The relevance of the problem of God-Man-World relationship has not yet become obvious to many people. When one states that this is the central problem of any civilization, the claim seems exaggerated and its justification gives the impression of being far-fetched.

But our civilization today is in such a crisis that only a fresh solution fetched from somewhat far down in our consciousness and in our racial memory can begin to show the way.

The way opened by Augustine was to seek the locus of certainty in the human consciousness and in the capacity of the human mind to grasp truth and to appropriate it. The intellectual is always faced with this problem. How does one get a sure foothold in the world of knowledge? How does one know for certain? How does one get hold of the truth and be sure that it is the truth?

Augustine was worried about this problem, especially in the light of the discussion among the Academies of his time;

"And there is another question, very knotty indeed and a source of great perplexity for the sharp-witted Academies, which I have not undertaken for solution here: whether the wise man, for fear of falling into error by accepting the false for the true, ought to give his approval to anything -- all things, as they affirm, being either hidden or uncertain. This doubt was the source of my writing three books at the very beginning of my conversion, so that I might not be hindered at the very threshold of faith by this opposing doctrine. For, surely, I had to remove the hopelessness of discovering truth, a position apparently strengthened by their arguments. In their thinking, every error is considered a sin, and the one and only way of avoiding it, they contend, is by suspending agreement"2

Augustine rejected this skeptical position of the Platonists of his time by a two-fold resolution. First he took the fact that there is someone who doubts everything as an indubitable truth to which everyone could agree. If somebody says that "I do not know even whether I am alive", the fact that there is such an ignorant person who does not know is indubitable. In de beat Vita 5, in the soliloquies 4 and in the de Trinitate 5

Augustine makes the point that to be conscious of one's own doubting is already evidence of the possibility of grasping one indubitable truth 6. He makes the same point in de vera religione:73

"Every man who recognizes that he is doubting recognizes a truth, and he is certain of this fact which he recognizes; therefore he is certain of a truth. Therefore, every man who doubts whether truth exists carries in himself a truth which he should not doubt".

The second demarche of Augustine was to affirm that there are certain truths of faith to which to withhold assent is positively perilous. And faith means giving your agreement to certain propositions as true, according to Augustine. This definition of faith, which has consequences almost as disastrous as skepticism, was itself a creation of Augustine, understandable in the light of the skeptics' insistence that to accord assent to an uncertain proposition is error.

"And there are truths, even though they not be evident, which must be believed if we are to come to that happy life which cannot be other than eternal"7.

This second demarche which affirms faith as a way of giving assent to certain truths even before we have experimental certainty about them, was then made an essential preliminary to all understanding. "Believe, in order that you may understand" or in the Septuagint version of Isaiah 7:9, "Unless you believe, you shall not understand" 8 Belief is thus necessary for salvation and for the understanding of reality.

It is in this sense that Augustine laid the foundation of two of the basic tendencies which came to fruition in the West in later times -- individualism and intellectualism.

Augustine showed the way for Descartes. Augustine said, dubito, ergo sum (I doubt, therefore I am). Descartes, a millennium or more later took his inspiration from this probably, to say cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). In both conceptions, the doubting individual or the thinking individual and his consciousness were made the locus of certainty, and in Descartes’ case the starting point of a man-centred system of certitude.

Individualism in the West has many roots. One of the deepest of these roots is this Augustinian spirituality which assumed that the individual is capable of grasping the truth. It was in the context of the New Academy's paralyzing skepticism that Augustine, as an intellectual, had to search for certainty starting with the individual consciousness. But that intellectual act has made such a deep impression on the intellectual and cultural West, that when other factors sought to build up individualism, this ancient tradition lay ready to hand. Among the other factors one need mention here very briefly two: the misinterpretation of Dionysius the Areopagite in Western spirituality (especially the spirituality of the Low Countries), and the development of the principle of competitive greed in the market economy of capitalism.

Secondly, from his very struggle with the skepticism of the New Academy, Augustine made the intellectual decision that grasping truth was basically a matter of giving assent to propositions as true. This propositional view of truth continues to work havoc in Anglo-American philosophical schools even to this day. Certain schools of philosophy regard it as their main task to examine the truth content of propositional statements. Certain other schools of philosophy, following Augustine's original insight about the individual consciousness as the primary indubitable datum for philosophical analysis, have now begun to develop phenomenological systems based on consciousness Analysis, a la Descartes and Husserl.

Thus Western intellectualism is still trapped in the twin elements of the individual consciousness as the basis and starting point of certainty, and the analysis, by mathematical logic, or computation, of data given in the form of propositions and statistics which are regarded as the primary and indubitable basis of truth
Yet, wisdom insists that unless we transcend our individual and local parochalisms and begin to think of the whole of humanity as a single multiplex unit, we have no hope of a future. It is also becoming clear that world Simulator Model computers cannot discover the way to that future. The vision of the way can come only from a fresh approach to the truth of the cosmos, grounded in a transcendent Reality.


l. Contra Academicos. P.L. 32. Eng.Tr. Denis J.Kavanagh Answer to skeptics in Writings of Saint Augustine. Vol. I.
2. Eng. Tr.Bernard M.Peebles, Faith Hope,;
3. 2:7
4. 2:1:1

6. The issue was intellectually important in Augustine's time. Plato's Academy had been revived in his time. The New Academy was distinct from the old Academy precisely in this new skepticism introduced by the Stoic Zeno of Elia - "that nothing could be known except what was true in such manner that it would be distinguished from the false by their marks of dissimilarity, and that conjecturing ought not to enter the mind of a wise man". Alypius cites this in Augustine's Contra Academicos: 14, The Academics could accept certain propositions as having high probability or verisimilitude, but not certain truth. In Augustine's spiritual and intellectual pilgrimage, the overcoming of this overall skepticism was an important step.
7. Enchiridion: 20. E.T. Op.cit pp. 557/588.
8. See De fide et symbolox 1