Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friendship: On Believing What One Does Not See

This little gem from St. Augustine I simply cannot pass up. In a little-known treatise called 'On Faith in Things Not Seen' (399) the good Bishop shows us how belief is intrinsic to the makeup of humanity. The dynamic of friendship is the key.

Why should I believe what cannot be seen? Augustine replies (and apologies for the translation, I'd redo it if I had time!):
But, whosoever thou art who wilt not believe save what thou seest with the eyes of the body, wills and thoughts of things own that are present, because they are in thine own mind, thou seest by the mind itself [i.e. our minds know our own wills and thoughts]; tell me, I pray thee, thy friend's will towards thee, by what eyes seest thou? For no will can be seen by the eyes of the body. What? see you in your own mind this also which is going on in the mind of another? But if you see it not, how do you repay in turn the good will of your friend, if what you cannot see, you believe not?
In other words, you cannot see, with the eyes of your mind any more than the eyes of your body, that the will of your friend is indeed friendly toward you. You must trust, believe, have faith - you must invest yourself in it, or otherwise, consign yourself to loneliness and scepticism (though even this is not without some trust.) The point is that the 'view from nowhere' is really nowhere to be found; the mark of humanity in this present life is its invariable exercise of faith. Once more Augustine:
If this faith be taken away from human affairs, who but must observe how great disorder in them, and how fearful conclusion must follow? For who will be loved by any with mutual affection, (being that the loving itself is invisible,) if what I see not, I ought not to believe? Therefore will the whole of friendship perish...
Perish, indeed.

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