9 the augustinian argument for the existence of god



Download 62.91 Kb.
Date conversion15.05.2016
Size62.91 Kb.
9

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD



John A. Mourant

THE one definitive attempt by Augustine to demonstrate the existence of God occurs in the second book of his De Libero Arbitrio, one of his early philosophical dialogues. There are anticipations of the argument in the De diversis quaestionibus, LXXXIII, a brief outline of it in the De vera religione, and possi­ble implications for a demonstrative argument in other writings, notably the Confessions. In this paper I wish to suggest first various reasons why Augustine never attempted a more systematic and extended demonstration. This will entail not simply an examination of the structure of the argument of the De Libero Arbitrio, but a consideration of other suggestions and implications for a proof and some attention to the whole orientation of Augustine's thought, both philosophical and theological. Only by viewing the argument in these contexts and with its special relevance for the Augustinian epistemology can we arrive at a correct evaluation of the Augustinian demonstration.

First, we may make some fairly well-known observations on the general orientation of Augustine's thought. Augustine was pri­marily and almost wholly the theologian rather than the philoso­pher. Actually, the philosophical interests of Augustine are largely restricted to the first several years after his conversion. This is amply supported by the evidence of his writings. Of all his works,

165


J.F. Ross (ed.), Inquiries into Medieval Philosophy, Greenwood Publishing Co.: Westport, CT, 1971

166


JOHN A. MOURANT

only some eight or nine out of a total of eighty-three may be regarded as strictly philosophical. And none of these can be com­pared in extent, profundity, or originality with such great treatises as the De Trinitate, the De Civitate Dei and the De Genesi ad Utter am. All his philosophical works were composed over a short period of time and before his ordination as a priest. The De Magistro is the last of the philosophical works and with its concluding account of Christ as the teacher within forms the natural transition to the Utilitate Credendi which is his first work after ordination. Bardy regards it as his adieu to philosophy and comments:

Des ce livre, Ie pretre d'Hippone tourne resolument Ie dos a la libre recherche, a Finvestigation rationelle des problemes vitaux. Que pourrait donner la plus belle des philosophies a celui qui jouit des lumieres de la foi chretienne?1

We may well speculate why Augustine did not pursue his philo­sophical inquiries further. The answer is essentially twofold. First, there was the depth of his own religious experience, the intensity of his conversion and as its consequent the very real and solid conviction that God exists. Personally he had no need to demonstrate to his own satisfaction the existence of God. Second, the life of Augustine became increasingly occupied with ecclesiastical matters and the need to explain to others than philosophers the truths of revelation. Especially in the later years of his life, there was the ever increasing need to combat the views of the heretics. Since both heretics and believers accepted without question God's existence and many of the truths about God, there were no philosophical issues but rather the problems of biblical exegesis and theological interpretations. The religious polemics of the day demanded the development of a theology rather than philosophical explanations. For Augustine God is pre-eminently present in the truths he has revealed; there is no question of whether God "must" exist or "ought" to exist. The fact is that God does exist. In a letter to Evodius (c. 414) regarding certain problems Evodius has posed, Augustine writes:

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT 167

You also have some help in the book on religion;2 if you would review it and look into it, you would never think that reason can prove the necessity of God's existence, or that by reasoning it can ever be established that God must necessarily exist. In the science of numbers, which we certainly make use of in everyday life, if we say seven plus three ought to be ten, we do not speak exactly. It is not:

they ought to be ten—they are ten.3

The emphasis on the primacy of Augustine's theological inter­ests receives further justification from another source. In the Retractiones, as is well known, Augustine went to considerable effort to review his principal writings and to make whatever necessary corrections were required both of his statements on doctrine and on philosophy. Yet in all the Retractiones the emendations on philosophical issues are proportionately few and occur primarily where the consequences of Platonism con­flict with Christian belief. Even in the De Libero Arbitrio Augus­tine's main concern in the Retractiones is with the problem of grace. No mention or supplementation is made of the philosophi­cal issues. Generally, then it would seem that the absorbing interests and demands of theology, the polemics of the day, and the burdensome and ever increasing administrative duties left Augustine with little of the enthusiasm and the time with which he once engaged in philosophical argument. Also, it may be observed that there is nothing in the Retractiones comparable to the De Principiis of Origen, no great philosophical synthesis summing up his concluding opinions.

Above all, the basic motivation for Augustine's apparent uncon­cern with a more systematic exposition of an argument for God's existence than that found in the De Libero Arbitrio may be attributed to his more absorbing conviction that the approach to the existence of God must proceed always from faith, that without faith we cannot have understanding. His own experience as revealed in the Confessions—an experience that might be described as an existential argument—shows that the existence of God is not so much a matter of reason but rather of faith. The God of faith exists in our memory. He is ever present to our

168 JOHN A. MOURANT

intellect. He is the source of our love and our life, a Being experi­enced rather than achieved through reason. The accomplishment of reason is to establish God as a transcendental being for the better understanding of the world and the place of man. But the actuality of God is more a matter of the religious experience of the individual than a matter of dialectic. And God's existence is so evident in faith that it may be said that this has the effect of rendering the argument of the De Libero Arbitrio more of an explication of the existence of God than a demonstration. Some would contend that the argument proceeds too easily and even rather naively from the existence of truth to Truth itself. But for Augustine this is not a deficiency in the argument nor an unwar­ranted inference; rather it is because in his eyes the identification of truth with Truth itself as God is so self evident as to need little more justification or argument. Persuasion is not merely a matter of logic. Augustine does not feel called upon to go beyond what to him becomes merely a simple intuition of the existence of God. An intuition that actually stems from his faith and is made more apparent to reason through that faith. In a somewhat analogous fashion in one of his sermons on faith, he observes that nature itself is a miracle that constantly exemplifies the work of God. But the very evidence of God in nature becomes apparent only with the attainment of faith.

Men wondered that our Lord God Jesus Christ filled so many thousands with five'loaves; and yet they do not wonder that through a few grains the whole earth is filled with crops. When the water was made wine, men saw it, and were amazed; what else takes place with the rain along the roof of the vine ? He did the one, He does the other;

the one that thou mayest be fed, the other that thou mayest wonder.4

Rather than a belief in God following demonstratively or inferentially from the evidence of nature, the evidence of God in nature becomes evident and a source of wonder and conviction to the individual who first possesses faith. This is perhaps the principal reason for the rejection by Augustine of any approach to God from the empirical evidence of the external world. Such

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT

169

evidence, he feels, cannot lead through reason to faith nor to a knowledge of God's existence. For faith is grace and comes from God. Hence just as God first loves us, so that we may love Him;

just as He first chooses us, so that we may choose Him; so. He first knows us and extends the grace and illumination of His knowledge to us, so that we may know Him. For Augustine, there is strictly speaking no teleological argument for God's existence, since our understanding of nature as teleological is consequent upon our faith and explicated in the light of that faith. The erode ut intelligas pervades the whole ontology and episte-mology of Augustine.

Finally, since it is peculiarly the function of reason to explicate faith, any argument for the existence of God needs merely to clarify or to make more explicit what we already accept upon faith. To Augustine the argument of the De Libero Arbitrio accomplished just that; hence he felt no urgency to develop a more thoroughly demonstrative argument. Also, with his primary interest in theology, it becomes Augustine's purpose to explicate not merely the existence of God, but to employ reason for the explication of all the truths that God has revealed and to establish these truths against unbelievers and for the edification of the faithful. The revealed truths of God are manifold whereas the revealed truth that God exists is but one truth. In this connection it is relevant to note the observation of Grabowski that Augustine is really much more concerned with the need to clarify the nature of God rather than to prove His existence.

In all his proofs for God's existence from reason, Augustine pre­supposes that the mind already knows from faith what is examined by reason. Moreover, the principal purpose for the using of reason in probing into the concept of God is to bring out the purity and the excellence of the divine attributes rather than to demonstrate the actual existence of the Supreme Being.5

And in any consideration of the requirements of demonstra­tive arguments, it is well to keep in mind that Augustine was by profession a rhetorician and that it is the function of the rhetori-



JOHN A. MOURANT

170


cian to persuade rather than to demonstrate. Aside from an early interest in philosophical dialogue, Augustine's principal literary vehicle was to be the sermon, the letter, and the theological treatise.

Turning now to the structure of the argument in the De Libero Arbitrio a brief summary of the demonstration may be outlined. In refutation of the sceptics, Augustine begins by establishing the possibility of knowledge, initiating a method that was to be followed more narrowly later by Descartes. Analyzing next the nature of knowledge, Augustine proceeds from a consideration of the knowledge attained by the senses and the function of such knowledge to a consideration of the function of the intellect and the kinds of truths it attains. Describing the essential characteris­tics of both mathematical and moral truths he points out that they possess the characteristics of being eternal, immutable and necessary. From this the inference is then drawn that that which is eternal, immutable and necessary cannot be regarded either as created by the mind of man or as existing innately within the mind of man. This entails that such truths are objective intelligible realities transcendent to or "above" the human mind. As such they are dependent upon God and in some sense may be identified with God Himself as eternal, necessary and immutable truth. In a word, the existence of such truths as immutable, necessary and eternal leads to the intuition that God exists as truth itself. As Augustine puts it:

Well, then, if we could find something which you not only do not doubt to be, but also to be more excellent than our reason itself, will you hesitate to call that, whatever it is. God?6

To which Evodius assents:

it does not please me to name God that to which my reason is inferior, but rather than to which nothing is superior.7

Sciacca gives the following summary of the argument:

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT

171

Nous pouvons desormais donner la formule precise de la preuve:

L'etre intelligent connait des verites necessaires, immuables, absp-lues; 1'etre intelligent, contingent et fini, ne peutcreer, ni recevoir des choses, par Ie moyen des sens, les verites absolues dont il a 1'intuition; la Verite en soi, necessaire, immuable, absolue, qui est Dieu, existe done. Ou bien, sous une autre forme (qui est plus proprement augustinienne): il n'y a rien en 1'homme ou dans Ie monde qui soit au-dessus de I'esprit: or 1'esprit a 1'intuition des verites immuables et absolues, qui sont au-dessus de lui; la Verite immuable, absolue et transcendante, qui est Dieu, existe done.8

Boyer puts the argument more succinctly:

Ainsi Ie raisonnement fondamental de saint Augustin revient a ce syllogisme; S'il est quelque chose au-dessus de notre raison, Dieu existe. Or, il est quelque chose au-dessus de notre raison. Done Dieu existe.9

Boyer contends that Augustine establishes the major premise on the basis of the existence of degrees of being in nature and the minor premise in the following manner:

La verite possede une realite positive. Or cette realite est, dans sa forme pure, superieure a notre raison. II y a done une realite superi-eure anotre raison.10

That truth has such a positive reality is evident from Augustine's discussion of the nature of intelligible reality as exemplified especially in the truths of ideas and numbers.11

Granting the existence and the reality of such immutable, necessary, and eternal truths and the ability of the individual to grasp such truths, just what does the argument actually prove? Has the transition from such truths to God as Truth itself been effectively demonstrated ? Actually, there seems to be a missing premise here, a premise which would enable us to argue from such truths as effects to God as a cause. The use of a causal princi­ple suggests the Cartesian argument that there is an idea of God in the mind and that the mind then infers from this idea of God

172


JOHN A. MOURANT

as an effect the necessity of positing God as an existing being and the cause of such an idea. But Augustine does not suggest the use of the causal principle in this way. Furthermore, this line of argument makes a presupposition which is alien to the Augustinian approach and which Augustine rejected several times, namely, that the mind possesses innate ideas. Augustine will argue that God is certainly present to the mind and to the memory of man, but always present as "above" man, as a being whose existence is intuited or discovered with the truths that are present to the mind of man.

Implicit in the structure of this argument and stemming in good part from his Platonic background, there appears to be a kind of analogical argument. Augustine argues that just as there are common objects of sense perception, so there are common and universal truths present to the minds of all men. So, too. God in whom all these truths subsist as a common source is present to all men and the means by which man obtains a knowledge of truth. The analogy appears to proceed from the common objects of sense to the common intelligible objects to the common trans­cendent and super-intelligible object which is God. Putting the analogical character of the argument in another way, just as there is an interior sense which exercises a kind of regulative function over the individual senses, so there are the rules of number and wisdom which exercise a regulative function over mathematical and ethical knowledge. And transcending all forms of knowing will be God who illuminates all minds and is Truth itself in comparison to these lesser truths and forms of knowledge. In an analogous sense God might be considered to exercise a regulative function over all knowledge.12

The Thomistic emphasis on the cosmological type of argument has led some commentators to discover more in the emphasis on causality in the writings of Augustine than is warranted. To this has been added some confusion or misconception as to the actual approach that Augustine takes to God, so that his theodicy is given a Thomistic cast. Certainly, the notion of causality appears frequently in the Augustinian quest for God, but this need not imply any explicit formulation by Augustine of a cosmological

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT 173

argument. Boyer seems to think differently and contends that "Saint Augustin a done ramene 1'argument cosmologique a 1'argument ideologique." Many passages13 from Augustine are cited in support of this thesis. In the City of God, for example, Augustine declares:

Sans parler de la voix des propheties. Ie monde lui-meme par sa mutabilite, par sa mobilite admirablement ordonnees, et par les formes tres belles de tout Ie visible, proclame silencieusement, en quelque sort, et qu'il a ete fait, et qu'il n'a pu etre fait que par Dieu ineffablement et invisiblement grand, ineffablement et invisiblement beau.14

Other passages15 of a similar nature may be readily discovered in Augustine, but it seems incorrect to interpret them as substan­tiating a cosmological type of argument. In the first place, they are not arguments and they are not demonstrative. Portalie's quotations from the Confessions represent more the testimony of nature rather than an argument. Secondly, as in the passage from the City of God, they frequently follow from some explication of faith or are clearly subordinated to such an explication. Thirdly, to discover causation in nature is one thing and to use it as a logical argument is another. Actually, it would be more in order for Augustine to arrive at a principle such as the uniformity of nature, more as a consequent of his faith than as any induction from experience. Also, the knowledge of causes and effects in nature is in the nature of ratio scientiae and such truths lack the marks of eternality, immutability and necessity. Hence, there can be no inference from such truths to the truths of ratio sapientiae to which "belongs the intellectual apprehension of the eternal." For Augustine the empirical approach never leads to the highest wisdom nor even to the highest form of knowledge. The orienta­tion of Augustinian thought is always from a more strictly rationalistic or idealistic position in which sense knowledge is subordinated to reason. It is a mistake, therefore, to impose the Thomistic approach to God's existence upon the Augustinian analysis. Augustine discovers God as present to the mind of man, but does not argue by means of a demonstratio quia from the

174 JOHN A. MOURANT

effects in nature to God as the cause of those effects.16 Rather Augustine sees all things as images and vestiges of God after he has discovered God within and present to himself.

Observe that this is a discovery of God17 rather than a demon­stration of His existence. In this way Augustine avoids a criticism that has always been directed against the empirical arguments for God's existence, namely, that they presuppose more in the conclusion than was contained in the premises. To the contention of Gilson, who seems to be in accord with Boyer on this point, that "L'itineraire normal d'une preuve augustinienne va done du monde a 1'ame et de 1'ame a Dieu,"18 we might reply that the normal itinerary of the Augustinian approach to God's existence is from the soul to God and from God's presence to the soul to his discovery in nature. For how can I recognize the existence of God in nature unless He had first revealed Himself to me? The Augus­tinian approach or "way" to God is primarily then an explication of what has already been achieved through faith. The identifica­tion Of the eternal and immutable truths which we discover present to the mind with God is made possible only after God has first revealed Himself to us through faith. Strictly speaking, then, there is no cosmological argument for Augustine, but only the knowledge that creation is an effect of God, that the rules we find in nature have their origin in the rules of the mind, rules given to the mind by God. The order is from God to creation, from the discovery of God as present to the mind of man to the knowledge that God has ordered nature.19

Although such a discovery of God cannot be attained by some form of cosmological proof, this does not mean that God is wholly inaccessible to man. Rather, it might be Said somewhat paradoxically, that we can best discover God by first realizing that such a discovery is not a matter of reason or scientific know­ledge. We discover God by apprehending Him as the source of all truth, but discovery does not mean the comprehension of God. Such a quest for God means that you must

return unto yourself, the dwelling place of truth is the inner man. And if you discover your own nature as subject to change, then go

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT 175

beyond that nature. But remember that, when you thus go beyond it, it is the reasoning soul which you go beyond. Press on, therefore, toward the source from which the light of reason itself is kindled.20

God thus becomes an object of discovery to the inner man, whereas the world of nature presents the vestigia or traces of God in the universe known only indirectly to the mind of the believer but apprehended directly in their manifestations to sense. For God is the source by which all knowledge is illuminated. Note that the injunction "to go beyond the reasoning soul," seems to emphasize that the activity of reason is restricted to this world, but that a kind of intuition takes us beyond any inferential stages to the discovery of God. Perhaps we might say that in the argument of the De Libero Arbitrio, the sensible world of contingent beings is the occasion for an intuition of the eternal truths, just as the intuition of such eternal and immutable truths becomes the occasion for the intuition of God as truth itself.

Yet what is the more precise relation of such truths to God? To what extent are such truths identifiable with the nature of God ? If they are distinct from God and merely transcendent in the Augustinian sense of being above the human mind, then appar­ently we have not actually attained God Himself but merely the highest possible image of Him. On the other hand, to insist upon the identification of such trutfis with God as truth itself or as being in some sense contained within the divine mind can lead rather easily to an ontologism. This is certainly a debatable point in the Augustinian philosophy and it is possible on the basis of Augustinian texts to make out equally good cases for and against such a position. The solution of this problem as well as the exact status of such intelligible realities as the eternal and immutable truths would entail a comprehensive analysis of the Augustinian theory of the divine illumination. Such an analysis, however, would not lead to a definitive demonstration for the existence of God. The result of the argument seems to be, then, that we have an intuition or a discovery of God as present to the human mind, a presence reflected in or perhaps occasioned by the immutable

176


JOHN A. MOURANT

truths of numbers and morals that we are capable of grasping through the medium of the divine illumination.

On the other hand, it has been argued that there are the elements of an ontological argument present in the writings of Augustine. In the argument of the De Libero Arbitrio it would be rather diffi­cult to draw out anything very explicit, but a commentary of Augustine's on Psalm LXXII, 28, seems to suggest something like an ontological argument:

reason recognizes that there is nothing between the soul and the body which is superior to the body and inferior to the soul. And that which is superior to every animating principle, we call that God. And who­ever conceives it is united to it: because that which one conceives is true, while that which one believes is not (for that reason) true. Thus that which is true, without being present to the senses or the intellect, that can be but an object of faith and not of sensation or intelligence. Thus, the being who conceives God is united to God. Thus the rational soul conceives God, because it conceives that which is immutable and does not change. But both soul and body admit of change; thus that which is immutable is evidently superior to that which is not, and nothing is superior to the rational soul except God. If then it conceives something immutable, it is that without any doubt that it conceives. And it is Truth itself; and because the rational soul unites itself by knowledge, and this is the good of the soul, it is just to admit that this is the sense of the words: "But it is good for me to adhere to my God."21

Parts of this statement seem close to Anselm without being explicitly the Anselmian argument. What Anselm shows is that if we conceive God in a certain way—as a being than which nothing greater can be conceived—that such a conception of God leads necessarily to His existence. The most that Augustine seems to bring out is that to conceive God is to be united to Him and that we do conceive Him as immutable and also as he says elsewhere as necessary and eternal. What seems to be lacking in the Augustinian statement is the Anselmian contention that to conceive of such a necessary being logically implies the exis-

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT 177

tence of such a Being. Augustine may have considered such a logical step but certainly did not take it. He is more cautious and content simply to say that to conceive of such a necessary and immutable being (Truth) unites us with God or enables us to intuit or discover God.

Sciacca apparently agrees that there is no ontological argument present in Augustine:

Ie processus rationnel va de 1'existence reelle des esprits finis et contingents h 1'existence reelle de FEsprit infini et absolu qui est Dieu—ou bien, de la realite positive de la Veritee en soi ou de 1'Intelligence infinie. II ne s'agit done pas de proceder de 1'idee de Dieu a 1'existence de Dieu, mats du donne reel qu'est 1'etre pensant fini et contingent a la realite absolue de Dieu, qui Ie fait etre comme etre pensant.22

Given certain expressions and statements in the writings of Augustine that seem to anticipate an ontological argument, we may well ask why a man of Augustine's intellectual genius apparently did not see the logical inference that might take him from the conception of a being exceeding all others in our under­standing to the actual existence of such a being. In part the answer lies in what has already been brought out, namely, that for Augus­tine the existence of God is discovered or intuited by the individual rather than demonstrated. In other words for Augustine any formal demonstration or proof of God's existence is unnecessary for God already exists and is present to the individual. This point may be further elaborated in the light of a remark made by Augustine in reply to a letter (circa 414 a.d.) from Bishop Evodius. The latter had asserted among other things in his letter that "reason itself demonstrates that God exists or must necessarily exist." On this point Augustine comments:

If you will recall points which you know well, or, if I mistake not, you once did know well, although you may have forgotten them, which I wrote after conferring and discussing with you in my treatises either on the greatness of the soul or on free will, you will find therein the answers to your problems, without help from me;

JOHN A. MOURANT

178

that is, of course, if you apply the labor of your mind to draw the conclusions from the points which are there made clear and definite. You also have some help in the book on religion (De vera religione)', if you would review it and look into it, you would never think that reason can prove the necessity of God's existence, or that by reason­ing it can be established that God must necessarily exist. In the science of numbers, which we certainly make use of in every day life, if we say seven plus three ought to be ten, we do not speak exactly. It is not: they ought to be ten—they are ten.23



The necessity of God's existence for Augustine is a necessity that characterizes His existence but in no sense determines it. It is a necessity similar to that which characterizes the eternal and immutable truths of morals and mathematics. Such truths possess necessity as one of their attributes but they do not exist in virtue of any necessary inferential warrant on our part. To say, then, that God must exist or necessarily exists is to confuse necessity as an aspect of the divine nature with necessity as a modal function. For Augustine any statement that God ought to exist or must exist would appear to place a certain determina­tion upon God's existence. But God's existence is such that it must be completely free from all determinations.

Furthermore, to assert that God must exist raises some possi­bility of a doubt regarding His existence, for modal judgments lack the certitude of assertoric judgments. In the eyes of Augustine there is nothing more certain than God's existence. Consequently, His existence is just as evidently and immediately known as are the eternal and immutable truths present to our minds. In neither case is any necessary inference required for the truth of their existence. Furthermore, the certitude of our belief in God's existence is the result of the grace of God and not of any inferen­tial warrant. We believe that God exists so that we may under­stand that He exists. We do not understand or require the neces­sity of God's existence in order that we may believe in His exis­tence.

Hence, any so-called "proof" of God's existence in Augustine should be regarded more as an explication of what is already true in fact and known as such through faith. The proof for the exis-

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT

179

tence of God might be said to do little more than to confirm what we already know; it is reason's way of strengthening the convic­tion of faith. Restricting the meaning of proof to its older conno­tation of "testing," we could say that the function of any proof for the existence of God is that of confirming that which we hold on faith and through authority. The reference in Augustine's letter to the De vera religione should be interpreted in this light rather than in the notion that there is any foreshadowing in this work of the proof offered in the De Libero Arbitrio. As an apolo­getic treatise the De vera religione is more concerned with the evidences for the true religion and as such is more a confirmation of God's existence than a demonstration of His existence.



The development, then, of any form of ontological argument to prove the necessity of God's existence would have seemed almost redundant to Augustine. For God clearly and already exists and is present to the mind of man. The sole function of any so-called rational demonstration is merely the explication and confirmation of what is already known by faith and experience. That God is Truth itself is reason's way of explicating God's presence to the soul.

Finally, it appears to me that a part of the persuasiveness of the argument of Augustine stems from the use of certitude in its various forms and the analogies that might be elicited here. The highest certitude is that of faith. The discovery of other certitudes might be said to support in a lesser degree the highest certitude which we already possess in faith, just as the uses of reason and the acquisition of knowledge might be said to explicate and to support the truths of faith. Better, perhaps, the kind of assent we give to the truths of reason points the way to a need for a higher certitude. For no matter how firm the assent of the mind to the truths of reason, the mind remains restless in its certitude. The truths of faith, on the other hand, yield the firmest assent because that assent is caused by the will. The lesser forms of certitude merely reflect that quiet certitude based upon an adherence to the Truth which is God. Just as all knowledge finds its source in the divine illumination, so all certitude finds its source in the ultimate

180

JOHN A. MOURANT



certitude of faith. Without his Christian faith, we might hazard the guess that Augustine would probably have become an Acade­mician.

Of the various forms of certitude, the most familiar is the one Augustine uses at the outset of his demonstration in the De Libero Arbitrio and which follows upon the attempt to doubt our existence. Here Augustine argues not merely that man knows himself as a thinking being, but as a living, feeling, sensing being.24 The certitude in this case is not merely an intellectual one, but rather what might be termed an existential certitude. Such a certitude is basic to the other forms that we have indicated, namely, the certitude found in the truths of mathematics and morals. Also, we should not overlook another form of intellectual certitude—those exemplified in the disjunctives that Augustine is so fond of using in the Contra Academicos. After noting that differences among philosophers do not preclude wisdom and truth he declares:

I hold it to be truly certain that there is only one world or that there are many worlds: if more than one that their number is either finite or infinite. . . . Likewise, I know that this world where we are owes its order either to the nature of bodies or to some providence; that it has always existed and will always exist; or that it had a beginning and will never end; or that it had no beginning in time and will have an end; or that it had a beginning and will not last forever. And I have much knowledge of similar problems of physics, for these disjunctives are true, and no one can confuse them with any likenesses to falsity.25

Long familiarity with the Cartesian approach should not deceive us here. For such intellectual truths to Augustine lack the funda­mental content of an existential certitude, and they are not infer­ential steps leading to a proof of God's existence. Even though Augustine does not explicitly say so, such truths would be mere empty tautologies having their source in the wider certitude that is linked to the whole existence of man and not simply to one faculty of his being. Furthermore, they are subordinated to the certitude of moral truths and these in turn lack meaning unless

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT 181

integrated with the spiritual structure of man's being. Moral truths would have as little content as the will would have direction unless ordered to the grace of God.

The assertion that all such truths are immutable, eternal and necessary involves again the difficulty of relating such truths to a finite subject. How can man, as a finite being, subject to time and change, actually know of truths that are beyond time and change, unless in some way he has a prior knowledge of the meaning of eternity, immutability and necessity? Clearly, there seems to be no empirical way of arriving at truths with these characteristics. And since Platonic reminiscence must be rejected, it would appear that any recognition of such truths must be consequent upon some form of intellectual grace, such as faith and the divine illumina­tion.

Hence, just as the forms of certitude converge on the highest certitude and through it take on meaning, so the various rational approaches converge upon that which is given and understood through faith. This explains perhaps why a person may follow the reasoning in an argument for God's existence, although he has not the faith which would enable him to establish the identity of the end of reasoning with the beginning of faith. He may even accept a proof for God's existence, and yet remain unpersuaded. As Fr. Luijpen expresses it:

we observe that it is impossible for man ever to recognize the validity of the proof of God, if he has not previously recognized his existence in its religious dimension, i.e., as directedness to God. Of this directedness the proof that there is a God is only the learned expres­sion. The proof presupposes one's religiousness. It does not produce this disposition, but on thecontrary is produced by it.26

It has been outside our purpose to pursue all the possible inquiries involved in Augustine's quest for God.27 Our analysis has been limited primarily to the argument from truth. It must be evident, however, that the inadequacies and difficulties of the argument are more than adequately supplemented by Augustine's profound conviction through faith that God exists. Actually the

182

JOHN A. MOURANT



Augustinian approach to God rests far more upon an existential argument for God's existence rather than upon the limited demon­stration of the De Libero Arbitrio. In fact, the whole life and doc­trine of Augustine is representative of an existential argument which moves from that troubled and restless existence of Augustine to the moral demand and need for a God who would give meaning to his existence. The philosophical explication of the conversion is the achievement of God as that transcendental being who makes Himself known to us by what He does to us. It can never be over­looked in any interpretation of Augustine that God exists as a moral necessity for man—that to attain God we must first become moral. As Augustine himself puts it:

Oh God,... whom no one finds unless he is first purified.28 And'. It is certainly perverse and preposterous to desire to see the truth so that you may purify your soul, which should rather be purified that you may see.29

To conclude, an existential necessity rather than a logical necessity leads us to God. The attainment of God is dependent on our necessity of being good and to he good depends on God. The paradox of moral action leads more determinately than any proof to the necessity of God's existence. In part this is evident even in the very argument of the De Libero Arbitrio where the moral truths occupy a higher position than the mathematical truths. For Descartes, the mathematician, the highest certitude lies in mathematics and upon the paradigm of such ideas he moves to God. For Augustine, and his insight is greater, man is funda­mentally a moral being and it is through the demands of such a nature that man moves with the grace of God to the existence of that Being in whom we live and move and have our being. God is not a problem to be solved by logical argument or scientific discovery. He is a mystery to be apprehended through faith.

He is more truly thought than expressed; and He exists more truly than He is thought.30

THE AUGUSTINIAN ARGUMENT 183

NOTES


1. Oeuvres de Saint Augustin, XII. Les Revisions, Introduction, Paris, Desclee de Brouwer et Cie, 1950, p. 130. (Unless otherwise noted all references will be to this edition of the writings of Augustine.)

2. De vera religione.

3. Letter 162, Fathers of the Church edition of the Writings of St. Augustine, Volume II, translated by Sister Wilfrid Parsons, New York, 1953, p. 375.

4. Sermon CCCVI, A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, edited by John Henry Parker, Oxford, 1845.

5. Grabowski, Stanislaus J. The All-Present God, Herder, St. Louis, 1954, p. 58.

6. De Libero Arbitrio, ch. 6, 14.

7. Loc. cit.

8. Sciacca, M. F., L'existence de Dieu, Paris, Aubier, 1950, p. 109.

9. Boyer, C., Uidee de Verite dans la philosophic de Saint Augustin, Paris, Beauchesne, 1940, p. 65.

10. Ibid., p. 65.

11. On the reality of mathematical truths, see not only the De Libero Arbitrio, but also the remarks in the Confessions, X., 12, 19.

12. This seems to be Augustine's meaning in the City of God, XI, 27, when he refers to that spiritual light which "illumines our mind and makes us able to judge correctly of all other things. For the faculty of judgement is in proportion to our capacity for this light."

13. De Genesi ad litteram, lib. 4, c. 32, n. 49. Migne, t. 34. col. 316-17;

Ennarrat. in ps. 144, n. 13. Migne, t. 37. col. 1878; Sermo 141, c. 2, n. 2. Migne, t. 38. col. 776; De Trin., lib. 12, c. 5, n. 5. Migne, t. 42, col. 1001.

14. Essais sur la doctrine de saint Augustin, Beauchesne, Paris, 1932, p. 61.

15. Portalie suggests that there is a metaphysical proof in the following passages from the Confessions'. "I have questioned the earth . . . and the sea ... and the depths . . . and they have answered: 'Look above us ... He made us.'" (Conf. X., 6,9). Or: "Behold, the heavens and the earth exist. They cry out that they were made, for they are changed and undergo varia­tion. Whatever has not been made and nevertheless exists, has nothing in it which did not exist before; this is what change and variation mean. They also cry out that they did not make themselves ..." (Conf. XI., 4, 6)—A Guide to the Thought of Saint Augustine by Eugene Portalie, SJ, translated by Ralph J. Bastian, SJ—Chicago, Henry Regnery, 1960, p. 126.

16. Boyer states, loc. cit., that Augustine does not explicitly recognize the principle of causality, but must be supposed to have admitted it.

17. Not a discovery of God in the sense of comprehending His nature, for as he states in the De Or dine, 18,47: "the soul has no knowledge of God save the knowledge that it knows Him not." None of the categories of reason are sufficient to enable us to attain a real knowledge of God.
JOHN A. MOURANT

184


18. Quoted by Boyer, op. cit., p. 76.

19. The Augustinian "way" has also been described in the following terms:

"L'attitude meditative, existentielle, donne a 1'augustinisme son point de depart et, en un sens Ie principe unifacteur de toute la doctrine. Car si 'toute s'explique par Dieu,' Augustin cherche et decouvre Dieu en son ame par introspection ou, plus exactement, il s'eleve au-dessus de son ame ou il cherche la Verite beatifiante, pour la trouver enfin en elle-meme au-dessus de son ame"—F. J, Thonnard, "Methode Rationelle en Augustinisme" in Etudes Augustiniennes, VI., i. 17.

20. De Vera Religione, 39, 72.

21. 83 Div. Quaest., Q.54.

22. Op.cit.,p. 110.

23. Letter 162, op. cit.

24. In addition to the account in the De Libero Arbitrio there is the very explicit passage in the De Trinitate X., 10, where he declares: "When a mind is bidden to know itself, it knows that this is said to itself, to a self that is, lives, and understands. Further, men know that they will, and they know that no one can will who does not exist and does not live. Also they know that they have memory. All these come to mind quite apart from the knowledge that is received from without."

25. Contra Academicos, III., 10, 23.

26. Luijpen, William A., OSA, Existential Phenomenology, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, 1960, p. 68.

27. Thus the interesting and Neo-Platonic inspired types of the ascension of the soul to God which Augustine is fond of delineating fairly frequently in his writings, e.g. Confessions VII, xvii, 23; De Doctrina Christiana II, vii, 9-12; and De Quantitate Animae XXXIII, 70-79. But such approaches to the discovery of God are not demonstrative arguments for His existence and they raise the larger question of Augustine's mysticism which merits more consideration than can be given in the present study.

28. Soliloques, I, 1, 3.



29. De Utilitate Credendi, XVI, 34.

30. De Trinitate VII, iv, 7.


The database is protected by copyright ©essaydocs.org 2016
send message

    Main page