St. Augustine: On Christian Doctrine Commentary–Full Text

Augustine

In his book The Theology of Augustine, Matthew Levering focuses on the theme of love, what is love and how it functions in Christian teaching. As Levering examines, according to Augustine, Scripture teaches how to love. It must be vital for the interpreter of scripture to recognize how the words of scripture direct us to love of God.

So what does it mean to love? Typically, society tends to agree that being a loving person is being a good person, so perhaps, we should start at the question—What does it mean to be good? If a person loves someone there is an act in regard to that person, a willing of the good, or rather, the perfection of that person. Theologian Fr. Thomas Joseph White O.P. writes in his book The Light of Christ, “Goodness is the property of something that has reached its perfection or its goal…A good person typically is taken to be a person who is capable of virtuous moral actions, of justice, charity, mercy, and kindness toward others.”[1]

It is prudent to point out that what is justice, charity, mercy, and kindness toward others isn’t necessarily what another person thinks will make them happy or feel good. Prior to the rise of Christian Neo-Platonic thought around the 3rdand 4thcentury A.D. in Western society, these sentiments were expressed by a group who expressed skepticism against the works of Plato and Aristotle as those schools of thought lacked a development with any theology of their own. The group known as the Epicureans “sought a lifestyle of hedonism focusing on pleasure. These groups (the Stoics) without divine revelation to serve as a development for philosophy tended toward an ideology of self-interest.”[2]

Naturally, it must be understood that within the Christian moral system an adherence to love and to partake in the pilgrimage toward the Kingdom of God, a person is called to deny themselves of perceived pleasures that are not necessarily going to lead them to a perfecting of themselves—a life of holiness—or the goal of heaven. For example, Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”[3]Naturally, if we pair this expression with the beginning of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[4]It is to be understood that the commandments of the Old Testament are given by Christ. In fact, Jesus says as much, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.[5]

What I hope to make clear in regards to love is that it is intimately connected to the good news and the repentance of sin that when we are told that “day shall dawn upon[f] us from on high79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace,”[6]to get the full sense of the good news of Easter Sunday, God desires “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”[7]Every Catholic is reminded of the words of Jesus’ call to repentance on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, when they receive ashes on their forehead, as “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”[8]

Now, an objection usually occurs that says something of the nature, “If Jesus did come to change the law, why are Christians called to follow only some of these Old Testament laws.” The skeptic, or even Christian for that matter, usually fails to recognize a distinction in Judaic understanding of laws. In our modern society, we have different variations of the law, for example: misdemeanor and classes of felonies. In Ancient Judaic-Christianity, there is a distinction between Ritual and Moral law. Catholic Apologist Trent Horn explains in his book Hard Sayings that “St. Paul taught that the Mosaic Law was useful in teaching the Jews how to be holy, but it was incapable of saving them from sin (Gal. 3:10).”[9]Horn goes onto quote Scripture professor at the Augustine Institute Mark Giszczak for a further understanding, “Moral Law has to do with universal principles of right and wrong.  Ritual and ceremonial law has to do with symbolic, religious cleanness and uncleanness in Old Testament religion. Judicial or civil law involves structures for the administration of the law in the Old Testament…Aquinas teaches that the ritual and judicial laws have abrogated, but the moral law still holds. So we can eat bacon, but we can’t eat our neighbor.”[10]

So, it is important to understand these distinctions to understand scripture and St. Augustine makes this point. He explains that if the Holy Spirit can give us an understanding of Holy Scripture, the normal method to learn how to interpret it is from teachers. Every once in a while, I watch Evangelical street preaches on Youtube. Of course, one of the main targets for these street preachers are Catholics, so they’ll often stand in front of a Catholic Church while people are going into Mass and announce to them that they’re adherent to a false gospel. Naturally, some Catholics will come over and speak to them about the development of scripture, remind them that Sola Scriptura is not found in the scripture, and the history and development of the Church. At this point, I’ve heard the preacher’s response, “did you learn that at Bible college or seminary? You have man’s gospel not God’s gospel. I know how to interpret scripture because the Spirit is upon me” In this juncture of the conversation, as the Evangelical will only adhere to the text itself, to plant the seed from St. Augustine that scripture shows that the proper way to learn what the scripture says is from human teachers in as St. Paul needed to go to Ananias in Acts 9.[11]

In Book One, St. Augustine examines that there are two tasks with interpreting scripture:

 

  1. Discovering What there is to be learned
  2. Teaching what one has discovered.

 

St. Augustine also explains that in scripture there must be distinction between things and signs. Perhaps, it could be philosophically explained as matter and metaphysical or even simply the physical and the spiritual. St Augustine makes clear:

 “All instruction is either about things or about signs; but things are learnt by means of signs. I now use the word “thing” in a strict sense, to signify that which is never employed as a sign of anything else: for example, wood, stone, cattle, and other things of that kind.Not, however, the wood which we read Moses cast into the bitter waters to make them sweet, nor the stone which Jacob used as a pillow,4nor the ram which Abraham offered up instead of his son; for these, though they are things, are also signs of other things. There are signs of another kind, those which are never employed except as signs: for example, words. No one uses words except as signs of something else; and hence may be understood what I call signs: those things, to wit, which are used to indicate something else. Accordingly, every sign is also a thing; for what is not a thing is nothing at all. Every thing, however, is not also a sign.” [12]

 One of the most famous examples in the Old Testament of typological signs is found in the examination of God’s test of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac:

22 ¶* After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only-begotten son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son;* and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

¶ When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only-begotten son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.[13]

In this particular narrative the interpreter finds several signs. For example, Abraham is a sign of God—The Father and Isaac is symbol of God—the Son. They partake in a journey up a mountain so that Abraham may sacrifice is only begotten son in atonement while Isaac carries the wood with which will be used to make said sacrifice. Of course, God stays the hand of Abraham but provides another provision for Abraham to make atonement—which God will do with His Son.

There is a difficulty in our modern culture to understand signs. Currently we live in a society of secular rational materialism in one hand and often in the other hand religiously of spiritual fideism. Christians are best served by utilizing the three modes of gaining knowledge: Theology, Philosophy, and Science to avoid the pitfalls of either position in their search for God and truth.[14]In our academic fields, only things constitute as evidence or proofs and we often find in our spiritual lives the sentiment of being ‘spiritual but not religious’—this is not orthodox Christianity.

Originally, science was a subcategory of philosophy, it taught that it was our senses that led us to our understanding of the beyond. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas’ Five Proofs for the Existence of God are built from an understanding of observation from the material world. In Aquinas’ cosmological argument for the existence of God, he illustrates three observations:

1. Change (growth) is motion, what is in motion needs a mover.

  1. What is caused needs a cause.
  2. What could possibly exist, could not exist, all possible existence needs a necessary existence.

St. Augustine’s Guide for Things:

  1. A person must learn to use things in pursuit of perfection or their end—Holiness and God/Heaven.
  2. Recognition that the world (creature/material) is good, not infinite good for which we were made; cannot give us eternal happiness.

So, examining the Christian faith, we begin to understand that it is inherent that things play a vital role, but they are to lead to the eternal spiritually. In the history of philosophy, the pre-Socratics were materialist that could not move past their own material observations. Naturally, they were followed by the Platonist with the emphasis on the spirit over matter. In our modern society, the camps tend to break into factions of either materialist or spiritualist, whereas, Christianity from the Gospels have always highlighted a both/and understanding of the person.

For instance, The Incarnation is the putting on flesh of the divine second person. The institution of the Eucharist is Christ giving us the grace of His sacred body and precious blood through the material accidents of bread and wine.

Augustine in Book One writes on the importance of the Incarnation moving us toward purification in our souls:

  1. But of this we should have been wholly incapable, had not Wisdom condescended to adapt Himself to our weakness, and to show us a pattern of holy life in the form of our own humanity. Yet, since we when we come to Him do wisely, He when He came to us was considered by proud men to have done very foolishly. And since we when we come to Him become strong, He when He came to us was looked upon as weak. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” And thus, though Wisdom was Himself our home, He made Himself also the way by which we should reach our home.[15]

In the Gospel of Mark, the physical body plays a central role in the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter. It is through the death of the body where Jesus gives an invitation to faith to her father. Also, when Jesus goes to the little girl; he reaches and gently takes her hand and speaks to her body to say “arise.” Jesus doesn’t look to the heavens, he doesn’t call down here spirit to her body, but rather, speaks to her body as if she is still present. Jesus instructs us that the body is central to the mystery of soteriology and the resurrection of the body:

35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But ignoring what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 ¶ And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, he saw a tumult, and people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 ¶ Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and walked; for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were overcome with amazement. 43 ¶ And he strictly charged them that no one should know this,* and told them to give her something to eat. [16]

Christianity has always been a religion where things matter.

How does humanity speak of God?

A Skeptics may object to Christian theology saying, “The Greek Gods are now myths, no one believes in them anymore, why is your God any different?” Matthew Levering explains, “Our human concepts of God fall infinitely short of God. But even though our words about God are inadequate, nonetheless we can speak truth about God…Some conceive of God as the sun or as the entire cosmos; some conceive of gods among which one is primary. But we do not conceive of God truthfully in these ways.”[17]

Levering explains that each person of the Trinity are things in their relation to being that we are meant to enjoy. In the second person of the Trinity, Levering writes, “the divine Word, while remaining unchanged in itself, assumed a human nature so that we could see, hear, and touch him. Christ is both physician and medicine to our wound of sin.”

Augustine writes about the Incaranation and the Word:

chap. 13.—the word was made flesh

In what way did He come but this, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”? Just as when we speak, in order that what we have in our minds may enter through the ear into the mind of the hearer, the word which we have in our hearts becomes an outward sound and is called speech; and yet our thought does not lose itself in the sound, but remains complete in itself, and takes the form of speech without being modified in its own nature by the change: so the Divine Word, though suffering no change of nature, yet became flesh, that He might dwell among us.[18]
What is interesting in Levering’s particular work on the theme of Love within the theology of Augustine is that it appears that completely ignores love’s relationship with judgment. Levering explains, “In the Church, which is his “body” (Eph. 1:23), he unites us in charity with him and with each other. Those who love him are liberated from the slavery of sin and will live in glorious union with him forever. Christ calls us to enjoy him now and eternally”[19]

Augustine explains the judgment of those who fail to conform to the truth:

19. Now he whose soul does not die to this world and begin here to be conformed to the truth, falls when the body dies into a more terrible death, and shall revive, not to change his earthly for a heavenly habitation, but to endure the penalty of his sin.[20]

What is “right ordered love?”

Levering explains in his book, The Theology of Augustine, “When we love others and ourselves on account of God, we “use” ourselves and others rather than “enjoy” ourselves and others. In other words, God is our Goal. All our other relationships find their fullness in relation to our enjoyment of God. God gives us our ultimate happiness.”

Augustine explains this in detail, “Neither ought any one to have joy in himself, if you look at the matter clearly, because no one ought to love even himself for his own sake, but for the sake of Him who is the true object of enjoyment. For a man is never in so good a state as when his whole life is a journey towards the unchangeable life, and his affections are entirely fixed upon that. If, however, he loves himself for his own sake, he does not look at himself in relation to God, but turns his mind in upon himself, and so is not occupied with anything that is unchangeable.” [21]

What is interesting when examining Augustine’s understanding of properly ordered love is that it is contradiction with many of the prevailing schools of thought today in our Western culture birthed from modern philosophy that began with Rene Descartes 1596-1650. In fact, it is with Descartes where humanity began to turn their thought inward into what is commonly referred to as relativism today. In classical philosophy from the Greeks, it is understood that objects inform the intellect what they are in relation, but with Descartes’ understanding it is rather the intellect that determines what objects are as they are perceived by that particular intellect. Professor Ralph McInerny explains in his book, A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas, that Descartes “invented a little game called Methodic Doubt. He would sort through what he thought he knew and ask himself if it was not imaginable that it was false.”[22]

The famous Cartesian example is the straight stick that convex in the water appearing to be curved. What is puzzling is that Descartes seems to ignore that philosophy is the deposit of all knowledge. Humans know through their senses that water causes items to convex. It is also know that a stick could be straight or curved. So, the determination that one cannot trust their senses based on sight alone doesn’t appear to follow the ultimate conclusion. The great lengths of Cartesian skepticism is astonishing to the degree that in the end, Descartes concludes that you can only trust that you are because other ‘facts’ could be the result of a demon whispering in your ear.

What is determined by this examination of modern philosophy is that in order to love properly, humanity must learn how to orient their relationship to things. Once the proper hierarchy of knowing is understood—how we can understand things—one can also order their love in “use” as “use” therefore signifies rightly ordered love rather than manipulation or instrumentalization.”[23]To love orderly is to love correctly love God, but it’s important to understand that our love for God is not for His benefit. God does not need our love. When a person loves God it is in benefit to them, which is what God desires for us.

Augustine writes, “No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God’s sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself.”[24]So, humanity is called to rightly use things in relation to rightly ordered love for the purpose of the enjoyment of God. However, God doesn’t love us for our own sake, but rather for his own goodness. Augustine explains, “God, however, in His use of us, has reference to His own goodness. For it is because He is good we exist; and so far as we truly exist we are good.”[25]

 

Book 2

 God Makes Interpreting Scripture Difficult.

Levering poses a question to his reader, “If Scripture is an instrument of salvation, then why does it need interpretation? Augustine argues that God allowed obscurities and ambiguities to be present in Scriputre so that those who intellectually proud might be humbled by the labor of interpretation and so that the message of Scripture might not be disdained because it seemed to simple.”[26]It’s interesting that Augustine makes this point because prior to meeting St. Ambrose of Milan, this more or less was his position on scripture. Classics professor Robin Lane Fox writes in his biography of Augustine, “On Sundays, Augustine recalls, he would come to listen attentively to Ambrose’s sermons. People talked and interrupted, as we can infer from Ambrose’s own words, but Augustine was not troubled. He was not there to take in the contents, and yet as he listened to the style, his ‘heart’, typically, opened to what was being spoken…Ambrose was the first person to show him that concealed other meanings, or allegories, could be discerned in awkward verses of scripture.”[27]

Seven Steps to Interpret Scripture

In book two of On Christian DoctrineAugustine lists seven steps needed to interpret scripture:

  1. Holy Fear of God
  2. Piety

3.Knowledge

  1. Fortitude
  2. Mercy
  3. Purity of Heart
  4. Wisdom

Naturally, a Christians will be able see a connection with the list of these particular seven steps with other lists such as the seven Capital Virtues and the Seven Gifts the Holy Spirit that every Catholic is sealed with on the date of their confirmation:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church examines these Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit in paragraph 1831:

1831The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.[28]

The Catechism also references how these particular gifts are incorporated during the Liturgy when Bishop lays his hands on the confirmands:

1299In the Roman Rite the bishop extends his hands over the whole group of the confirmands. Since the time of the apostles this gesture has signified the gift of the Spirit. The bishop invokes the outpouring of the Spirit in these words: (1831)

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

by water and the Holy Spirit

you freed your sons and daughters from sin

and gave them new life.

Send your Holy Spirit upon them

to be their helper and guide.

Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the spirit of right judgment and courage,

the spirit of knowledge and reverence.

Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.[29]

 

Matthew Levering explains in his book, The Theology of Augustine, what each particular step means in regards to scripture. He explains that the fear of God is a reminder of our needed humility in the presence of God. Piety is also connected to humility in the respect that we attempted to defend our sins by the word of God. Of course, knowledge is needed so that we can love in a right ordered way and not by putting creature ahead of God. Levering reminds us that “In fear of God and piety, the interpreter of Scripture must begin, therefore, by the lamenting his sins.”[30](emphasis my own).

What is interesting about this point is that this understanding of the fear of God and piety can be brought by us to the work of the Liturgy of the Mass. A rebuke from those who deny the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is often heard in this or similar manner, “If you actually receive the Body of Christ and are a part of His body, how come all those who eat and drink his body and blood do not change?” It is a fair point to make against this particular teaching of the Church. What this challenge should do for each of us Catholics is to reorder our love toward God. So, if we take a look at scripture, St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians explains the reason why there is no change in many who partake in the sacrament of the Eucharist:

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged.[31]

What St. Paul is reminding us is that those who come to Mass need to allow their souls to receive the Savior of the World. If any of us are to fill ourselves with the notion that we are generally generally good, our souls have already been filled with a worldly understanding that cannot give us salvation. If one thinks he or she is generally good and coming to Mass is the work that makes them good, the idea borders on semi-pelagianism. The revelation from God found in the body of the Incarnation, Scripture, and His Church is the grace of mercy. A sentiment understood by Pope Francis in his book, The Name of God is Mercy, he writes, “the prophet (Ezekiel) speaks of shame, and shame is a grace: when one feels the mercy of God, he feels a great shame for himself and his sins.”[32]There is a nuance though of the role of the Church and the Grace of God to be understood. If one examines scripture, whether it is Pharaoh in the Exodus or Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist, the open admonishment of their sins in public hardened their hearts. However, we find in the Gospel of Luke the Prodigal Son who is welcomed by his father when shame of his own actions brings contrition to his heart. The Church should not shy away of teaching what is sin, it is inherently part of the Gospel, but those in the Church should remind themselves daily of their need for the fear of the Lord this how we build fortitude to have mercy. When we can learn to have mercy on even our enemies we can keep our hearts clean so that we can hear from Holy Spirit wisdom.

 

How to be knowledge of Scripture?

It’s simple, read the scripture. Augustine writes:

“14. In all these books those who fear God and are of a meek and pious disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them.”[33]

So, how are we to know constitutes as scripture? Levering explains, “To be knowledgeable in Scripture, one must have read the canonical books of Scripture. Those book are canonical that are accepted by the great majority of the most important churches. He lists these books, including (among books that were later contested) Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach.”[34]It is interesting as Levering highlights is that Augustine defends the use of the Septuagint where it differs from the Hebrew manuscripts due to the esteem that Augustine held within Reformation circles.[35]Some of the motivation of participants in the Reformation was a return to authentic early Christian teaching, so they looked at what books the Jews were using in their canon to establish what they would accept as their own. The problem with this particular understanding is that the change of Canon in the Jewish religion occurred after the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. During the 1stcentury A.D. a great many Jews could no longer speak Hebrew, so they used what is known as the Septuagint—the Greek translated Old Testament. Therefore, Jesus’ canon would be reflective of the one listed by Augustine.

Augustine also recognizes that proper understanding and knowledge get lost in cultural and historical contexts when texts are translated into different languages. For example, many who object to the historicity of the Roman Census in Luke’s Gospel is that Joseph didn’t need to go to Bethlehem. So, it is was literary invention from Luke. The problem with this particular understanding is with the Greek word “katalyma.” “Dr. Edward Sri of the Augustine Institute illuminates the use of the word as it can “refer to a guest room, a house, an inn or simply ‘a place to say.’ It is best to translate this word simply a ‘lodging’ to keep open the various possible settings in which Christ may have entered the world.”[36]The translator is also cautioned by Augustine not to be too literal with translated words; therefore, a diversity of translations can serve the interpreter of Scripture.  [37]

Book 3

How to Distinguish between the Literal and Figurative?

Matthew Levering explains that Augustine determines that the interpreter can distinguish from the literal and figurative by knowing that “signs can be literal only if they accord with the truth of faith.”[38]Therefore, the interpreter does have some freedom in exercising an interpretation of Scripture so long that it does not contradict the Deposit of Faith handed to us by Apostolic Teaching, Creeds, Dogma, Doctrine, and the Magisterium.

In examining Matthew Levering’s book The Theology of Augustine, Levering leaves out a lot material written by St. Augustine. Naturally, Levering is focusing on the theme of love in his thesis for his book writing, “If one interprets Scripture to say something opposed to charity, one has misinterpreted scripture.”[39]Again, the context of this particular sentiment begs the question, what is charity? What is love? Many in our modern culture would argue that any attempt to subvert the will of another is an act that is opposite of charity—an act of violence. For the sake of clarity, it should be understood that Augustine would not agree with this understanding of what constitutes as love. For those to know what is love or charity, they need to know what is good and what is evil, what is sin and what is virtue. In fact, Augustine totally rejects the modern notion that the diversity of cultures indicates a diversity of truths—the common retort, “That may be what you believe is the truth, but I have my own.” Augustine writes:

  1. But when men unacquainted with other modes of life than their own meet with the record of such actions, unless they are restrained by authority, they look upon them as sins, and do not consider that their own customs either in regard to marriage, or feasts, or dress, or the other necessities and adornments of human life, appear sinful to the people of other nations and other times. And, distracted by this endless variety of customs, some who were half asleep (as I may say)—that is, who were neither sunk in the deep sleep of folly, nor were able to awake into the light of wisdom—have thought that there was no such thing as absolute right, but that every nation took its own custom for right; and that, since every nation has a different custom, and right must remain unchangeable, it becomes manifest that there is no such thing as right at all. Such men did not perceive, to take only one example, that the precept, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” cannot be altered by any diversity of national customs. And this precept, when it is referred to the love of God, destroys all vices; when to the love of one’s neighbor, puts an end to all crimes. For no one is willing to defile his own dwelling; he ought not, therefore, to defile the dwelling of God, that is, himself. And no one wishes an injury to be done him by another; he himself, therefore, ought not to do injury to another.[40]

 The understanding of knowing that there is absolute truth and absolute wrong that transcends human cultures is vital to the foundation of Levering’s thesis that scripture must be interpreted with love.

 

Book 4

Matthew Levering in his book, The Theology of Augustine, explains that book four of On Christian doctrine was written sometime after the other three.[41]Nonetheless, Augustine writes about the proper teaching of scripture from the interpreter of it. Levering writes, “Augustine emphasizes that prayer before speaking is primary, but he also points out that St. Paul taught Timothy and Titus what they should teach others. Although the Holy Spirit raises up Christian teachers, nonetheless these teachers cannot suppose that they do not need to learn the content of faith from others.”[42]Naturally, this beings the discussion back to the Evangelical street preachers that attempt to deflect Catholic apologist by claiming they have no need for teachers that the Holy Spirit gives them all the gifts to interpret Holy Scripture. The difficulty with this particular teaching on their part is that it contradicts the Holy Scriptures themselves as St. Augustine explains:

  1. Now if any one says that we need not direct men how or what they should teach, since the Holy Spirit makes them teachers, he may as well say that we need not pray, since our Lord says, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask Him;” or that the Apostle Paul should not have given directions to Timothy and Titus as to how or what they should teach others. And these three apostolic epistles ought to be constantly before the eyes of every one who has obtained the position of a teacher in the Church. In the First Epistle to Timothy do we not read: “These things command and teach?”3What these things are, has been told previously. Do we not read there: “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father?” Is it not said in the Second Epistle: “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me?”5And is he not, be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth?” And in the same place: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine…And so the same apostle says to Timothy himself, speaking, of course, as teacher to disciple: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.”[43]

Overall, the entire document On Christian Doctrineis the instruction that the Catholic faith is one of both faith and reason. The Catholic faith is a faith of both the material and the spiritual. We are the creation of God who formed us both with a body united with our souls. It is God who gives us the material sacraments that aid us by His Grace to live out our call to holiness.

[1]Fr. Thomas Joseph White O.P., The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism(Washington: Catholic University Press. 2017), 69.

[2]Phillip Hadden, The Nature of Philosophy, Science, and Theology and Their Relationship. 2019, Unpublished manuscript, Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

 

[3]Jn. 14:15 RSV

[4]Jn. 1:1 RSV

[5]Mt. 5:17:18 RSV

[6]Lk 1:78-79 RSV

[7]Lk 1:77 RSV

[8]Mk. 1:15 RSV

[9]Trent Horn, Hard Sayings: A Catholic Approach to Answering Bible Difficulties (El Cajon: Catholic Answers Press. 2016), 256.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2013), 2.

[12]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”inSt. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 523.

[13]The HolyBible, Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), Gen 22:1–13.

[14]Phillip Hadden, The Nature of Philosophy, Science, and Theology and Their Relationship. 2019, Unpublished manuscript, Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

[15]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”inSt. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 525.

[16]Mk 5:35–43 RSV

[17]Levering, 4.

[18]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”inSt. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 526.

[19]Levering, 5.

[20]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”inSt. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 527.

[21]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 527–528.

[22]Ralph McInerny, A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), 22.

[23]Levering, 6.

[24]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 530.

[25]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 531.

[26]Levering, 9.

[27]Robin Lane Fox, Augustine(New York: Basic Books, 2015), 187.

[28]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 450.

[29]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 329.

[30]Levering, 9.

[31]1 Cor. 11:27–31. RSV

[32]Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy (New York: Random House, 2016), 10.

[33]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 539.

[34]Levering, 10.

[35]Ibid.

[36]Edward Sri, Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 74.

[37]St. Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Doctrine,Book 2 para. 17-18.

[38]Levering, 13.

[39]Ibid.

[40]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 562–563.

[41]Levering, 15.

[42]Levering, 16.

[43]Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,”in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 585.

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