Augustine and the Catholic Faith
24 July, 2019
(Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, St. Augustine, vol. 3, “The Enchiridion,” p. 239)*:
CHAPTER 4: The Questions Propounded by Laurentius
It is your desire, as you wrote, to have from me a book, a sort of enchiridion, as it might be called–something to have “at hand”–that deals with your questions. What is to be sought after above all else? What, in view of the divers heresies, is to be avoided above all else? How far does reason support religion; or what happens to reason when the issues involved concern faith alone; what is the beginning and end of our endeavor? What is the most comprehensive of all explanations? What is the certain and distinctive foundation of the catholic faith? You would have the answers to all these questions if you really understood what a man should believe, what he should hope for, and what he ought to love. For these are the chief things–indeed, the only things–to seek for in religion. He who turns away from them is either a complete stranger to the name of Christ or else he is a heretic. Things that arise in sensory experience, or that are analyzed by the intellect, may be demonstrated by the reason. But in matters that pass beyond the scope of the physical senses, which we have not settled by our own understanding, and cannot–here we must believe, without hesitation, the witness of those men by whom the Scriptures (rightly called divine) were composed, men who were divinely aided in their senses and their minds to see and even to foresee the things about which they testify.
Chapter 5: Brief Answers to These Questions
But, as this faith, which works by love, begins to penetrate the soul, it tends, through the vital power of goodness, to change into sight, so that the holy and perfect in heart catch glimpses of that ineffable beauty whose full vision is our highest happiness. Here, then, surely, is the answer to your question about the beginning and the end of our endeavor. We begin in faith, we are perfected in sight. This likewise is the most comprehensive of all explanations. As for the certain and distinctive foundation of the catholic faith, it is Christ. “For other foundation,” said the apostle, “can no man lay save that which has been laid, which is Christ Jesus.” Nor should it be denied that this is the distinctive basis of the catholic faith, just because it appears that it is common to us and to certain heretics as well. For if we think carefully about the meaning of Christ, we shall see that among some of the heretics who wish to be called Christians, the name of Christ is held in honor, but the reality itself is not among them. To make all this plain would take too long–because we would then have to review all the heresies that have been, the ones that now exist, and those which could exist under the label “Christian,” and we would have to show that what we have said of all is true of each of them. Such a discussion would take so many volumes as to make it seem endless.
Chapter 6: Controversy Out of Place in a Handbook Like the Present
You have asked for an enchiridion, something you could carry around, not just baggage for your bookshelf. Therefore we may return to these three ways in which, as we said, God should be served: faith, hope, love. It is easy to say what one ought to believe, what to hope for, and what to love. But to defend our doctrines against the calumnies of those who think differently is a more difficult and detailed task. If one is to have this wisdom, it is not enough just to put an enchiridion in the hand. It is also necessary that a great zeal be kindled in the heart.
*Language is slightly updated