The man generally known as Averroes—Muhammad Ibn Ahmad (c.1126–98)—was a Muslim scholar from southern Spain who came to be regarded as one of the great authorities on Aristotle's philosophy. Medieval and even later philosophers in the Scholastic tradition referred to him simply as ‘the Commentator’ just as they referred to Aristotle himself as ‘the Philosopher’. Averroes' authority as an expositor was never wholly unchallenged and, in a purely historical context, the term ‘Averroist’ should strictly be reserved for those Aristotelians who (...) followed the interpretations of Averroes rather than those of, say, Avicenna. Some of these interpretations, however, suggested beliefs that were inconsistent with acceptance of a Creator of the material world or with belief in a last judgment at which individual souls would be punished or rewarded for their life on earth. They suggested, rather, that the material world was eternal and that individual souls did not survive bodily death. This raised a general problem about what to say in the face of a conflict between faith and reason, between the teachings of the Church and the teachings of philosophy. Averroism became associated with a particular problem and with what was known as the ‘twofold truth’, according to which it is possible to admit the conflict and continue to profess a religious faith without abandoning or abridging one's commitment to philosophy. (shrink)
I think it would be generally agreed that the two surest ways of getting into serious trouble in Christian circles in the first three or four centuries of the Church's existence were to engage in speculation either on the nature of Christ the Son and his relation to his Father, or on the mutual relations of the members of the Trinity. While passions have cooled somewhat in the intervening centuries, these are still now subjects which a Classical scholar must approach (...) with trepidation—partly, at least, because the two disciplines of Classical Philology and Patristics, which were for so long so intimately connected, in the persons of a series of great scholars, are now so far removed from one another. I propose on this occasion to stick mainly to what I profess to know something about, that is the development of Platonic doctrine over the first few centuries AD, but I will inevitably be led from time to time into more dangerous speculations, and I trust I will receive due tolerance, as well as proper correction, where it is necessary. (shrink)
In his great poemThe Wreck of the DeutschlandGerard Manley Hopkins evokes the conversions of Paul and Augustine as two contrasting examples of the way in which God may intervene in human affairs:With an anvil-dingAnd with fire in him forge thy willOr rather, rather then, stealing as SpringThrough him, melt him but master him still:Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill….
Augustine's philosophy of being, the subject of my lecture, might be approached in two ways. In traditional terms, we might consider the question quid est esse, or alternatively the question quaenam sunt. This latter question is easily explained; it means, roughly speaking, what does the real universe contain or comprise, in a large and general sense. Material objects, of course, we can all accept; but what should be said about minds and spirits and the things with which they are concerned? (...) The other question is more difficult to explain in simple terms. Suppose we translate it ‘What is being?’, we may seem to be asking a question about the word ‘being’; what is the sense which Augustine gives to this word? But in fact we shall discover a whole spectrum of senses. ‘Being’, for Augustine, sometimes appears to express the purely minimal notion of mere existence; but he also uses it as a powerful symbol to formulate his deepest reflections on the spiritual life and the nature of God. (shrink)
Recent work on the subject of faith has tended to focus on the epistemology of religious belief, considering such issues as whether beliefs held in faith are rational and how they may be justified. Richard Swinburne, for example, has developed an intricate explanation of the relationship between the propositions of faith and the evidence for them. Alvin Plantinga, on the other hand, has maintained that belief in God may be properly basic, that is, that a belief that God exists can (...) be part of the foundation of a rational noetic structure. This sort of work has been useful in drawing attention to significant issues in the epistemology of religion, but these approaches to faith seem to me also to deepen some long-standing perplexities about traditional Christian views of faith. (shrink)
Most of us have probably heard Samuel Johnson's witticism about the reported proposal of an acquaintance to enter into a second marriage—‘the triumph of hope over experience’. Whatever that tells us about his friend's previous marriage, it tells us quite a bit about the popular understanding of hope. A similiar point was implied by J. B. Priestley when he referred to whisky distillers marketing faith and hope at twelve shillings and sixpence per bottle, and not for the first time G. (...) K. Chesterton got it superficially wrong in defining hope as ‘the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate’. (shrink)
The central doctrine of Christianity is that God intervened in human history in the person of Jesus Christ in a unique way; and that quickly became understood as the doctrine that in Jesus Christ God became man. In AD 451 the Council of Chalcedon formulated that doctrine in a precise way utilizing the current philosophical terminology, which provided a standard for the orthodoxy of subsequent thought on this issue. It affirmed its belief in ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, … truly God (...) and truly man, … in two natures … the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person’. One individual, one thing that is; and being a rational individual, one person. An individual's nature are those general properties which make it the sort of individual it is. The nature of my desk is to be a solid material object of a certain shape; the nature of the oak tree in the wood is to take in water and light, and to grow into a characteristic shape with characteristic leaves and give off oxygen. Chalcedon affirmed that the one individual Jesus Christ had a divine nature, was God that is; and it assumed that the divine nature was an essential nature. (shrink)
‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ (Genesis 1.1). For millions of Jews, Christians and Muslims this has been a fundamental article of belief. Nor is it unknown in the classical Indian traditions. The Upanishads, taken by the orthodox to be ‘heard’, not invented, and to be verbally inerrant, state: ‘He desired: “May I become many, may I procreate” … He created (or emanated) this whole universe’ (Taittiriya Upanishad, 6). The belief that everything in the universe is (...) brought into being by an act of will or desire on the part of one uniquely uncreated being is widespread and fundamental in religion. Historians of religion generally suppose that it is a rather late belief in the Biblical tradition, having developed from an earlier stage at which Jahweh was one tribal deity among others. By the time of the major prophets, however, the notion was firmly established that there is only one God, creator of everything other than himself. Christian theologians always seem to have had a great interest in conceptual problems, and the idea of creation has proved a very fruitful one for generating philosophical puzzles. Those puzzles are still of great theoretical interest, and I shall consider some of them with reference to the work of Augustine and, to a lesser extent Thomas Aquinas. Their views have been so influential that they may fairly be called ‘classical’, in Christian theology. (shrink)