Augustine’s Epistemology

 In Church Fathers, Church History

First, we will examine Augustine’s epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the limits and validity of knowledge in nature. Now, it’s very important that we look at his epistemology first because without it we will simply not understand why he thinks the way he thinks. Augustine derived his philosophy and theology from Holy Scripture. Augustine would argue that the only way we can know what is true or good is if there is an objective standard of truth and goodness. Without the standard of truth and goodness, we cannot objectively say that the Holocaust was evil or that slavery was an abomination. Augustine believed that God is the standard of truth and goodness in our universe. Without Him, we couldn’t say something is objectively good or evil.

God reveals Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ is the logos which means He is the Word of God, the wisdom of God, the divine self-expression of God and the means in which the universe was created. This is the God that Augustine is talking about. Christ stated, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Though we must make a distinction between the personhood of the Father, the personhood of the Son and the personhood of the Holy Spirit. They are distinct in personhood but one in essence and being. Without Jesus, you do not have the one true God and therefore, in our case, we do not have an objective standard of calling something true or false.

Jesus can only be known through the Christian Scriptures, that is, through special revelation. We know that there is a standard of truth and goodness through general revelation by virtue of us being created in the image of God as we view the created world around us. But the Hebrew Bible prophesied that the Messiah, which is the Hebrew equivalent for the Greek “Christ,” would come and the New Testament Gospels recorded what He did and the rest of the New Testament explains the significance of the work of Christ. Within the Bible, He communicates His holy standard of truth and goodness through prophets and apostles who were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) to write Scripture that is theopneustos, which means that the words the authors wrote were “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 2:16). It is inspired by God the Holy Spirit (the third Person of the Trinity). These men were not writing whatever they thought or felt was right but the infallible, holy and righteous words of God. Augustine believed so strongly in using the Scriptures to convince people of his views based upon Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Augustine saw Scripture as the means in which the Spirit of God changed hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures in convicting the world of sin and righteousness (John 16:8-10) and of what man ultimately needs.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.

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