The Limits of Genius
Today’s feast celebrates arguably Christianity’s greatest intellect – St Thomas Aquinas and perhaps the Apostle Paul are suggested rivals.
Among his many achievements, St Augustine is credited with writing the world’s first true autobiography, the Confessions; to be a superb exegete – an insightful, non-fundamentalist expositor of scripture; a brilliant contemporary historian, in The City of God explaining the terrifying events of the day in the light of God’s eternal plan; and jurist who laid down the principles of Just War that are followed today with limited additions.
Augustine par excellence stands for the principle of a reason-able – intellectually defensible – faith. While his positions on some aspects of Christian life may be challenged (one might argue that he lacked a vision for Christian marriage) the Church is enormously in his debt.
However, for all of this Augustine stands for a deeper principle and one that the first reading underlines so beautifully. St Paul, writing to his beloved, wayward community in Corinth says that the essence of the Christian life ultimately lies not in philosophy but in something deeper. At its core, being a Christ follower is not intellectual but relational. We were called to trust in, to commit to, to follow Jesus, who was crucified, died and was buried and rose again from the dead.
After a long intellectual search, Augustine in his Confessions wrote:
Late have I loved you. Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you. Lo you were within but I was outside…You called, shouted broke through my deafness…you touched me and I burned for your peace.
Saints Augustine and Paul both tell us that we have a responsibility, to seek to understand and explain our faith; wisdom has its place, but at its core, we are lovers of the One who first loved us and who died for us and now calls us to eternal life with and through Him.