The Existence of Augustinian ‘Metaphysics’



One might think that the title above raises an idle question. And indeed in a sense it does. Could a theologian get on with his business at all without reasoning in universal terms about what universally is? Lacking general notions on the nature of being-ingeneral, could he even begin to work out a theory of its Principle ? By what means could he then build a theology?


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  1. 1.
    “Porro si sapientia Deus est, per quern facta sunt omnia, sicut divina auctoritas veritasque monstravit (Sap. VII, 24-27); et Hebr. I, 2, 3), verus philosophus est amator Dei. (The City of God, VIII, 1 (PL 41, 224-225); italics added. “Obsecro te, non sit honestior philosophia Gentium quam nostra Christiana, quae una est vera philosophia, quandoquidem Studium vel amor sapientiae significatur hoc nomine.” (Against Julian the Pelagian, IV, 14.72 (PL 44, 774); italics added.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See preceding note.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Sermon XLIII, 7.9 (PL 38,253). Cf. Epistle CXX, I, 3 (PL 33,453); On St. John’s Gospel, XXXVI, 7 (PL 35, 1667).Google Scholar
  4. 1.
    “Haec est sapientiae et scientiae recta distinctio, ut ad sapientian pertineat aeternarum rerum cognitio intellectualis: ad scientiam vero temporalium reum cognitio rationalis.” The Trinity, XII, 15.25 (P L 42, 1012).Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    Cf. Soliloquies I, 6.13 (PL 32, 876); On St. John’s Gospel, XXXV, 8.3 (PL 35, 1658). The texts on this “illumination” are very numerous. See A. Martin, S. Augustini Philosophia, II, ch. 32 (ed. Fabre) for a collection of many of the principal statements concerning this celebrated and much controverted topic in Augustine; and one especially recommends the excellent gathering of texts by L. W. Keeler, S.J., Sancti Augustini doctrina de cognitione, Romae, 1934. It would be irrelevant for us to enter here into the problems and controversies involved.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    Confessions, X 23.33 (PL 32, 793); The Trinity, X, 3.5 (PL 42, 975); On the Blessed Life, II, II (PL 32, 965); 11, 14 (PL 32, 966); III, 18 (PL 32, 968), etc.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Against Julian the Pelagian, IV, 14.72 (PL 44, 774). Cf. The City of God, VIII, 9 (PL 41, 233); On the Christian Way of Life, I, 21.38 (PL 32, 1327).Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    E.g., Enneads, V, 1, 7.Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    E.g., Republic, VI, 508 E-509 B.Google Scholar
  10. 3.
    E.g., See Victorinus, On the Generation of the Divine Word (Liber de generatione Verbi divini, ch. 4-5), (PL 8, 1022; 13, 1027); The Book on Causes (Liber de Causis), e.g., Par 2, 5, 21 (ed. Bardenhewer, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1882, pp. 165, 168, 183; Pseudo-Dionysius, On the Divine Names (De divinis nominibus), IV, 3.Google Scholar
  11. 4.
    While this reading, based on the Septuagint (a Greek version of the O. T. made between 280 and 130 B. C), is not a perfectly literal rendering of the Hebrew original, that problem is here metaphysically irrelevant; for Augustine’s understanding of its ontological import agrees precisely with the Christian idea of God as the single Supreme Being and is therefore incompatible with any opposing metaphysical interpretation. It is pertinent to note that Augustine ascribes pre-eminent authority to the Septuagint because he firmly believed that God had provided that version for the instruction of the Gentiles even as He had provided the Hebrew text for the instruction of the Hebrews. That is why (according to Augustine) the Holy Spirit had inspired the Septuagint translators to deviate at times from the Hebrew text: only by doing so could they express the truth in the manner in which God willed it to be expressed to the Gentiles. See On Christian Doctrine, II, 15.22 (PL 34, 46); The City of God, XVIII, 43 (PL 41, 604). See below, Ch. X, p. 74 n. 3.Google Scholar
  12. 1.
    E.g., in Sermon VI, 3.4 (PL 38, 61); VII, 7 (PL 38, 66); The City of God, XII, 2 (PL 41, 350); The Trinity, V, 2.3 (PL 42, 912).Google Scholar
  13. 2.
    Etienne Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, 2nd edition, Toronto, 1952, p. 31.Google Scholar
  14. 3.
    “Ipsum esse se vocari respondit; et tamquam hoc esset ei nomen: Hoc dices eis, inquit, Qui est, misit me” (Exodus 3: 14). Commentary on Psalm CXXXIV, 4 (PL 37, 1741).Google Scholar
  15. 4.
  16. 5.
    Non dixit, Dominus Deus ille “omnipotens, “misericors,” “Justus,” quae si diceret, utique vera diceret. Sublatis de medio omnibus quibus appellari posset et dici Deus, “ipsum esse” se vocari respondit; et tamquam hoc esset ei nomen: “Hoc dices eis, inquit, Qui est, misit me.”Ibid. See above, note 3.Google Scholar
  17. 1.
    Note that Augustine says “essentia.” See below, chapter IX for the meaning of this important term in Augustine.Google Scholar
  18. 2.
    The City of God, XII, 2 (PL 41, 350).Google Scholar
  19. 3.
    On the True Religion, XVIII, 35 (PL 34, 137).Google Scholar
  20. 4.
    Ibid. See Augustine’s lengthy development of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo in his treatise Against Felix the Manichean, II, 18 (PL 42, 547-48). Cf. C. O’Toole, The Philosophy of Creation in the writings of St. Augustine, Washington, 1944.Google Scholar
  21. 5.
    On the True Religion, XVIII, 36 (PL 34, 137).Google Scholar
  22. 6.
    Confessions, XII, 6.6 (PL 32, 827).Google Scholar
  23. 7.
    Ibid., also XII, 8.8 (PL 32, 829).Google Scholar
  24. 8.
    A Literal Commentary on “Genesis,” I, 15, 29 (PL 34, 257).Google Scholar
  25. 1.
    Op. cit., PL 8, 1022; PL 13, 1027.Google Scholar
  26. 2.
    Enneads, V, 1.7.Google Scholar
  27. 3.
    Enneads, V, 1.10.Google Scholar
  28. 4.
    Enneads, V. 3.13. Italics added.Google Scholar
  29. 5.
    Parmenides, 141 E; Republic, VI, 509 B.Google Scholar
  30. 6.
    Plotinus, Enneads, V, 4.1.Google Scholar
  31. 1.
    Cf. Enneads, V, 5.6.Google Scholar
  32. 2.
    Enneads, V, 3.13.Google Scholar
  33. 3.
    See J. Anderson, The Bond of Beins, St. Louis: Herder, 1949, esp. pp. 67-68.Google Scholar
  34. 4.
    Cf. Op. cit., ch. III.Google Scholar
  35. 5.
    E.g., see L. Grandgeorge, Saint Augustin et le neéo-platonisme, Paris, Leroux, 1896; G. M. Manser, “Augustinus Philosophie in ihrem Verhàltnis und ihrer Abhàngigkeit von Plotin,” Divus Thomas, vol. X, 1932.Google Scholar
  36. 6.
    Answer to the Skeptics, III, 20.43 (PL 32, 957).Google Scholar
  37. 7.
    Summa Theologiae, I, q. 84, a. 5.Google Scholar
  38. 1.
    The City of God, VIII, I (PL 41, 224).Google Scholar
  39. 2.
    E.g., see On the True Religion, V, 8 (PL 43, 129); The City of God, VIII, 8 (PL 41, 232-33); VIII, 4 (PL 41, 227-29); The Christian Way of Life, 1,16.26 (PL 32, 1322); I, 8.13 (PL 32, 1316); I, 14.24 (PL 32, 1321).Google Scholar
  40. 3.
    Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 1, a. 2 and a. 6.Google Scholar
  41. 1.
    Cf. J. Maritain, Les degreés du savoir, Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 4th ed., 1946, ch. VII, 8; authorized English version: Distinguish to Unite or The Degrees of Knowledge, translated under the supervision of G.B. Phelan, New York: Scribners, 1959.Google Scholar
  42. 2.
    Maritain, op. cit., p. 595; English version, p. 300.Google Scholar
  43. 1.
    E.g., see The City of God, VIII, 8 (PL 41, 232-33).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1965

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Villanova UniversityUSA

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