Saint Augustine, writing to an opponent in 397 AD, counseled mutual understanding. He did not call for an easy tolerance but asked for care-filled mutual respect.
There has been a lot of discussion in the blog-sphere, often filled with invective. Fr. Thomas Rosica has warned about the toxicity that can be found on some sites, especially in the comments. This past week, a national catholic [sic] newspaper has fired at least two of its regular contributors.
But what did Augustine write to a heretic? “Lay aside all arrogance.”
“On the other hand, all must allow that you owe it to me, in return, to lay aside all arrogance on your part too, that so you may be the more disposed to gentleness, and may not oppose me in a hostile spirit, to your own hurt. Let neither of us assert that he has found truth; let us seek it as if it were unknown to us both. For truth can be sought with zeal and unanimity if by no rash presumption it is believed to have been already found and ascertained.”
Augustine calls for a mutual search for the truth, recognizing that Truth is beyond us. This is not to deny Truth but to recognize that our way of expressing or explaining it may be different.
Augustine refuses to agree to the position of Manichaeus and if he remains unconvinced, he wants nothing to do with their worship or dogma.
“But if I cannot induce you to grant me this, at least allow me to suppose myself a stranger now for the first time hearing you, for the first time examining your doctrines. I think my demand a just one. And it must be laid down as an understood thing that I am not to join you in your prayers, or in holding conventicles, or in taking the name of Manichaeus, unless you give me a clear explanation, without any obscurity, of all matters touching the salvation of the soul.”
Augustine is clear that he would not accept and tolerate merely accepting what another said, but he was also open to searching for the truth with another with whom he did not agree. (However, Augustine – in contrast to theSecond Vatican Council – was not adverse to using force against heretics.)
Maybe we all should take this quote of Augustine a little more seriously and put aside arrogance and be more disposed to gentleness – seeking Truth, not scoring points.