Posted by: chuckbumgardner | June 23, 2007

Augustine, On Christian Doctrine: Book I

I knew that I had City of God and Confessions in the Augustine volume of my Great Books series — but I didn’t know that On Christian Doctrine, translated by J. F. Shaw, was tucked in the back of that tome.  Hurrah! Selected highlights follow.

Augustine distinguishes between those things which ought to be “enjoyed” for their own sake, and those which ought to be “used.”  “To enjoy a thing is to rest with satisfaction in it for its own sake.  To use, on the other hand, is to employ whatever means are at one’s disposal to obtain what one desires, if it is a proper object of desire.”  The Trinity is the only “thing” which is a proper object of enjoyment (and Augustine spends some time setting forth the orthodox understanding of the Trinity in I.5), while “this world must be used, not enjoyed.” (I.4)

An interesting statement, which I’ll readily admit I don’t quite grasp yet: “In the Father is unity, in the Son equality, in the Holy Spirit the harmony of unity and equality; and these three attributes are all one because of the Father, all equal because of the Son, and all harmonious because of the Holy Spirit.” (I.5)

On the incarnation: “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.” (I.13)

“Seeing, then, that man fell through pride, He restored him through humility.  We were ensnared by the wisdom of the serpent; we are set free by the foolishness of God.  Moreover, just as the former was called wisdom, but was in reality the folly of those who despised God, so the latter is called foolishness, but is true wisdom in those who overcome the devil.” (I.15)

On proper love: “Now he is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally.” (I.27)

On whom to aid, given the incalcuable multitude of needs: “Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you.” (I.28)

On the goal of aiding others: “Now of all who can with us enjoy God, we love partly those to whom we render services, partly those who render services to us, partly those who both help us in our need and in turn are helped by us, partly those upon whom we confer no advantage and from whom we look for none.  We ought to desire, however, that they should all join with us in loving God, and all the assistance that we either give them or accept from them should tend to that one end.” (I.29, emphasis added)

“. . . we love even our enemies. For we do not fear them, seeing they cannot take away from us what we love.” (I.29)

On how to handle adulation: “Now the proud man and the proud angel arrogate this to themselves, and are glad to have the hope of others fixed upon them.  But, on the contrary, the holy man and the holy angel, even when we are weary and anxious to stay with them and rest in them, set themselves to recruit our energies with the provision which they have received of God for us or for themselves; and then urge us thus refreshed to go on our way towards Him, in the enjoyment of Whom we find our common happiness.” (I.33, emphasis added)

What is someone is preaching correct doctrine from a passage that does not really teach that doctrine? “If . . . a man draws a meaning from [the Scriptures] that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception.” (I.36)


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