Augustine and Education

In the second volume of Peter Adamson’s History of Philosophy without any gaps the author describes Augustine as the first philosopher to write reflectively on his own faults in a habitual manner. Augustine even published a record of his weaker points and arguments (see chapter 47).

I wonder when I read a comment like Adamson’s if narratives such as David’s repentance after Nathan’s remonstration with him about his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uzziah, or Paul’s comment in Romans about his own failings, don’t count as valid examples of a similar attitude. I expect the answer is that Augustine is the first to represent this humility as a consistent aspect of his extensive formal arguments. The other examples come from narratives or are asides in epistles.

The actual point that I wish to make is that Augustine’s humble approach is critical in any education that calls itself Christian.

Perhaps we in the church deserve the criticism we receive regarding the approach we have sometimes taken to the relationship between knowledge and faith. Whether it be the crusader zeal of the Middle Ages, or Victorian jingoism, or some of the language used sometimes in our churches to make faith sound like knowledge; we do have a history that moves sometimes too easily from ‘claim’ to ‘certainty’ to ‘blame’.

Even though he can and does argue polemically, Augustine’s approach to knowledge carries with it a humility. He is well read in the Christian, Pagan and Hellenic texts extant in his era; he openly wonders about theological questions; and he admits error or changes of heart. He doesn’t step back from seeking to present a positive theology – he is not Pseudo-Dionysus – but he also recognises his capacity for errant thinking.

Schools are about the creation of learners. I am so very pleased to be able to read Augustine.

The tone of a College can carry with it a conceit or a humility. Augustine created the tone in his works by personal example and direct honesty. He is a great example for all of us aspiring to lead well.

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