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Augustine, On Christian Doctrine

st-augustine-hippoI have finally plugged one more gap in my education by reading Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine. As is often noted, this English title might cause people to think it is a survey of doctrine. In fact it is a handbook on biblical interpretation (Books 1-3) and proclamation (Book 4).  At the end of the book Augustine states,

 “In these four books I have set out to the best of my poor ability…what sort the pastor should be who is eager to toil away, not only for his own sake but for others, in the teaching of sound, that is of Christian, doctrine.” (pg. 241)

 The book is a challenging book in places but is well worth reading. Some may look down on Augustine’s hermeneutic because he lacks modern sensibilities and makes much of typology. However, he is very clear about the importance of authorial intent. And, what he has on so many people today is that he makes no pretense to being overly scientific or “objective.” He comes to the text as a believing Christian and expects Scripture to interpret Scripture (see more on this theme here). He also is interpreting for living as the Church rather than simply scholarship for the academy. Thus he stresses throughout the book the necessity of humility, love and prayer for both interpretation and proclamation. No matter how much we know (or think we know) if we are proud we will miss what God is saying. If we do not aim at love of God and neighbor we will miss the meaning of any text. And how can we expect to move forward without prayer?

 Augustine states:

 “So if it seems to you that you have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not yet understood them. If on the other hand you have made judgments about them that are helpful for building up this love, but for all that have not said what the author you have been reading actually meant in that place, then your mistake is not pernicious, and you certainly cannot be accused of lying.” (pg. 124)

“Who does not turn all this to the praise and love of the one God from whom he knows it all proceeds; such a person can seem to be very learned, but in no way at all can he be wise.” (pg. 158)

“For that reason, when you come to realize that the end of the law is love, from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith without pretense (1 Tm. 1:5), you will relate all the understanding of the divine scriptures to those three, and so be able to approach the study of those books without the least anxiety.” (pg. 125)

This is a good book for all pastors and students of the Scripture to read.

[Page numbers refer to the edition linked to above]

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