Faith And History In St. Augustine -- By: Gordon R. Lewis

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 03:1 (Spring 1982)
Article: Faith And History In St. Augustine
Author: Gordon R. Lewis

Faith And History In St. Augustine

Gordon Lewis

Conservative Baptist Seminary

The relationship of faith to history in St. Augustine’s voluminous and unsystematic writings may be investigated by focusing upon the meaning of his frequently quoted — and misquoted — phrase, “If you will not believe, you will not understand” (Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis, the Latin translation of Isa 7:9 in the Septuagint).1 Similarly, the Bishop of Hippo said, “If you cannot understand, believe in order to understand” (Si no potes intelligere, crede ut intelligas), and “Faith precedes, understanding follows” (Praecedite fides sequitur intellectus).2

An extensive interpretation of the priority of faith in Augustine appeared in 1966 when The University of Nebraska Press published a book by Gordon Lewis Keyes, Christian Faith and the Interpretation of History: A Study of St. Augustines Philosophy of History.3 According to the Professor of Ancient History at Victoria College in the University of Toronto, Augustine’s priority for faith simply expresses the wishful belief of religious people in a divine revelation which is accepted secondhand on mere hearsay. Believers abdicate private judgment and accept certain propositions unexamined for the sake of psychological benefits.4 Augustine’s a priori premises attributed to divine revelation

control both his attitude toward the historical evidence and his specific interpretation of the historical process. They are held on faith, but everything is interpreted as supporting them. Sacred and secular literature alike are forced to bear witness, willing or otherwise, to the plausibility of the original premises. Where this seems impossible even for St. Augustine’s ingenuity, the evidence is declared to be either false or figurative. He is frank in his adherence to this Procrustean principle … Nothing in human speculation, or

in the historical record, must be allowed to destroy faith or even call it seriously into question. Not just the interpretation of the fact, but on occasion the fact itself, may have to be arbitrarily determined, if Christian truth is to be seen to prevail.5 Keyes agrees with Babbitt that in Augustine’s view of faith and reason we have “a humbling of the intellect and of the critical spirit, and an opening of the way to obscurantism.”

visitor : : uid: ()