Msgr. Dionne on Order

Illud nunc a me accipiatis volo: Si quis temere ac sine ordine disciplinarum harum rerum cognitionem audet irruere, pro studioso illum curiosum, pro docto credulum, pro cauto incredulum fieri. (St. Augustine, On Order, II, c. 2, n. 7 (Vives, II, p. 531))

a) General Explanation on the Occasion of the Examination of the Words used by St. Augustine.

1) Irruere, Temere, Sine Ordine:

“Irruere” means “to throw oneself into.” So: if someone throws himself into the knowledge of certain difficult things with boldness and without taking account of the required order. Think, for example, someone who says to himself, “I’m going to study metaphysics right away!”

2) “Pro Studioso, Illum Curiosum”

It is very difficult to translate “studiosus”; “studiositas” is a moral virtue, a potential part of the virtue of temperance, and it consists in restraining the natural desire to know in such a way that the will applies the intellect well for knowing this rather than that, and in this way rather than in some other way. He who acts in the way described by St. Augustine, instead of becoming virtuous (“studiosus”, “diligent”), become “curiosus.” “Curiositas” is precisely the vice opposed to “studiositas.”

3) “Pro Docto, Credulum”

In order to grasp what “doctus” means, it is necessary to refer to the Metaphysics, where Aristotle distinguishes experience from art. Experience is well defined by this that it consists in the “putting together” and the “comparison” of singulars conserved in the memory. In this context, art means simply universal knowledge. Aristotle adds that he who possesses art, (but let it be repeated: it is necessary not to take art in the restricted sense of the sixth book of the Ethics; here, art means: universal knowledge, by opposition to experience) is able to teach, because he knows the causes.

Artifices autem docere possunt, quia cum causas cognoscant, ex eis possunt demonstrare: demonstratio autem est syllogismus faciens scire.

This is how we should understand “doctus” here: he who knows things in a universal way. Even here there are degrees, of course, but this universal knowledge allows him to resolve into certain causes at least. Meanwhile, he who does not know the causes cannot resolve in this way, and so cannot teach either. By “doctus,” then, let us understand an intellect which, elevating itself above particular experience, can resolve into the causes, and is thus “capable of teaching” (“doctus” comes from “to teach”).

Now, he who, as St. Augustine says, acts boldly and without order, instead of elevating himself above experience and so becoming able to resolve, becomes credulous. And it is not only St. Augustine who thus opposes credulity and the ability to resolve. We have already read this, with regard to the conditions of the disciple, in the little text De Commendatione Scripturae. The second of these conditions was called “rectitudo sensus,” which means to say, judgment. And St. Thomas sends us back to the Letter to the Ephesians, where it is written: “Ut iam non simus parvuli fluctuantes.”17 Commenting on this passage, St. Thomas is going to say that the child, just because he is not fixed on anything (and to be well fixed implies precisely to be able to resolve into certain principles), believes anything.

Conditio autem pueri est, quod non est fixus vel determinatus in aliquo, sed credit omni verbo.

So he who is not concerned with order, instead of becoming a master, able to teach, and so to resolve, becomes like a child: “credit omni verbo.” And it is surprising sometimes to see what some of those who pass for wise men claim; there are famous ignoramuses who hold manifestly stupid positions: they are like babies, like children. And they easily imagine themselves to be teachers.

4. “Pro Cauto, Incredulum”:

“Cautio” is an integral part of prudence. But one can, clearly, transpose it into the exercise of the speculative life. When one says, “cautio,” one finds oneself speaking of defense. In acting, evil is often mixed with good; also, he who is truly prudent, and who thus possesses this integral part of prudence, which is “cautio,” is then able to pursue a good even while avoiding falling into evil. And this is not very easy, for if there are evils which are very gross, there are others nevertheless which are much more subtle. In the same way, in speculative things, we know very well that for the most part false is mixed with true. Again, the truly speculative man, to pursue the truth as a good efficiently, ought at each moment to take account of that which is true and also of that which is false in what is said.

Now, St. Augustine tells us that he who studies in this way, without order and with boldness, in place of becoming prudent, that is to say, “cautus,” in place of being on his guard and of being vigilant to avoid pitfalls, becomes incredulous. This is to say that he exercises this vigilance haphazardly. Suppose, for example, that we propose to him the text of a great master. But he has proceeded badly, he is poorly formed; so it is his appetite, pure and simple, which will come into play: “St. Thomas is from the Middle Ages, so he’s not worth reading!”

– from the Subject of Logic, tr. Glen Coughlin


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