Augustine and the renewal of culture

Pope John Paul II continues with the study of the lessons from the conversion of Augustine: an error that also bore down upon the young Augustine, in addition to the skewed relation of faith and reason, is the “supposed contrast between Christ and the Church, with the consequent conviction that it was necessary to abandon the Church in order to belong more fully to Christ.” Augustine returned to the Church of Monica and Ambrose; he discovered the Christ of faith, authoritative and saving faith. His quest for integrity and wisdom found its home truth. Nothing falls outside of the authoritative and saving faith. How could it? Why would it? John Paul II adroitly notes that the “faith-reason” relation and its variant faith-culture relation gets folded within the Christ-Church relation.

One may rightly say that the summit of the theological thinking of the Bishop of Hippo is Christ and the Church; indeed, one could add that this is the summit of his philosophy too, in that he rebukes the philosophers for having done philosophy “without the man Christ.” The Church is inseparable from Christ. From the time of his conversion onwards, he recognized and accepted with joy and gratitude the law of providence which has established in Christ and in the Church “the entire summit of authority and the light of reason in that one saving name and in his one Church, recreating and reforming the human race.”

Curiously we notice he says that the theology of the Church is the summit of his theology and his philosophy. Why philosophy? Would not philosophy stop well short of ecclesiology? Don’t we have a hopeless mixing and confusion of disciplines?  Not so, for this reason — what happens when one philosophizes “without the man Christ.” We learn in Redemptor hominis that Christ reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. Ethics is rather hopeless without this horizon. And in Fides et ratio he says that without the cross the mystery of suffering remains impenetrable. So yes, if Christ and the Church are inseparable, and philosophy must include the wisdom and life of “the man Christ” — it follows — philosophy must be brought to the summit along with theology.

At the summit we find “Authority” and the “light of reason.” An analogy may be this — an oxygen enriched atmosphere will make a flame burn with brighter intensity. The flame of reason must still be reason, but it will reach a greater intensity of insight and vigor of reason.

And lastly, at this summit we find the springs of renewal of culture — the authentic “recreating and reforming” of the human race. The philosophers have dreamed utopian dreams of such recreation and reformation — Plato’s philosopher king, Aristotle’s civic education or divine contemplation, Cartesian dreams of mastery of nature through reason, Marxian transformation to a classless society, Nietzsche and the use and abuse of history, Rousseau’s legislator, Dewey and democratic reformations. John Paul II looks back to the most authentic voice of cultural renewal, in realistic possibilities and limits — Augustine. We must learn his “rebuke of the philosophers for having done philosophy ‘without the man Christ.'”

Redemptor hominis and Fides et ratio offer us a clear vision for renewal for the new millenium..

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