Monday, September 9, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 2 Chronicles 19 and Augustine's Treatise on Profit of Believing 22

2 Chronicles 19 – When Jehoshaphat returns to his house, Jehu, son of Hanani, the seer, meets him and criticizes him for helping Ahab. “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?” (19:2)

He nevertheless tells him that some good is found in him for his having destroyed the sacred poles and set his heart on seeking God. He went out among the people and “brought them back to the Lord” (19:4). He appointed judges and told them, “let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take care what you do, for there is no perversion of justice with the Lord our God, or partiality, or taking of bribes” (19:7). Similarly, in Jerusalem, he appointed Levites and priests and heads of families to decide disputes. “Deal courageously, and may the Lord be with the good!” (19:11)

Augustine’s Treatise on the Profit of Believing
22 - But perhaps you seek to have some reason given you on this very point, such as may persuade you, that you ought not to be taught by reason before faith. Which may easily be done, if only you make yourself a fair hearer. But, in order that it may be done suitably, I wish you as it were to answer my questions; and, first, to tell me, why you, think that one ought not to believe. Because, you say, credulity, from which men are called credulous, in itself, seems to me to be a certain fault: otherwise we should not use to cast this as a term of reproach. For if a suspicious man is in fault, in that he suspects things not ascertained; how much more a credulous man, who herein differs from a suspicious man, that the one allows some doubt, the other none, in matters which he knows not.

OK, so these terms – credulous and suspicious – are terms we use in a kind of negative way, maybe especially credulous. That means you are believing things that most people would not because you have a weak reasoning powers or don’t expect “proof” of what is being said. Suspicious means you just suspect something isn’t accurate or right – you have doubts about something. Augustine knows his friend – as he himself – did not what either of these “tags” applied to them. But are there some things where faith – trust in something you cannot KNOW – might be the best approach?

In the meanwhile, I accept this opinion and distinction. But you know that we are not wont to call a person even curious without some reproach; but we call him studious even with praise. Curiosity is perhaps valued more among moderns. But studious is definitely a good adjective, especially when we’re young and in school. Wherefore observe, if you please, what seems to you to be the difference between these two. This surely, you answer, that, although both be led by great desire to know, yet the curious man seeks after things that no way pertain to him, but the studious man, on the contrary, seeks after what pertain to him. I’m not sure this applies to the way we use these terms today. Sometimes what we are expected to be “studious” of are the things others have set before us because they believe them to be important to us, but they are not the things we would have chosen – not the things we are really curious to learn. Or maybe this is what he is getting at.

But, because we deny not that a man's wife and children, and their health, pertain unto him; if any one, being settled abroad, were to be careful to ask all comers, how his wife and children are and fare, he is surely led by great desire to know, and yet we call not this man studious, who both exceedingly wishes to know, and that (in) matters which very greatly pertain unto him. Wherefore you now understand that the definition of a studious person falters in this point, that every studious person wishes to know what pertain to himself, and yet not every one, who makes this his business, is to be called studious; but he who with all earnestness seeks those things which pertain unto the liberal culture and adornment of the mind. So he is saying what I said above. Yet we rightly call him one who studies, especially if we add what he studies to hear. For we may call him even studious of his own (family) if he love only his own (family), we do not however, without some addition, think him worthy of the common name of the studious. But one who was desirous to hear how his family were I should not call studious of hearing, unless taking pleasure in the good report, he should wish to hear it again and again: but one who studied, even if only once.

Now return to the curious person, and tell me, if any one should be willing to listen to some tale, such as would no way profit him, that is, of matters that pertain not to him: and that not in an offensive way and frequently, but very seldom and with great moderation, either at a feast, or in some company, or meeting of any kind; would he seem to you curious? I think not: but at any rate he would certainly seem to have a care for that matter, to which he was willing to listen. Wherefore the definition of a curious person also must be corrected by the same rule as that of a studious person: Consider therefore whether the former statements also do not need to be corrected. For why should not both he, who at some time suspects something, be unworthy the name of a suspicious person; and he who at some time believes something, of a credulous person? Thus as there is very great difference between one who studies any matter, and the absolutely studious; and again between him who has a care and the curious; so is there between him who believes and the credulous.

We have to remember here that Augustine is really not meaning to go into the particulars of Christian doctrine, which I think I may have thought before I started reading it closely. He is interested in simply lifting up, examining and recommending the mental act of “believing” as something we all do and must do as human beings.

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