Sunday, December 31, 2006

Augustine's Handbook of Catholic Faith 1

As promised, here's my first installment as I blog my way through Saint Augustine's "Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love."

Prolegomena (words that come before):

We can understand the essence of a virtue if we think about them as dispositions of the soul. A disposition is a tendency to behave in a certain way. Having a disposition toward some behavior does not mean that it will always happen, but it can't just happen by chance and still be called a disposition. They are like good habits.

Faith, Hope, and Love are called the "Three Theological Virtues". This contrasts with the "Four Cardinal Virtues" of Courage, Moderation, Prudence, and Justice. They are called "cardinal" because the Latin word *cardines* means "hinges". Thus metaphorically the Cardinal Virtues are the virtues upon which all else pertaining to virtue hinges. This the Church has accepted for man's natural orientation. But man also has a supernatural orientation and thus the Three Theological Virtues are hinges upon which our divine life hinges. In fact, sometimes they are called the Divine Virtues.

They are called "theological" virtues not because of any direct connection to theological studies (though of course there *is* such a connection and Augustine treats it in detail), but rather because they requires special divine assistance to acquire, they are infused by God (theos). So that's the essence of a Divine Virtue: a disposition toward acts of Faith, Hope, and Love infused into the soul by God. Sometimes the term "Divine Virtue" refers to God's own virtues, but I'm going to use that term for the present subject frequently anyway. In the context there is no worry of confusion.

The work is called "The Enchiridion." That's a transliteration of a Greek word. A transliteration is different from a translation. A transliteration is where the word is just transferred into a new language "whole". So even though the Greek alphabet has different letters than ours it has most of the same sounds. And the Greek word for "Enchiridion" is pronounced the same.

The word breaks down like this: En-chir-idon. The last part is just a suffix that tells you the grammar of the word (Greek is an "inflected" language, it uses changes in the word endings to tell you about the grammar of the word and what adjectives go with it). In this case it's a "diminutive" suffix which means "little". En = "in" and "chir" = hand, so a literal translation is "in the hand". It's what we now call a "handbook," a little quick-reference guide to have at hand. It's much nicer to call it a Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love rather than Enchiridion on Theological Virtue. The former is much more inviting, eh?

It also explains both the origin and the use of the book. The book is apparently written in response to a request by one Laurentius of Rome for a summary of the main teachings of the Church. So it's not mean to go into a great deal of nuance or detail. Rather, it is intended to lay out the basics in a quick and comprehensible manner. As such, being written by the most influential theologian there has ever been, it is sad that the work is not better known. I hope by blogging through it to contribute to the reversal of its neglect.


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