Augustine on Original Perception

Augustine on Original Perception

Obertello, Luca

Medieval Philosophy and Theology, vol. 1 (1991)


The image of God in the human person is to be found, according to St. Augustine, in the “highest part” of the human mind, to which he reserves the name mens.ι “One’s mind [mens],” he says, “is not of the same nature as God. Nevertheless the image of that nature which transcends all others must be searched for and found in us, in

i. Mens is the superior part of the rational soul. Animus or anima is the vital principle that gives life to the body (De Tήnitate 4.1.3). The human soul shares with other souls a capacity for sensible knowledge and a certain degree of consciousness (8.6.9) but is distinguished from animal souls as substantia spiήtualis (12.1.1 [CCL 50:356.17-18]). The human mind is the seat of knowledge, memory, and imagination. Mind embraces reason and intelligence (“mens, cui ratio et intelligentia naturaliter inest,” De civ. Dei 11.2 [CCL 48:322.21]). It adheres to the intelligibles and to God (see Enarr. in Psalmos 3.3; De diver, quaest. 83 7). In some passages, mens is identified with animus (e.g., De Trin. 15.1.1: “quae mens vocatur vel animus” [CCL 50A:460.6]), but Augustine generally considers it as the “caput [anίmae] vel oculus vel fades” (15.7.11 [50A:475.11-12]). While Plotinus distinguished between psyche and nous and regarded them as two hypostases, the one deriving from the other through emanation, Augustine firmly maintains the unity of the soul. It is the same spiritual principle, he maintains, that in turn perceives, animates the body, imagines, reasons, and intuitively knows the eternal truths.

There is thus considerable warrant for rendering mens as “soul” in modern English, but I shall usually retain a distinction between “mind” and “soul” in order to remind readers of Augustine’s distinction between mens and animus.

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