Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Thinking with Assent 

According to St. Augustine (De praedestione 5,; see also Aquinas, Summa theologica II-II, 2, 1) faith can be defined as 'thinking with assent' (cogitare cum assensione).

To me, this definitively distinguishes faith from at least two alternatives:

First, faith is not 'assenting without thinking' (adsentire sine cogitatio), which is not only the act of a fool, but also a logical and noetical non sequitur, since, for Augustine, "thinking is prior to believing." "For no one believes anything," he says, "unless he has first thought that it is to be believed. For however suddenly, however rapidly, . . . it is yet necessary that everything which is believed should be believed after thought has preceded." This does not require, as it might seem, an exhaustive empirical examination of a datum, to determine whether or not it is worth believing, before belief is placed in it. For we must always return to the pivotal role which authority plays in Augustine's view of faith; faith cannot arise from knowledge. On the contary, it emerges when a duly-constituted authority, to one is predisposed to trust, proposes a datum to be held by the intellect. Yet never is the intellect bypassed, for it is precisely the intellect which - by the assent of the will - submits itself to this datum and assimilates it into its cognitive makeup. "Because if faith is not a matter of thought, it is of no account."

Secondly, faith is not 'thinking without assent' (cogitare sine assensione). "For it is not every one who thinks that believes," says Augustine. "Since many think in order that they may not believe." Examples abound of 'thinking without assent'. They might include the reasoning involved in formulating an untested hypothesis, in which assent is withheld until definitive proof is determined, or the sinful intellect which uses twisted logic to justify its sinfulness or its refusal to believe. Too often, however, the method of cogitare sine assensione is adopted as a reasonable methodology for theological studies, in which, it is believed, assent even to dogmatic definitions must be withheld - or at least, deferred - due to the contingent and incomplete nature of human knowledge in this life. Wolfhart Pannenberg, in his worst moments, approached this position.

Of course, we also have a third viable option, 'not thinking, not assenting' (non cogitari, non adsentire), which, I believe, must be emblazoned on the doors of more than a few theology classrooms around this country.

# posted by Jamie : 1:26 PM


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