4. Devotion to Study and the Pursuit of Wisdom.
The cultivation of the mind is an integral element in Augustinian values formation. But study and learning must not be understood as mere bookishness nor the pursuit for academic excellence. The reading of books, research and study were means by which Augustine, even as a young student at Carthage, deepened his own thirst for life. After his conversion, study and learning became the venue of his on-going formation in the Christian life. The life that he shared with his friends at Cassiciacum was, in the description of a scholar, more like an academic seminar rather than a spiritual retreat. Later, when he became Bishop of Hippo, reading and study became, not only his refreshment after a day of administrative work, but also a form of service to the Church of his times and to his contemporaries.
Devotion to study must be understood within the perspective of the pursuit of Wisdom. Wisdom is the capacity to understand the world, the self and others in the light of the Ultimate Reality, God. The pursuit of Wisdom coincides with the search for Truth which every man longs for.
This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific; nor is it only in individual acts of decision-making that people seek the true good. Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute10.
For the Christian of Augustine’s days, Wisdom was equated with the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word Incarnate. This insight though ancient is relevant until now. It is in fact the basis for the Christian conviction that the mystery of man and all that it encompasses is illumined by the mystery of Christ, the God-man. In Christ, man encounters the Truth he longs for.
The Apostle reminds us: "Truth is in Jesus" (Eph. 4:21; Col. 1:15-20). He is the eternal Word in whom all things are created, and he is the incarnate Word who in his entire person reveals the Father (cf. Jn. 1:14.18). What human reason seeks ‘without knowing it’ (cf. Acts 17:23)) can be found only through Christ: what is revealed in him is the ‘full truth’ (cf. Jn. 1:14-16) of everything which was created in him and through him and which therefore in him finds its fulfillment11.
The Augustinian’s devotion to study -- whether sacred or profane -- finds its place within the context of the mind’s ascent to Truth. This intellectual dimension of Augustinian spirituality has been duly noted. We will discuss this intellectual dimension as it pertains to the educational formation of students studying the secular sciences under the following headings: (a) Faith and Reason; (b) The Two Books Doctrine; (c) Virtus et Scientia; (d) The Inner Teacher.
(a) Faith and Reason.
"Believe that you may understand," says Augustine; but he also says, "understand that you may believe." Belief is "to think with assent." This is a conviction that comes from a basic classroom experience: one cannot progress much in one’s studies unless one learns first to trust in the teacher’s word. Understanding -- the exercise of the faculty of reason -- works on data that are often received on trust. Thus, reason is complimented by faith. It is also a given experience that what one has learned on the word of another, is deepened and perfected in research and inquiry. In this second case, reason builds on what has been heard, noted and memorized. This whole learning process applies even to the big questions of life: "Who am I?" "What am I here for?" "What is happiness?" "How can I be happy?" "Why is there so much evil?" etc. To these questions, the Church -- Mother and Teacher -- hands on what she herself has received from the deposit of faith entrusted to her. What the Church gives is not a product of human research done according to accepted scientific principles; rather, what she gives comes from quite another source, God -- the Creator of all. The reasoning of a Christian works within the ambit provided by God’s revelation regarding Himself, the world and man, as interpreted by the Church. This way, the Christian is assured of a way of looking at things that is not arbitrary but guaranteed by the authority of the Revealer Himself. "Faith" and "Science" cannot be in conflict so long as we remember that "Faith" answers the question "Why?" while "Science" answers the question "How?" This means that one can be a good scientist without ceasing to be a Christian. And, in fact, it is the Church’s conviction that real Christians make excellent scientists.