St Augustine – Synthesis of Faith and Reason

Augustine Pamplany CST

Science-religion dialogue is rather a recent development in the intellectual world. However, the genius of St Augustine, one of the central pillars of Christian theology, did really anticipate the relevance of this challenging enterprise in the fourth century itself. Perhaps the most ancient and most powerful account on the constructive interaction between faith and reason is St Augustine himself. In a University address in 2007, Pope Benedict referred to St Augustine as the model for Dialogue between reason and faith.

St Augustine called for a constructive synthesis between the scientific and scriptural knowledge. His warning against radical orthodox thinkers who outright refutes the scientific knowledge against scriptural formulations holds significant value in our time as well. “It often happens that even a non-Christian knows a thing or two about the earth, the sky, the various elements of the world, about the movement and revolution of the stars and even their size and distance…. How are they going to believe our books concerning… the kingdom of heaven when they think they are filled with fallacious writing about things which they know from experience or sure calculation? There is no telling how much harm these rash and presumptuous people bring upon their more prudent brethren when begin to be caught and argued down by those who are not bound by the authority of our Scriptures, and when they then try to defend their flippant, rash, and obviously erroneous statements by quoting a shower of words from those same Sacred Scriptures, even citing from memory those passages which they think will support their case.” Augustine considered nature as the prime Word of God through which God revealed Himself.

As for St Augustine, “it is the whole soul, the whole mind, that knows.” Knowledge is knowing from within. According to Augustine, self-knowledge is achieved by turning within. “Do not go abroad. Return within yourself. In the inward human being dwells truth. If you find that you are by nature mutable, transcend yourself.” We transcend ourselves by knowing our true nature within ourselves. This view of St Augustine about humans as an integral unit of reason and faith prepares the solid ground of the epistemic unity between science and religion. In nutshell, the view of St Augustine implies that there can be conflict between truth and truth.

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