Light from Copleston on Augustine’s View of Faith and Reason

            Frederick Copleston’s collection of books on the History of Philosophy are an important tool for any student of philosophy or Theology.  In volume 2, part 1, where he talks about Medieval Philosophy Copleston gives an introduction to Augustine’s philosophical and theological thought. In two earlier posts I discussed the relation between faith and reason, from the perspective of Augustine, as well as from the perspective of Aquinas. Copleston has this to say about Augustine’s view of man and of the relation between 
faith and reason.

            “In short, Augustine did not play two parts, the part of the theologian and the part of the philosopher who considers the ‘natural man’; he thought rather of man as he is in concrete, fallen and redeemed mankind, man who is able indeed to attain truth but who is constantly solicited by God’s grace and who requires grace in order to appropriate the truth that saves. If there was question of convincing someone that God exists, Augustine would see the proof as a stage or as an instrument in the total process of the man’s conversion and salvation: he would recognise the proof as in itself rational, but he would be acutely conscious, not only of the moral preparation necessary to give a real and living assent to the proof, but also of the fact that, according to God’s intention for man in the concrete, recognition of God’s existence is not enough, but should lead on, under the impulse of grace, to supernatural faith in God’s revelation and to a life in accordance with Christ’s teaching. Reason has its part to play in bringing a man to faith, and, once a man has the faith, reason has its part to play in penetrating the data of faith; but it is the total relation of the soul to God which primarily interests Augustine…he would consider the fullness of wisdom to consist in a penetration of what is believed, though in the approach to wisdom reason helps to prepare a man for faith. ‘The medicine for the soul, which is effected by the divine providence and ineffable beneficence, is perfectly beautiful in degree and distinction. For it is divided between Authority and Reason. Authority demands of us faith, and prepares man for reason. Reason leads to perception and cognition, although authority also does not leave reason wholly out of sight, when the question of who may be believed is being considered.’[1]

[1]Frederick Copleston, Mediaeval Philosophy, pt.1, Augustine to Bonaventure, in A History of Philosophy (1950; repr., Garden City, NY: Image books, 1962), 2:63-4.


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