Friday, February 3, 2012

Early thoughts on Divine Illumination and Wisdom in On the Happy Life

St. Augustine’s earliest work begun is On the Happy Life, which consists primarily of St. Augustine’s dialogue and exposition of what is necessary in order to have a truly blessed life. To no one’s surprise it consists in the capacity to know God who leads us to truth, to understand and comprehend the truth enjoyed (God), and the bond of these two that connects us with the supreme measure (God)1. Similarly for the early St. Augustine, this happy life is necessarily tied to the rational faculties of the mind by which when fully following them we will be fully blessed. This corresponds to the way of wisdom and happiness here for the early St. Augustine who is so concerned with knowing truth and obtaining wisdom, which for him is inexorably tied to an intimate and soulful connection with God.

To that effect, St. Augustine similarly writes:
A certain admonition, flowing from the very fountain of truth, urges us to remember God, to seek Him, and thirst after Him tirelessly. This hidden sun pours into our innermost eyes that beaming light. He is all the truth that we speak, even though, in our anxiety, we hesitate to turn with courage toward this light and to behold it in its entirety, because our eyes, recently opened, are not yet strong enough. This light appears to be nothing other than God, who is perfect without any fault. Because there is entirety and perfection, at the same time He is the most omnipotent God.” (On the Happy Life, Chapter 4)

It seems here that there is some parallel here to Plato’s Republic whereby we gain knowledge of the true forms, the essences and substances of the things around us, and a form of wisdom through coming to seek the forms out. The allegory of the cave in the Republic is such that one is in ignorance until one ascends out of the cave finally seeing the sun and learning of the true world and order, such to cast out the shadowy errors believed in the cave. Though for St. Augustine the idea here is that one is to look to God for wisdom and in that He provides truth by His influence and will. The beholding of God is like beholding a beaming light from the sun which reveals the mysteries around us. There is a certain anxiety about seeking God though as there is in Plato’s Republic about coming out of the cave in that it takes courage to seek out God who is Infinite and Almighty in parallel to seeking out the forms to illuminate us although people may ridicule us for coming to the truth of the substance and essences of things.

To be more direct here we see St. Augustine putting forth the idea that all wisdom and true knowledge comes from God who casts out light for us so that we can truly know things as they truly are. Thus those who want to be wise must seek out God who is Truth, and listen to God who speaks to them in their minds. This is the beginning of St. Augustine’s divine illumination theory of knowledge that we will have to develop as I read more St. Augustine and post more on his writings.


  1. This, then, is the full satisfaction of souls, this is the happy life: to recognize piously and completely the One through whom you are led into the truth, the nature of the truth you enjoy, and the bond that connects you with the supreme measure.’ (On the Happy Life, Chapter 4); St. Augustine already mentions that the truth is God (specifically Christ, though not to the exclusion of the other two Persons of the Trinity), the supreme measure is God (possible allusion to the Father), and it seems the bond is God (might be a reference to the Holy Spirit). Though the footnote in the text wants to ascribe it to Christ’s “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

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