Christian Faith and the Interpretation of History: A Study of St. Augustine's Philosophy of History

Christian Faith and the Interpretation of History: A Study of St. Augustine's Philosophy of History

Christian Faith and the Interpretation of History: A Study of St. Augustine's Philosophy of History

Christian Faith and the Interpretation of History: A Study of St. Augustine's Philosophy of History

Excerpt

I assume that any man's philosophy of history lies in a particular application, to historical studies, of the general premises which explicitly or implicitly govern his intellectual response to all experience. What is his "theory of knowledge" ? How is this applied in his study of history? What picture emerges when history is studied in this way ?

At thirty St.Augustine was a skeptic, with no confidence in the evidence of sensation and reason, and unimpressed by other possible sources of truth.Without knowledge, one must resort to faith, and the essence of faith is the taking of a calculated risk. Faith is strong in proportion to one's confidence, on whatever grounds, that the risk is justified. One lives by appearances. Every generalization and judgment is ultimately founded upon our recognition, in the world of our experience, of similarities which may be illusory or misleading; and every hypothesis which is based upon these supposed similarities must be held liable to revision or rejection in the light of new and contradictory evidence. As far as the findings of sensation and reason were concerned, St.Augustine remained a skeptic all his life, obliged to live by "faith" since "knowledge" seemed unattainable.

By the time he was thirty-two, he was seeking an escape from this state of intellectual grace. He craved the comfort of certainty, of a knowledge such as he could not find within the bailiwick of sensation and reason. Like Descartes he found this in part in the "direct knowledge" of self-existence.This did not tell him much about the nature of things. But it worked wonders for his morale by persuading him that truth is not after all completely unattainable, and by reminding him of other thoughts—of God and his plan, of eternal and universal Platonic Forms—which could never have been inferred by reason from sensation which cannot perceive the universal or eternal, the origin of things, or the end of the universal process. He is inclined to think that these thoughts come to us by divine . . .

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