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Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia

Allan Fitzgerald, General Editor

Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1999

Excerpt from an Article on Knowledge by the Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse.

...The argument which seeks knowledge of God must therefore move beyond the useful temporalia of the external Word and seek the Word within.  The soul must turn to itself, to its own intellect, "by which we grasp sapientia, so far as we are able" (Trin. 5.1.2).  In that inner reflection upon the Word, the soul discovers itself as image of the Trinity, as like in species to that which it knows (Trin. 7.6.12); and that discovery constitutes the basis of the argument of the last eight books of De Trinitate.  The argument is not by way of analogy from the soul to God (an approach explicitly rejected at the beginning of the treatise), but from God to the soul.  On the analogy of the Holy Trinity the soul comes to know itself as the unity of its distinct personal powers of being, knowing, loving, or memory, intellect, and will.

From that standpoint the succession of analogies which occupies the later books of De Trinitate should not be regarded as a series of more or less plausible psychological illustrations, but rather as a progressive reflection of images, whereby the mind seeks to dispose itself more and more toward its own true centre, reforming itself to the divine image, which is its own true nature, until it comes to know itself as nothing other than memoria Dei, intellectus Dei, voluntas dei (14.15-18).  Thus self-knowledge and knowledge of God stand in a dialectical relationship; the soul turns inward, to itself, in order to ascend to the knowledge of God; but that knowledge, in turn, involves a profoundly reformed self-knowledge, a radically new conception of the structure of human personality as an essential unity and equality of the personal powers of memory, intellect, and will.

This trinitarian conception of the life of the soul has far-reaching implications for the theory of knowledge.  "The mind itself, its love and its knowledge are three things, and these three are one; and when they are perfect they are equal" (9.4.4).  As Father and Son are joined by the bond of love who is the Holy Spirit, just so in the life of the soul it is the will, or love, which unites the knowing subject and the object known (14.6.8).  In Augustine's view, there is no knowing without loving, and no loving without knowing: they belong equally to the one essence of the mind (9.2.2).  As in the trinitarian paradigm there is a logical order whereby the begetting of the Word precedes the proceeding of the Spirit, so also in human knowledge there is an analogous logical order of the moments of knowing and willing, which does not vitiate, however, their essential equality.  For Augustine, the highest wisdom is a perfect unity of knowledge and love...