Friday, 11 April 2008

St. Augustine has a lot to answer for

No.1 in the 'Understanding the History of Religion' Series

The most influential writer of the early Christian church was the bishop who became known as Saint Augustine. In the absence of anything better, his writings on a wide range of subjects seemed to satisfy the need for a comprehensive explanation of the Bible. Augustine's writings became sacred in their own way. His books still form the backbone of Catholic philosophy today. He died during the barbarian invasions around the year 430. Augustine wrote ...

When the question is asked, what we are to believe in regard to religion, it is not necessary to probe into the nature of things, as was done by the Greek scientists. We need not be alarmed should the Christian not know the number of elements; the motion of the heavenly bodies; the shape of the cosmos; the species of animals and plants; the nature of stones, rivers, and mountains; about time and distance; the signs of coming storms; or about a thousand other things which these scientists have either found out, or think they have found out.

For even these men themselves, endowed as they are with so much genius, burning with zeal, abounding in leisure, tracking some things by the aid of human conjecture, searching into others with the aids of history and experience, have not found out all things; and even their boasted discoveries are more often mere guesses rather than certain knowledge.

It is enough for the Christian to believe that the only cause of all created things, whether heavenly or earthly, visible or invisible, is the goodness of the creator, the one true God; and that nothing exists but Himself that does not derive its existence from Him. And that he is the Trinity, meaning he is the Father, and the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father, all being one and the same spirit.

Augustine knew that Christianity was not compatible with science. For Christians, there was no need for new discoveries. Everything that mankind would ever need to know about God, nature, or humanity was to be found in the Bible. The process of discovery that began in ancient Greece had come to an end. Books would be destroyed and knowledge would be lost, marking the beginning of a Dark Age that would last for the next thousand years.