‘And again, which comes first – knowing you or invoking you in prayer? Yet how can anyone invoke you without knowing you? In ignorance they may invoke something else, mistaking it for you. Perhaps then you should be invoked instead, so that you can be known? Yet how will they invoke one in whom they have not believed?’– Saint. Aurelius Augustine, The Confessions, Book I
The religion of Christianity is said to have been given a philosophy by God’s grace, plus the grace of this influential theologian and philosopher. After reading Saint Augustine’s writings one finds philosophical enquiry available after every section of the literature. In this essay I will not be only discussing Augustine’s use of confessing here, instead one will be arguing in support of two thesis, that refute the epistemology of Augustine’s Christian philosophy, and in doing so articulate a fresh understanding of the mysteries of medieval knowledge.2 The deductions one has made are as follows: based on the Christian doctrines one has either knowledge or free will, but not both simultaneously. Furthermore, when we approach St.Augustine being critical towards the epistemological parts of his thinking one observes fallacious elements of the Christian theory of knowledge. Suggesting this is not just an expression of one’s own belief it is a critical pursuit and re-thinking of the epistemological aspects of the Christian philosophy and how medieval thought still offers much to learn from; being very much open to contemporary reflections.
Firstly, I will explain my main argument then I will offer evidence for and against my assertion referencing the writings of this powerful religious thinker, that clearly demonstrate what he thought and the context of his thinking. In many ways St. Augustine is responsible for the system of knowledge Christianity still uses today. But, one can see in the opening quote that St. Augustine in his own time was well aware that his religion needed a strong philosophy. This Theologian did succeed in a spectacular way, however the exact manner in which knowledge and free will function within Christianity remains mysterious. Resulting in the following argument: Knowledge can only be Sapientia or Scientia. All humans who have faith in God have Sapientia, and all humans who have faith in the world have Scientia. Therefore all humans have either faith in God or faith in the world. Resulting in knowledge and faith being disjunctive (see, formal argument).i There is evidence in support of St. Augustine which one will describe, but they will also be shown to be insufficient.
Let us first understand this “or” relationship between knowledge and faith; what are its origins in the early medieval period. St.Augustine’s thought is tinged with Neo-platonism, self evident in his admiration for Plato’s acknowledgement of the creator God, and the influence of the Neo-platonists Plotinus and Porphyry. The influence of Plotinus can be seen in Augustine’s emphasis on the Light of the lord; taken from the concept of emanation – how things are given or originate from the One.3 Porphyry a student of Plotinus in Rome is more important to this refutation because he was a pagan enemy of the Christian Church and his attacks on the religion invited an aggressive dismissal from St. Augustine.4 In book X of The City of God, St. Augustine begins by suggesting human understanding to be weak, and philosophers to have wasted their time in angry controversies, ‘1. That the Platonists have confirmed that God alone can confer happiness either on angels or men, but that it yet remains a question whether those spirits whom they direct us to worship, that we may obtain happiness, wish sacrifice to be offered to themselves, or to the one God only.5’ Here with his rejection of a pagan theurgy, in an understanding of God as light one sees the beginnings of Christian utopianism and the epistemic path St.Augustine traced.
‘3. (4) To be sure I continued to consult those cheats known as astrologers, because it seemed to be the case that they practised no sacrifice nor did they invoke any spirits in making their predictions. Even so, true Christian faith quite properly rejects and condemns that art … They try to destroy that entire message of salvation when they say, “The cause of your sinning is unavoidable and is sent from heaven,” and, “Venus did this – or Saturn – or Mars”! This is obviously done to absolve human beings – who are flesh and blood and proud putrefaction – from all blame; by making the Creator and Designer of the sky and stars the one at fault instead. And who is that if not you, our God, our sweet Source of righteousness, who repay each person according to their actions, and do not reject the contrite and lowly heart?’6
The word putrefaction is proud according to St. Augustine because of our fallen nature rather than love of God. Allowing this modern reading of the Christian knowledge to find its own philosophical route. Rotting or decaying in a bodily sense is unavoidable the soul however is immortal, however this immortality is a consequent of the antecedent: the attainment of happiness as Porphry explicitly expresses.7 However, St. Augustine’s distaste for this Neo-platonist’s practices, incantations, and demonolatry (the demons, remnants of pagan faith, pantheism?) hides a level of admiration. Why? St. Augustine would have observed Porphry’s revering of light and in this Neoplatonic philosophy you see the origins of what later became incarnatio, incarnation or fleshification. Contrasting this Latin with the Greek we see already a semantic difference in enanthropsis, or humanification.8 Therefore in the large quotation above it is evident that the cheating astrologers and their attempts to make God fault worthy hit a nerve in Augustine who after conversion laboured intensely to stitch a new net, a blanket called faith, that joined fide with eros in one particular contradictory body. A body that was meant to secure Christian knowledge. The bothersome body in question is that of Jesus Christ, yet before showing why its troublesome in our discussion on knowledge it is useful to consider the journey St.Augustine took and what Magic and Mysticism he may have witnessed. Bishop Michael Bland Simmons explains how Augustine read Porphry as teaching a way in which the soul can be purified of the body, yet this was not universal enough, and in essence anti-Christian.9 According to Simmons, Porphry’s text De philosophia ex oraculis shows how this Neo-platonist offered three alternative ways to universal salvation. Explaining that next to the intellectual salvation open to the philosopher and theurgy for the uneducated, there exists a third option by way of virtues. This choice is the one running antagonistically against Christian teachings. Moreover, in Eusibius’s polemical rebuke against Porphry’s tripartite universal salvation of the soul we see the change of those times, ‘playing virtue and philosophy, the more noble ways to salvation, against Porphry’s theurgical rites, which are again described as “evil arts of sorcery”,10 (There are many humorous accounts of the evils of magic).
These remnants of antiquity seemed to have both terrified and inspired Augustine, yet to fully appreciate how this Saint arrived at his momentous reading, and to apprehend how although seemingly free the will of the Christian believer can not be so, if in possession of a certain knowledge. Only the authority of certain scripture will suffice. There is also a similarity between a heavy influence on Plato’s Academy and the nature of Augustine’s Maneachian existence.12 Suggesting that through Augustine’s training he would have been more inclined towards learning, or at least the perspective of the learner. After this experience, when Augustine begins teaching one observes a fierce affirmation of the authority of words, holy scriptures, and the acquisition of correct knowledge, ‘But wait: there are curtains hanging across the doorways where literature is taught; yet they are symbols of a cloaking of error, as much as of a reverence Owed to the mystery within.’13 A mystery that was to continuously fuel Augustine’s thinking and lay the ground for Christian thinking.
In the Latin word and phrase, incarnatio and verbo cum factum est (the word became flesh) Jesus Christ becomes the one who not only serves as a conduit to God for humanity ‘I am the way’, but also as the singular point in time that actively serves as the origin of knowledge. Here is where it gets pertinently and philosophically problematic. St. Augustine insists on Jesus being human, ‘the one whom God’s wisdom took had, with in respect to the wholeness of his nature, nothing less than other people.’14 St. Augustine would understand the flesh which was word in precisely a revelatory manner of being human, the combination of the compromised physical body conflicted with sin, and the metaphysical imprisonment of the transcendental soul in flesh. Subsequently, here we find the real philosophical problem concerning St. Augustine’s thought. One can read the Saint’s notion of God as love or vice versa, but this makes Christian knowledge deeply mysterious – essentially Christ’s knowledge appears to be equivalent to magic.
The exact way in which Jesus Christ as a human had knowledge and the extent to which he could act upon such knowledge (free will) interests us. Everyone is aware of the idea of the crucifixion being the example of God’s will for Christians to repent, but what kind of all-powerful omnipresent deity who is supposedly reducible to Love embodies himself as a son only to be sacrificed? How are we to understand this? Did Christ know his fate prior to his martyring, to his resurrection? If we are to approach this from the perspective of fidelity and love then how can we not see a contradiction: love of father or knowledge of death? Its hard to see how Christians relate to such predictive and predetermined teaching, and the creation of knowledge as the creation of a body in one moment in time (although an accurate definition which one will mention again later). Instead of identifying with a malicious aspect of the father who demands an economy of sacrifice or punishment – how is this a process of ἕνωσις [henosis] for the believer? Just how strong is Augustine’s a priori knowledge?
Augustine, accepting that there are at least two types of knowledge: one of the world Scientia, and a higher form that enables the soul access to God Sapientia. Yet, if God created both knowledges how is one to believe in free will? In a great translation and commentary on St.Augustine’s unwavering support of free will we can understand how it functions. Professor Thomas Williams expresses different types of freedom and how this Christian thinker was one of the first to make a distinction between physical and metaphysical freedom. The latter is also known as libertarianism, a belief that supports complete freedom of choice of the subject not victim to predetermination; in Latin: liberum arbitrium.15 Deepening our understanding even more, the theology professor Robert E. Cushman offers a very concise account of why St. Augustine placed such weight on the powers of faith and love, ‘”For fides is not that which is believed (creditur), but that by which it is believed; and the former is believed, the latter is seen.”16 Cushman’s reading highlights Augustine’s radical insistence on free will and that God is not the cause of sin the human subject is. God may have created us but should not be held responsible if we act evilly and ignore the immortality we could gain; God is the truth that offers the soul security.
‘This is our freedom, when we are subject to the truth; and the truth is God himself, who frees us from death, that is, from the state of sin. For that truth, speaking as a human being to those who believe in him, says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”(John 8:31-32) For the soul enjoys nothing with freedom unless it enjoys it securely.’17
The account Augustine of Hippo gives of knowledge, free will, and faith is seductive because every one of us would most likely have some recourse to agree that there are some things I know, others that I do not. Represented by a biblical analogy Augustine was found of using, ‘faith comes by hearing,”(Romans 10:17) but knowledge comes by sight.’18 Williams uses a contrast between a simple mathematical sum and a theorem to clearly distinguish between the physical sensible thing and that of an intellectual understanding; this combines with the Plotinian influence to allow St. Augustine to both protect God’s omnipresence and monopolise the way to God via Christain wisdom Sapientia. But, interestingly enough it is the combination of the absence of mathematics in Christian literature as it developed combining with St. Augustine’s rejection of Scientia which one observes in his rejection of Porphyry’s virtues. It was this rejection that caused one to seek ways to understand contradictions in St. Augustine and Christian teachings. For example, the teaching ‘love thy neighbour’, surely I should love God more than my neighbour? Is this God’s will?
According to biblical and Augustinian sources Jesus Christ offers humanity salvation in the form of the Holy Trinity. Nevertheless, it is with St.Augustine’s De Trinitate that modern scholars hint at fallacious qualities. Remembering, the rejection of Porphry’s trinity enables the question just what powered the Christian trinity and its epistemic schema of unification? Here is more evidence in support of my argument for the incompatibility of knowledge with free will. Although Augustine supports free will one argues that this is in fact a miss-reading due to God’s omni-potency. This could be phrased as follows: that the language used is indistinguishable from the numbers used in Augustinian epistemology. Nowhere is this more evident than in the idea of ‘the Holy Trinity. Starting with the language, professor Mark Weedman recently referenced another internal Christian dispute on precisely how Jesus is the son of god, and the stability of doctrine.19 Centring around the weakness of the pro-Nicene overly human descriptions of Jesus being “begotten” meant describing the terms father and son as synonymous with “unbegotten” and “begotten”, thus overcoming any material arguments against the immaterial unity at the heart of this teaching. Augustine following his teacher Ambrose’s writings in De fide, ‘insists that when we say “unbegotten” (ingenitum), we really mean “not begotten” (non genitum).’20 However this relational rational only turns God into a bastard. A generator, but not generated. The problem is picked up again by Isabelle Bochet in her essay The Hymn to One in Augustine’s De Trinitate IV. Advancing the notion that the Trinity and subsequently knowledge as its found in Augustine is incomplete due to an inability of language to properly define number, and the ambiguity attached to attributing 1 to God. Bochet citing Saint Augustine suggests, ‘unity of the Father and Son, unity of mankind in Christ. However both aspects are closely connected one to another by the theme of the ‘Only Mediator he is the One in which the human multitude can find its unity, precisely because he is the Mediator … for Augustine the economy of salvation cannot be separated from the Mystery of the Trinity.’21 Made more mysterious by a lack of mathematics in the medieval Christian literature in favour of such a trinity – Christianity should have copyrighted 1 and 3.
For example: there is evidence for an unbreakable bond between one and three if one just simply divides the numbers by themselves. But, one can not be divided equally. One is a third of Three. Thus a third of Three can not be divided evenly. This numerical aspect necessarily a part of any discourse on knowledge is actually regressive and just leads to a point where one will be arguing over the interpretation of the semantics of a fraction. Or, it will in fact stand as opposition to my argument showing that Augustine’s system does indeed hold true even under scrutiny by the methods innate to the inferior knowledge called Scientia; picture a circle with the number one in the middle then trace three radius lines running from the centre to the line forming the circumference. Then at the three points on the circumference you have a choice either you place ⅓ or 0.3333333333…. this then is an example of an
‘Therefore, look at these things before you; gaze upon them intently; consider These things which you behold, which are not narrated to you as past, nor foretold to you as future, but clearly demonstrated to you as present. Now does this seem vain or trivial to you, or do you think that it is not a divine miracle or merely one of little significance, that the whole human race runs its course in the name of the One Crucified?’24
Christians may claim that God’s omnipotence and presence transcends the fallacy. Countering, by suggesting one can not provide evidence that God is not the auditor of numbers enabling the human mind to conceive in such a way. But, this is too circular an argument to make, suggesting that ‘you can not use incomplete knowledge to contradict incomplete knowledge.’ However Augustine’s epistemic proposal which draws its validity from a historical precedent (Jesus Christ, The word as flesh) has other aspects that offer a stronger counter argument. In Augustine’s words above he is again compelling the use of sight and the special qualities of visibility. Augustine discusses the A priori givenness of number and the foundations of science in the Confessions, but also comments on pictures, ‘we suck not in any images by our senses, but perceive them within by themselves.’25 This visual verisimilitude is what may disrupt ones attempt to show Augustine’s concept of knowledge to be fallacious.
Moreover, the defence of Augustine would be that because I can perceive God a priori, and that no one has a definitive answer for origins of the world. For Augustine this is enough validity, that imagos dei can not be destroyed it is immaterial state just like the category of Love. Sadly, this does not actually disprove my argument because yes it is true that the ability to remember a loved one, or someone that you have been separated from is often imagery, and remember for Augustine we begin in faith and then made perfect in sight.26 This belief in belief is due to many reasons to list a couple: his personal experiences and difficulties with love relations and the feeling the loss of a loved one may create, and the similarities that he most likely saw between Socrates and Jesus Christ after reading the dialogues of ancient Greece.27 Especially the influence of an idea attributed to Socrates, ‘that right knowledge is dependent upon right love rather than right love dependent upon right knowledge’,28 and a statement of ever lasting good will in the nature of the human being intelligent and not doing wrong things intentionally.29 According to Christ, God should forgive humanity because we do not know that we sin – the combination of Socrates and Christ build a positive potential for salvation if we repent, alter our will, and know God via faith.
‘tu autem eras interior intimo meo et superior summo meo, you were more interior to my most intimate part and superior to my highest.’30
Sadly, and one apologises to those deeply Christian philosophers whom may read this. One does believe that the mysteries of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the doubling of knowledge itself only demonstrates submission to textual authority funnelled through belief. Furthermore my main contention that Augustinian epistemology’s initial distrust of Aristotelian knowledge commits a fallacy can be explained thus: if God is seemingly everywhere in my heart, behind the clouds, and waiting patiently for those that are not members of the faith. If God is both the highest and lowest value simultaneously then how is it possible to have the choice to be without him? It is not free will, if you will to live without someone or something and it still be present if you have a change of heart. Neither, is defence of Augustine’s furthering of the Socratic naivety enough evidence in support of the opposite notion that making a decision presupposes freedom of the will. Choosing between pre-given certainties, for example living and dying is also not a good basis for an affirmation regarding free will. It relies on fidelity to a singular moment in the past, and not in present time. You may have knowledge of the world (both physical and metaphysical freedom) but this cripples your will and your minds ability to see (God’s wisdom).
This is presumptive of the visibility of God, that the image of God is also habitual in Augustine’s and Christian thinking, its unity dependent on value being inscribed in words over numbers.31 Therefore the chinks in Augustinian Epistemology and perhaps the whole construct of knowledge is this reliance on the singular One, instead of an embracing of the potential for plurality. It is almost a proto Cartesian problem of how do I know of the existence of other minds? Or, even how does one know that my actions are not pre-determined by an invisible or incomprehensible force? The problem that free will faces is the uneasy relationship we continue to have with knowledge, and although I have refuted the episteme of St. Augustine. One still expresses admiration for it because of this proposition: you can be in possession of knowledge but not free will is true in Augustine’s belief that the will can be cleansed in cathartic faith. Concluding, as I have demonstrated in my argument at no point does St. Augustine explicitly explain why faith in the world and its knowledge does not offer the soul a way to a One that is not God, or why this is innately evil.
Although, one stresses that this is not claiming Christian philosophy to be worthless rather I hope the disjunctive relations between faith, free will, and knowledge my conclusion highlights invites believers and non-believers alike to re-think the perspectives of dualism and the axiomatic. In a contemporary world where extreme perspectives are adopted often with an aggressive attitude. In such cases the individual could do much worse than study St. Augustine to see how knowledge regardless of religion remains a mysterious part of human existence. Ending on this point allows me to suggest what one thinks is a very reasonable continuation of questioning. It is very interesting to think about what these two positions offer the modern reader. Combining the opinion of Alfred Warren Mathews, ‘The greatest problem of Augustine’s early doctrine of God is his combining elements of the impersonal, immovable One of Neoplatonist philosophy with the self conscious, gracious, Triune God of Christianity.’32 That describes this incompatibility influencing one’s conclusion, and we can then see this famous bishop’s anguish clearly, ‘If I could only know myself, if I could only know you!’33 Ending with a new question: is all this a sign of an Agnostic God?
2 Originally one intended to write primarily on the relation between Theurgy, and Confessing in the development of Augustine’s thought. But, as one read more and more my interest migrated to the status of knowledge. What can Augustine’s epistemology offer contemporary thinking today.
6 St. Augustine, The Confessions, Book IV, ed. Jeffrey Henderson, Confessions I, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard College, (2014), p. 139.
12 The wormhole from Ancient Greece to Medieval Italy is readable in the fact that the Pythagorean’s, in their community created a split between members. The μαθηματικοί mathēmatikoi (Teachers), and the second grouping the ἀκουσματικοί akousmatikoi (Listeners). Interestingly via Jeffrey Henderson’s editing of The Confessions in a footnote interesting information is presented, ‘The Khuastuanist, the most considerable of the recently discovered documents … illustrates Manichaean belief and practice. It was the Confession of the Auditors or Hearers, That lower grade (as distinguished from the Elect) to which Augustine belonged. pp.XXVIII’
14 Ibid, Augustine, XXX-XXXI.
/ Cambridge, 1993), pp. XI
16 Robert E. Cushman, Faith and Reason in The Thought of Saint Augustine, Church History, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Dec., 1950), pp. 271-294.
18 Ibid, On Free Choice of the Will, pp. XVI.
19 Mark Weedman, Augustine’s De Trinitate 5 and the Problem of the Divine Names “Father” and “son”, Theological Studies, 72 (2011)
21 Isabelle Bochet, The Hymn to the One in Augustine’s De Trinitate IV, Augustinian Studies 38:1 (2007) 41–60
23 This is an infinite regress and fallacy of division because you may also interchange any value or fraction of one for each part of a trinity, or each part of a trinity could be assigned any size it would still result in inequality. Therefore the unity of the trinity does not provide a perfect equilibrium. (See end note for explanatory diagrams.)
24 St. Augustine. ‘On trust in things unseen’, in Saint Augustine’s ‘De fide rerum quae non videntur’: A Critical Text and Translation with Introduction and Commentary, a Dissertation by M.F Mcdonald (Washington D.C.,The Catholic University of America Press, 1950), pp. 81-115
26 Ibid. Robert E. Cushman, (Dec., 1950), pp. 271-294
30 Thomas Carlson, Notes on Love and Death in Augustine and Heidegger, Medieval Mystical Theology, 21:1, 9-33 (2012)
31 Please consult Book XI Chapter 28 for an example of just how dependent on images Augustine’s marrying of love and knowledge is… in, Augustine, ed. R. W Dyson, The City Of God Against the Pagans, Cambridge University Press, (1998), Pp.487.
33 42:597–602 (in Saint Augustine, Soliloquies, 11.1.1)
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