From Faith to Understanding”

How Augustine’s Finally Falls in Love with Truth!

 

Florence Leung梁彩霞

(指導老師郭鴻標 博士)

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I.                   Introduction

 

Not only for non-believers but also for believers, “Why shall I believe?” is an FAQ. This question asks for reasons in order to believe. However, in some cases, it is not possible to provide sufficient reasons for belief. In some cases, even when convincing reasons are given, belief does not result. Sometimes, a person would believe without convincing reasons given. Therefore, the relationship between faith and reason is very complex; the two connect and interact with each other in intricate ways. This subject has been widely discussed through the ages. What has the early church father St. Augustine of Hippo to say on this subject?

 

To Augustine and people of his age, faith in the presence and activity of God was so common that they did not ask for evidence: “The existence of God was not, for Augustine, anything like a postulate or assumption. He certainly takes it to be a statement of the most fundamental fact about reality, without the knowledge of which any attempt to understand the nature and workings of the world can have no more relation to reality than the wildest fantasies. And the influence of Augustine’s thought makes sense only because the existence of God was taken by most people of the age to be as obvious as it was to Augustine himself.” [1] But then, for people not of his age, or for philosophers, would certainly ask “Did Augustine have any good reasons to think that God exists?” or “Was Augustine’s belief in the existence of God rational?” [2] Looking into his sermons, letters and writings, we could see that faith has priority over reason in the quest for truth. He quotes many times Isaiah 7: 9: “Unless you believe you cannot understand.” He points out that in every sphere faith precedes understanding; a prominent example he uses is that without faith a man could not even know who his mother was. (De Utilitate Credendi, 26)[3]

 

In a discussion “on various questions” (De div. Quaest., q. 48), Augustine gives a clear partitio or division of the different functions of belief; it is always a mediated acquaintance with something that is not directly knowable, either because of its own character, being separated from human subject by space or time, or because of the shortcomings of the mind, which is separated by its own impurity from something that is fully accessible. [4]The three cases of belief are as follows: (1) that of historical accounts of contingent events, which must always be believed because they are separated from direct experience; (2) that of the rational sciences, which are learned through human instruction and thus with an initial attitude of giving credence to what is said, but which are immediately understood if there is any insight into what is being conveyed and (3) that of the divine presence, from which man is alienated by his misdirected affections, and which must therefore first be believed but can later come to be known directly. [5]

 

In this paper, we will first look into how faith overshadows reason in the quest for truth, and then how faith helps man to acknowledge the nature of God for understanding Him better. Afterward, we will see what is at work behind faith and what works with faith in facilitating the quest for truth. Then, we will explore how such “from faith to understanding” theology contributes to the outreach of Mainland Chinese scholars and conclude with a few words on its limitations.

 

II.                Faith overshadows reason

 

Faith has priority over reason in the search for truth in the following three ways. Firstly, faith precedes full understanding.  This point itself contains two elements – faith logically preceding understanding and faith proceeding towards understanding. To begin with, faith logically precedes understanding: “But unless, on the other hand, there were some things which we cannot understand unless we first believe them, the prophet would not say, ‘If you will not believe, you shall not understand.’” (Is. Vii, sec. LXXI, AS, p. 59) [6] Augustine contends that one cannot come to understand truth without prior belief. After all, life is too short for one to seek all answers before coming to faith:  “For there are innumerable questions the solution of which is not to be demanded before we believe, lest life be finished by us in unbelief.” (Letters 102.38) [7] However, this priority of faith does not mean that all questions are answered dogmatically before we can reason about them. Rather, faith means that we lay hold upon the positive reality of our existence and our relationship to God. [8] That is, we first ascertain our own place as man created by God and our relationship with God the Creator. Starting from this point we explore the truth about God and ourselves, e.g. who we are, where we come from and where we are going.

 

After coming to faith, one can embark on the journey of exploring more about various facets of the truth, for Augustine daringly champions the view that God Himself is intelligible, the truth, and so some degree of understanding of God can be ours; hence rational analysis of any problem is always for Augustine a step in the pilgrimage of the mind toward God. [9] One is also to readily and humbly share the discoveries with fellow believers for mutual edification: “When, however, the Christian faith has been thoroughly received, these questions behove to be studied with the utmost diligence for the pious satisfaction of the minds of believers. Whatever is discovered by such study ought to be imparted to others without vain self-complacency; if anything still remains hidden, we must bear with patience an imperfection of knowledge which is not prejudicial to salvation. (Letters 102.38) [10]

 

During the intellectual journey, one is to be aware of the impossibility of attaining satisfactory answers to certain questions. Not every mystery could be comprehended, just as Augustine states in Letter 137: “Let us grant that to God some things are possible which we have to confess beyond our comprehension.” [11] Besides, one is to be alert of the danger of falling out of faith in the search for more understanding: “But if a believer asks a reason, that he may understand what he believes, his measure of intelligence must be considered and a reason given within the limits of his comprehension, so that he may add to his faith as much understanding as he is capable of seeing to it however that in attaining to the plenitude and completion of knowledge he does not depart from the way of the faith. (Letters 120.1) [12] One is to content oneself with what one can understand with one’s limitations and ensure that one would not lose his faith with increasing knowledge.

 

Apart from logically preceding understanding, faith logically proceeds toward understanding. As one believes, one naturally comes to understanding – seeing what he has believed: “Thou shouldst not therefore see in order that thou mayest believe, but believe in order that thou mayest see: believe so long as thou dost not see, let thou blush with shame when thou dost see. Let us therefore believer the time of faith lasts, until the time of seeing comes…We walk by faith, so long as we believe that which we do not see, but sight will be ours, when we see Him face to face, as He really is.”  (Sermons on New Testament Lessons 38.2) [13] Augustine’s theory of illumination helps explains why faith leads to understanding. He himself is puzzled as to why when once he looked at the scriptures, he could read the words and know what they meant, but he did not understand them (De Trin. II. 8.15). [14]Yet after he has believed, or rather in learning to believe, he is in a state to benefit further from divine illumination: here indeed faith has been the prerequisite to understanding.[15]

 

Secondly, faith rewards reason with clear understanding, for only faith overcomes deception -- the result of sin: “Falsehood arises not because things deceive us, for they can show the beholder nothing but their form…It is sin which deceives the soul, when they seek something that is true but abandon or neglect truth. They love the works of the artificer more than the artificer of this art… God is not offered to the corporeal senses, and transcends even the mind. (Of True Religion 36. TR)[16] Faith re-orients our minds to seek for and opt for what is true, to give to things their proper places and values. [17] Reason has been corrupted by the sin of man and so is unable to discern the truth, so faith can serve to clean and clear their eyes to perceive and receive the truth: “But because the minds of men are obscured by familiarity with darkness, which covers them in a night of sins and evil habits, and cannot perceive in a way proper to the clarity and purity of reason, there is most wholesome provision for bringing the faltering eye into the light of truth under the kindly shade of authority. (De Morbus Ecclesiae Catholicae, I.ii, 3) [18] Fortunately, faith can purify reason to make it a completely trustworthy guide: “Faith thus purifies the heart, rendering it capable of receiving and enduring the great light of reason.” (Epistola CXX, 3) [19]

 

Thirdly, faith is more profound than reason in two respects. Faith and reason are distinguishable in their capacities of perception, thus serving different purposes: “We can know by our own witness things which are presented to our senses, either interior or exterior. In fact, we say a thing is ‘present’ because it is ‘presented to our senses’. For example, anything before our eyes is said to be present. But, when things are not present to our senses, we cannot know them on our own authority. So we seek out and believe witnesses to whose senses, we believe, these things are or were present.” (City of God 11.3) [20]Thus, we clearly see the importance of believing witnesses for what we cannot see with our eyes, what we cannot understand with reason. In The Usefulness of Belief(v 1.2), a defence of Christian faith that Augustine wrote immediately after his ordination to the priesthood in 391, he argues that the basis of knowledge about God is not experience or reasoning but belief in the teaching authority of the Church. The immediate target of the book is the criticism of church authority put forward by the Manicheans; but his arguments also apply to claims by philosophers that belief is mere opinion and cannot lead us to real knowledge. Against this Augustine insists on the necessity of belief for the attainment of knowledge. [21]

 

Faith also transcends reason: “Therefore, what I understand I also believe, but I do not understand everything that I believe; for all which I understand I know, but I do not know all that I believe. But still I am not unmindful of the utility of believing many things which are not known…And though the majority of things must remain unknown to me, yet I do know what is the utility of believing. (Concerning the Teacher 11) [22] Despite the lack of knowledge of what he believes, he finds it helpful to keep believing for the benefits of believing. For now, he will secure his faith, and the peace, joy and hope associated with it. Later, he will come to understand some of what is now unknown. And, ultimately, some of what is unknown remains unknown: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but (the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law. ” (Deut. 29:29) [23]

III. Faith acknowledges the nature of God

 

Let us now look into how faith fosters understanding of truth by acknowledging the nature of God in two respects. We will first look at the personhood of God. Since the “object” or target of the quest is God, a personal being with feeling and will, the exercise of faith is needed to utilize our holistic capacity in understanding truth more readily: “The cardinal feature of our search for truth is that we who do the seeking are not disembodied minds but persons with feelings and wills as well as mental processes. Only when the whole person turns toward the truth does it become available to him. This means that faith in the sense of personal trust and belief is prior to understanding.” [24]In our interactions with others, we also tend to open ourselves more and disclose more to those who show sincerity and concern for us. We are glad to let them know us more deeply. Yet when someone wants to know something about us just out of curiosity or some other superfluous reasons, we tend to hold back and tell them less. After all, we are not “dead books” for readers to attain knowledge from, but “living persons” who have feelings and wills. We need and expect that others respect us and treasure us in their interactions with us. Likewise or even more so, our Creator -- God, who makes each of us in His Image, would allow those who seek Him earnestly and humbly more understanding of Himself. [25]

In fact, man must thirst for truth and humble himself, for pride and self-satisfaction will blind a man to truth: “[…] how much more strongly we ought to say that a man is ‘drawn’ to Christ, if he delights in truth, delights in blessedness, delights in justice, delights in eternal life, all of which Christ is […] Give me one that longs, give me one that hungers, give me one that is wandering in this wilderness and thirsting and panting for the fountain of his eternal home; give me such an one, and he will know what I would say.” (In Joannis Evangelium, XXVI. 7) [26]When we have a sincere desire to know him, He is glad and would reward our faith by revealing more of Himself to us, just as Hebrews 11: 6 promises: And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”  (Hebrews 11:6)[27]

 

Faith also empowers man to acknowledge the incarnate nature of the second person of God – Jesus Christ.  Augustine’s stress on the need to respect authority and recognize the limits of reason was based on more than traditionalism, but from his faith in Jesus Christ, because it is impossible to reach Christ through the use of pure reason, as reason cannot uncover the past.[28] It is only through the Scriptures – special revelation of God – that we can learn about the words and works of this man of Nazareth who walked in Palestine for 33 years. And we depend on the teaching of the Church for our knowledge of which writings to regard as inspired Scripture. Such teaching has to be tested on the grounds of its weight and coherence, but in recognizing its authority we are acknowledging the limits of our own experience. The Words, and Works of God are too wondrous for us to comprehend. In fact, to acknowledge and accept Jesus Christ as Lord is totally beyond our understanding yet within our faith. He is the Majestic God, yet He is also the carpenter’s son, the homeless servant, the humble slave who dies on the Cross. God sends Him to be the only way back to God – to be restored to God and to be transformed to His Likeness: “The very nature of the Incarnation is a lesson for us: God, in emptying himself to take on human form, above all in undergoing the agony and humiliation of the cross, gives us a powerful lesson in the need for humility. [29]

 

In fact, Augustine speaks of the indispensable role of authority and the fruitfulness of philosophy if it is not perceived by faith, for men need to be shown the way to return toward God, and God in his “clemency” has made it known, but the philosophers in their pride have scorned the humble form in which God appeared to men. (C. Acad., III, 19, 42; De ord., II, 5, 16) [30] Faith instils child-like or simple faith in us who are hapless sinners in need of the salvation and sanctification of this Powerful Saviour. By faith, we are to take His easy yoke and light burden as we learn to be humble and gentle in His footsteps. (Matt 11:28) [31]The very way of discipleship is contrary to the ways of the world which glorify power and honour.

 

 

 

IV.              Faith, hope and love work together to achieve understanding

 

Faith does not work alone, but together with hope and love. Together, they sharpen one’s vision of the truth and deepens one’s love for God with a pure heart, that is, not only to comprehend but also to commit to it:

 

“Again, before we have the power to conceive and perceive God, as he can be conceived and perceived – for this is permitted to the clean of heart, since, ‘Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God’ (Matt. V.8) – unless He be loved by faith, it will not be possible for the heart to be cleansed so that it may be apt and meet to see Him. For where are those three things, for the building up of which in the mind the whole apparatus of the divine Scriptures has been erected, namely faith, hope and charity (I Cor. Xiii, 13), except in a mind believing what it does not yet see, and hoping and loving what it believes? He therefore who is not known, but yet is believed, can be loved…Faith, therefore, avails to the knowledge and to the love of God, not as though of one wholly unknown or loved at all, but to the end and that He may be known more clearly and loved more steadfastly. (On the Trinity 8.4.9)[32]

 

Love spurs one on to seek God as the source of motivation. Interestingly, love is also the aim of seeking God in the first place. The point is not to know Him for the sake of knowing, but to love Him properly. I will dwell more on this topic in the next section.

 

Apart from purifying the mind to make it capable of seeing the truth, the three together sustain the mind’s attention in the face of danger and temptation even when vision is achieved.(Solil., I, 6, 12-7, 14) [33]Augustine anticipates that the mind will go on to do its proper work of inquiry and elucidation, for without such activity there can be no transition from the second phase of “looking” to the third stage of “seeing”; that is, the spiritual exercises of philosophical activity are needed if the mind is ever to become accustomed during the present life to the direct contemplation of the light. (Solil., I, 13, 23)[34]

 

Such attitude of faith, hope and love inspired by God’s grace and revelation can be called the aesthetic way. [35]This naming is probably due to the view that God dwells within the soul: “In Yourself above myself” He is the “beauty” which was “within”. (Conf. X. 26, 37 & 38) Through illumination, man comes to realize God’s presence or God’s image in man himself.  (Civ. Dei XI. 27) [36] The process of transformation works as below:

 

“During the process of purification, man’s fallen rationality is robbed of its pride and set in its place as secondary to authority, and man is reformed by an openness and attentiveness to the true and the good as it is revealed to him in the “form” of the temporal, mutable, created realm (including his own mind and soul). Augustine’s exegesis of Matthew 7:7 illustrates the enlightened will of man, the seeker: “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” One knocks at the text in ignorance, with a desire to find its meaning, which in turn feeds the one who searches, and leads him on to its truth. Such an approach is more “a matter of prayer than a wrangling approach to truth.”[37]

 

Man is hooked onto the true, good and beautiful in the truth. He keeps seeking and finding, and then further seeking and finding and so on. It is from both the Scriptures and the soul of the seeker himself where he learns about God. The seeker’s interactions with the truth (including questions and struggles) are best expressed in terms of prayers.

 

In fact, throughout the “Confessions” are prayers that express his various questions, exclamations, declarations of his own situations, and adorations of God. All these are words spoken from the bottom of his heart to God, but not merely utterances of his head -- mind. They arise from an overflow of his faith, hope and love for the truth about God and himself. Some of those prayers are monologues, but some, and quite many of them, are dialogues with God. Not only does his forceful reasoning take place in the conversations with God: “But how shall I call upon my God, my God and Lord? For when I call on him, I ask him to come into myself. And what room is there in me, where my God can come – God who made heaven and earth?”[38], but his strong feeling finds full expression there: “Let your works praise you, that we may love you; and let us love you, that your works may praise you, which have their beginning and ending in time, their rising and setting, their growth and decay, perfection and imperfection.”[39]

 

Therefore, the philosophy of St. Augustine is well balanced with sense and sensibility – reasoning and feeling, for it combines two very distinct elements: on the one hand, “an intellectual structure, subtle and rigorous analyses, a warp and woof of logic, a perpetual insistence on clarity, and a generally successful effort to achieve such intelligibility as might satisfy a mind possessed of the highest degree of acuteness and perspicacity” and on the other hand, “an impetuosity which masters every detail and seems to transport the whole soul far beyond the regions where dialectic, how vivid and swift, seems a mere bloodless and desiccated assortment of bones.”[40]  He captures the twists and turns, the ups and downs, the intricacies and delicacies in the seeker’s inner journey for his soul’s ultimate rest. Besides, he not only guides the reader with the direction, but also actually brings the reader to the destination in the end.

 

V. Behind faith is a choice of love or hate

 

When it is clear that faith is so crucial to our understanding of truth, how can we ignite or intensify faith? What is the critical point? Augustine puts forward that it is a choice between love and hate which determines if one has faith. That is, love leads to the will to believe --faith, while hate does not. Augustine argues that is not enough to build the concept of voluntas (will) simply on assent to propositions, on a combination of belief and desire, on intentions, decisions and judgments, or even on persistence in wanting. It is all a matter of man’s love and hate, by their orientation either to God or the Devil, just as it is two loves which have formed two cities, that is, the secular city and the City of God (14.28).[41] After all, we judge and are judged by our loves: “Give me a lover and he will understand what I am saying. Where our heart is, there is our treasure, and a secret love betrays itself in all that we do and think.  [42]Just as God says, if we love Him, we would choose to obey His commands. To do as He commands requires our love for Him. That is an act of love. Otherwise, we would not pay the costs to be incurred. 

 

To believe or not involves much more than rational analysis. [43]An act of the will according to one’s love or hate is most crucial. Augustine contends that we do not hold false moral and theological beliefs because of some mere error in our rationality; we do not assent “weakly” merely after some failure in rational calculation or in our rational habits, but often because we “love to” hold certain beliefs. When he himself succumbed over the famous theft of pears (2.4.9;2.8.16 etc),  the actions to be performed are in some sense “wanted”, even “loved”, for he both loved to do wrong and loved to be popular with his friends. [44]

 

Then, why can’t one will or choose to love but hate. The human predicament is that the will has been corrupted and disabled by sin to respond to the revelation of God by faith. It is destitute of the desire or love for God. Rather, it has a hatred of God and tends to reject or even fight against the Will of God. [45] The human will needs to be enlightened, so that it comes to desire and seek the truth in the first place and then it can perceive the truth and come to terms with God: “As the early De moribus ecclesiae catholicae indicates, the mind is weak and needs the guidance of authority; human wickedness clouds the light of truth and so suffers from “ignorance” that results from original sin and its accompanying weakness of will (difficultas). This weak will means that man does not always want to know, or even want to know what is good and true.”[46]

 

 To illustrate such weak will, Augustine uses the classic example of strict atheism: “The denial of God’s existence is often due to the moral corruption of atheists who are slaves of desires and so do not want to believe in goodness or recognize the truth. (De vera. Relig. 38.69 In Joannis evengelium tractatus 106.4; Enarr. In Ps. 53(52).2; cf De Trin. 8.3-4) These non-believers are morally underdeveloped or corrupt, or to put it more philosophically, that their moral and spiritual disposition are poorly attuned to reality. They are inadequately formed either because they have rejected the opportunity for Christian belief or because they have had no such opportunity. In either case they are unable (morally or spiritually) to assent to certain true propositions; they simply do not (or cannot) want to believe. ”[47] Some of them do not want God to interfere with their perverse ways of living, so they choose to deny His existence. Worse still, some strive to argue for His non-existence in order to assert their own false values.

 

In face of such enemies to the truth, Augustine would challenge them to present something better if he rejects Christianity. He himself had compared Faustus and the Bishop of Milan, that is comparing the life of sin and that of righteousness, and chose the latter: (De Utilitate Credendi, 26) “I, therefore, am resolved in nothing whatever to depart from the authority of Christ – for I do not find a stronger.” (Contra Academicos, III, 43) [48] He himself has gone through a long, winding quest for the truth, so he is authority in convincing others to go for what he has gained from experience. His confessions are not merely bubbling assumptions but sincere conclusions from his personal struggles and successes.

 

VI. Contemporary Significance of “From Faith to Understanding”

 

What insights could Augustine’s thought give us on reaching out to Mainland Chinese scholars? I think that he can encourage and facilitate us to cater to the needs of this group in at least two ways. Many Chinese scholars hesitate or hate to opt for Christianity, because they think this religion is unscientific and superstitious.  Many of them scholars have “scientific minds”; they “worship” science, especially the natural sciences and technology. Yet their ideas about science are not holistic in that they think religion is only a matter of metaphysics which goes against science and reason.[49] During the May 4th period and the two anti-Christian movements in 1922 and 1926, it was widely thought that all religions including Christianity are unscientific and irrational; they are superstitious tendencies that have arisen from the man’s misinterpretations of certain natural phenomena. [50]Therefore, religions should be replaced by science, as the education level of man keeps increasing. [51] Communism reinforces such anti-Christian sentiments, for it considers the Christian faith as a type of idealism, a wrong worldview and a kind of superstition. [52] The Chinese communists believe that man can entirely know and control the objective world through reason. They can then re-create the society into an ideal one free of all structural problems, that is, man can liberate himself with his intrinsic goodness. [53]

 

In view of such resistance, we can first tell them that Christians also value reason as the very nature of man given by God and strive to utilize it for understanding the truth:

 

“No one indeed believes anything, unless he has first thought that it is to be believed. For however suddenly, however rapidly, some thoughts fly before the will to believe… it is yet necessary that everything which is believed should be believed after thought has led the way; although belief itself is nothing other than to think with assent…. Every one who believes—both thinks in believing, and believes in thinking.” (On the Predestination of the Saints 5)[54]

 

Just as the above words reveal, Augustine stresses that faith and reason not only are not mutually exclusive, but they can also work well together for man in his search of truth. We could have a series of EBS (Evangelistic Bible Studies) with seekers to discuss various topics like the authority of the Bible, the human condition and the deity of Jesus Christ.  We would talk and walk with them as they (and we ourselves, too) explore and discover the truth. During the process, we can tell and show them how faith can help (with the examples of ourselves and others) them to understand the truth. Just as science gives us the eyes to perceive the physical realm, faith grants us the eyes to discern the spiritual realm. Science and faith are not mutually exclusive, but actually coexist well for the development of both is necessary for holistic personal growth, for authentic humanity. [55] In fact, one huge loss of modern man is that they over-emphasize technology and idolize materialism, thus leading to dehumanisation, depersonalisation and secularisation and alienation between man. [56]Faith in God can restore man to the abundant life promised when man has reconciliation with God and with fellow man.

 

We can encourage them to do experiments of faith (which is “scientific” in a sense!). That is, to have faith and express it through prayer – asking God to show them how His Word reflects and responds to the reality. Also, they could, by faith, try to think along the lines described in the Bible and see how that line of thought guides them to grapple with their concerns. We could assure them that such faith could enlighten them to understand the truth, because we human beings have been obstructed by sin to see clearly. Moreover, we could emphasize to them that God is open to those open to Him; He is a personal God who is pleased with our faith and ready to reveal to us more of Himself.

 

Another obstacle for Chinese scholars to accept Christianity is that, owing to past unpleasant experiences, many are resistant or even fearful of putting trust in anything or anyone whatsoever. They have been cheated and manipulated in matters of belief. Their hearts are hurt and so avoid religion or even they desire religion at heart, they choose not to seek it. The perversity and cruelty in human relationships have discouraged them to believe in others, not to say the Other – the transcendent God. [57] Many of them have received the education of communism and influenced by its ideals rather than by traditional Chinese morality. The shattering of those “impossible dreams” have frustrated them so much that it is very difficult if not impossible for them to believe in any ideal or religion. [58]

 

Worse still, since the June 4th Incident, Chinese scholars have been hurt and in need of sympathy and love. Though some have some knowledge of or about God, they dare not be converted, for fear of bringing trouble to their families.[59] Some are positive towards God, but their distrust of authority hinders them to believe in God.

 

In face of such fear of belief, we could try and tell Christian doctrine from below rather than from above, that is, addressing their feelings and experiences in daily life in order to bring out the existence of God and the meaning of believing in Him. [60] This down-to-earth way – way of immanence starts from God’s creation of man and His concern for man’s salvation. [61] This way, in extending our sympathy to them, we would help them to open themselves to disclose to us their thoughts and doubts. From there, we could show them how the Bible addresses their situations and questions.

 

During the process, we can stress the limitation of human morality and wisdom; it is understandable to be disappointed with the political turmoil and the “great leaders” in the past. In fact, as indicated in the Bible, original sin tells us that no-one is trustworthy. [62]Only God is trustworthy, and His Word worth believing for dealing with the human predicament of sin and other problems of life. This is the point at which to encourage them to take a step of faith. We could firmly but gently encourage them to try out the suggestions or wisdom from God’s Word by faith. We shall expect them to experience God’s presence and power and come to understand the truths about God and begin to foster faith in Him. Just as Augustine himself encounters God in his urgent and important yearnings: “Augustine’s prayerful cry in the Confessions: ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, God’ has the same function as Aquinas’ refrain at the end of each of  ‘five ways’ for proving the existence of God: ‘This is what everyone calls God.’ Augustine’s way is neither cosmological nor ontological, but existential, experiential, but that God is what one recognizes when radically faced with oneself. For when one confronted with the self, one looks at one’s limitations.” [63]

 

Moreover, it is actually love and faith which are needed to rebuild China. [64]They are needed to comfort and heal the Chinese of their past suffering and pain. After all, love, faith and hope are the basic desires God put in man.  This “trinity” is also what leads to understanding of God Himself. As discussed earlier, Augustine believes that the three purify the polluted mind of man to accept and appreciate the light of truth, to like and love God and His Will. We Christians, have to be aware that during the process, it is not only the Word of God they are observing, but also our lives as the Work of God which they are studying. We are not merely talking about the promises of God, but walking in them. In fact, our genuine care for these seekers demonstrate to them how faith is possible – Christians are really followers of Christ who are walking what they are talking about! 

 

VII. Limitations and Conclusion

 

Augustine’s thought has, of course, its limitations. In his works, he has also hinted at the primacy of reason in understanding of the truth. In the following two instances, he suggests that reason precedes faith in reality, though not in time. One is “In point of time, authority is first; but in the order of reality, reason is prior.” (“Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil 2.9, FOC) The other is “(Faith) has priority by the order; not of nature or its inherent excellence, but of time.” (“Of True Religion 24. TR) [65] As his other works claim, as faith comes before reason just in the order of sequence but not in terms of significance. The relationship between faith and reason is then not as clear-cut as we think and cannot be easily weighed for their respective degrees of importance for the understanding of truth.

 

Besides, the role of mystical experience may have a strong bearing on his ability to exercise faith.  Without those experiences, he may not have come to the understanding of truth or even the conversion that he has. As he wonders how to conceive God, he has heard a mystical voice which replies to his question:

 

“And I said, ‘Is Truth, then, nothing at all, since it is not spread out through finite or infinite space?’ And you cried to me from afar, ‘Yes, truly I AM THAT I AM.’ And I heard, as the heart hears and had no room to doubt I would rather have doubted that I was alive than that Truth is, which is clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” [66]

 

The reply is clearly crucial to his acknowledging the existence and essence of God, and to put faith in Him. In fact, at many points in his faith life, mystical experience plays a prominent role in deepening his relationship with God: “Sometimes thou admittest me to an affection, very unusual, in my inmost soul, rising to a strange sweetness, in which, if it were perfected in me, I know now what would not belong to the life to come” (Confessions, X, xi) [….] when he is discussing the ecstasies of St. Paul, he insists on his alienation from normal consciousness. And as we shall see, he assimilates all mystical experience – all direct intuition of God – to these Pauline raptures.” [67] Therefore, the faith he advocates is more than simple faith -- faith in God and His Word but a faith that is to a great extent indebted to mystic experience.

 

In spite of these limitations, Augustine has formulated a rational and coherent theological system which reconciles the power of an omnipotent god and both the goodness and justice of that god and the freedom and responsibility of creatures for their choices and their actions. [68]It also presents us with a magnificent cosmic drama in which God directs all things and calls back to himself those fallen souls whose misdirected wills have cast them into a corruption so deep that only the grace of God can give them hope of returning to beatitude. [69] It is also sensible that Augustine always makes a final reservation as he leads us closer to the vision of God, for God is infinite and our finite minds cannot wholly comprehend Him even when God Himself illumines our understanding:

 

“In this humility concerning the limits of reason Augustine takes up a position which is relevant to our own day. Those who resist rigid dogmatizing either of traditional faiths or of the results of science find him a liberating influence. The wise believer knows the mystery of God and distrusts all neatly packaged systems. For all Augustinians the infinite God is a continual source of freedom for all new reflection.” [70]

 

He wisely maintains an attitude of openness and patience in formulating his understanding of the truth. No matter how far we go in our journey with faith, our understanding of God would be limited, very partial in relation to His whole. Such limitation has two implications. We are motivated to keep searching in the unlimited riches of His mysteries. We will keep finding more and cherishing more of Him. The other implication is that however persistent our efforts are in understanding Him, we will never come to a complete picture of what He really is. We cannot be satisfied but ever puzzled with His ways. All we can do is to keep searching directly from God, not man or angels, so that we could have rest, as he says in the Confessions: “We must ask it of you, seek for it in you, knock for it at your gate. Only so, even so shall we receive; so shall we find; so it shall be opened to us. Amen.”[71]

 

Eventually, we hope to see Him face to face on that day, when we would finally understand all about Him and all we are to do then is to love Him and praise Him forevermore: For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known. But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corin. 13: 12-13)[72]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VIII. Bibliography

 

Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says. Edited by Norman L. Geisler. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Book House, c1982.

 

Barton, John M.  “Faith and Reason in Augustine, ” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 142-150 ; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

 

Battenhouse, Roy W. , ed. A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955.

 

Blondel, M. and others. “The Latent Resources in St. Augustine’s Thought”, Saint Augustine. New York: Meridian books, 1957.

 

D’Arcy, M.C, and others. “The Philosophy of St. Augustine”. Saint Augustine. New York: Meridian books, 1957.

 

Gundersdorf Von Jess, Wilma. ‘Reason as Propaedeutic to Faith in Augustine’ International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 5: 4 (Wint, 1974): 230; SpringerLink (accessed 12 May, 2009).

 

Harrison, Carol. Beauty and revelation in the thought of Saint Augustine.
Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1992.

 

Kristo, J. G. Looking for God in Time and Memory: Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Augustine's Confessions. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, c1991.

 

Martin, Thomas F. Our Restless Heart: The Augustinian Tradition. London: Darton Longman & Todd, 2003.

 

New American Standard Bible; available from <http://www.biblegateway.com>

 

Price, Richard. Augustine. Liguori, Mo. : Triumph, 1997.

 

Rist, John. “Faith and Reason”. The Cambridge Companion to Augustine. Edited by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

St. Augustine. The Confessions. Translated by Hal M. Helms. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 1986.

 

TeSelle, Eugene. Augustine, the Theologian. London : Burns & Oates, [1970].

 

Watkin, E. I, and others. “The Mysticism of St. Augustine”. Saint Augustine. New York: Meridian books, 1957.

 

黃文超著。《加拿大中國大陸移民福音事工的挑戰》。加拿大: 恩福協會,2008

 

蘇文峰。《海外中國學人事工手冊》。美國:海外校園,1995。

 

 

 



[1]  T. Kermit Scott, Augustine: His Thought in Context (New York: Paulist Press, c1995), 17.

[2] T. Kermit Scott, Augustine: His thought in Context, 17.

[3] John M. Barton,  Faith and Reason in Augustine, ” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 142; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

[4] Eugene TeSelle, Augustine, the Theologian (London: Burns & Oates, [1970]), 128.

[5] Eugene TeSelle, Augustine, the Theologian, 128.

[6]  Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says, ed. by Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, c1982), 16.

[7] Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says, 16.

[8] Roy W. Battenhouse, ed., A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1955), 6.

[9] Roy W. Battenhouse, ed., A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine, 6.

[10] Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says, 16-17.

[11] John M. Barton,  Faith and Reason in Augustine, ” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 143; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

[12] Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says, 17.

[13] John Rist, “Faith and Reason”. The Cambridge Companion to Augustine, ed. Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 32.

[14] John Rist, “Faith and Reason”, 32.

[15] John Rist, “Faith and Reason”, 32.

[16] Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says, 18.

[17] John M. Barton,  Faith and Reason in Augustine, ” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 144; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

[18] John M. Barton,  Faith and Reason in Augustine, ” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 144; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

[19] John M. Barton,  Faith and Reason in Augustine, ” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 144; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

[20] Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says, 28.

[21] Richard Price, Augustine (Liguori, Mo. : Triumph, 1997), 10.

[22] Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says, 29.

[23] New American Standard Bible; available from <http://www.biblegateway.com> (accessed 30 May, 2009).

[24] Roy W. Battenhouse, ed. , A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine, 6.

[25] John M. Barton,  Faith and Reason in Augustine, ” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 146; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

[26] John M. Barton,  Faith and Reason in Augustine, ” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 146; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

[27] New American Standard Bible; available from <http://www.biblegateway.com> (accessed 30 May, 2009).

[28] Thomas F. Martin, Our Restless Heart: The Augustinian Tradition  (London: Darton Longman & Todd, 2003), 12.

[29] Thomas F. Martin, Our Restless Heart, 12.

[30] Eugene TeSelle, Augustine, the Theologian, 74.

[31] New American Standard Bible; available from <http://www.biblegateway.com> (accessed 30 May, 2009).

[32] Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says, 19.

[33] Eugene TeSelle, Augustine, the Theologian, 77.

[34] Eugene TeSelle, Augustine, the Theologian, 77.

[35] Carol Harrison, Beauty and revelation in the thought of Saint Augustine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992, 243.

[36] John M. Barton,  Faith and Reason in Augustine,” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 148; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

[38] St. Augustine. The Confessions. Translated by Hal M. Helms (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 1986), 2.

[39] St. Augustine. The Confessions, 312.

[40] M. Blondel, and others, “The Latent Resources of St. Augustine”, Saint Augustine (New York: Meridian books, 1957), 320.

[41] John Rist, “Faith and Reason”, 35.

[42] D’Arcy, M.C, and others, “The Philosophy of St. Augustine”, Saint Augustine (New York: Meridian books, 1957), 192.

[43] John Rist, “Faith and Reason”, 36.

[44] John Rist, “Faith and Reason”, 37.

[45] John Rist, “Faith and Reason”, 28.

[46] John Rist, “Faith and Reason”, 28.

[47] John Rist, “Faith and Reason”, 32.

[48] John M. Barton,  Faith and Reason in Augustine, ” Restoration Quarterly 9: 3 (1966): 150; ATLA, EBSHOST (accessed 25 May, 2009).

[49]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》(美國:海外校園,1995)2-1

[50]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-2

[51]黃文超著: 《加拿大中國大陸移民福音事工的挑戰》(加拿大: 恩福協會,2008)125

[52]黃文超著: 《加拿大中國大陸移民福音事工的挑戰》,129

[53]黃文超著: 《加拿大中國大陸移民福音事工的挑戰》,131

[54] Gundersdorf Von Jess, Wilma. ‘Reason as Propaedeutic to Faith in Augustine’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 5: 4 (Wint, 1974): 230; SpringerLink (accessed 12 May, 2009).

[55]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-8

[56]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-8

[57]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-1

[58]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-2

[59]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-2 3

[60]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-5

[61]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-6

[62]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-6

[63] J. G. Kristo, Looking for God in Time and Memory: Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Augustine's Confessions (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, c1991), 75

[64]蘇文峰:《海外中國學人事工手冊》,2-7

[65] Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. What Augustine Says, 14.

[66] St. Augustine, The Confessions, 123.

[67] Watkin, E. I, and others, “The Mysticism of St. Augustine” (Saint Augustine. New York: Meridian books, 1957), 111.

[68] T. Kermit Scott, Augustine: His Thought in Context, 13.

[69] T. Kermit Scott, Augustine: His Thought in Context, 13.

[70] Thomas F. Martin, Our Restless Heart, 7.

[71] St. Augustine, The Confessions, 315.

[72] New American Standard Bible; available from <http://www.biblegateway.com> (accessed 30 May, 2009).