Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin: Chapter 1
Chapter 1.—The Love of the Studious Mind, that Is, of One Desirous to Know, is Not the Love of a Thing Which It Does Not Know.
1. Let us now proceed, then, in due order, with a more exact purpose, to explain this same point more thoroughly. And first, since no one can love at all a thing of which he is wholly ignorant, we must carefully consider of what sort is the love of those who are studious, that is, of those who do not already know, but are still desiring to know any branch of learning. Now certainly, in those things whereof the word study is not commonly used, love often arises from hearsay, when the reputation of anything for beauty inflames the mind to the seeing and enjoying it; since the mind knows generically wherein consist the beauties of corporeal things, from having seen them very frequently, and since there exists within a faculty of approving that which outwardly is longed for. And when this happens, the love that is called forth is not of a thing wholly unknown, since its genus is thus known. But when we love a good man whose face we never saw, we love him from the knowledge of his virtues, which virtues we know [abstractly] in the truth itself. But in the case of learning, it is for the most part the authority of others who praise and commend it that kindles our love of it; although nevertheless we could not burn with any zeal at all for the study of it, unless we had already in our mind at least a slight impression of the knowledge of each kind of learning. For who, for instance, would devote any care and labor to the learning of rhetoric, unless he knew before that it was the science of speaking? Sometimes, again, we marvel at the results of learning itself, which we have heard of or experienced; and hence burn to obtain, by learning, the power of attaining these results. Just as if it were said to one who did not know his letters, that there is a kind of learning which enables a man to send words, wrought with the hand in silence, to one who is ever so far absent, for him in turn to whom they are sent to gather these words, not with his ears, but with his eyes; and if the man were to see the thing actually done, is not that man, since he desires to know how he can do this thing, altogether moved to study with a view to the result which he already knows and holds? So it is that the studious zeal of those who learn is kindled: for that of which any one is utterly ignorant, he can in no way love.
2. So also, if any one hear an unknown sign, as, for instance, the sound of some word of which he does not know the signification, he desires to know what it is; that is, he desires to know what thing it is which it is agreed shall be brought to mind by that sound: as if he heard the word temetum 723 uttered, and not knowing, should ask what it is. He must then know already that it is a sign, i.e. that the word is not an empty sound, but that something is signified by it; for in other respects this trisyllabic word is known to him already, and has already impressed its articulate form upon his mind through the sense of hearing. And then what more is to be required in him, that he may go on to a greater knowledge of that of which all the letters and all the spaces of its several sounds are already known, unless that it shall at the same time have become known to him that it is a sign, and shall have also moved him with the desire of knowing of what it is the sign? The more, then, the thing is known, yet not fully known, the more the mind desires to know concerning it what remains to be known. For if he p. 135 knew it to be only such and such a spoken word, and did not know that it was the sign of something, he would seek nothing further, since the sensible thing is already perceived as far as it can be by the sense. But because he knows it to be not only a spoken word, but also a sign, he wishes to know it perfectly; and no sign is known perfectly, except it be known of what it is the sign. He then who with ardent carefulness seeks to know this, and inflamed by studious zeal perseveres in the search; can such an one be said to be without love? What then does he love? For certainly nothing can be loved unless it is known. For that man does not love those three syllables which he knows already. But if he loves this in them, that he knows them to signify something, this is not the point now in question, for it is not this which he seeks to know. But we are now asking what it is he loves, in that which he is desirous to know, but which certainly he does not yet know; and we are therefore wondering why he loves, since we know most assuredly that nothing can be loved unless it be known. What then does he love, except that he knows and perceives in the reason of things what excellence there is in learning, in which the knowledge of all signs is contained; and what benefit there is in the being skilled in these, since by them human fellowship mutually communicates its own perceptions, lest the assemblies of men should be actually worse than utter solitude, if they were not to mingle their thoughts by conversing together? The soul, then, discerns this fitting and serviceable species, and knows it, and loves it; and he who seeks the meaning of any words of which he is ignorant, studies to render that species perfect in himself as much as he can: for it is one thing to behold it in the light of truth, another to desire it as within his own capacity. For he beholds in the light of truth how great and how good a thing it is to understand and to speak all tongues of all nations, and so to hear no tongue and to be heard by none as from a foreigner. The beauty, then, of this knowledge is already discerned by thought, and the thing being known is loved; and that thing is so regarded, and so stimulates the studious zeal of learners, that they are moved with respect to it, and desire it eagerly in all the labor which they spend upon the attainment of such a capacity, in order that they may also embrace in practice that which they know beforehand by reason. And so every one, the nearer he approaches that capacity in hope, the more fervently desires it with love; for those branches of learning are studied the more eagerly, which men do not despair of being able to attain; for when any one entertains no hope of attaining his end, then he either loves lukewarmly or does not love at all, howsoever he may see the excellence of it. Accordingly, because the knowledge of all languages is almost universally felt to be hopeless, every one studies most to know that of his own nation; but if he feels that he is not sufficient even to comprehend this perfectly, yet no one is so indolent in this knowledge as not to wish to know, when he hears an unknown word, what it is, and to seek and learn it if he can. And while he is seeking it, certainly he has a studious zeal of learning, and seems to love a thing he does not know; but the case is really otherwise. For that species touches the mind, which the mind knows and thinks, wherein the fitness is clearly visible which accrues from the associating of minds with one another, in the hearing and returning of known and spoken words. And this species kindles studious zeal in him who seeks what indeed he knows not, but gazes upon and loves the unknown form to which that pertains. If then, for example, any one were to ask, What is temetum (for I had instanced this word already), and it were said to him, What does this matter to you? he will answer, Lest perhaps I hear some one speaking, and understand him not; or perhaps read the word somewhere, and know not what the writer meant. Who, pray, would say to such an inquirer, Do not care about understanding what you hear; do not care about knowing what you read? For almost every rational soul quickly discerns the beauty of that knowledge, through which the thoughts of men are mutually made known by the enunciation of significant words; and it is on account of this fitness thus known, and because known therefore loved, that such an unknown word is studiously sought out. When then he hears and learns that wine was called “temetum” by our forefathers, but that the word is already quite obsolete in our present usage of language, he will think perhaps that he has still need of the word on account of this or that book of those forefathers. But if he holds these also to be superfluous, perhaps he does now come to think the word not worth remembering, since he sees it has nothing to do with that species of learning which he knows with the mind, and gazes upon, and so loves.
3. Wherefore in all cases the love of a studious mind, that is, of one that wishes to know what it does not know, is not the love of that thing which it does not know, but of that which it knows; on account of which it p. 136 wishes to know what it does not know. Or if it is so inquisitive as to be carried away, not for any other cause known to it, but by the mere love of knowing things unknown; then such an inquisitive person is, doubtless distinguishable from an ordinary student, yet does not, any more than he, love things he does not know; nay, on the contrary, he is more fitly said to hate things he knows not, of which he wishes that there should be none, in wishing to know everything. But lest any one should lay before us a more difficult question, by declaring that it is just as impossible for any one to hate what he does not know, as to love what he does not know, we will not withstand what is true; but it must be understood that it is not the same thing to say he loves to know things unknown, as to say he loves things unknown. For it is possible that a man may love to know things unknown; but it is not possible that he should love things unknown. For the word to know is not placed there without meaning; since he who loves to know things unknown, does not love the unknown things themselves, but the knowing of them. And unless he knew what knowing means, no one could say confidently, either that he knew or that he did not know. For not only he who says I know, and says so truly, must needs know what knowing is; but he also who says, I do not know, and says so confidently and truly, and knows that he says so truly, certainly knows what knowing is; for he both distinguishes him who does not know from him who knows, when he looks into himself and says truly I do not know; and whereas he knows that he says this truly, whence should he know it, if he did not know what knowing is?
Next: Chapter 2
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