St. Augustine on Faith and Reason in Lumen Fidei

St. Augustine on Faith and ReasonIn honor of the feast of Saint Augustine, I would like to share an excerpt from the commentary in The Lumen Fide (Light of Faith) Study Guide. Pope Francis and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, frequently cite Saint Augustine in the encyclical on faith.

In Chapter Two, St. Augustine is at the center of the discussion about faith and philosophy in the section titled, “The dialogue between faith and reason.” St. Augustine is a prime example of a scholar who can balance faith and reason as well as theology and philosophy together in an integrated way.

In this section of Lumen Fidei, the Holy Father also alludes to ongoing the ongoing themes in this encyclical of light/seeing and word/hearing and applies them to the theological work of St. Augustine.

Read Lumen Fidei 32-34, then read this commentary from The Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith) Study Guide:

Faith and Philosophy (Lumen Fidei, 32–34)

Philosophy no longer exists—only philosophies. Thus, acceptance of a philosophy signifies, no longer assent to the common heritage of the human spirit, but merely the taking up of a position that may be reasonable but that aligns one against other equally reasonable positions. (Faith and the Future, 62–63)

One of the common themes in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI on faith is an attempt to restore a kind of philosophy that has been lost in recent centuries. According to this line of thinking, Christianity, once it encountered Greek culture, became intimately linked with the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek thinkers. These philosophers had incredible influence on great Christian saints and thinkers, such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, and made an undeniable impact on the way the Church communicates faith.

Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) argues that in recent centuries, philosophy has no longer searched for a truth that has always existed universally throughout time. Instead, philosophy is less about a search and more about applying the scientific method to propose and argue for certain personal positions on truth.

This is the background to the connections between St. Augustine and Greek culture in Lumen Fidei. In many ways St. Augustine is at the crossroads between biblical faith and Greek philosophy. St. Augustine was a well-respected and gifted philosopher before he personally encountered God. His scholarly training enabled him to properly align Christianity with the best of Greek philosophy.

During St. Augustine’s time, many people in the Christian world considered God to be wholly transcendent and beyond the world. They saw our bodies and creation to be evil compared to that which is spiritual. Manichaeism—a religion in which St. Augustine participated before his conversion—is the rejection of the body and the world in favor of a separate spiritual world. It is a belief system that improperly integrates biblical faith and Greek philosophy and one that still influences us today.

What is a better way to think of the connection between God and the world? Calling on his background in the philosophy of Plato, St. Augustine uses the analogy of light to show that the world is good. God is light and all of creation is a reflection of that light. In other words, God can be seen in his creation.

St. Augustine also shows that God is not wholly separate from the world, because he can be heard. In a brief description of the pinnacle moment of his conversion from non-believer to devoted Christian, St. Augustine heard God’s voice. God shows himself to us all in Word and sight.

Today, at a time when science and philosophy are valued so highly compared to religious pursuit of knowledge, the pope reminds us of the life and thought of St. Augustine, who encountered God and used reason to uncover the deep and primordial truth which unites us all and shows the good of all creation.

About Jared Dees

Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher, a website with resources for Catholic educators, and the author of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator and a new study guide with commentary and reflection questions to help adults read, understand, and live the encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith).