Welcome, and happy Feast of St. Augustine!

This blog is in the making as group blog for Catholic philosophers. Several of my friends, erstwhile colleagues, and would-be colleagues have already agreed to come on board and contribute. You can read about them on the About page. But as the idea for this blog originated with me, the chief responsibility for administering it has fallen to me.

I thought it peculiarly appropriate to launch on the liturgical feast day of St. Augustine, who was a philosopher before he became a Catholic. Once he underwent his conversion, a process so eloquently documented in that classic of Western literature known as his Confessions, Augustine adopted a different set of priorities for his thought.  He became a Catholic first, a theologian second; soon enough he became a bishop in a very contentious region; and as for philosophy—well, he gradually abandoned philosophical inquiry for its own sake.  He prayed, he preached, he meditated, he theologized; but philosophizing for its own sake, he came to suspect, was something only pagans did.

Some philosophers think that meant he ceased to be a philosopher; some believers think he didn’t leave philosophy nearly far enough behind. On my own account as a Catholic, I’d say that I do philosophy for the sake of understanding myself, the world, even God better than I would if I didn’t do philosophy.  I know by long experience that studying philosophy in depth, and constructing serious philosophical arguments which do not require any divinely revealed truth as premises, is an excellent discipline even for committed believers.

That good philosophy is intrinsically valuable remains so even for those of us who believe that, in the final analysis, our response to divine revelation and grace, as manifest in how we are thereby transformed as persons, is far more important than philosophy as an academic discipline. Divine revelation is for everybody, after all—as is philosophy in the original sense of the Greek term, which means “love of wisdom.” Everybody who comes to love God and neighbor comes to love wisdom too. But philosophizing in a systematic way is for the (relatively) few. I think most of my contributors would agree with that. Of course they would have qualifications to add, and probably wouldn’t say it the way I have, but that’s a philosopher for you. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Look for more. We’ll be here. And we’ll have much of substance to say as time goes on. St. Augustine, pray for us.

13 Responses

  1. Dr. Liccione,

    He became a Catholic first, a theologian second, and a philosopher…

    Actually, don’t you have this in the reverse order?

    That is, wasn’t he essentially a philosopher first, then from thereon morphed into a theologian and, ultimately, a Catholic?

    Of course, mind you, I am merely a casual reader of his works (more specifically, just the Confessions, the Sermons that come along in the Breviary and The City of God — the latter, I am still attempting to complete) and, therefore, defer to your expertise in the matter.

  2. e:

    You will note that I had already written that Augustine “was a philosopher before he became a Catholic.” The other statement of mine you’re questioning refers to a priority of value, not a priority of time.

    Best,
    Mike

  3. Dr. Liccione,

    You have an entirely different version at Sacramentum Vitae which read:

    “Once he underwent his conversion, a process so eloquently documented in that classic of Western literature known as his Confessions, Augustine adopted a different set of priorities for his thought. He became a Catholic first, a theologian second, and a philosopher—well, he gradually abandoned philosophical inquiry for its own sake.”

    As for the introduction of Augustine being a philosopher before he became a Catholic, that seemed to me a figurative description and did not take it in any literal sense.

    After all, it could be said of certain folks in history that they were first philophers even before they became Christian. — though they weren’t philosophers in any official sense to begin with.

  4. e:

    Please read the first sentence of the fourth paragraph of the SV post you refer to.

    Best,
    Mike

  5. Dr Liccione,

    Augustine was baptized at the age of 33. From what I recall (admittedly, rather vaguely since it’s been quite a very long while since last I read Augustine’s Confessions), Monica in the book had told Augustine that she would like to see her son baptized before she died.

    So, I don’t see how even within the context of priority for his thought, “He became a Catholic first” when even the facts in his book would suggest otherwise.

  6. May God in His great mercy, through the prayers of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, bless your new endeavor and all how participate in this great work.

    In Christ,

    +Fr Gregory

  7. Thank you for that blessing, Father. I hope our performance reflects it.

    Best,
    Mike

  8. Dr. Michael Liccione,

    I’ve enjoyed Sacramentum Vitae for a while now. I’m sad to see it go, but equally happy to see this blog come. I look up to Catholic philosophers like yourself for guidance and example which I greatly need. I appreciate your work very much, and I wish you the best of luck with re-entering the academic world.

    -Robert

  9. I am sad to see SV go as well. However, this blog may just be the new Walmart of the philosophical blogosphere: I can get my fix of several of my favorite writers, all in one stop!

    I hope this blog is “worth” more than your last one, Mike. 😉

  10. I think Augustine, as well as other early theologians, had a harder time than he let on keeping philosophy in its place as ancilla theologiae. As Joseph Ratzinger writes in Truth and Tolerance, the merging of Christianity and Hellenistic philosophy was a critical and decisive time, providential, he implies; but it must be admitted to be fraught with difficulties.

    Great introduction to this blog, thank you.

  11. Dear Mike

    First of all, it’s good to see you back among the lovers of Sophie !

    Augustine is also a felicitous choice – a presentist who refers eternalism to some neo-Platonic realm outside the universe of space and time. I cannot help feeling that he would have been a better philosopher had he not been a Christian – but that goes for others (whom I love more) as well…

    Augustine is, I fear, confounded doubly : to by those assumptions in the field of language that St Ludwig of the Sorrows famously addressed, and by a view on space and time which could only be supported if spacetime were actually (neo-)Newtonian – that is, if there were absolute space and time.

    However, if spacetime actually resembles a Minkowski space, there are – as I intimated elsewhere – certain attendant problems for classical theology… it would interest me greatly to read your comments on thes problems.

    Anyway, ’tis good to see your Venerable visage once again !

    Much love,

    David

  12. sorry – some errors due to my computer playing up. It was ordained from the Beginning of Time (ha !), which is one consolation.

  13. Thanks for visiting, David!

    I look forward to your contributions, when I can summon the courage to provoke them.

    Best,
    Mike

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