Western society and progressively much of the south has been influenced by towering figures such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas. Their wealth of insight on Christian thought has helped shape and form the Christian Church and individual lives over the centuries. The purpose and focus of this paper is to examine the thoughts and beliefs of these two men regarding the subject of “faith and reason.” An account of their lives will be discussed along with a look at some of their latter developments such as their education, ministries, and influence. The method the author of this paper will be using is a study of the above-mentioned subjects through the scope of historical theology.
Their Upbringing and Early Developments
Augustine of Hippo was born in the Roman province of Numidia, North Africa in AD 354 and died in AD 430. He was also known as Saint Augustine or Saint Austin. His father Patricius worked as a tax collector and was a pagan. His mother Monica was a devout Christian and was later declared a saint.1 She made sure her son was educated in Christianity from the cradle on.
Augustine excelled in all his classes except Greek, a language he detested and was unable to dominate. This circumstance would have major theological consequences later. Despite his failing, his parents decided to send their talented son to the great city of Carthage to finish his education. Augustine was now sixteen, with all the psychological and physical burdens of a usual juvenile. Carthage, the premier city of Africa, offered many resources to a concupiscent
teenager…He soon settled down with one women and continued to outshine in his studies.2
When Augustine was nineteen he was exposed to a book by Cicero, a well-known rhetorician and philosopher. Enticed by Cicero’s prominent style and elegance of thought, Augustine became persistent with the study of philosophy. Because of his new-found undertaking, the Bible seemed to him ill written and barbarous, which in turned caused him to reject Christianity, the faith his mother had taught him. He believed religious truth had to be found elsewhere so he became involved with the Manichaean church, which practiced a form of Gnosticism that believed good and evil were leading powers locked in an eternal force. For the next decade Augustine’s time was consumed as a teacher of rhetoric and earnest Manichee.3 This absolutely horrified his mother Monica, who constantly prayed for him.
Augustine was appointed to an important post as a professor in the year 384. He found some satisfactory answers to the problem of evil in some Neo-Platonist works. Around this time he also started to study Ambrose. He was captivated by the way Ambrose studied the Old Testament through allegory.4 This was the divine avenue God used to bring Augustine back to his roots in the Christian faith. This of course is what his mother Monica had been praying. That her son would return to Christianity.
In the year 386, Augustine’s emotional and spiritual turmoil brought him to a crisis point while sitting in his garden tormenting himself with guilt and bitter crying. This is when he heard a child’s voice crying, “take up and read.” Upon hearing the child, he read Romans 13:13-14.5 He got as far as, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”6 Lane writes of Augustine, “Augustine wrote later that he did not need to continue reading, ‘Instantly as I finished the sentence, the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all darkness of doubt vanished.’ This was in August 386 and Augustine was baptized by Ambrose the following Easter.”7
Once Augustine received his conversion, he became zealous for a serious life of study with some compatible acquaintances. In the following years, he compiled philosophical works along with thirteen writings against the Manichees. His knowledge of Manicheism and his personal responsibility as a Christian led him to attempt to help individuals that he led astray and into heresy. In these works Augustine contended for human free will (which the Manichees opposed).8 Lane writes of Augustine, “sin is not created by God, nor, coeternal with Him, but arises from the misuse of free will. The will is free, not coerced, and we are therefore responsible for our deeds.”9
One is able to see from the above-mentioned material how the God who gives everyone free will is able to turn an individual’s life completely around by one Scripture. In Augustine’s testimony it was Romans 13:14. We will examine how Augustine’s life after his conversion was used by God to influence many individuals in the age in which he lived. Along with his vast affluence and insight on Christian thought that helped shape and form the Christian Church.
Thomas Aquinas, another great figure who so dominated the age in which he lived, was born early in 1225 in a castle near Aquino, Italy. Thomas was the youngest child of eight siblings. “Before St. Thomas Aquinas was born, a holy hermit shared a prediction with his mother, foretelling that her son would enter the Order of Friars Preachers, become a great learner and achieve unequaled sanctity.”10 Thomas was a precocious child. The local Benedictine monks, his teachers, were puzzled by his meditative nature and his often repeated question “What is God?” At age eleven he was soon exhibiting superior mastery of every subject to his teachers. At nineteen years of age he joined the Dominican friars while attending the University of Naples. Lane writes of Aquinas, “Thomas was a large man who moved leisurely and always stayed composed, and his fellow students used to call him the “dumb ox.” But his teacher, Albert the Great, once predicted that “this dumb ox will fill the world with his bellowing.11
Thomas was confined for about two years, so he could train diligently and remember the Scriptures. During this time, some members of his family tried hard to dissuade him from his chosen life, all without success. Lane shares an interesting story which demonstrates Aquinas’s intensity and drive for God by stating, “They even hired a prostitute to go to Thomas’s room and seduce him. Instead of succumbing to her wiles he grabbed a flaming log from the fire and, brandishing it like a sword, drove the naked woman out, before slamming the door, burning a black cross onto it with the flame and returning to his books.”12 Thomas pressed forward to be used by God in wonderful ways which will be discussed later in this compilation.
From the thirteenth century to now St. Thomas has been the approved authority in Catholic thought and the popes have constantly exhorted the faithful to follow in his footsteps.13 He was confirmed a saint by the Catholic Church not just because of his astonishing thoughts but because of his astonishing experiences. For all the drive he poured into his philosophy, he knew that a single experience with the God of creation, incarnation, and resurrection profoundly relativized all his thoughts.14
Their Thoughts and Beliefs on Faith and Reason
In this chapter, six sections will be reviewed that discuss Augustine’s thoughts and beliefs concerning faith and reason. First, like many of the prodigious Christian thinkers, Augustine fought to understand the relationship between faith and reason. Many apologists tend to stress Augustine’s emphasis on faith and underplay his assertion of reason in the proclamation and defense of the gospel. They stress passages where St. Augustine placed faith before reason, such as “I believe in order that I may understand.” Geisler said of Augustine, “Certainly, Augustine said, first believe then understand. For if we desired to know and then believe we should not be capable to either know or believe.”15
“Augustine furthermore held that there is a sense in which reason comes prior to faith. He held that no one indeed considers anything unless he has first thought that it is to be believed. Hence, it is essential that all which is believed should be believed after thought has led the way.”16
Second, Augustine declared his preeminence of reason by penning, “God forbid that He should detest in humans that faculty by which He made us superior to all other beings. Therefore, we must decline so to believe as not to receive or seek reason for our belief, since we could not believe at all if we did not have rational souls.”17
He went on to elaborate by stating,
Augustine even used reason to elaborate a “proof for the existence of God.” In On Free Will, he argued that “there exists something above human reason.” Not only can reason prove God exists, but it is helpful in understanding the content of the Christian message. For “how can anyone believe him who preaches the faith if he (to say nothing of the other points) does not understand the very tongue which he speaks. . . . Our understanding therefore contributes to the belief of that which it comprehends”18
Third, at certain times, Augustine likewise used reason to remove protests to Christian faith. Augustine had concerns about individuals who had inquiries prior to becoming a believer, Geisler said of Augustine, “Augustine stated, it is sensible that an individual inquire as to the resurrection of the dead prior to be admitted to the Christian sacraments. Possibly he ought likewise to be allowed to insist on preliminary discussion on the question offered concerning Christ—why He came so late in the world’s history, and of a few great inquiries besides.”19 In short, Augustine held that human reason was used before, during and after one exercises faith in the gospel.
Fourth, Augustine held wholeheartedly that Scripture proclaims that God is to be loved totally with one’s heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. To love God completely includes not only the affections of the heart but also the decisions of the mind in a rational and reasonable commitment. Such commitment St. Augustine and his cohorts viewed as superior to belief on authority. In a striking passage, Augustine claimed: “Moreover, he who by true reason arrives at an understanding of what he had only believed in is in a better state of development than he who still only wants to understand what he believes.”20 Faith, or the acceptance of belief on authority, is imperative because it endorses humility and thus “purifies the heart,” but the ideal pilgrim will at length acquire how pre-eminently possessed of reason those things are which he pursued before he saw their reason. But lastly, even reason or understanding must give way to vision. If we proceed in that which is believed we shall achieve to that which may be seen. For Augustine and his followers, ideally the life of faith will mature into the life of reason, and the life of reason into insight.21
Fifth, in the understanding of Augustine’s thought, at no time should it be overlooked that no love could be evoked nor faith inserted unless, in the servant, a man re-cognize, recall, remember the divine goodness from which, although always furtively aware, he has turned away to his own will. Yet, not even the Word made flesh could induce faith and love to God had not the eternal Word previously visited the reason of man. Of this visitation the heart maintains vestiges. Were it not so, the eternal could not be discerned in the historical—hurting man's pride. Neither could the historical recall the heart to the eternal. Cushman said of Augustine concerning the mind, “Thus, of the mind, Augustine says, unless the decent remain in it from which it turns away, it cannot once more turn itself back thither, if it should desire to amend.”22 Yet again: “And since our soul was distressed within us, we remembered thee.”23 The troubler, He who evokes crisis, is the Mediator. Confession is the will’s consent to what was present to reason but was unrecognized. Faith and reason are required one of the other. They are co-implicates; and it is error, in Augustine’s view, to dissociate them. Faith presupposes reason; reason urgently requires the correction of faith.24
Sixth, in the quest for truth, the most real thing for the inquirer is his own intellectual doings. The doubts which he faces become a concrete foundation for certitude. Augustine says, each person who comprehends that he doubts comprehends the truth and is sure about this thing which he comprehends. The academicians were incorrect then; truths could be known. Further, if you did not exist, you would surely not be able to be misled. Thus, the fear lest one accepts the incorrect decision is a basis for the certitude of self-existence. Logical truths also can be established as certain. However trivial a beginning toward Christian faith these steps signify, at least here is reason preparing the way for faith.25
History declares that St. Augustine may have been one of the most influential thinkers after St. Paul who wrote about sixty percent of the New Testament. However, now the focus will be drawn to Thomas Aquinas who was a brilliant medieval philosopher and theologian. His thoughts and beliefs, concerning faith and reason, may be found to be comparatively interesting.
In this chapter, six sections will be reviewed that discuss Aquinas’ thoughts and beliefs concerning faith and reason. First, the following statement is essential because it shows Aquinas’s belief concerning the importance of faith and reason working together and needing one another.
The dealings of faith and reason clarify how one can be so firm on the distinction between them yet, reject an abrupt separation. They do not dismiss one another, on the contrary, for if reason can function without faith, faith cannot function with reason; hence his assurance that science remains science when suffused by revelation, just as sensation and emotion are not worse off but better off when caught by intelligence and friendship. The supernatural does not derogate from the natural, but witnesses to our human dignity, for if impotent of ourselves to scale the heights, our impulse is in the direction of them. It is this nobility that grace takes, and makes capable of glory.26
Second, the correlation between faith and knowledge about God is established in Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of faith. Thomas does not contrast some types of knowledge with faith, but this is what he titles “scientific knowledge” in which the “cogency of demonstration compels” assent. Such knowledge is antithetical to faith because it is involuntary. On the other hand, the person of faith has some purpose for believing, such as the authority of godly teaching or the inward prompting of divine invitation. Therefore, he does not believe carelessly. But he does not have a reason such as would suit for scientific knowledge. Thus, there is for St. Thomas both a component of freedom and a component of reason in faith’s assent.27
Third, Aquinas believes only falsehood can contradict truth. Kreeft and Tacelli said of Aquinas’ belief,
The truth that human reason is naturally endowed to know cannot be opposed to the truth of the Christian faith. For that with which the human reason is naturally endowed is clearly most true; so much so, that it is impossible for us the think of such truths as false. Nor is it permissible to believe as false that which we hold by faith, since this is confirmed in a way that is so clearly divine. Since, therefore, only the false is opposed to the true, as is clearly evident from an examination of their definitions, it is impossible that the truth of faith should be opposed to those principles that the human reason knows naturally.28
Fourth, this section will discuss reason in support of faith. Looking and remarking on the use of reason spoken of in 1 Peter 3:15, Aquinas argued human reasoning in support of what we believe could stand in a two-fold relation to the will of the believer. First, the nonbeliever might not have the will to believe without being moved by human reason. Second, the person with a will ready to believe loves the truth, reasons it out, and takes to heart its proof. The first, unbelieving will may come to a faith of sorts, but there will be no value in it, since belief does not extend far away from sight. The second person also studies the human reasoning, but it is an admirable work of faith.29
Fifth, Aquinas’ believes regarding the relation of faith to reason are important. Geisler said of Aquinas,
Aquinas held that faith and reason intertwine. Faith uses reason, and reason cannot succeed in finding truth without faith. Reason cannot produce faith. Reason accompanies, but does not cause, faith. Faith is consent without inquiry in that faith’s assent is not caused by investigation. Rather, it is produced by God. Commenting on Ephesians 2:8–9, Aquinas contended that ‘free will is inadequate for the act of faith since the contents of faith; are above reason. That a man should believe, therefore, cannot occur from him unless God gives it. Faith is a gift of God and no one can believe without it.30
However, this does not inhibit the understanding of one who believes from having some discursive thought of comparison concerning those things which he believes. Such discursive thought, or reasoning from premises to conclusions, is not the cause of the assent of faith, but it can and should escort it. Faith and reason are parallel. One does not cause the other because faith involves will (freedom) and reason does not pressure the will. A person is free to dissent, even though there may be convincing reasons to believe.31
As a matter of tactical approach in apologetics, if the authority of Scripture is accepted (faith), appeal can be made to it (reason). Thus, against the Jews we are able to argue by means of the Old Testament, while against heretics we are able to argue by means of the New Testament. But Mohammedans [see Islam] and the pagans accept neither the one nor the other. . . . We must, therefore, have recourse to the natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent. However, some Christian truths are attainable by human reason, for example, that God exists and is one. Such truths about God have been proved demonstratively by the philosophers, guided by the light of the natural reason”32
Sixth, Aquinas’s opinion of the relation of faith and reason blends positive elements of presuppositionalism and evidentialism, of rationalism and fideism. Aquinas highlights the need for reason before, during, and after beliefs are acquired. Even the mysteries of faith are not irrational. On the other hand, Aquinas does not believe that reason unaided can take anyone to faith. Salvation is achieved only by the grace of God. Faith can never be based on reason. At best it can only be supported by reason. Thus, reason and evidence never pressure faith. There is always room for unbelievers not to believe in God, even though a believer can create a valid proof that God exists. Reason can be used to exhibit that God exists, but it can never in itself influence someone to believe in God. Only God can do this, working in and through their free choice.33
Much has been stated concerning the thoughts and beliefs of Augustine of Hippo and Saint Thomas Aquinas. The subsequent section of this compilation will discuss some of the later developments of the life and ministry of these two prominent individuals.
Some of Their Later Developments
Augustine deserted his profession and his marriage and retired to a small monastic retreat with a few friends along with his mother Monica. There he considered philosophy and faith, which for him had now become hazy—for he did not cease to be a Neoplatonist when he became a Christian; on the contrary, he thought at this juncture that most of the Christian faith could be found in Plotinus.
He was able to take great comfort in his faith when his treasured mother Monica died soon thereafter. After this, Augustine decided to return to Africa and lead an existence of quiet contemplation there. His aspirations were not to be granted. In 391, while praying in a church in the town of Hippo, he was abruptly surrounded by a fervent crowd who pleaded with the bishop to ordain Augustine as a priest. Grudgingly, tears streaming down his cheeks, Augustine succumbed to the will of the people.34
He proved remarkably popular and successful as a priest, establishing a monastery and debating with his previous allies, the Manichees. He also became admired as an author. He had written some literary and philosophical works prior to his conversion and immediately after it, but these were of doubtful value. Now he threw himself into the fight for orthodoxy, writing mightily against Manichaeism, shaping a new vision of free will, grace and the nature of evil.
In 396, at the age of forty-two, Augustine was made bishop of Hippo. A zealous pastor of his flock, he now lived a life that revolved around the daily services over which he presided. The massive records of sermons that survived testified to what a persuasive preacher this former professor of rhetoric had been.
At the same time his pace increased regarding his literary activities. One of his first works after becoming bishop was the legendary Confessions, one of the most intense works of literature of all time. Throughout the years, commentaries, homilies and treatises on a vast variety of subjects, religious and secular, flowed from Augustine’s pen. Augustine was becoming the most prominent theologian in the world, perhaps the greatest ever. Yet disagreement was never far away. Some of his other influential works were the City of God and On the Trinity.35
“Augustine's influence resulted not from the office he held but from his writings. Ninety-three books, three hundred letters, and more than four-hundred of his sermons remain—and more may be discovered.”36 The famous theologian drew his last breathe in the year 430, at the age of seventy-six. The focus of this paper will now be drawn to St. Thomas Aquinas. His latter developments, ministry, and influence will be discussed that you may find comparatively interesting.
In the year 1250, at the young age of twenty-five, Thomas Aquinas was ordained as a priest. Several years later, at Albertus’ endorsement, he was sent back to Paris to teach. There he began to make a name for himself. Debate over the newly exposed writings of Aristotle was rampant throughout Western Europe at this time, and Aquinas threw himself into it fervently. Then, at thirty-two, Aquinas was allowed the degree of doctor of divinity. According to legend, he received his degree on the same day as Bonaventure, and both of them were so meek that neither wanted to receive his degree first. Aquinas’s standing grew rapidly and before long eclipsed that of his famed teacher. He had also begun work on an ambitious assignment, the Summa Against the Gentiles. A summa was a comprehensive, systematic exposition.37
For the next ten years, Aquinas traveled from university to university, teaching, writing and preaching. His standing and waistline enlarged in roughly equal proportions. Aquinas, who liked wine and good food, was undoubtedly no fatigued ascetic. He became so fat that—it was said—he could not reach his desk, and a large semicircle had to be cut out of it into which his gigantic stomach could fit. His true mania was thinking not eating. He would pace for hours around the monasteries, lost in a world of his own as he worked out some convoluted problem. On one occurrence he was requested to a feast at the court of King Louis of France. He sat mutely, ignoring the carousing around him, for a whole hour before abruptly slamming his fist on the table announcing, “That’s the way to refute the Manicheans!” After a dumbfounded silence, the king merely ordered his secretaries to go and write down whatever Aquinas had come up with before he forgot it.38
Thomas was persistent to write prodigiously, turning out book after book on a wide range of matters. Like Origen before him, Aquinas was aided in this endeavor by a band of secretaries, made essential by the fact that his own handwriting was dreadful to the point of illegibility. It was said that he could dictate intelligently in his sleep—something his critics might think would explain a lot. He could also request the aid of other scholars who highly respected him.
“Completing his first summa, Aquinas began work on another, even more ambitious one—the Summa Theologiae. This immense but never finalized work would be his masterpiece, a definitive exposition of Christian doctrine, and a distillation of twelve centuries of theology, sorted, classified and remarked on by Aquinas ever critical mind.”39 Unfortunately, Thomas’s career came to an abrupt end in 1273 and in 1274 at the age of forty-nine, St. Thomas while traveling to attend a council; he suddenly fell ill and died.
Saints Augustine and Aquinas are both legendarily known for their philosophical and theological assessments, with Augustine writing in the late fourth to early fifth century and Aquinas in the thirteenth. While they are both known for trying to reconcile ancient philosophy with Christianity, they went about this task in diverse ways. Augustine is known for taking a Platonic route, while Aquinas was much more Aristotelian. They two both explored the subject the faith and reason and were able to teach, train, and bless others with their understanding of it.
A look at their upbringing and early developments proved interesting. Two men of totally different backgrounds were used of God to infuse a wealth of insight on Christian thought that helped shape and form the Christian Church and individual lives in the era in which they lived.
Their latter developments and the wealth of material both individuals wrote were astounding. Proof was presented through the scope of historical theology how their education, ministries, and influence certainly were used to change the course of history and bless so many.
Although Augustine and Aquinas were two original theologians, their viewpoints have lived on through argument and the fostering of their ideas by other theologians. These two men will always be remembered as two of the most effective members of Christianity and while some of their ideas have been revised, they still provided a much needed foundation for Christianity in philosophical discussion. Students in universities all over the world walk the halls with writings from these two saints under their arms.
Their writings, teachings, thoughts and beliefs have reached the desk of a theologian some 1600 years later and will continue to do so should Jesus tarry. Their works did not appear to be old writings, but instead fresh insight and understanding. One should be able to see and understand the critical role the Church Fathers and church history play concerning the things of God in the twenty-first century.