ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

99. General Features of the Philosophy of St. Augustine. -- St. Augustine was familiar with a great number of the doctrines of antiquity and transmitted them to the Middle Ages in his writings. He was acquainted especially with the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus and Porphyry; but he read these in the versions of Marius Victorinus. Plato, on whom he heaps the highest eulogiums, was probably known to him only through Neo-Platonic sources. He makes mention of Aristotle only three times (vir excellentis ingenii et eloquii, Platoni quidem impar, De Civit. Dei, viii., 12), and seems not to have known his system. But the importance he attached to dialectic, for the explanation of the Scriptures, contributed not a little to the veneration with which the logic of Aristotle was regarded in the Middle Ages. Then again, he gathered his knowledge of Pythagoras, the Stoics, the Epicureans and the Academicians, in the main from what Cicero had written of them.{1}

With St. Augustine, all the Neo-Platonic theories, though sufficiently marked, lose their specific character, and are adapted to the genius of a new philosophy. Polytheism with its inferior deities, the world-soul and its eternity, metempsychosis, and, above all, emanation-pantheism, are expressly set aside. Several theories, especially amongst those attributed by him to Plato, are bent to serve the needs of the Augustinian theodicy.

The philosophy of St. Augustine has God as its centre. His metaphysics, his ethics, and above all his psychology, converge steadily to the study of God. "Deum et animam scire cupio. Nihilne plus? Nihil omnino" (Soliloq., i., 7). And his study of God is permeated through and through by the closest blending of intellectualism and mysticism. We must seek the truth, not only to know it, but to love it.{2} Philosophy is the love of wisdom, that is to say, the love of God. "Si sapientia Deus est verus philosophus est amator Dei" (De Civit. Dei, viii., 1). And this God, whom philosophy teaches us to love, is the Holy Trinity as taught in the Christian faith (De Ordine, II., v., 16).

Finally, St. Augustine's philosophy follows, step by step, the development of his dogmatic teaching according as the various phases of his polemics demand its gradual unfolding. Faith renders service to reason, just as reason does to faith. The intellige ut credas and the crede ut intelligas are the first faint outlines of that system of relations which the Middle Ages were to mould into scientific form. Reason furnishes us with the concepts that are at the root of what we are to believe: it establishes the existence and infallibility of revelation. But on the other hand, there are truths that reason would not even suspect if God had not proposed them for our belief.

From the facts themselves of his life, it is apparent that the Doctor of Hippo had to pass through many stages before he reached the full and complete development of his philosophical ideas. We will pass over these stages here, but they must be taken into account in a special study of the life-work of St. Augustine.

{1} GRANDGEORGE, Saint Angustin et le Néo-platonisme, pp. 30 sqq.

{2} "O veritas, veritas! quam intime etiam tum medullae animi mei suspirabant tibi" (Confess., I, iii., c. vi.). "The genius of St. Augustine consists precisely in this marvellous gift of embracing the truth with all the fibres of the soul; not by the heart alone, for the heart does not think; not by the mind alone, for it apprehends truth only in its abstract and, as it were, lifeless state. St. Augustine seeks the living truth: even when he is combating certain Platonic ideas, he is still of the stock of Plato, not of Aristotle. In all this, doubtless, he is good and suitable for all time, for be holds communion with the souls of all; but he is so in a special degree for modern times; because his doctrine is not the cold, clear light of the Schools; it is warm, living, palpitating with strong personal feeling" (PORTALIÉ, op. cit., col. 2453).

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