Augustine of Hippo. On Christian Doctrine
Showing that to teach rules for the interpretation of Scripture is not a superfluous task.
1. There are certain rules for the interpretation of Scripture which I think might with great advantage be taught to earnest students of the word, that they may profit not only from reading the works of others who have laid open the secrets of the sacred writings, but also from themselves opening such secrets to others. These rules I propose to teach to those who are able and willing to learn, if God our Lord do not withhold from me, while I write, the thoughts He is wont to vouchsafe to me in my meditations on this subject. But before I enter upon this undertaking, I think it well to meet the objections of those who are likely to take exception to the work, or who would do so, did I not conciliate them beforehand. And if, after all, men should still be found to make objections, yet at least they will not prevail with others (over whom they might have influence, did they not find them forearmed against their assaults), to turn them back from a useful study to the dull sloth of ignorance.
2. There are some, then, likely to object to this work of mine, because they have failed to understand the rules here laid down. Others, again, will think that I have spent my labor to no purpose, because, though they understand the rules, yet in their attempts to apply them and to interpret Scripture by them, they have failed to clear up the point they wish cleared up; and these, because they have received no assistance from this work themselves, will give it as their opinion that it can be of no use to anybody. There is a third class of objectors who either really do understand Scripture well, or think they do, and who, because they know (or imagine) that they have attained a certain power of interpreting the sacred books without reading any directions of the kind that I propose to lay down here, will cry out that such rules are not necessary for any one, but that everything rightly done towards clearing up the obscurities of Scripture could be better done by the unassisted grace of God.
3. To reply briefly to all these. To those who do not understand what is here set down, my answer is, that I am not to be blamed for their want of understanding. It is just as if they were anxious to see the new or the old moon, or some very obscure star, and I should point it out with my finger: if they had not sight enough to see even my finger, they would surely have no right to fly into a passion with me on that account. As for those who, even though they know and understand my directions, fail to penetrate the meaning of obscure passages in Scripture, they may stand for those who, in the case I have imagined, are just able to see my finger, but cannot see the stars at which it is pointed. And so both these classes had better give up blaming me, and pray instead that God would grant them the sight of their eyes. For though I can move my finger to point out an object, it is out of my power to open men’s eyes that they may see either the fact that I am pointing, or the object at which I point.
4. But now as to those who talk vauntingly of Divine Grace, and boast that they understand and can explain Scripture without the aid of such directions as those I now propose to lay down, and who think, therefore, that what I have undertaken to write is entirely superfluous. I would such persons could calm themselves so far as to remember that, however justly they may rejoice in God’s great gift, yet it was from human teachers they themselves learnt to read. Now, they would hardly think it right that they should for that reason be held in contempt by the Egyptian monk Antony, a just and holy man, who, not being able to read himself, is said to have committed the Scriptures to memory through hearing them read by others, and by dint of wise meditation to have arrived at a thorough understanding of them; or by that barbarian slave Christianus, of whom I have lately heard from very respectable and trustworthy witnesses, who, without any teaching from man, attained a full knowledge of the art of reading simply through prayer that it might be revealed to him; after three days’ supplication obtaining his request that he might read through a book presented to him on the spot by the astonished bystanders.
5. But if any one thinks that these stories are false, I do not strongly insist on them. For, as I am dealing with Christians who profess to understand the Scriptures without any directions from man (and if the fact be so, they boast of a real advantage, and one of no ordinary kind), they must surely grant that every one of us learnt his own language by hearing it constantly from childhood, and that any other language we have learnt,—Greek, or Hebrew, or any of the rest,—we have learnt either in the same way, by hearing it spoken, or from a human teacher. Now, then, suppose we advise all our brethren not to teach their children any of these things, because on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the apostles immediately began to speak the language of every race; and warn every one who has not had a like experience that he need not consider himself a Christian, or may at least doubt whether he has yet received the Holy Spirit? No, no; rather let us put away false pride and learn whatever can be learnt from man; and let him who teaches another communicate what he has himself received without arrogance and without jealousy. And do not let us tempt Him in whom we have believed, lest, being ensnared by such wiles of the enemy and by our own perversity, we may even refuse to go to the churches to hear the gospel itself, or to read a book, or to listen to another reading or preaching, in the hope that we shall be carried up to the third heaven, “whether in the body or out of the body,” as the apostle says,1 2 Cor. xii. 2-4. and there hear unspeakable words, such as it is not lawful for man to utter, or see the Lord Jesus Christ and hear the gospel from His own lips rather than from those of men.
6. Let us beware of such dangerous temptations of pride, and let us rather consider the fact that the Apostle Paul himself, although stricken down and admonished by the voice of God from heaven, was yet sent to a man to receive the sacraments and be admitted into the Church;2 Acts ix. 3. and that Cornelius the centurion, although an angel announced to him that his prayers were heard and his alms had in remembrance, was yet handed over to Peter for instruction, and not only received the sacraments from the apostle’s hands, but was also instructed by him as to the proper objects of faith, hope, and love.3 Acts x. And without doubt it was possible to have done everything through the instrumentality of angels, but the condition of our race would have been much more degraded if God had not chosen to make use of men as the ministers of His word to their fellow-men. For how could that be true which is written, “The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are,”4 1 Cor. iii. 17. if God gave forth no oracles from His human temple, but communicated everything that He wished to be taught to men by voices from heaven, or through the ministration of angels? Moreover, love itself, which binds men together in the bond of unity, would have no means of pouring soul into soul, and, as it were, mingling them one with another, if men never learnt anything from their fellow-men.
7. And we know that the eunuch who was reading Isaiah the prophet, and did not understand what he read, was not sent by the apostle to an angel, nor was it an angel who explained to him what he did not understand, nor was he inwardly illuminated by the grace of God without the interposition of man; on the contrary, at the suggestion of God, Philip, who did understand the prophet, came to him, and sat with him, and in human words, and with a human tongue, opened to him the Scriptures.5 Acts viii. 26. Did not God talk with Moses, and yet he, with great wisdom and entire absence of jealous pride, accepted the plan of his father-in-law, a man of an alien race, for ruling and administering the affairs of the great nation entrusted to him?6 Ex. xviii. 13. For Moses knew that a wise plan, in whatever mind it might originate, was to be ascribed not to the man who devised it, but to Him who is the Truth, the unchangeable God.
8. In the last place, every one who boasts that he, through divine illumination, understands the obscurities of Scripture, though not instructed in any rules of interpretation, at the same time believes, and rightly believes, that this power is not his own, in the sense of originating with himself, but is the gift of God. For so he seeks God’s glory, not his own. But reading and understanding, as he does, without the aid of any human interpreter, why does he himself undertake to interpret for others? Why does he not rather send them direct to God, that they too may learn by the inward teaching of the Spirit without the help of man? The truth is, he fears to incur the re proach: “Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers.”7 Matt. xxv. 26, 27. Seeing, then, that these men teach others, either through speech or writing, what they understand, surely they cannot blame me if I likewise teach not only what they understand, but also the rules of interpretation they follow. For no one ought to consider anything as his own, except perhaps what is false. All truth is of Him who says, “I am the truth.”8 John xiv. 6. For what have we that we did not receive? and if we have received it, why do we glory, as if we had not received it?9 1 Cor. iv. 7.
9. He who reads to an audience pronounces aloud the words he sees before him: he who teaches reading, does it that others may be able to read for themselves. Each, however, communicates to others what he has learnt himself. Just so, the man who explains to an audience the passages of Scripture he understands is like one who reads aloud the words before him. On the other hand, the man who lays down rules for interpretation is like one who teaches reading, that is, shows others how to read for themselves. So that, just as he who knows how to read is not dependent on some one else, when he finds a book, to tell him what is written in it, so the man who is in possession of the rules which I here attempt to lay down, if he meet with an obscure passage in the books which he reads, will not need an interpreter to lay open the secret to him, but, holding fast by certain rules, and following up certain indications, will arrive at the hidden sense without any error, or at least without falling into any gross absurdity. And so although it will sufficiently appear in the course of the work itself that no one can justly object to this undertaking of mine, which has no other object than to be of service, yet as it seemed convenient to reply at the outset to any who might make preliminary objections, such is the start I have thought good to make on the road I am about to traverse in this book.
S. AURELII AUGUSTINI HIPPONENSIS EPISCOPI DE DOCTRINA CHRISTIANA LIBRI QUATUOR .
Prologus. Doctrinam de Scriptura tractanda haud superfluo tradi.
1. Sunt praecepta quaedam tractandarum Scripturarum, quae studiosis earum video non incommode posse tradi; ut non solum legendo alios qui divinarum Litterarum operta aperuerunt, sed et aliis ipsi aperiendo proficiant. Haec tradere institui volentibus et valentibus discere, si Deus ac Dominus noster ea quae de hac re cogitanti solet suggerere, etiam scribenti mihi non deneget. Quod antequam exordiar, videtur mihi respondendum esse his qui haec reprehensuri sunt, aut reprehensuri essent, si eos non ante placaremus. Quod si nonnulli etiam post ista reprehenderint, saltem alios non movebunt, nec ab utili studio ad imperitiae pigritiam revocabunt, quos movere possent, nisi praemunitos praeparatosque invenirent.
2. Quidam enim reprehensuri sunt hoc opus nostrum, cum ea quae praecepturi sumus non intellexerint. Quidam vero cum intellectis uti voluerint, conatique fuerint Scripturas divinas secundum haec praecepta tractare, neque valuerint aperire atque explicare quod cupiunt, inaniter me laborasse arbitrabuntur; et quia ipsi non adjuvabuntur hoc opere, 0016 nullum adjuvari posse censebunt. Tertium genus est reprehensorum, qui divinas Scripturas vel revera bene tractant, vel bene tractare sibi videntur: qui quoniam nullis hujusmodi observationibus lectis, quales nunc tradere institui, facultatem exponendorum sanctorum Librorum se assecutos vel vident, vel putant, nemini esse ista praecepta necessaria, sed potius totum quod de illarum Litterarum obscuritatibus laudabiliter aperitur, divino munere fieri posse clamitabunt.
3. Quibus omnibus breviter respondens, illis qui haec quae scribimus non intelligunt, hoc dico: me ita non esse reprehendendum, quia haec non intelligunt; tanquam si lunam veterem vel novam, sidusve aliquod minime clarum vellent videre, quod ego intento digito demonstrarem; illis autem nec ad ipsum digitum meum videndum sufficiens esset acies oculorum, non propterea mihi succensere deberent. Illi vero qui etiam istis praeceptis cognitis atque perceptis, ea quae in divinis Scripturis obscura sunt intueri nequiverint, arbitrentur se digitum quidem meum videre posse, 0017 sidera vero quibus demonstrandis intenditur, videre non posse. Et illi ergo, et isti me reprehendere desinant, et lumen oculorum divinitus sibi praeberi deprecentur. Non enim si possum membrum meum ad aliquid demonstrandum movere, possum etiam oculos accendere, quibus vel ipsa demonstratio mea, vel etiam illud quod volo demonstrare, cernatur.
4. Jamvero eorum qui divino munere exsultant, et sine talibus praeceptis, qualia nunc tradere institui, se sanctos Libros intelligere atque tractare gloriantur, et propterea superflua voluisse me scribere existimant, sic est lenienda commotio, ut quamvis magno Dei dono jure laetentur, recordentur se tamen per homines didicisse vel litteras; nec propterea sibi ab Antonio sancto et perfecto viro Aegyptio monacho insultari debere, qui sine ulla scientia litterarum Scripturas divinas et memoriter audiendo tenuisse, et prudenter cogitando intellexisse praedicatur; aut ab illo servo Barbaro christiano , de quo a gravissimis fideque dignissimis viris nuper accepimus, qui litteras quoque ipsas nullo docente homine, in plenam notitiam orando ut sibi revelarentur, accepit triduanis precibus impetrans ut etiam codicem oblatum, stupentibus qui aderant, legendo percurreret.
5. Aut si haec quisque falsa esse arbitratur, non ago pugnaciter. Certe enim quoniam cum Christianis nobis res est, qui se Scripturas sanctas sine duce homine gaudent nosse, et si ita est, vero et non mediocri gaudent bono; concedant necesse est unumquemque nostrum et ab ineunte pueritia consuetudine audiendi linguam suam didicisse, et aliam aliquam vel graecam vel hebraeam vel quamlibet caeterarum, aut similiter audiendo, aut per hominem praeceptorem accepisse. Jam ergo si placet, moneamus omnes fratres, ne parvulos suos ista doceant, quia momento uno temporis adveniente Spiritu sancto, repleti Apostoli omnium gentium linguis locuti sunt; aut cui talia non provenerint, non se arbitretur esse christianum, aut Spiritum sanctum accepisse se dubitet. Imo vero et quod per hominem discendum est, sine superbia discat; et per quem docetur alius, sine superbia et sine invidia tradat quod accepit: neque tentemus eum cui credidimus, ne talibus inimici versutiis et perversitate decepti, ad ipsum quoque audiendum Evangelium atque discendum nolimus ire in ecclesias, aut codicem legere, aut legentem praedicantemque hominem audire; et exspectemus rapi usque in tertium coelum, sive in corpore, sive extra corpus, sicut dicit Apostolus, et ibi audire ineffabilia verba, quae non licet homini loqui (II Cor. XII, 2-4), aut ibi videre Dominum Jesum Christum, et ab illo potius quam ab hominibus audire Evangelium.
6. Caveamus tales tentationes superbissimas et periculosissimas, magisque cogitemus et ipsum apostolum Paulum, licet divina et coelesti voce prostratum et instructum, 0018 ad hominem tamen missum esse, ut sacramenta perciperet, atque copularetur Ecclesiae (Act. IX, 3-7): et centurionem Cornelium quamvis exauditas orationes ejus, eleemosynasque respectas ei angelus nuntiaverit, Petro tamen traditum imbuendum; per quem non solum sacramenta perciperet, sed etiam quid credendum, quid sperandum, quid diligendum esset, audiret (Id. X, 1-6). Et poterant utique omnia per angelum fieri, sed abjecta esset humana conditio, si per homines hominibus Deus verbum suum ministrare nolle videretur. Quomodo enim verum esset quod dictum est, Templum enim Dei sanctum est, quod estis vos (I Cor. III, 17); si Deus de humano templo responsa non redderet, et totum quod discendum hominibus tradi vellet, de coelo atque per Angelos personaret? Deinde ipsa charitas, quae sibi invicem homines nodo unitatis astringit, non haberet aditum refundendorum et quasi miscendorum sibimet animorum, si homines per homines nihil discerent.
7. Et certe spadonem illum qui Isaiam prophetam legens non intelligebat, neque ad angelum apostolus misit, nec ei per angelum id quod non intelligebat expositum, aut divinitus in mente sine hominis ministerio revelatum est; sed potius suggestione divina missus est ad eum, seditque cum eo Philippus, qui noverat Isaiam prophetam, eique humanis verbis et lingua quod in Scriptura illa tectum erat, aperuit (Act. VIII, 27-35). Nonne cum Moyse Deus loquebatur, et tamen consilium regendi atque administrandi tam magni populi a socero suo, alienigena scilicet homine, et maxime providus et minime superbus accepit (Exod. XVIII, 14-26)? Noverat enim ille vir, ex quacumque anima verum consilium processisset, non ei, sed illi qui est veritas, incommutabili Deo tribuendum esse.
8. Postremo quisquis se nullis praeceptis instructum divino munere quaecumque in Scripturis obscura sunt intelligere gloriatur, bene quidem credit, et verum est, non esse illam suam facultatem quasi a seipso existentem, sed divinitus traditam; ita enim Dei gloriam quaerit et non suam: sed cum legit, et nullo sibi hominum exponente intelligit, cur ipse aliis affectat exponere, ac non potius eos remittit Deo, ut ipsi quoque non per hominem, sed illo intus docente intelligant? Sed videlicet timet ne audiat a Domino, Serve nequam, dares pecuniam meam nummulariis (Matth. XXV, 26, 27). Sicut ergo hi ea quae intelligunt, produnt caeteris vel loquendo vel scribendo; ita ego quoque si non solum ea quae intelligant , sed etiam intelligendo ea quae observent, prodidero, culpari ab eis profecto non debeo: quanquam nemo debet aliquid sic habere quasi suum proprium, nisi forte mendacium. Nam omne verum ab illo est, qui ait: Ego sum veritas (Joan. XIV, 6). Quid enim habemus quod non accepimus? Quod si accepimus, quid gloriamur quasi non acceperimus (I Cor. IV, 7)?
9. Qui legit audientibus litteras, utique quas agnoscit enuntiat; qui autem ipsas litteras tradit, hoc agit 0019 ut alii quoque legere noverint: uterque tamen id insinuat quod accepit. Sic etiam qui ea quae in Scripturis intelligit, exponit audientibus, tanquam litteras quas agnoscit pronuntiat lectoris officio; qui autem praecipit quomodo intelligendum sit, similis est tradenti litteras, hoc est praecipienti quomodo sit legendum: ut quomodo ille qui legere novit, alio lectore non indiget, cum codicem invenerit, a quo audiat quid ibi scriptum sit; sic iste qui praecepta quae conamur tradere acceperit, cum in libris aliquid obscuritatis invenerit, quasdam regulas veluti litteras tenens 0020 intellectorem alium non requirat, per quem sibi quod opertum est retegatur; sed quibusdam vestigiis indagatis ad occultum sensum sine ullo errore ipse perveniat, aut certe in absurditatem pravae sententiae non incidat. Quapropter, quanquam et in ipso opere satis apparere possit huic officioso labori nostro non recte aliquem contradicere; tamen, si hujusmodi prooemio quibuslibet obsistentibus convenienter videtur esse responsum, hujus viae quam in hoc libro ingredi volumus, tale nobis occurrit exordium