The Unity of Faith and Reason

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The unification of theology and philosophy has been a problem for centuries. Saint Augustine was one of the first philosophers to address this issue within his philosophy. From the time of his conversion, he recognized the value in both theology and philosophy in gaining a better understanding of the world. Through faith and reason, he unified the beneficial aspects of philosophy with the essential aspects of Christianity. Because Augustine recognizes the ultimate authority of Christ and his Word and acknowledges that it is possible to acquire truth, many aspects of Platonism can be unified with Christianity.

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In Saint Augustine's work Against the Academicians​ ​, he discusses the concept of skepticism.[1] He openly opposes the skeptical view that any form of truth or knowledge should not be acknowledged as such.[2] Instead, he believes that there is an ultimate form of truth.[3] Towards the end of this work he makes the statement:

But no doubts that we are incited to learn by the double weight of authority and of reason. Therefore I am sure that I shall never depart from the authority of Christ; for I find no other more reliable. But what ought to be attained by the most subtle reasoning—for at the present time I am so disposed as impatiently to desire to apprehend truth not only by believing, but also by knowing—I trust I shall find meanwhile in the works of the Platonists, what is not in contradiction with our sacred writings.[4]

Although his philosophy evolves over the course of his lifetime, Augustine's philosophical views are very much characterized by this claim. Especially at the beginning phase in his spiritual journey, he believes that truth can be discovered through both believing and understanding—and that Platonism can contribute to that understanding—but he also recognizes that there is a higher form of truth found in scripture, or the Word of God.[5] All throughout his Christian life, he holds to this ultimate authority of Christ.[6] Because of this belief, even though he does accept aspects of Platonism, he relates everything back to scripture, thus holding to the proverb, "For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding."[7]

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy​ ​, Augustine was born in the year 354 A.D. in northern Africa. As a young man, he was sent to Carthage to study rhetoric and grammar and it was during this period in his life that he converted to Manicheism. After almost a decade as a Manichean, however, he realized that Christianity had more satisfying answers than

Manicheism and subsequently, he became a Christian in 386 A.D.[8] Thus, when Augustine wrote Against the Academicians​ shortly afterwards in 386 A.D., it was quite early in his writing career as well as his faith. When he first began writing, he relied heavily on Neoplatonist philosophy.[9] Throughout his lifetime, Augustine's views evolved as he matured in both his faith and his understanding of scripture, but he still saw the value in studying philosophy. In fact, in his Confessions​, he admits that he greatly appreciated and saw the value in studying the works of the Platonists before he focused on gaining an understanding of Scripture.[10]

One of the key Augustinian philosophical views is his approach to understanding faith and reason. Unlike philosophers prior to Augustine, he does not follow a systemic approach to philosophy; instead, he relies upon faith and reason to solve the issues of life.[11] According to John A. Mourant, Augustine holds the position that reason and faith are made to co-exist and even complement each other. Augustine believes that having one without the other is not fruitful in any way. He does hold the viewpoint, however, that faith takes precedence and priority over reason.[12]

Because Augustine was a Christian, overall, his arguments supported the Christian worldview. And although he incorporated many aspects of Neoplatonism and Platonism—some of which does not line up with Christianity—into his philosophical arguments, this is not in direct opposition to the Christian faith. Colossians 2:8 states, "See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."[13] In this verse, Paul is referring to empty philosophical ideas that are not in line with the Christian faith. Since Augustine, however, views every Platonistic idea in the light of scripture, it is theologically acceptable for him to examine and accept the ideas of other philosophers. Ultimately, he recognizes that anything that does not agree with scripture is not a reliable form of truth, and therefore, regards that of the Platonists which does not line up with scripture as unreliable. The ones that he does accept are acceptable to examine since they do not contradict scripture.

Despite the fact that Augustine related his philosophy to scripture, many hold to the viewpoint that philosophy and Christianity are in direct opposition. For instance, Dan Baras argues that Platonism and Theism do not logically co-exist.[14][15] Furthermore, Vigiliae Christianae​ claims that Christianity and Platonism cannot be unified, due to their different foundational beliefs.[16] There are a couple of core differences between Christianity and Platonism. First of all, Christianity believes that salvation is gained solely by grace through faith, whereas in Platonism, one is saved through knowledge.[17] Secondly, another core difference is that in Platonism believes that the supreme deity has little interaction with the world, but in Christianity, God is sovereign and has an active presence among his creation.[18] While these differences produce a validity in the argument against the union of Platonism and Christianity, the similarities outweigh the arguments against. One of the similarities is that the soul has an eternal value. Both Christian theology and Platonism believe that the soul is not mortal; instead, it is eternal.18 Another similarity is that both perceive their God or deity as being perfect and fundamentally "good."19 Finally, another essential similarity is that another realm exists that is more significant than the visible reality.[19] These similarities, with the authority of scripture, make the union of aspects of Platonism with Christianity possible. Likewise, even without a unity, one cannot dismiss the direct correlation between the two. And with that correlation, it is hard to deny that they can—if nothing else—be a starting point for those seeking the truth discoverable in Christianity.

From the beginning of his Christian walk with the Lord, Augustine recognizes that the ultimate authority is Christ.[20] The way that Christ is revealed, he believes, is through his Word.[21] According to Coleman M. Ford, Augustine believes has three main assumptions about scripture. First of all, it is the inspired Word of God. Second of all, it is free of error. And third of all, it contains truth so that Christians are able to live a Christian life.[22][23] He believes that by believing what God has told us through his Word and revelation, we can become equipped to receive the truth.24 He also believes that if you desire truth, you need to believe authority.25

Another main argument that Saint Augustine makes is that one can acquire truth not only by believing the authority of Christ, but also by having confidence in knowing truth. In the Gospel of John, Jesus reveals that through obeying him, one can be confident in knowing the truth.[24] One of the most important beliefs of Christians is that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."[25] Through faith and revelation, truth is made known through the Word of God. Likewise, through reason, one can discover truth in reality, nature, and science. Both have a valuable place in giving us a greater form of understanding.

Finally, one last argument that Augustine presents is that philosophies, such as Platonism, can be valuable to the Christian understanding of reason. 1 Corinthians 6:12 states, "'I have the right to do anything,' ... but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'—but I will not be mastered by anything."[26] This verse refers to the freedom that Christians are given.

Christians may be given freedom, but they have the responsibility of using that freedom wisely. Augustine used the freedom he had to examine the works of the Platonists. Through this, he found many correlations and was able to incorporate Platonism into his personal understanding of reason. As Augustine philosophy develops, he began to move more towards a solely biblical ideology. Therefore, the works of the Platonists were very beneficial as they led him closer to Christ.

All in all, Platonistic ideology, although quite different from Christianity, can help bring reason into a relationship with faith. First, Augustine accepted the ultimate authority of Christ. Secondly, he acknowledged that the truth can be revealed through both faith and reason. And finally, he recognized the value of philosophy in the Christian faith. By adhering, first and foremost, to the authority of Christ, one can have Christian faith while also applying reason to philosophical ideals.


Augustine, Saint. Confessions of Saint Augustine​ ​. Translated by F. J. Sheed. New York, NY: Twentieth Printing, 1943.

Baras, Dan. "A Reliability Challenge to Theistic Platonism." Analysis​ ​ 77, no. 3 (July 2017): 479-487.

Burleigh, John H. S. The City of God: A Study of St. Augustine's Philosophy​ ​. London: Nisbet, 1944.

Ford, Coleman M. "'He Who Consoles Us Should Console You': The Spirituality of the Word ub

Select Letters of Augustine of Hippo." The Evangelical Quarterly​ ​ 89, no. 3 (July 2018): 240-257.

Mourant, John A. Introduction to the Philosophy of Saint Augustine: Selected Readings and Commentaries​. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964.

Ramelli, Ilaria. "Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism: Rethinking the Christianization of Hellenism." Vigiliae Christianae​ ​ 63, no. 3 (2009): 217-263.​

Vogel, C. J. De. "Platonism and Christianity: A Mere Antagonism or a Profound Common Ground." Vigiliae Christianae​ ​ 39, no. 1 (March 1985): 1-62.​

Zalta, E. N. "Saint Augustine." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,​ ​ 2019,

[1] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy​ ​, 2019 ed., s.v. "Saint Augustine,"

[2] Augustine, Against the Academicians (Contra Academicos)​ ​, trans. Mary Patricia Garvey (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University, 1957), 57.

[3] Ibid, 58.

[4] ​Augustine, Against the Academicians (Contra Academicos)​ ​, trans. Mary Patricia Garvey (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University, 1957), 82.

[5] ​John H. S. Burleigh, The City of God: A Study of St. Augustine's Philosophy​ ​ (London: Nisbet, 1944), 89.

[6] John A. Mourant, Introduction to the Philosophy of Saint Augustine: Selected Readings andCommentaries​ (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964), 9.

[7] ​Prov. 2:6 (New International Version).

[8] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy​ ​, 2019 ed., s.v. "Saint Augustine,"

[9] Burleigh, The City of God​ ​, 86.

[10] Augustine, Confessions of Saint Augustine​ ​, trans. F. J. Sheed (New York, NY: Twentieth Printing, 1943), 152-153.

[11] Mourant, Introduction to the Philosophy of Saint Augustine​ ​, 7.

[12] Ibid, 8.

[13] Col. 2:8 (English Standard Version).

[14] Dan Baras, "A Reliability Challenge to Theistic Platonism," ​ Analysis​ ​ 77, no. 3 (July 2017):

[15] ,

[16] C. J. De Vogel, "Platonism and Christianity: A Mere Antagonism or a Profound Common Ground," Vigiliae Christianae 39, no. 1 (March 1985): 2, 945654&site=eds-live.

[17] Vogel, "Platonism and Christianity," 3.

[18] Ilaria Ramelli, "Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism: Rethinking the Christianization of Hellenism," Vigiliae Christianae 63, no. 3 (2009): 255. 18 Vogel, "Platonism and Christianity," 28.​ 19 Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] ​Augustine, Against the Academicians (Contra Academicos)​ ​, trans. Mary Patricia Garvey (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University, 1957), 82.

[21] Coleman M. Ford, "'He Who Consoles Us Should Console You': The Spirituality of the Word in Select Letters of Augustine of Hippo," The Evangelical Quarterly​ ​ 89, no. 3 (2018): 214.

[22] Ibid.

[23] ​Mourant, Introduction to the Philosophy of Saint Augustine​ ​, 57. ​Ibid, 59.

[24] Jhn. 8:31-32.

[25] ​2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV).

[26] 1 Cor. 6:12 (NIV).


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