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I’ve had a problem with Saint Augustine’s most famous statement, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe,” because for a thousand years it permitted preachers to get away with saying absurd things and then insisting their parishioners believe those things. That idea was developed earlier by Tertullian as, “I believe because it is absurd.” Those are absurdities that were, and to some extent still are, foisted upon a public’s mind as a test of their truly belonging to a special social group.

When reading The Complete Essays of Montaigne, (translated by D. M. Frame), on page 789-90 I was shocked to see, “And I follow Saint Augustine’s opinion, that it is better to lean toward doubt than toward assurance in things difficult to prove and dangerous to believe. That appears to be a direct contradiction to Augustine’s more famous quote, seen above. I searched Google for Montaigne’s source for this quote, or at least the core idea for that quote, and found these links. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to link back to Augustine, but rather offer Montaigne’s interpretation of what Augustine said, or even implied. The two statements are clearly contradictory to one another.

Montaigne is one of the founding fathers of our modern world. He is a clear and solid link to the Classic Greek/Roman world, while still in the year 1588 bound by the religious dogma of his day. His native language was classic Latin, and he didn’t learn his local French language until after age five. Perhaps he was trying, and succeeding, to be compliant with the powers of his world, by quoting Saint Augustine in a positive way, while at the same time saying something quite different. I don’t know, but perhaps modern scholarship does.

What comes of a massive collision of physical truth, religious dogma, and political reality?