John F. Wippel. Mediæval Reactions to the Encounters between Faith and Reason. ISBN 0-87462-162-3. (Aquinas Lecture 59 [1995]). 120 pp. $15

“The distinction between faith and reason was not an original discovery on the part of the thirteenth century. It is already present in some of the Fathers of the Church, especially so in St. Augustine. While Augustine was interested in constructing what might best called a Christian wisdom rather than any kind of separate philosophy, he was quite familiar with and well versed in philosophical thinking, especially in Neoplatonism. For his appreciation of the distinction between understanding or proving something on purely rational or philosophical grounds and believing it on divine authority, one may turn to Bk II of his De libero arbitrio.

“There, in attempting to buttress the claim that God gave free will to human beings, he raises the issue of God’s existence. At the same time, in this same treatise Augustine had argued that it is one thing for us to believe that God exists on the authority of Scripture. It is something else for us to know and to understand what we believe. “Unless believing is different from understanding, and unless we first believe the great and divine thing that we desire to understand, the prophet has said in vain: ‘Unless you believe, you shall not understand.’” As a consequence, we find in Augustine strong support for a position adopted many centuries later by St. Anselm of Canterbury-Unless you believe, you will not understand.”

Thus Professor John Wippel opens his clear and engaging discussion of the relations between believing and understanding, showing the deep roots of this experience as developed in mediæval philosophy and theology.


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