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  #1  
Old May 2, '11, 6:48 pm
Crumpy Crumpy is offline
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Default St. Augustine on Scripture Interpretation

The footnotes in "DEI VERBUM, The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation" issued by the Second Vatican Council, include six explicit references to writings of St. Augustine.
None of them, however, cite Augustine's "Confessions."

I came across St. Augustine's "Confessions" at the public library (when I was looking for a commentary on Isaiah) and decided to take a detour into Augustine. He is a very educated man, having studied Plato (I take it) and generally the subject of rhetoric. Maybe we'd call that philosophy today. Note, the author of the book's introduction notes that Augustine is not systematic, not organized in a modern sense; that's certainly my impression from reading this complex work.

Confessions is supposedly the earliest recorded autobiography at least in Western literature. It was written in Latin, and there have been many translations into various languages. My library copy is a translation by J. G. Pilkington, published in 1963. I'm not otherwise familiar with this work, but this translation must be a work of art, itself. Augustine's prose is very poetic in style, very metaphorical, very abstract.

This translation is so over-my-head that I skipped most of the middle, and decided to attempt the last three "books" of commentary on Genesis. What I'm leading up to is that our modern guidelines for reading scripture are very historic. While Augustine may have listed the essence of interpretation, I don't think he invented it. So, our guidelines are very ancient.

Here he is

"These things, therefore, being heard and perceived according to my weakness of apprehension, which I confess unto Thee, O Lord, who knowest it, I see that two sorts of differences may arise when by signs anything is related, even by true reporters, -- one concerning the truth of the things [ historical criticism, as I take it], the other concerning the meaning of him who reports them. For in one way we inquire, concerning the forming of the creature [Genesis] what is true; but in another, what Moses, that excellent servant of Thy faith, would have wished the reader and hearer should understand by these words.As for the first kind, let all those depart from me who imagine themselves to know as true what is false. And as for the other also, let all depart from me who imagine that Moses to have spoken things that are false. But let me be united in Thee, O Lord, with them, and in Thee delight myself with them that feed on Thy truth, in the breadth of Thy charity; and let us approach together the words of Thy book, and in them make search for Thy will, through the will of Thy servant by whose pen Thou hast dispensed them."
Confessions of St. Augustine, Heritage Press, New York, 1963, p. 2462.

WOW. God is that author, but we have a human author in whose words we find God's will. That's VERY much like Benedict XVI's recent Verbum Domini, for example, as well as Dei Verbum.

When we read scripture, we should be searching for God's will. Exactly what Benedict has written recently.

This, by the way, is probably the only paragraph that I understood in the book. I see that other modern translations are available, and they are annotated at least with the scripture citations that Augustine uses. I'm sure that Augustine has been studied for centuries, up to the present day, and is deserving of the citations in Dei Verbum.
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  #2  
Old May 3, '11, 12:40 am
Bible Reader Bible Reader is offline
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Default Re: St. Augustine on Scripture Interpretation

I can recommend the following editions of St. Augustine's Confessions:

This is a gentle introduction with annotated excerpts

This is a complete translation into lively contemporary language
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  #3  
Old May 8, '11, 8:01 am
KristinVT KristinVT is offline
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Default Re: St. Augustine on Scripture Interpretation

Glad to see you're enjoying Augustine! I'm rereading the Confessions right now, and I'm on Book XI...

If you're having trouble understanding Augustine, you really need to get a newer translation of the Confessions without the thees and thous. It makes for much easier reading, and it's truer to the original. Augustine's Latin is very clear, and an archaic translation doesn't do him justice. I recommend the recent translation by Maria Boulding -- you can find it on Amazon.

Also, while the last three books of the Confessions are fascinating and philosophy-packed, they're also the most difficult part. If you're having trouble understanding it, I would start with earlier parts of the book. Book VIII is probably the highlight of the Confessions -- it's Augustine's conversion.

If you're interested in Augustine's guidelines for scripture interpretation, he wrote a whole book on it, "De Doctrina Christiana," often translated as On Christian Teaching or Teaching Christianity. It's a fascinating, short read, and it's widely available.

Happy reading!
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  #4  
Old May 8, '11, 10:12 am
Huiou Theou's Avatar
Huiou Theou Huiou Theou is offline
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Default Re: St. Augustine on Scripture Interpretation

Quote:
Originally Posted by Crumpy View Post
The footnotes in "DEI VERBUM, The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation" issued by the Second Vatican Council, include six explicit references to writings of St. Augustine.
None of them, however, cite Augustine's "Confessions."

...

I came across St. Augustine's "Confessions" at the public library (when I was looking for a commentary on Isaiah) and decided to take a detour into Augustine. He is a very educated man, having studied Plato (I take it) and generally the subject of rhetoric. Maybe we'd call that philosophy today. Note, the author of the book's introduction notes that Augustine is not systematic, not organized in a modern sense; that's certainly my impression from reading this complex work.

Confessions is supposedly the earliest recorded autobiography at least in Western literature. It was written in Latin, and there have been many translations into various languages. My library copy is a translation by J. G. Pilkington, published in 1963. I'm not otherwise familiar with this work, but this translation must be a work of art, itself. Augustine's prose is very poetic in style, very metaphorical, very abstract.
... But let me be united in Thee, O Lord, with them, and in Thee delight myself with them that feed on Thy truth, in the breadth of Thy charity; and let us approach together the words of Thy book, and in them make search for Thy will, through the will of Thy servant by whose pen Thou hast dispensed them."
Confessions of St. Augustine, Heritage Press, New York, 1963, p. 2462.

WOW. God is that author, but we have a human author in whose words we find God's will. That's VERY much like Benedict XVI's recent Verbum Domini, for example, as well as Dei Verbum.

When we read scripture, we should be searching for God's will. Exactly what Benedict has written recently.

This, by the way, is probably the only paragraph that I understood in the book. I see that other modern translations are available, and they are annotated at least with the scripture citations that Augustine uses. I'm sure that Augustine has been studied for centuries, up to the present day, and is deserving of the citations in Dei Verbum.
Augustine is extraordinary; "The confessions" ought to be called "The profession". Augustine uses his life as a device to describe the teachings of the church as he understood them; it's not so much an autobiography, as a reflection on how he became to love Christ. He is a Saint, among those whom we should look for their heroic battle in faithfulness.

He did study rhetoric, the art of argument and persuasion. Philosophers generally looked down their noses at rhetoriticians in his day. I agree with you, though, he really is a philosopher.
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  #5  
Old May 8, '11, 5:46 pm
TimothyH TimothyH is offline
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Default Re: St. Augustine on Scripture Interpretation

Quote:
Originally Posted by Crumpy View Post
...which I confess unto Thee, O Lord, who knowest it...
I got this far and broke out into a broad grin on the verge of laughter brought on by joy.

Thank you for the post and the quote. It reminded me why, upon reading the Confessions, I immediately knew which Saint's name I would take for my imminent confirmation.

St. Augustine, pray for us!


-Tim-
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  #6  
Old May 8, '11, 7:44 pm
Mintaka Mintaka is offline
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Default Re: St. Augustine on Scripture Interpretation

Re: signs, Scripture interpretation, etc. --

St. A's book On Christian Doctrine has a LOT about scripture interpretation, signs, allegory, etc. He also takes a lot of detours into things like why we can understand language at all. So if you liked the end of Confessions, you'll love that book.
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  #7  
Old May 8, '11, 7:58 pm
bogeydogg bogeydogg is offline
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Join Date: August 11, 2007
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Default Re: St. Augustine on Scripture Interpretation

Mintaka has it right read On Teaching Christianity or De Doctrina Christiana it is very good and speaks of the sort of things you are talking about, but it also deals with affections and that little book has changed me more than almost anything I have ever read.

God Bless
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