On Augustine's Humility

Not open for further replies.


Puritan Board Doctor
Here is a lovely description of Augustine's intellectual humility, from a book I'm currently reading:

No reader of Augustine's letters will fail to appreciate the note of caution and carefulness, the restraint imposed by consciousness of the individual theologian's liability to error which, for the most part, pervades his replies to his correspondents. As his reputation increased, he became an oracle to some, whom he considered unwise admirers. Consequently, he puts thoughts forward tentatively and expressly asks for criticism and, if need be, correction. On one occasion, he was led to express his dislike for Cicero's commendatory language about a man who never uttered what he had reason to recall (Letter 143, Section 3). Augustine held that this was more likely to be true of a perfect fool than of a perfectly wise man. He vastly preferred the Horatian warning: the word once spoken can never be recalled. It was that sense of responsibility for his utterances, he tells us, which led him to keep back several of his works from publication, especially his writings on Genesis and on the Holy Trinity (Letter 143, Section 4). So, again, he is anxious about his writings on free will. They have passed into many hands and cannot be called in for correction. But, if readers will point out errors to Augustine, he will be grateful (Letter 143, Section 7) for, if the books cannot be corrected, the author may. On certain points, he had carefully refrained from dogmatizing. Thus, whether the individual soul is derived by transmission from the first man, as the body is, or whether each soul is a new creation, he has not ventured to determine. The subject is most mysterious, and he is bound to confess his ignorance. If anyone can inform him, from reason or from Scripture, what is the truth about this, he will be grateful. He insists on these two sources of knowledge.

We could do with more of that type of humility today.

From: The Letters of Saint Augustine by W. J. Sparrow-Simpson; Handbooks of Christian Literature series (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge/New York: The Macmillan Company, 1919), pp. 210-211. Italics mine.

W. J. Sparrow-Simpson (1859-1952), by the way, was an English Anglican divine who was an expert on Augustine. He wrote at least three books about him, among the approximately 70 books he authored.
Not open for further replies.