘

The contrast to [18th century philosopher David] Hume here is unmistakeable. To see faith and reason as Augustine does is to proceed in a strikingly un-Humean fashion. Whereas Hume finds faith subversive to reason, Augustine envisions faith as effecting the crucial transformation of the whole person, preparing and equipping him or her for reason’s fulfillment. What faith starts, in other words, reason completes. And indeed, reason alone, without the power of faith, cannot achieve the goal of understanding.

Let us note here that Augustine basically asserts two claims about the nature of faith: first, that faith seeks, and second, that the faith that seeks is a necessary precondition for religious understanding. Both aspects of faith are decisive for comprehending how Augustine concevies of the rationality of faith.

James Peters, The Logic of the Heart, p. 64.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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