On Christian Doctrine ends at last: with talk about how a preacher is most believable when he lives the way he talks; why wise truth is more important than eloquent expression (if you have to choose one, which hopefully you don’t); the permissible use of speechwriters; and an apology for how long this sucker turned out to be.
My version also turned out to take longer than I planned, and I thank those of you who’ve stuck with me. For those who like less seriality and more complete books, you will now find this one under the Completed Religious Books tab, in the Pastoral section. Enjoy!
On Christian Doctrine continues. In this installment, we get some short, easy rules about interpreting specific words and expressions which appear more than once in the Bible. We also learn that it’s safer to interpret a work from passages inside it than by reason.
Now, I know this sounds like “Turn off your brain when reading the Bible!”. But we are reading Augustine here, who never met a syllogism he didn’t like. All he’s saying is that the primary way to understand any literary work is studying the literary work itself, and that includes the Bible.
You might logically argue that Pip in Great Expectations is really Johnny Appleseed. (Pip means seed, right? So oranges, apples, pomegranates, same thing….) But the greater logic would be in recognizing that Dickens is the primary source for understanding Dickens, and that logical argument should draw on Dickens more than on itself if it wants to point to a true interpretation. Only then do you move to outside sources like history, linguistics, other authors of the time, literary journal articles, and “this is what I think; see if it makes sense.”
On Christian Doctrine continues, with more info on scriptural interpretation for Fun and Profit. In this installment, we learn that if you think the Bible is telling you to do evil things, you’re wrong. Also, that just because they jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge (figuratively speaking) in Old Testament times doesn’t mean you have to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, too. Also, that it might be worse for you to jump into a ditch than for them to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, if they were jumping out of necessity and you’re doing it to hurt yourself.
It’s getting funnier and funnier, how today’s Internet discussions of the Bible are so often about this same stuff that had been run into the ground in St. Augustine’s day. To be fair, it’s not like you get to read this kind of explanation book when it would be useful (like junior high or high school). Our educational system saves all this basic material until college or grad school, and then our religious leaders are all surprised that people pull crazy stuff out of the air to replace the info they didn’t get. You can’t think and feel sensibly about something you have no structure for understanding. Sigh.
On Christian Doctrine continues, with explanations of the wretched bondage of not understanding figures of speech as compared to the various wretched bondages to insufficient truth of the Jews and Gentiles, before Christ. I would say that this was too strong a comparison, but I’ve been on the Internet too long.
On Christian Doctrine continues. If you’ve never considered it a feature that that today’s Bibles come with capital and lowercase letters, commas, and periods, this part is guaranteed to make you embarrassing grateful for it.
Sorry that I haven’t posted much this week. A lot of life has been happening, I was scatterbrained before that, and I’m still trying to figure out what I should do about all this voting for the “Most Spiritual Podcast” stuff. I guess I should put a post up that stays at the top, but it would look kinda weird when the next entry is for “The Beetle Horde”. Anyway, there will be more St. Jerome tonight. I apologize for the inconvenience.
I’d appreciate prayers for my dad and his poor gut, as he was sicker than a monkey all yesterday and had to go to the doctor and get some pretty high-powered anti-spasmodic stuff. We hope he’s over it today.
For those of you who are waiting for our regularly scheduled podcasts of books already in progress, I’ll be getting back to them within the next week or so. I hope to get back on a more normal schedule as well, although the days of six-days-a-week podcasts are over for the foreseeable future. Thank you for your support through all this.
On Christian Doctrine continues, as St. Augustine divvies up purely human institutions and learning into what he thinks useful for Christians, or for Bible study, and what is not. (Kinda Plato’s Republic-y, when you think about it.)
Seeing as all that Dan Brown stuff is sure that Christianity hates science, it’s rather amusing to point out that St. Augustine, like most of the early Fathers, takes it for granted that the study of the natural sciences is the easiest part of worldly knowledge to justify to Christians — much easier than philosophy or rhetoric. Even though he can’t find strict utility for most of astronomy and even though it has so many pagan and divinatory associations, it’s not long before he’s using astronomy as an example again. The tie between close study of Creation and appreciative love of the Creator is obvious to him, and he expects it to be obvious to anyone who puts any effort at all into thinking.
On Christian Doctrine (St. Augustine’s book on scriptural interpretation methods) continues to veer off into a discussion of what should really be loved, by way of exploring what should be “enjoyed” versus what should be merely used. Also, the Resurrection, the healing of the human race, the Last Judgment, and so on. All very interesting and useful; but you’re not going to hear much more about scriptural interpretation for a while yet. Do you really care, though? Isn’t it better to delve into the linguistics metaphor of “the Word became flesh”?
Btw, I realize there’s an issue here about scriptural quotations. Like most of the Fathers, St. Augustine expects that both you and he are very familiar with good chunks of the Bible. He moves in and out of quotations with the same ease as a Star Trek fan, both equally unable to talk for long without references creeping in. I will highlight some of these by using my “quote voice”. But honestly, I’m not about to do that all day, any more than I’m going to waste time and strain my listeners’ patience by putting on a Spock voice every time I say “logical”. If you’re listening, you probably know what’s a quote. If you don’t, you’re enough of a fan that you’ll soon find out….