Divine Illumination and Revelation 




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"Divine Illumination and Revelation - The Augustinian Theory of Knowledge"  

  written by Derek D Seckington.   Click  Here  to purchase the book. 256 pages 


Explaining Christian Knowledge

Christian knowledge is based first and foremost on the claims that there is a God Who created all things and that God may be known by human beings. The Augustinian knowledge paradigm, which was for nearly 1000 years the foundation of Christian claims to knowledge, described the method by which Christians know of God. God is known through His Self-revelation and this occurs as Divine illumination of the individual intellect.

In the 13th century the Augustinian paradigm was rejected because of its inadequacies and this was later followed by the rejection of Christian knowledge. There has been a problem, for most of the second millennium, of how to explain the Christian case in a way which demonstrates its truth. A new explanation of the Augustinian paradigm is now offered in which the problems have been overcome and in which Christian claims regarding Divine Illumination and Revelation are shown to be true.

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Western Culture has no Theory of Knowledge

Western culture, at the beginning of the 21st century, is in the throes of an epistemological crisis. The problem is that in every area of human knowledge there is no theory of objective reality, no agreed method for achieving knowledge and truth, and no body of objective knowledge.

Ideologies drive Cultural Behaviour

In the 20th century the dominant ideology has been Materialism, which has major difficulties as a theory of knowledge of reality, and has lost much of its credibility. The long term lack of a theory of knowledge and truth has led to scepticism concerning the possibility of discovering such a theory. Human behaviour is now driven by opinions and ideologies and not knowledge, and these inevitably lead to disagreements and disputes and ultimately to violence.

The general result of the ignorance of true reality and the mismanagement of the knowledge development process is the generation of an array of competing "solutions" to the problems of the culture. These "solutions" are defined as opinions. An opinion is a solution to a problem, or problem set, which is not based on a valid problem solving exercise and therefore does not amount to knowledge. Opinions greatly resemble knowledge in form, are often plausible, and can often be convincing when promoted skilfully. However, because they lack any formal justification of their truth and can never lead to agreement they are dangerous. They increase disputes and conflicts, and their effect on the body of knowledge is confusing and polluting. For a solution to be knowledge it must be able to call a valid theory of truth to warranty. Opinions cannot do this. Knowledge, by definition, is always true.

Ideologies are defined as formally and systematically expressed opinions. They often appear objectively as forms of philosophy based on reasoning. They recognise that the culture has no grasp of reality, no truth, and no knowledge, and they therefore substitute their own ideas in these areas. From this doubtful ground they devise concepts of society, human nature and morality according to their lights, and then base their behaviours on the result. As History shows the outcome is, not infrequently, the destruction of large numbers of human beings and their cultural and environmental supports . Ideological "solutions" are tomorrow's problems.

Ideological systems have no valid theories of truth or method and are speculations. Because they are not tied firmly to reality they cannot be properly criticised. It is always open to the defenders of ideological systems to deny the validity of any model of reality ascribed to the ideology or used to evaluate it. Political considerations often replace truth and morality as the factors governing ideological behaviours, and ideological systems defend themselves from criticism by substituting their own ideas of "truth" and "morality", devised to suit political needs. 

The Fragmentation of Western Culture

The consequences of the widespread mismanagement of the problem solving process are a large set of competing opinions, masquerading as solutions to the problems of the culture, and increasing disagreement and conflict. Each so-called solution is based on a unique misinterpretation of reality. Misinterpretations of reality, which are equivalent to ignorance of truth, account for the failures of cultures. An opinion-driven culture eventually grossly misinterprets reality. It deals with experience from a base of almost total illusion. Reality has little tolerance of foolishness and gross misinterpretations of reality lead to cultural disintegration and replacement.

According to M.V.C.Jeffreys, Western culture is in process of fragmentation. "We are well aware of the disintegration of thought and knowledge into an increasing number of different systems, each more or less self-contained, with its own language, and recognising no responsibility for knowing or caring about what is going on across its frontiers. The story of the Tower of Babel might have been a prophetic vision of the modern university; and the fragmentation which is spotlighted there affects the whole of society".

Different understandings of reality give different truths and different bodies of knowledge which lead to different purposes and patterns of behaviour. These systems of reality theory, truth concepts, knowledge, purposes, and behaviours amount to subcultures. Where they depart fundamentally from the original culture, they become cultures in their own right. Western culture is now an agglomeration of conflicting subcultures, competing with rival alternative cultures for the domination of the group.

The relativists have claimed that there is no absolute truth and all claims to knowledge of reality are merely interpretations relative to human purposes. All ideologies are therefore of equal value, amounting to mere fictions, which are no more than a convenience for those who assert them. From this the relativist infers that everybody has the right to create for himself his own ideology, based on his own conception of reality and truth, and to attempt to enforce it with all the energy of which he is capable. This is the ultimate in cultural fragmentation. Should it occur, it amounts to a struggle of all against all, to be settled, in the absence of an agreed understanding of truth, by force. Cultures, of course, cannot survive such a meltdown.

Cultures and societies collapse when people no longer believe in them strongly enough to fight for them. In the second half of the 20th century two major empires, the Soviet Union and the British Empire, vanished, not because they were defeated in war, but because people lost faith in them. The consequences of the collapse of Western culture, if it occurs, must be catastrophic. When Roman culture collapsed six centuries of social disorder followed.

Ignorance places Public Order and Democracy at risk

The effects of the absence of knowledge on behaviour at both the public or objective and personal or subjective levels may easily be observed. In approaching the observation and analysis of the behaviour of individuals, organisations, and governments it may be remembered that the evaluation of the behaviour is simultaneously the evaluation of the understanding that drives it. Where that behaviour is undesirable then the understanding is wrong. If the understanding is wrong its model of reality is wrong. Wrong behaviour is a symptom of delusion based on a false model of reality.

There is confusion and disagreement among members of the culture about what they should know and how they should behave, and there is a widespread acceptance of ideologies based on assumptions, as the substitute for knowledge.

If the formula EXPERIENCE...> UNDERSTANDING...> BEHAVIOUR is considered, the solving of the problems of experience results in understanding which governs behaviour. The lack of the correct understanding, which is knowledge, leads to unpredictable and undesirable behaviours. The effects on individual behaviour are of two kinds, which are:- 

1. People don't know how to behave correctly, and this leads to confusion, anti-social behaviour, and apathy. Disorder in society is a problem of ignorance. Parents are confused and the teaching of the young is no longer based on knowledge. Ignorance places public order at risk. 

2. People substitute opinion, ideology, and cultism, for knowledge. They are forced to select their motivating ideas from whatever is offered to them. The opportunity is thereby created for dangerous and incompetent politicians to lead them into calamities of which the 20th century has many examples. Ignorance places democracy and peace at risk. 

The absence of knowledge affects human behaviour by reducing, distorting, and irrationalising the choices made by individuals.

Ignorance is a Primary Cause of Violence

The lack of knowledge and truth also affects the behaviour of states. Human disagreements may be settled by argument or by combat. Where there is no theory of truth no argument may be seen to be true and all intellectual arguments must therefore fail. Where there are no valid rational arguments the only arbiter left in human affairs is the appeal to force. When force is the only effective argument the world belongs to the strong and the ruthless. This is the situation in the world today, as the record of escalating violence shows. Modern means of mass destruction make the problem of knowledge urgent.

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A New Theory of Knowledge is Needed

Western culture needs to be reconstructed from its epistemological foundations upwards. According to Richard Tarnas, a more rational cultural vision is necessary which gives a new world view with principles and ideals fundamentally different from those that have driven the modern world through its violent history. A theory of knowledge is the prerequisite to the implementation of that vision.

The new theory of knowledge must draw together the old absolutes, religion, cultural philosophy, and science into one compatible framework. This new and unified matrix for Western culture must also discern some pattern in human experience which will make sense of human existence, and which will impart meaning, purpose, and direction both to individual lives and to the development of the culture. This sense of purpose will shape the search for knowledge. The corpus of knowledge can only be secured in the absolute and the knowledge methodology must therefore give absolute objective knowledge of ultimate reality.

The Augustinian epistemology is the only theory that can meet the conditions for knowledge. The way has therefore been opened for Christianity to restate its claim to knowledge based on the Augustinian paradigm.

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The Thesis

Neo-Augustinian knowledge theory sees all knowledge as the gift of God. The Gospel of St.John states the teaching of Jesus that "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything". (John 14:26). As developed by St.Augustine, Christian knowledge theory was based on Divine illumination of the intellect.

The Teaching System of God

The teaching system of the Holy Spirit is set out in diagram 1. The system is designed to develop souls which is synonymous with intellectual development. The Holy Spirit teaches by experience. The Spirit gives the problems of experience and also gives the solutions to the problems in the form of understandings. The combination of problems and solutions is necessary to intellectual development since the intellect must understand the problem before it can understand the solution. The Cosmos, which is the creation of the Holy Spirit, is a source of the problems of experience, and the Creative Source, otherwise called the Interior Master, the Light of Reason, and the Inner Light, which is a function of the Spirit, is the origin of the solutions or understandings.


Diagram 1

The forms are:- HOLY SPIRIT = REALITY---> EXPERIENCE---> PROBLEMS The Holy Spirit, which is reality, gives experience which appears to the intellect in the form of problems. HOLY SPIRIT---> CREATIVE SOURCE---> SOLUTIONS The Holy Spirit, through the system of the Creative Source, gives the solutions to the problems upon simple requisition.

In the problem solving process the problems of experience, as understood by the individual, are processed psychologically to achieve understanding and knowledge. This process is the interaction between the individual, as the problem-solver, and the Holy Spirit as the giver of understanding. The solving of the problems of experience results in understanding, or in greater understanding where some understanding already exists. This process accounts for all human understanding, both of spiritual and secular matters.

The Intellectual Path to God

The study of the psychological processes which result in knowledge shows that human intellects have a direct path to the Holy Spirit, seen as the Teacher, and may know the answer to any problem that can be defined and understood. The Holy Spirit, as the Teacher, gives knowledge of God through the same creative processes by which all understanding and knowledge is imparted to individuals.

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The Methodology of Knowledge

Since the Holy Spirit teaches through experience Christian knowledge theory starts with the study of experience. Science is, of course, the study of experience with the aim of arriving at knowledge of reality. Materialist science restricted the field of experience to the physical only, but Christian science theory removes that limitation. All experience, the ideal, cultural, moral, and religious, as well as the physical, may be studied.

Scientific Epistemology

A fresh approach is outlined to the problems of knowledge based on scientific methods. The aim is to define theories of absolute reality, truth and knowledge which can be applied, not only to science, but also to philosophy and religion, and which will therefore re-establish the foundations of a re-integrated Western culture.

Scientific epistemology is the application of scientific methodology to the study of the problems of knowledge and it is a better problem solving tool than traditional or philosophical epistemology. Scientific epistemology is firmly based on experience and is open to criticism and correction. The problem solving methodology is based on the rule that correct solutions follow from correct understandings of the problems. The first step in every difficulty is to identify the real problem and to do the necessary investigation and analysis of the facts as given in experience.

The psychological explanation of knowledge must necessarily include an account of the human intellect which shows how intellectual illumination occurs. Scientific Psychology has been unable to give a general explanation of the functioning of the human psyche. In materialist thinking psychological conditions are merely states taken by matter and are of no urgent interest. In order to understand Augustinian epistemology, however, a psychology of knowledge is a requisite. Scientific epistemology follows David Hume's claim that the scientific understanding of the mind is prior to every other science.

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The Structure of the Text

The first part of the text defines the Theory of Subjective Knowledge. It is concerned with the scientific investigation of the processes of knowledge within the subjective mind. From this study a scientific epistemology is derived. This is the scientific understanding of the human intellect in its operations on experience in pursuit of all types of knowledge. 

It takes the forms of a theory of knowledge based on the solving of the problems of experience, and a theory of the structure and functions of the human intellect. It shows how the intellect processes experience to achieve knowledge of the intellectual, physical, cultural, moral, and spiritual realities. Scientific epistemology is therefore the foundation of all human knowledge, scientific, theological, and philosophical.

The second part defines the Theory of Innovation of Ideas. It is concerned with how knowledge, as the true solutions to problems of experience, is formed. Karl Popper has denied that new knowledge is the result of logical processes of the mind. Popper's claim is that knowledge is the result of certain psychological processes, and this is followed. The scientific investigation of these processes shows them to be the interaction of the intellect with a source of unlimited creativity, which is a definition of God. Augustine calls this creative entity the Interior Master  and it is otherwise called the Teacher, the Light of Reason, and the Inner Light. Analysis of the psychological processes leads to the discovery of the rules for the creation of true solutions which are knowledge, and the reasons both for false solutions and failure to reach any solution.

The third part defines the Theory of Reality and Truth. It shows that knowledge of God, as ultimate and fundamental reality, can be achieved by the correct operation of the scientific problem solving method. In effect, God gives knowledge of Himself through the psychological processes in response to intellectual inquiries. Christian claims regarding revelation are therefore substantiated. Fundamental reality, which is the bridge between the ultimate reality of the Infinite God and created reality, is defined. Fundamental reality, as the "theory of everything", is the basis of the rational scientific system of knowledge.

The Augustinian Knowledge Theory leads to Peace and Progress

All attempts of Western Culture to progress peacefully and rationally by intellectual argument must rest on absolute knowledge and truth. That truth is given by the Augustinian paradigm and its theoretical definition is offered here.