Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Confessions: Chapter V
Chapter V.—Faith is the Basis of Human Life; Man Cannot Discover that Truth Which Holy Scripture Has Disclosed.
7. From this, however, being led to prefer the Catholic doctrine, I felt that it was with more moderation and honesty that it commanded things to be believed that were not demonstrated p. 93 (whether it was that they could be demonstrated, but not to any one, or could not be demonstrated at all), than was the method of the Manichæans, where our credulity was mocked by audacious promise of knowledge, and then so many most fabulous and absurd things were forced upon belief because they were not capable of demonstration. 449 After that, O Lord, Thou, by little and little, with most gentle and most merciful hand, drawing and calming my heart, didst persuade taking into consideration what a multiplicity of things which I had never seen, nor was present when they were enacted, like so many of the things in secular history, and so many accounts of places and cities which I had not seen; so many of friends, so many of physicians, so many now of these men, now of those, which unless we should believe, we should do nothing at all in this life; lastly, with how unalterable an assurance I believed of what parents I was born, which it would have been impossible for me to know otherwise than by hearsay,—taking into consideration all this, Thou persuadest me that not they who believed Thy books (which, with so great authority, Thou hast established among nearly all nations), but those who believed them not were to be blamed; 450 and that those men were not to be listened unto who should say to me, “How dost thou know that those Scriptures were imparted unto mankind by the Spirit of the one true and most true God?” For it was the same thing that was most of all to be believed, since no wranglings of blasphemous questions, whereof I had read so many amongst the self-contradicting philosophers, could once wring the belief from me that Thou art,—whatsoever Thou wert, though what I knew not,—or that the government of human affairs belongs to Thee.
8. Thus much I believed, at one time more strongly than another, yet did I ever believe both that Thou wert, and hadst a care of us, although I was ignorant both what was to be thought of Thy substance, and what way led, or led back to Thee. Seeing, then, that we were too weak by unaided reason to find out the truth, and for this cause needed the authority of the holy writings, I had now begun to believe that Thou wouldest by no means have given such excellency of authority to those Scriptures throughout all lands, had it not been Thy will thereby to be believed in, and thereby sought. For now those things which heretofore appeared incongruous to me in the Scripture, and used to offend me, having heard divers of them expounded reasonably, I referred to the depth of the mysteries, and its authority seemed to me all the more venerable and worthy of religious belief, in that, while it was visible for all to read it, it reserved the majesty of its secret 451 within its profound significance, stooping to all in the great plainness of its language and lowliness of its style, yet exercising the application of such as are not light of heart; that it might receive all into its common bosom, and through narrow passages waft over some few towards Thee, yet many more than if it did not stand upon such a height of authority, nor allured multitudes within its bosom by its holy humility. These things I meditated upon, and Thou wert with me; I sighed, and Thou heardest me; I vacillated, and Thou didst guide me; I roamed through the broad way 452 of the world, and Thou didst not desert me.
He similarly exalts the claims of the Christian Church over Manichæanism in his Reply to Faustus (xxxii. 19): “If you submit to receive a load of endless fictions at the bidding of an obscure and irrational authority, so that you believe all those things because they are written in the books which your misguided judgment pronounces trustworthy, though there is no evidence of their truth, why not rather submit to the evidence of the gospel, which is so well-founded, so confirmed, so generally acknowledged and admired, and which has an unbroken series of testimonies from the apostles down to our own day, that so you may have an intelligent belief, and may come to know that all your objections are the fruit of folly and perversity?” And again, in his Reply to Manichæus Fundamental Epistle (sec. 18), alluding to the credulity required in those who accept Manichæan teaching on the mere authority of the teacher: “Whoever thoughtlessly yields this becomes a Manichæan, not by knowing undoubted truth, but by believing doubtful statements. Such were we when in our inexperienced youth we were deceived.”93:450
He has a like train of thought in another place (De Fide Rer. quæ non Vid. sec. 4): “If, then (harmony being destroyed), human society itself would not stand if we believe not that we see not, how much more should we have faith in divine things, though we see them not; which if we have it not, we do not violate the friendship of a few men, but the profoundest religion—so as to have as its consequence the profoundest misery.” Again, referring to belief in Scripture, he argues (Con. Faust. xxxiii. 6) that, if we doubt its evidence, we may equally doubt that of any book, and asks, “How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers, but by the unbroken chain of evidence?” And once more he contends (De Mor. Cath. Eccles. xxix. 60) that, “The utter overthrow of all literature will follow and there will be an end to all books handed down from the past, if what is supported by such a strong popular belief, and established by the uniform testimony of so many men and so many times, is brought into such suspicion that it is not allowed to have the credit and the authority of common history.”93:451
See i. sec. 10, note, above.93:452
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