Excerpts from St. Augustine’s On Free Choice of the Will (trans. Benjamin and Hackstaff), City of God (trans. Dods), & Confessions (trans. Pilkington), relating to faith and reason
On Free Choice of the Will
Book I.1.8-9 (book, chapter, section): “At least you think that understanding is good?”
“Yes, I think it so good that I do not see anything in man that could be more excellent, and I assert that there is no kind of understanding which can be evil.”
* * *
“If, therefore, every kind of understanding is good and no one learns who does not understand, then everyone who learns is doing good. For everyone who learns, understands; and everyone who understands is doing good. Therefore, whoever seeks the cause of our learning something is surely asking for the cause of our doing good. So stop trying to find some unknown evil teacher. If he is evil, he is not a teacher; if he is a teacher, he is not evil.”
Book I.2.11: “For God will aid us and will make us understand what we believe. This is the course prescribed by the prophet [Isaiah, 7:9] who says, ‘Unless you believe, you shall not understand, [cp., credo ut intelligam]’ and we are aware that we consider this course good for us.”
Book I.2.13: “Be of brave spirit and believe what you believe, for there is nothing worthier of belief, even though the reason why it is true may lie hidden.”
Book I.6.42: “But let us examine carefully, if you will, how far evil deeds are to be punished by the law that governs people in this life. Then let us see what remains, to be punished by divine providence inevitably and in secret.”
“I should like to, if only it might be possible to reach a conclusion in such a great question. For I think the problem limitless.”
“Yes, but have courage; lean upon piety and follow the paths of reason. There is nothing so hard and difficult that it cannot be made clear and obvious by God’s help.”
Book II.2.17-19: “[W]e cannot abandon the position we adopted at the beginning of the first discourse [Book I]. Unless believing is different from understanding, and unless we first believe the great and divine thing that we desire to understand, the prophet has said in vain, ‘Unless you believe, you shall not understand.’ Our Lord Himself, by His words and deeds, first urged those whom He called to salvation to believe. Afterwards, when He spoke about the gift He was to give to those who believed, He did not say, ‘This is life eternal so that they may believe.’ Instead He said, ‘This is life eternal that they may know Thee, the one true God and Him whom Thou didst send, Jesus Christ.’ Then, to those who believed, He said, ‘Seek and ye shall find.’ For what is believed without being known cannot be said to have been found, and no one can become fit for finding God unless he believes first what he shall know afterwards. Therefore, in obedience to the teachings of our Lord, let us seek earnestly. That which we seek at God’s bidding we shall find when He Himself shows us—as far as it can be found in this life and by such men as we are. We must believe that these things are seen and grasped more clearly and fully by better men even while they dwell in this world, and surely by all good and devout men after this life. So we must hope and, disdaining worldly and human things, must love and desire divine things.”
City of God
Book XXII.24. Of the Blessings with Which the Creator Has Filled This Life, Obnoxious Though It Be to the Cursed. But we must now contemplate the rich and countless blessings with which the goodness of God, who cares for all He has created, has filled this very misery of the human race, which reflects His retributive justice. . . .
It is He, then, who has given to the human soul a mind, in which reason and understanding lie as it were asleep during infancy, and as if they were not, destined, however, to be awakened and exercised as years increase, so as to become capable of knowledge and of receiving instruction, fit to understand what is true and to love what is good. It is by this capacity the soul drinks in wisdom, and becomes endowed with those virtues by which, in prudence, fortitude, temperance, and righteousness, it makes war upon error and the other inborn vices, and conquers them by fixing its desires upon no other object than the supreme and unchangeable Good. And even though this be not uniformly the result, yet who can competently utter or even conceive the grandeur of this work of the Almighty, and the unspeakable boon He has conferred upon our rational nature, by giving us even the capacity of such attainment? For over and above those arts which are called virtues, and which teach us how we may spend our life well, and attain to endless happiness—arts which are given to the children of the promise and the kingdom by the sole grace of God which is in Christ—has not the genius of man invented and applied countless astonishing arts, partly the result of necessity, partly the result of exuberant invention, so that this vigor of mind, which is so active in the discovery not merely of superfluous but even of dangerous and destructive things, betokens an inexhaustible wealth in the nature which can invent, learn, or employ such arts? What wonderful— one might say stupefying— advances has human industry made in the arts of weaving and building, of agriculture and navigation! With what endless variety are designs in pottery, painting, and sculpture produced, and with what skill executed! What wonderful spectacles are exhibited in the theatres, which those who have not seen them cannot credit! How skillful the contrivances for catching, killing, or taming wild beasts! And for the injury of men, also, how many kinds of poisons, weapons, engines of destruction, have been invented, while for the preservation or restoration of health the appliances and remedies are infinite! To provoke appetite and please the palate, what a variety of seasonings have been concocted! To express and gain entrance for thoughts, what a multitude and variety of signs there are, among which speaking and writing hold the first place! What ornaments has eloquence at command to delight the mind! What wealth of song is there to captivate the ear! How many musical instruments and strains of harmony have been devised! What skill has been attained in measures and numbers! With what sagacity have the movements and connections of the stars been discovered! Who could tell the thought that has been spent upon nature, even though, despairing of recounting it in detail, he endeavored only to give a general view of it? In fine, even the defence of errors and misapprehensions, which has illustrated the genius of heretics and philosophers, cannot be sufficiently declared. For at present it is the nature of the human mind which adorns this mortal life which we are extolling, and not the faith and the way of truth which lead to immortality. And since this great nature has certainly been created by the true and supreme God, who administers all things He has made with absolute power and justice, it could never have fallen into these miseries, nor have gone out of them to miseries eternal, — saving only those who are redeemed,— had not an exceeding great sin been found in the first man from whom the rest have sprung.
Book VIII, Chapter 6 (VIII.6):
These philosophers, then, whom we see not undeservedly exalted above the rest in fame and glory, have seen that no material body is God, and therefore they have transcended all bodies in seeking for God. They have seen that whatever is changeable is not the most high God, and therefore they have transcended every soul and all changeable spirits in seeking the supreme. They have seen also that, in every changeable thing, the form which makes it that which it is, whatever be its mode or nature, can only be through Him who truly is, because He is unchangeable. And therefore, whether we consider the whole body of the world, its figure, qualities, and orderly movement, and also all the bodies which are in it; or whether we consider all life, either that which nourishes and maintains, as the life of trees, or that which, besides this, has also sensation, as the life of beasts; or that which adds to all these intelligence, as the life of man; or that which does not need the support of nutriment, but only maintains, feels, understands, as the life of angels—all can only be through Him who absolutely is. For to Him it is not one thing to be, and another to live, as though He could be, not living; nor is it to Him one thing to live, and another thing to understand, as though He could live, not understanding; nor is it to Him one thing to understand, another thing to be blessed, as though He could understand and not be blessed. But to Him to live, to understand, to be blessed, are to be. They have understood, from this unchangeableness and this simplicity, that all things must have been made by Him, and that He could Himself have been made by none. For they have considered that whatever [exists] is either body or life, and that life is something better than body, and that the nature of body is sensible, and that of life intelligible. Therefore they have preferred the intelligible nature to the sensible. We mean by sensible things such things as can be perceived by the sight and touch of the body; by intelligible things, such as can be understood by the sight of the mind. For there is no corporeal beauty, whether in the condition of a body, as figure, or in its movement, as in music, of which it is not the mind that judges. But this could never have been, had there not existed in the mind itself a superior form of these things, without bulk, without noise of voice, without space and time. But even in respect of these things, had the mind not been mutable, it would not have been possible for one to judge better than another with regard to sensible forms. He who is clever, judges better than he who is slow, he who is skilled than he who is unskillful, he who is practiced than he who is unpracticed; and the same person judges better after he has gained experience than he did before. But that which is capable of more and less is mutable; whence able men, who have thought deeply on these things, have gathered that the first form is not to be found in those things whose form is changeable. Since, therefore, they saw that body and mind might be more or less beautiful in form, and that, if they wanted form, they could have no existence, they saw that there is some existence in which is the first form, unchangeable, and therefore not admitting of degrees of comparison, and in that they most rightly believed was the first principle of things which was not made, and by which all things were made. Therefore that which is known of God He manifested to them when His invisible things were seen by them, being understood by those things which have been made; also His eternal power and Godhead by whom all visible and temporal things have been created. Romans 1:19-20 We have said enough upon that part of theology which they call physical, that is, natural.
Book XI, Chapter 2 (XI.2):
It is a great and very rare thing for a man, after he has contemplated the whole creation, corporeal and incorporeal, and has discerned its mutability, to pass beyond it, and, by the continued soaring of his mind, to attain to the unchangeable substance of God, and, in that height of contemplation, to learn from God Himself that none but He has made all that is not of the divine essence. For God speaks with a man not by means of some audible creature dinning in his ears, so that atmospheric vibrations connect Him that makes with him that hears the sound, nor even by means of a spiritual being with the semblance of a body, such as we see in dreams or similar states; for even in this case He speaks as if to the ears of the body, because it is by means of the semblance of a body He speaks, and with the appearance of a real interval of space—for visions are exact representations of bodily objects. Not by these, then, does God speak, but by the truth itself, if anyone is prepared to hear with the mind rather than with the body. For He speaks to that part of man which is better than all else that is in him, and than which God Himself alone is better. For since man is most properly understood (or, if that cannot be, then, at least, believed) to be made in God's image, no doubt it is that part of him by which he rises above those lower parts he has in common with the beasts, which brings him nearer to the Supreme. But since the mind itself, though naturally capable of reason and intelligence is disabled by besotting and inveterate vices not merely from delighting and abiding in, but even from tolerating His unchangeable light, until it has been gradually healed, and renewed, and made capable of such felicity, it had, in the first place, to be impregnated with faith, and so purified. And that in this faith it might advance the more confidently towards the truth, the truth itself, God, God's Son, assuming humanity without destroying His divinity, established and founded this faith, that there might be a way for man to man's God through a God-man. For this is the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. For it is as man that He is the Mediator and the Way. Since, if the way lies between him who goes, and the place whither he goes, there is hope of his reaching it; but if there be no way, or if he know not where it is, what boots it to know whither he should go? Now the only way that is infallibly secured against all mistakes, is when the very same person is at once God and man, God our end, man our way.
Book XI, Chapter 3 (XI.3):
This Mediator, having spoken what He judged sufficient first by the prophets, then by His own lips, and afterwards by the apostles, has besides produced the Scripture which is called canonical, which has paramount authority, and to which we yield assent in all matters of which we ought not to be ignorant, and yet cannot know of ourselves. For if we attain the knowledge of present objects by the testimony of our own senses, whether internal or external, then, regarding objects remote from our own senses, we need others to bring their testimony, since we cannot know them by our own, and we credit the persons to whom the objects have been or are sensibly present. Accordingly, as in the case of visible objects which we have not seen, we trust those who have, (and likewise with all sensible objects,) so in the case of things which are perceived by the mind and spirit, i.e., which are remote from our own interior sense, it behooves us to trust those who have seen them set in that incorporeal light, or abidingly contemplate them.
Book V, Chapter 3 ¶¶ 3-6 (abbreviated V.3.3-6):
¶3. Let me lay bare before my God that twenty-ninth year of my age. There had at this time come to Carthage a certain bishop of the Manichæans, by name Faustus, a great snare of the devil, and many were entangled by him through the allurement of his smooth speech; the which, although I did commend, yet could I separate from the truth of those things which I was eager to learn. Nor did I esteem the small dish of oratory so much as the science, which their so-praised Faustus placed before me to feed upon. Fame, indeed, had before spoken of him to me, as most skilled in all becoming learning, and pre-eminently skilled in the liberal sciences. And as I had read and retained in memory many injunctions of the philosophers, I used to compare some teachings of theirs with those long fables of the Manichæans and the former things which they declared, who could only prevail so far as to estimate this lower world, while its lord they could by no means find out, [Wisdom 13:9] seemed to me the more probable. For You are great, O Lord, and hast respect unto the lowly, but the proud You know afar off. Nor do You draw near but to the contrite heart, nor are You found by the proud—not even could they number by cunning skill the stars and the sand, and measure the starry regions, and trace the courses of the planets.
¶4. For with their understanding and the capacity which You have bestowed upon them they search out these things; and much have they found out, and foretold many years before—the eclipses of those luminaries, the sun and moon, on what day, at what hour, and from how many particular points they were likely to come. Nor did their calculation fail them; and it came to pass even as they foretold. And they wrote down the rules found out, which are read at this day; and from these others foretell in what year and in what month of the year, and on what day of the month, and at what hour of the day, and at what quarter of its light, either moon or sun is to be eclipsed, and thus it shall be even as it is foretold. And men who are ignorant of these things marvel and are amazed, and they that know them exult and are exalted; and by an impious pride, departing from You, and forsaking Your light, they foretell a failure of the sun's light which is likely to occur so long before, but see not their own, which is now present. For they seek not religiously whence they have the ability where-with they seek out these things. And finding that You have made them, they give not themselves up to You, that You may preserve what You have made, nor sacrifice themselves to You, even such as they have made themselves to be; nor do they slay their own pride, as fowls of the air, nor their own curiosities, by which (like the fishes of the sea) they wander over the unknown paths of the abyss, nor their own extravagance, as the beasts of the field, that Thou, Lord, a consuming fire, [Deuteronomy 4:24] may burn up their lifeless cares and renew them immortally.
¶5. But the way—Your Word, [John 1:3] by whom Thou made these things which they number, and themselves who number, and the sense by which they perceive what they number, and the judgment out of which they number—they knew not, and that of Your wisdom there is no number. But the Only-begotten has been made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, [1 Corinthians 1:30] and has been numbered among us, and paid tribute to Cæsar. [Matthew 17:27]. This way, by which they might descend to Him from themselves, they knew not; nor that through Him they might ascend unto Him. This way they knew not, and they think themselves exalted with the stars [Isaiah 14:13] and shining, and lo! They fell upon the earth, Revelation 12:4 and their foolish heart was darkened. [Romans 1:21] They say many true things concerning the created universe; but Truth, the Artificer of the created universe, they seek not with devotion, and hence they find Him not. Or if they find Him, knowing that He is God, they glorify Him not as God, neither are they thankful, [Romans 1:21] but become vain in their imaginations, and say that they themselves are wise, [Romans 1:22] attributing to themselves what is Yours; and by this, with most perverse blindness, they desire to impute to You what is their own, forging lies against You who art the Truth, and changing the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things [Romans 1:23]—changing Your truth into a lie, and worshipping and serving the created universe more than the Creator. [Romans 1:25]
¶6. Many truths, however, concerning the created universe did I retain from these men, and the cause appeared to me from calculations, the succession of seasons, and the visible manifestations of the stars; and I compared them with the sayings of Manichæus, who in his frenzy has written most extensively on these subjects, but discovered not any account either of the solstices, or the equinoxes, the eclipses of the luminaries, or anything of the kind I had learned in the books of secular philosophy. But therein I was ordered to believe, and yet it corresponded not with those rules acknowledged by calculation and my own sight, but was far different.
Book V, Chapter 5, ¶¶8-9 (V.5.8-9):
¶8. But yet who was it that ordered Manichæus to write on these things likewise, skill in which was not necessary to piety? For You have told man to behold piety and wisdom, of which he might be in ignorance although having a complete knowledge of these other things; but since, knowing not these things, he yet most impudently dared to teach them, it is clear that he had no acquaintance with piety. For even when we have a knowledge of these worldly matters, it is folly to make a profession of them; but confession to You is piety. It was therefore with this view that this straying one spoke much of these matters, that, standing convicted by those who had in truth learned them, the understanding that he really had in those more difficult things might be made plain. For he wished not to be lightly esteemed, but went about trying to persuade men that the Holy Ghost, the Comforter and Enricher of Your faithful ones, was with full authority personally resident in him. When, therefore, it was discovered that his teaching concerning the heavens and stars, and the motions of sun and moon, was false, though these things do not relate to the doctrine of religion, yet his sacrilegious arrogance would become sufficiently evident, seeing that not only did he affirm things of which he knew nothing, but also perverted them, and with such egregious vanity of pride as to seek to attribute them to himself as to a divine being.
¶9. For when I hear a Christian brother ignorant of these things, or in error concerning them, I can bear with patience to see that man hold to his opinions; nor can I apprehend that any want of knowledge as to the situation or nature of this material creation can be injurious to him, so long as he does not entertain belief in anything unworthy of You, O Lord, the Creator of all. But if he conceives it to pertain to the form of the doctrine of piety, and presumes to affirm with great obstinacy that whereof he is ignorant, therein lies the injury. And yet even a weakness such as this in the dawn of faith is borne by our Mother Charity, till the new man may grow up unto a perfect man, and not be carried about with every wind of doctrine. Ephesians 4:13-14 But in him who thus presumed to be at once the teacher, author, head, and leader of all whom he could induce to believe this, so that all who followed him believed that they were following not a simple man only, but Your Holy Spirit, who would not judge that such great insanity, when once it stood convicted of false teaching, should be abhorred and utterly cast off? But I had not yet clearly ascertained whether the changes of longer and shorter days and nights, and day and night itself, with the eclipses of the greater lights, and whatever of the like kind I had read in other books, could be expounded consistently with his words. Should I have found myself able to do so, there would still have remained a doubt in my mind whether it were so or no, although I might, on the strength of his reputed godliness, rest my faith on his authority.
Book VI, Chapter 5, ¶¶7-8 (VI.5.7-8):
7. From this, however, being led to prefer the Catholic [to Manichean] doctrine, I felt that it was with more moderation and honesty that it commanded things to be believed that were not demonstrated (whether it was that they could be demonstrated, but not to any one, or could not be demonstrated at all), than was the method of the Manichæans, where our credulity was mocked by audacious promise of knowledge, and then so many most fabulous and absurd things were forced upon belief because they were not capable of demonstration. After that, O Lord, You, little by little, with most gentle and most merciful hand, drawing and calming my heart, persuaded taking into consideration what a multiplicity of things which I had never seen, nor was present when they were enacted, like so many of the things in secular history, and so many accounts of places and cities which I had not seen; so many of friends, so many of physicians, so many now of these men, now of those, which unless we should believe, we should do nothing at all in this life; lastly, with how unalterable an assurance I believed of what parents I was born, which it would have been impossible for me to know otherwise than by hearsay—taking into consideration all this, You persuade me that not they who believed Your books (which, with so great authority, You have established among nearly all nations), but those who believed them not were to be blamed; and that those men were not to be listened unto who should say to me, How do you know that those Scriptures were imparted unto mankind by the Spirit of the one true and most true God? For it was the same thing that was most of all to be believed, since no wranglings of blasphemous questions, whereof I had read so many among the self-contradicting philosophers, could once wring the belief from me that You are—whatsoever You were, though what I knew not—or that the government of human affairs belongs to You.
8. Thus much I believed, at one time more strongly than another, yet did I ever believe both that You were, and had a care of us, although I was ignorant both what was to be thought of Your substance, and what way led, or led back to You. Seeing, then, that we were too weak by unaided reason to find out the truth, and for this cause needed the authority of the holy writings, I had now begun to believe that You would by no means have given such excellency of authority to those Scriptures throughout all lands, had it not been Your will thereby to be believed in, and thereby sought. For now those things which heretofore appeared incongruous to me in the Scripture, and used to offend me, having heard various of them expounded reasonably, I referred to the depth of the mysteries, and its authority seemed to me all the more venerable and worthy of religious belief, in that, while it was visible for all to read it, it reserved the majesty of its secret within its profound significance, stooping to all in the great plainness of its language and lowliness of its style, yet exercising the application of such as are not light of heart; that it might receive all into its common bosom, and through narrow passages waft over some few towards You, yet many more than if it did not stand upon such a height of authority, nor allured multitudes within its bosom by its holy humility. These things I meditated upon, and You were with me; I sighed, and You heard me; I vacillated, and You guided me; I roamed through the broad way Matthew 7:13 of the world, and You did not desert me.
Book VII, Chapter 17, ¶23 (VII.17.23):
23. And I marvelled that I now loved You, and no phantasm instead of You. And yet I did not merit to enjoy my God, but was transported to You by Your beauty, and presently torn away from You by my own weight, sinking with grief into these inferior things. This weight was carnal custom. Yet was there a remembrance of You with me; nor did I any way doubt that there was one to whom I might cleave, but that I was not yet one who could cleave unto You; for that the body which is corrupted presses down the soul, and the earthly dwelling weighs down the mind which thinks upon many things. [Wisdom 9:15] And most certain I was that Your invisible things from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even Your eternal power and Godhead. [Romans 1:20] For, inquiring whence it was that I admired the beauty of bodies whether celestial or terrestrial, and what supported me in judging correctly on things mutable, and pronouncing, This should be thus, this not,— inquiring, then, whence I so judged, seeing I did so judge, I had found the unchangeable and true eternity of Truth, above my changeable mind. And thus, by degrees, I passed from bodies to the soul, which makes use of the senses of the body to perceive; and thence to its inward faculty, to which the bodily senses represent outward things, and up to which reach the capabilities of beasts; and thence, again, I passed on to the reasoning faculty, unto which whatever is received from the senses of the body is referred to be judged, which also, finding itself to be variable in me, raised itself up to its own intelligence, and from habit drew away my thoughts, withdrawing itself from the crowds of contradictory phantasms; that so it might find out that light by which it was besprinkled, when, without all doubting, it cried out, that the unchangeable was to be preferred before the changeable; whence also it knew that unchangeable, which, unless it had in some way known, it could have had no sure ground for preferring it to the changeable. And thus, with the flash of a trembling glance, it arrived at that which is. And then I saw Your invisible things understood by the things that are made. [Romans 1:20] But I was not able to fix my gaze thereon; and my infirmity being beaten back, I was thrown again on my accustomed habits, carrying along with me naught but a loving memory thereof, and an appetite for what I had, as it were, smelt the odour of, but was not yet able to eat.