Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Most Passionate Ancient Philosopher: Saint Augustine

6th Century Lateran Portrait

If a philosopher is one who loves wisdom, there is no one among the ancients or the moderns who can more rightly be called a philosopher than Saint Augustine, because in him the passion for the truth is something overflowing and uncommon.

Neither Plato nor Aristotle, nor any of the wise men of Greece or Rome have left us as ardent and emotional pages on the truth as Saint Augustine.

If his heart moans and sighs, it is never for the temporal and perishable goods of this world, but rather on account of the darkness that envelops him and the vain struggles which he has to undergo to arrive at the truth, when he succeeds in reaching it. From the time he reads the Hortentius, Augustine is the errant knight in love with the truth, who carries the harpoon of love and pain planted in his chest, which he will never be able to tear out of himself even if he should attempt it in despair.

The character of source, of light, of life, of intellection and of love which Saint Augustine gives to the truth and to philosophy is unique to him, unknown to antiquity and to many succeeding centuries.

The philosophy of the intelligence and of the heart of which Pascal occasionally speaks has deep roots in Saint Augustine. For Saint Augustine philosophy is something vital and human, it is an exercise of the whole man in that which he has which is most noble and most elevated.

...All of his incoercible yearnings of happiness and of good, all of his enthusiasms and raptures for ultimate beauty, all of his loving and fiery impetuses, all of his dreams and hopes of glory and honors are gradually reduced and concentrated into this supreme and fascinating ideal until it forms for him the only object of his loves and the principle and center of all his interior life...

In this sense we have to say that the holy Bishop of Hippo is more modern that the most modern philosophers.

Obras de San Agustín, II, "Introducción a la Filosofía de San Augustín," Angel Vega, Madrid: BAC, 1946, 13-14, 14 n1.
Cf. Confessions book III, chapter 4, nn. 7-8.
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