Friday, June 04, 2010

St. Augustine on Discovering Truth

We make judgments about corporeal objects because they are below us, and we say not only that they are or are not this way, but also that they ought to be this way or ought not to be… We make these judgments according to the inner rules of truth which we perceive in common. But no one makes judgments about the rules themselves. When a man says that the eternal is more powerful than the temporal, and that seven plus three are ten, he does not say that it ought to be so; he knows it is this way, and does not correct it as an examiner would, but he rejoices as if he has made a discovery. (St. Augustine On Free Choice of the Will, 2.12)
This is something similar to the discovery of the Catholic Church as opposed to the judgments one makes, as a Protestant, of any given Protestant community. A Catholic cannot judge even a local Church as if it were something below him in nature. The local Church is the particular as the Catholic Church is the universal in the same way that a man is particular and mankind is universal. The local Church is catholic (‘of the whole’) and is therefore above the Catholic man.

Now I’ve never met a Protestant who would say “First Presbyterian Church is below me,” but then we don’t usually go around saying “this block of wood is below me.” It is our actions and our judgments that show that we believe the block to be below us. We judge that the block is square…fair enough. But then we judge that it ought to be shaped like a car, and we carve it until it conforms to our judgment. Likewise, by judging what the “Church” ought to be [in conformity with one's personal interpretation of the Scriptures] the Protestant shows that he places the Church below him as if it were a natural thing.

In contrast, the Catholic apprehends the Church as supernatural and therefore above him. We do not only say that we believe the Church is above us, we demonstrate this by rejoicing in the discovery of the Church just as one rejoices in discovering any truth. The mathematician rejoices at discovering mathematical rules, not at conforming them to his own judgment. He knows he can’t do such a thing because the rules of math are above him. Likewise, the theologian knows that God’s truth is above him, and he rejoices when he discovers the Church which is “the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Tim 3:15)

Later in the same work St. Augustine says, “In accordance with the truth, we make judgments about our minds, yet we cannot make judgments about the truth.” Likewise, the Catholic judges his mind according to the Church. He does not seek to find a Church that conforms with his judgment, neither does he try to conform the Church to his judgment. He seeks to conform his judgment to the Church just as he seeks to conform his mind to the truth.

This was originally posted at Called to Communion.