Thursday, December 01, 2005

Confessions: Credo & Cogito

Augustine's CONFESSIONS is one of my favorite books of all time. He presents himself as the Prodigal Son and the Lost Sheep from The Gospel of Luke. He compares himself to the Apostle Paul -- first lost, then found -- changed dramatically but still struggling with himself. Augustine was Everyman -- his story is our story.

CONFESSIONS is actually 13 short books. The first nine are autobiographical. The last four are theological. He presents his own story as a microcosm of the overarching biblical story: creation...fall...redemption. He manages to be personal and universal at the same time.

By the time CONFESSIONS was completed, Augustine had come to see that faith and reason could never be separated. They are part of the warp and woof of the universe, and they are inextricably linked.

He struggled with his own restlessness all his life. His thought was never the calm and theoretical thought of an academician. He threw himself into thoughts with a passion and defended his beliefs with a fury. He gave himself completely to reality as a whole -- never falling into the trap of reductionism that would capture later thinkers like Descartes. Augustine's beliefs came from a deep, personal catharsis. He recognized the limits of reason (cogito), and grounded reason firmly in faith (credo).

Augustine's faith was not a blind leap; it was rationally justifiable. Like when you get on a bus and trust that it will take you the same place it's taken you every morning. Like when you step on the brakes of your car and trust that you'll actually come to a stop. Like when you whisper a secret in your lover's ear and trust that he or she will not betray you. It's a leap, but it's not a blind leap.

In Augustine's work, reason seeks to understand what faith believes. "Know in order to believe" comes before "Believe in order to understand".