ZAF Logo 3

Fecisti nos ad te, domine, et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te.

Confessiones 1,1

Geschaffen hast du uns auf dich hin, o Herr, und unruhig ist unser Herz, bis es Ruhe findet in dir.

Bekenntnisse 1,1

Von Eugene TeSelle.


Crede ut intellegas

Dieser Artikel wurde dem beim Schwabe-Verlag in Basel erscheinenden Augustinus-Lexikon 2 (1996-2002) 116-119 entnommen. Dieses weltweit renommierte und auf rund 1.200 Stichwörter geplante Lexikon bietet umfassende Informationen zu Augustins Leben, Lehre und Werk.

1. Faith as alternative to knowledge – 2. Faith as stage toward understanding – 3. The quest for understanding

«Crede ut intellegas», a characteristic Augn. principle (s. 43,4.7; 118,1; Io. eu. tr. 29,6), is based on Vet. lat. Is 7,9: «nisi credideritis, non intellegetis» [1]. A. knows that it can also be translated (as in Vulg. ib.): «... non permanebitis» (doctr. chr. 2,17); this alternative reading is harmonized with his own interpretation as the eschatological ‹abiding› to which faith leads. The LXX may reflect an alternative Hebrew reading (‹tavinu› rather than ‹te’amenu›) [2]; but it is not the better reading. The text, first used about 388 (lib. arb. 1,4; 2,6), is anticipated in A.’s citation of Mt 7,7 («quaerite et inuenietis») in Acad. 2,9. From the first A. asserts that belief (↗Credere, ↗Fides) based on authority (↗Auctoritas, 1,499-505), while first in time, leads toward rationality or intuition as its fulfillment [3]. Is 7,9 had already been used to the same effect by earlier Greek and Latin writers [4]. A.’s approach was adopted by Anselm – and by other intervening thinkers [5]. Anselm’s argument for God’s existence, the chief example of «fides quaerens intellectum» [6], is anticipated in A., who argues that, through faith, the unchangeability of God’s Being can become known (uera rel. 57sq.; lib. arb. 2,5; ep. 162,2) [7].

A passage ca 392 already makes the essential points: (1) the ‹heretics and philosophers› who promise knowledge without belief can never attain it; (2) faith is a necessary stage leading toward knowledge; (3) the quest for knowledge, under such conditions, is legitimate (en. Ps. 8,6).

1. Faith as alternative to knowledge. – Is 7,9 is often used to reinforce the difference between time and eternity, sensation and illumination (mag. 37-40). Faith is a substitute, if also a preparation, for knowledge (diu. qu. 81,2; doctr. chr. 2,17). A moral or religious alternative is also implied, setting believers apart from both unbelievers (s. 140,6) and heretics [8], to whom the secrets of the reign of God are hidden because of their lack of faith.

2. Faith as stage toward understanding. – Belief is the ‹gradus› (s. 126,1sq.), understanding the ‹merces› (Io. eu. tr. 29,6; s. 43,1; s. Guelf. 11,4); or they are related as Lia to Rachel (c. Faust. 22,53). Faith is a purification of the mind (Act 15,9 is often quoted), an exercising (s. 140,6), a ‹nutriri› (c. Faust. 12,46), an opening of blind eyes (en. Ps. 118,18,3). Faith is ‹not yet› (‹nondum›) understanding (agon. 14; s. 43,1; ep. 120,3), but it is exercised ‹so that› (‹ut›) there will be understanding (ib. 120,3; c. Faust. 12,46; s. 214,10). Some scholars therefore argue that this second meaning of «crede ut intellegas» is the controlling one [9]. Certainly this is how faith is and remains a ‹way›, not merely an inferior mode of apprehending propositions [10]. And this ‹way› of return to God is grounded upon the humility of incarnation and crucifixion (ep. 120,4.6)

Sometimes the ‹intellegere› is clearly eschatological; at other times, even when it is equated with ‹uidere› (conl. Max. (PL 42,741sq.)) [11], it can be during the present life. The ambiguity is characteristic of A’.s theory of ↗‹illuminatio›, according to which the divine Light is always present and may at any time be apprehended, at least to some degree. Faith, however, has its own ‹lumen› (s. 126,1) or, more accurately, ‹lucerna›, the Scriptures (ib. 49,3; en. Ps. 51,13) [12]. Scripture itself seeks to be understood, but this can occur only through faith (c. Faust. 4,2; Io. eu. tr. 45,7; 69,2; s. 89,4).

While A. sometimes calls merely for faith (s. 212,1; 214,10, both ‹in traditione symboli›; conl. Max. (PL 42,742)), he acknowledges that faith seeks explanation (s. 139,1; 272). And often while arguing the divinity of the Son or expressing the Trinitarian doctrine in formulae anticipating the ‹quicunque›, he assumes the possibility of understanding, while offering belief as an alternative [13]. But even when arguments are won (ep. 184A,4), or formulations are a reminder of truth (ib. 120,8), faith is still needed.

3. The quest for understanding. – In ep. 120, against those who urge belief alone, A. defends reason and exhorts faith to desire understanding (ib. 120,6.13). First, the way through faith is a way taken by the mind, thus a way ‹of reason›; we are ‹reasonably› commanded to believe in order to understand, and although the object of faith is ‹something great›, this «small bit of reason» («quantulacumque ratio») [14] is prior to faith (ib. 120,3) [15]. Furthermore, faith itself seeks reasons, in order to understand as much as it is able (ib. 120,4); the erroneous views of the heretics are to be rejected because they use, not reason, but false reason, for true reason would not err (ib. 120,6). Finally, rational disputation is an external reminder of the inward light of truth, through which all judgments, whether of belief or of knowledge, are true (ib. 120,8.10). This rational quest is not the same as ↗‹cogitatio›, which is mere seeking and may lead only to the invention of images (ib. 120,10-12); in its uncertainty it is assisted both by the Scriptures, which «suadent fidem» (ib. 120,13), and by illumination, through which eternal things are immediately understood (ib. 120,12). Some scholars rightly emphasize, therefore, the independent validity of rational proofs, though they move in parallel with or in correlation with faith [16].

God remains incomprehensible. Even in that context A. insists that God is manifested, not only by authority to believers, but by reason to those who understand: «fides quaerit, intellectus inuenit» (trin. 15,2). And yet, having found, understanding continues to seek (ib.). Perhaps this is why A., late in his career, can acknowledge more serenely the opposite of his dictum: there are indeed some things which, if we do not understand, we will not believe. If faith comes through hearing, one must understand the language being spoken; yet there are some things which cannot be understood without first being believed (en. Ps. 118,18,3). A. ends a sermon, «intellege, ut credas, uerbum meum; crede, ut intellegas, uerbum dei» (s. 43,9). Words are to be understood so that what can be said will be believed; but this is in order to understand what cannot be said at all (qu. Mt. 13,4). For the goal, as A. always recognized, is an eternal and certain Truth (en. Ps. 8,6; c. Faust. 12,46), apprehended through an abiding vision (doctr. chr. 2,17; qu. Mt. 13,4).

Notes. – [1] VL 12,1, pp. 229-231. LXX ib.: «... ™àn mç pisteúshte, oždè mç sunête». – [2] Nestle 214; Lührmann 62. – [3] Ord. 2,16.26sq.; Acad. 3,43; sol. 1,12-14.23; an. quant. 12. – [4] Du Roy 213 n. 3; Holte 177-190.321-327. – [5] Bertola; Thonnard, Caractères. – [6] Anselm. Cant. proslog. prooem. – [7] Mourant; Kondoleon. – [8] C. Iul. 2,3; c. Faust. 4,2; s. 126,1; en. Ps. 104,5. – [9] Cushman 295-300; Holte 321-327.356-360.381-386. – [10] Kretzmann 15sq.18.23-26. – [11] Cf. Maximin. A. ib. 26*. – [12] Cf. ib. 118,23,1. – [13] Trin. 7,12; c. Max. 2,10,2; s. 118,1; s. Guelf. 11,4. – [14] Geerlings 9. – [15] Cf. s. 43,3: «rationem habemus et antequam intellegamus». – [16] Thonnard, Caractères 177-182; id., Philosophie 22sq.; Du Roy 213sq.; Madec 550.

Bibliography. – A. Aróstegui, Interpretación augustiniana del «Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis»: RF(M) 24 (1965) 277-283. – E. Bertola, I precedenti del metodo di Anselmo di Canterbury nella storia dottrinale cristiana: RechThAM 50 (1983) 99-144. – P.-T. Camelot, «Quod intelligimus, debemus rationi». Note sur la méthode théologique de saint Augustin: HJb 77 (1958) 397-402. – R.E. Cushman, Faith and Reason: A Companion to the Study of St. Augustine (ed. by R.W. Battenhouse), New York 1955, 287-314. – O. Du Roy, L’intelligence de la foi en la Trinité selon saint Augustin. Genèse de sa théologie trinitaire jusqu’en 391, Paris 1966. – E. Elorduy, San Agustín y Suárez: Augustinus 13 (1968) 167-212. – W. Geerlings, Jesaja 7,9b bei Augustinus. Die Geschichte eines fruchtbaren Mißverständnisses: WW 50 (1987) 5-12. – R. Holte, Béatitude et sagesse. Saint Augustin et le problème de la fin de l’homme dans la philosophie ancienne, Paris/Worcester, Mass. 1962, especially 357-360.381-386. – T. Kondoleon, Augustine’s Argument for God’s Existence, De Libero Arbitrio, Book II: AugStud 14 (1983) 105-115. – S. Kowalczyk, L’autonomie de la philosophie dans l’interprétation augustinienne: GM 25 (1970) 299-307. – N. Kretzmann, Faith Seeks, Understanding Finds. Augustine’s Charter for Christian Philosophy: Christian Philosophy (ed. T.P. Flint), Notre Dame, Ind. 1990, 1-36. – K. Löwith, Wissen und Glauben: AM 1, 403-410. – D. Lührmann, Glaube: RAC 11 (1981) 48-122. – G. Madec, Croire pour comprendre: BA 6 (31976) 549-551. – J.A. Mourant, The Augustinian Argument for the Existence of God: Inquiries into Medieval Philosophy. A Collection in Honor of F.P. Clarke, Westport, Conn. 1971, 165-184 (PhSt(M) 12 (1963) 92-106). – E. Nestle, «Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis»: ZAW 25 (1905) 213-215. – D. Novak, The Origin and Meaning of Credere ut Intelligam in Augustinian Theology: JRelS 6/7 (1978/1979) 38-45. – M. Pontet, L’exégèse de S. Augustin prédicateur, Paris 1946, 114. – J.R.E. Ramirez, The Priority of Reason over Faith in Augustine: AugStud 13 (1982) 123-131. – A. Schöpf, Wahrheit und Wissen. Die Begründung der Erkenntnis bei Augustin, München 1965. – M. Seckler, Credo, ut intelligam: LThK 2 (31994) 1343-1345. – G. Söhngen, Credo, ut intelligam: ib. 3 (21959) 89-91. – F.-J. Thonnard, Caractères augustiniens de la méthode philosophique de saint Anselme: Congrès international du IXe centenaire de l’arrivée d’Anselme au Bec (SpicBec 1), Paris 1959, 171-183. – Id., La philosophie et sa méthode rationnelle en augustinisme: REAug 6 (1960) 11-30. – F.E. Van Fleteren, Authority and Reason, Faith and Understanding in the Thought of St. Augustine: AugStud 4 (1973) 33-71. – W. Wieland, Offenbarung bei Augustinus, Mainz 1978, 145-168.191-208.

Eugene TeSelle