These three remain

August 28, 2008

Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love (421)
St. Augustine (Regnary, 1996)
191 p.  First reading.

This enchiridion — or “handbook” — was written as a letter to one Laurentius, a Roman who was making inquiries about the Christian faith. Augustine responded by articulating and defending the Apostles Creed.  This approach, good in itself, is somewhat awkwardly structured as an introduction to the three basic Christian virtues — awkward because much the greater part of the text is concerned specifically with Christian doctrine — with faith — and only in the closing pages does he briefly consider hope and love.  This can be justified — faith is the foundation for the other two virtues, and so is in some sense primary — but, still, calling it Enchiridion on Faith would have been closer to the truth.

Laurentius must have been an educated man, for Augustine does not hesitate to raise a number of philosophical issues in the course of his discussion.  The doctrine of Creation is accompanied by an extended analysis of what it means to say that the world is “good”, and so of the metaphysical status of good and evil.  This is supplemented by a slight digression on lying and truth-telling.  When presenting the doctrines pertaining to Christ, he takes up a number of thorny issues concerning the interrelationships of the Trinitarian persons, and the sense in which Jesus can be called “son” of God.  Other topics include sin and forgiveness, baptism and original sin, the Church, grace and judgment.

It is always interesting to revisit old texts, just to see the extent to which the Church remains in continuity with herself over time.  A modern Christian feels very much at home in Augustine’s company.

[Doctrine distilled]
Moreover, when the mind has been imbued with the first elements of that faith which worketh by love, it endeavors by purity of life to attain unto sight, where the pure and perfect in heart know that unspeakable beauty, the full vision of which is supreme happiness.  Here surely is an answer to your question as to what is the starting-point, and what the goal: we begin in faith, and are made perfect by sight.  This also is the sum of the whole body of doctrine.

[Abuses of language]
Now it is evident that speech was given to man, not that men might therewith deceive one another, but that one man might make known his thoughts to another.  To use speech, then, for the purpose of deception, and not for its appointed end, is a sin.

[Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also]
And now as to love, which the apostle declares to be greater than the other two graces, that is, than faith and hope, the greater the measure in which it dwells in a man, the better is the man in whom it dwells.  For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves.  For the man who loves aright no doubt believes and hopes aright; whereas the man who has not love believes in vain, even though his beliefs are true; and hopes in vain, even though the objects of his hope are a real part of true happiness; unless, indeed, he believes and hopes for this: that he may obtain by prayer the blessing of love.

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