What are the similarities and differences between Augustine and Aquinas when it comes to faith and reason?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a sense, both of these theologians are on the same side of the debates over faith and reason. In antiquity, there was a major controversy over whether secular learning was of any value to the Christian, famously expressed in Tertullian's question "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?". 

Augustine's response in De Doctrina Christiana was to use the metaphor of the gold the Jews took from Egypt. He argues that pagan learning, like the Egyptian gold, could be put to good use. The study of grammar, ars recte loquendi et enarratio poetarum (the art of correct speech and interpreting texts), was needed for reading the Bible, and other elements of the seven liberal arts were useful in interpreting the literal meaning of the Bible. Rhetoric was important for Christian preachers; although faith and a morally good life were essential for preachers, skill in speaking was necessary to inspire an audience. In the Middle Ages, the phrase "Egyptian gold" was frequently used in discussions about the role of the seven liberal arts in Christian education, and many theologians wrote commentaries on De Doctrina Christiana.

While Aquinas agreed with Augustine over the importance of secular learning for Christians, he argued for very different elements in this learning. While Augustine had been focused on the liberal arts, Aquinas marks a shift from the twelfth-century Christian Platonism and its emphasis on the arts to scholasticism, which applied Aristotelian logic and physics (especially the theory of the four causes) to Christian theology. His emphasis on Aristotelian technical philosophy differs greatly from Augustinian focus on the liberal arts.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Saint Augustus and Aquinas are both renowned for their input in the field of philosophy and theology with Augustus coming some centuries before Aquinas. They both had similarities and differences in their inferences with regards to different topics. Their similarities in this regard are:

  • Both explored the dichotomy of faith and reason and how they relate to each other.
  • They both agree on the contradiction presented by reason versus scripture.
  • They both believe in the attainment of higher truths through faith.
  • They both consider faith as trust in the scriptures and the belief in the existence of God, while reason is an attempt at understanding God.

Their differences include:

  • St. Augustine was more inclined to the Platonist way of inference while St. Aquinas was more inclined to the Aristotelian way of thinking.
  • St. Augustine believed that logic or reason would only be applicable to a non-Christian but not applicable to a Christian who has developed their faith which he considered superior. St. Aquinas on the other hand believed faith and reason are interrelated.
readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the fundamental points of Augustine is that people are fallen due to sin. We can say that he has a very strong view of original sin. This includes the thinking abilities of people. So, according to Augustine, no one can reason their way to God. We can say that Augustine has a rather bleak view of humanity. In light of this, the relation between faith and reason is: "faith seeking reason." Or we can say, Augustine believes in order to understand.

When it comes to Aquinas, he, too, believed that humanity was fallen, but he had a much higher view of the mind. In other words, he believed that through careful reasoning and intellectual effort, a person could reach the conclusion of a Christian God. In fact, one of the reasons for his magnum opus, Summa Theologica, was to prove the existence of God. From this perspective, we can say that reason can lead to faith, just the opposite of Augustine.