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St. Augustine on Science and the Holy Trinity

August 5, AD 2013 3 Comments
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“…their ensemble constitutes the universe in all its wonderful order and beauty.”

I say in my “About Me” page that I am a systematic thinker. I try to think in systematic steps, but to keep in mind how each step fits into the bigger system as a whole. At first I learned that idea by trying to think like a scientist, but then I realized there’s more to it. It’s how we think with the Church. It’s a Trinitarian concept. Did you know that science itself is a Trinitarian concept?

St. Augustine wrote a handbook back in the 5th century for a friend who was asking questions about what Christians are supposed to believe. The passage below is taken from his Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope, and Love.

In the first paragraph of the section where St. Augustine addressed what we are to believe about faith, he explained that we don’t find religious answers from science because faith is beyond science. The Christian believes that 1) God is the Creator of everything, 2) He is good, and 3) He is the Trinity. Then, only after understanding that, comes the understanding of science (except they didn’t call it “science” back then).

What does the Trinity have to do with science? you might be wondering.

By revealing to us that He is triune, three Persons in one Nature, God not only told us that we are created body and soul in His Image and created to be in relationship with each other, He told us that all things in creation have their distinctions, yet they fit together as a unified whole with order and beauty.

We would not have understood the Trinity by studying science, but the revelation of the Trinity helps us to understand why science even exists.

There would be no science if man were not created with a rational nature and free will in the image of God so that he could study the natural world, and there would be no science if the universe did not fit together as an ordered whole so that it could be studied.

Read this carefully, and enjoy! In a few simple paragraphs, St. Augustine explains the relationship of science and faith. Although he wrote it nearly 1,600 years ago, this passage could be offered to someone today arguing that science gives us all the answers we ever need to know.

Chapter 9. What We are to Believe. In Regard to Nature It is Not Necessary for the Christian to Know More Than that the Goodness of the Creator is the Cause of All Things.

When, then, the question is asked what we are to believe in regard to religion, it is not necessary to probe into the nature of things, as was done by those whom the Greeks call physici; nor need we be in alarm lest the Christian should be ignorant of the force and number of the elements—the motion, and order, and eclipses of the heavenly bodies; the form of the heavens; the species and the natures of animals, plants, stones, fountains, rivers, mountains; about chronology and distances; the signs of coming storms; and a thousand other things which those philosophers either have found out, or think they have found out. For even these men themselves, endowed though they are with so much genius, burning with zeal, abounding in leisure, tracking some things by the aid of human conjecture, searching into others with the aids of history and experience, have not found out all things; and even their boasted discoveries are oftener mere guesses than certain knowledge. It is enough for the Christian to believe that the only cause of all created things, whether heavenly or earthly, whether visible or invisible, is the goodness of the Creator the one true God; and that nothing exists but Himself that does not derive its existence from Him; and that He is the Trinity— to wit, the Father, and the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the same Father, but one and the same Spirit of Father and Son.

By the Trinity, thus supremely and equally and unchangeably good, all things were created; and these are not supremely and equally and unchangeably good, but yet they are good, even taken separately. Taken as a whole, however, they are very good, because their ensemble constitutes the universe in all its wonderful order and beauty.

Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope, and Love, translated by J.F. Shaw from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

Hello, and thank you for reading. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my tiny office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge. Read more about me here, with pictures. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. "Like" my Facebook page Science Was Born of Christianity to follow updates about my book. God bless you!

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  • benedict1

    Stacy: Reminds me of the earlier piece you wrote on animals and atheistic nonsense of ‘animal persons’ or whatever they call this goofy belief. I have yet to read a single monograph on thermodynamics, free radical chemistry, bridge building or even love sonnets written by a giraffe, or zebra or ………… St Augustine nailed so much down firmly and permanently and this is one of his best efforts–no rational quality in man, no science. Q. E. D. Can’t wait for the atheists to show up on this one. Or the dyed-in-the-wool reductive materialists with their handbooks of quantum physics applied to discovering the mind, etc. I guess I feel a little spiny today–I am sure there are some very nice zebras. Isn’t it amazing how man’s free will allows him to use the very ratiocination ability God gave him to try to destroy God in total?

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  • Traditium

    That Augustine dude seems pretty smart :).