Posted by: chuckbumgardner | September 23, 2007

Augustine on clarity and obscurity in Scripture

Why is it that God has given us some things in Scripture “hard to be understood”?  Augustine’s suggestion:

“. . . for the purpose of subduing pride by toil, and of preventing a feeling of satiety in the intellect, which generally holds in small esteem what is discovered without difficulty.”

“. . . what is attended with difficulty in the seeking gives greater pleasure in the finding. For those who seek but do not find suffer from hunger. Those, again, who do not seek at all because they have what they require just beside them often grow languid from satiety. Now weakness from either of these causes is to be avoided. Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite. For almost nothing is dug out of those obscure passages which may not be found set forth in the plainest language elsewhere.” (On Christian Doctrine, II.6.7)

Now, Augustine, in referring to obscure passages, has at least partly in mind passages which he thinks are meant to be interpreted allegorically. But his comments are relevent, I think, even if one rejects allegorical interpretation altogether.


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