Why Theology Matters

Jim @ Not For Itching Ears asserted that God doesn’t care about theology. Citizen Tom attempted here to rebut his assertion. I suppose the claim was presented because of the intention of wanting to bring together different denominations, but true ecumenicalism shouldn’t forgo truth for religious indifference or syncretism, God in the Old Testament puts those ideas to rest quite often. Jim from his original post doesn’t address Philippians though he brought up to me when I questioned that religious doctrinal indifference is never a theme in the undisputed letters of the Pauline canon. Jim’s argument rests on the Greek phrase “Ti Gar”, which is sometimes translated “What does it matter” in the passage that he quotes Philippians 1:17-18.  I made the point that Paul is very concerned in the Corinthian correspondences, Galatians, Romans, etc. with the understanding revelation correctly. The occasions for Paul’s letters generally center around defending the revelation against circumcision parties or defending his own apostleship. So, I had my suspicions that this just didn’t seem like the correct reading of Philippians, which is usually considered an authentic letter of St. Paul. The few commentaries that I perused didn’t even sniff Jim’s interpretation of the text, so again, exegesis is a conversation, it cannot be done in a vacuum. 

The complete thought of the periscope begins at verse 12, so again, in exegetical work, careful reading must be applied to a particular passage, a verse should not be taken out of its context both within the theme of the letter, it’s rhetorical devices, and its form. 

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (ESV Phil 1:12-18)

The entire context of verse 18 centers around Paul’s imprisonment which, as we can see from the complete periscope, advances the Gospel message either by men who do so for the sake of Christ’s gospel or personal gain, it has nothing to do with a group getting the gospel wrong. If one group was preaching adherence to the Mosaic law to be justified by Christ, from the context of Paul’s other letters, he would not have been so accepting, but Paul’s concern is the spread of the true message of the good news. 


So, does theology matter to God? Yes. It begins with the kerygma. God loves us and has a plan for us. So, the question should be asked in this manner, does theology matter for us? 

And because of this question we have to fully understand what is theology.  

Theology starts with the most knowable cause itself; it instructs man who God is through metaphors and analogy because man learns through the senses. It is a science that studies higher things, but It differs from the modern understanding of science that is only concerned with information; or the gathering of information to test hypothesis. However, the purpose of science is the certitude of the four causes. The supreme science to arrive at the conclusion of satisfaction is metaphysics. 

Metaphysics does differ from theology as the study of being as being that begins with cause and effect and rises to the cause. The classical understanding of science to knowledge in the strict sense of the word is one that proceeds from cause and effect. Theology is primarily about God as is all religious knowledge; it is not anthropology; it is primarily about the Trinity. Theology is not about the subjective needs of man, it is about God, who is the material object of study and His revelation which is the formal object. 

The trajectory of understanding in Theology is a top down approach where authority takes precedent. In theology, one looks at everything from God’s point of view, where reason cannot follow without help. So, does it matter to God—absolutely in this context. The subject matter is not diverse like it is in philosophy, but it has unity in the subject matter. It is one single unified vision of everything coming from God and leading one back to God in Christ. It is a conformity between nature, grace, and glory. 

The understanding of the nature of faith is predicated on the understanding of theology as a real science, which begins with the Creator and His revelation. Faith is a virtue, and it is necessary. It exists in its subject.

The starting point of the cause helps to understand how the act of our will as a response to grace toward God’s will in love—as St. Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:6—different from some of these commonly held misunderstandings on what is faith—for example, merely blind confidence. Theology depends on faith and revelation, which is how one assents to the propositions of theology as a science—science in the proper sense of all knowledge. In the proper sense of understanding theology as a science—dependent on faith and revelation—one could not be a theologian if one lacked faith because of theology’s dependence of both faith and revelation, one would either be a historian or a philosopher.

Faith is our response to revelation—which is grace; a free gift that is an invitation to the Divine life. One cannot merit this free gift of grace. For modernity, faith is the blind assent to a proposition; however, this is not the proper sense of the definition of the term. The act of belief as a form of knowing is distinct from the act of science and the act of opinion. These differences can be distinguished by the Aristotelean model of the three acts of the mind: simple apprehension, judgment, and reasoning.

There are two ways in which a person can come to judgment within this model. The first is philosophical in which one reasons through composing, combining, comparing, contrasting different beings. The second way is the movement of the intellect by an act of the will. If a person has assented to some propositions of faith through reason but cannot fully understand who God is, they will have a natural desire to move the intellect.  It is from the revelation of God that our natural desire is satisfied by an act of the will to faith. 

For example, Jesus gives us provocation to trust in His divinity through the signs of miracles. So, by these signs, a person can believe in His divinity because a person trusts in the authority in which Jesus speaks. An example of assenting to the authority and divinity of Jesus through signs would be St. Thomas the Apostle’s response to the sign of touching the man Jesus’ wounds which causes him to assent to the faith of the divinity of Jesus with the response, “My Lord, and my God.”[1]

So when it comes to assenting to a proposition, there is a similarity and difference between science and faith. In science, the mind is convinced by the examination of the scientific method and cause and effect. After such discourse through examination, assent puts an end to any further dialogue and ends examination. However, in faith, discourse and assent are in movement together at the same time. It is faith seeking understanding. When our will assents to faith in Christ, it moves also orders our will to acts of charity as the fruits of that faith.            The nature of faith is more closely related to a verb because it moves twofold from the intellect to faith by revelation and acts of charity.  The act of faith is when the intellect is moved by the will assents to the articles of faith given to us by God through revelation. It differs from doubt, opinion, and science because it assents by trust in the revelation of the revealer. It is done by ordering our will with God’s will by acts of charity. 


[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II 4.

A Reading Strategy for Learning St. Paul’s Story and Ministry. Section 1

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The Acts of the Apostles does a bit of jumping in the narrative between different people in the early stages of the Church. Furthermore, some details are not found in the Acts of the Apostles, but instead in the Letters of St. Paul. I decided to try to simply streamline the narrative of St. Paul into a single unit with a weekly post hopefully every Sunday morning on a section of Paul’s narrative. I will be using the Catholic Public Domain Bible for this task for copyright reasons, it is based on DRM translation and the vulgate. You can access the website here: http://www.sacredbible.org/catholic/index.htm 

I may miss something in my readings, so I encourage this to be a forum, please let me know if there is any event in a letter or a piece of Acts that I am missing. Naturally, the narrative of Acts and the Letters will not always go hand to hand, but I will try my best to insert particular passages into the Acts narrative. 

I’ll begin with the first mention of St. Paul. During the event of the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, we’re introduced to Saul, the persecutor, who would later become Paul, the Apostle of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. In fact, it’s probably important to begin to the story of St. Paul with the speech of St. Stephen which enrages the crowd to stone him.

Saul’s Introduction 

Acts Ch. 6:8-15, 7:1-60, 8:1-3,

[Acts of the Apostles 6]

{6:8} Then Stephen, filled with grace and fortitude, wrought great signs and miracles among the people. {6:9} But certain ones, from the synagogue of the so-called Libertines, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those who were from Cilicia and Asia rose up and were disputing with Stephen. {6:10} But they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. {6:11} Then they suborned men who were to claim that they had heard him speaking words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.{6:12} And thus did they stir up the people and the elders and the scribes. And hurrying together, they seized him and brought him to the council.{6:13} And they set up false witnesses, who said: “This man does not cease to speak words against the holy place and the law.{6:14} For we have heard him saying that this Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and will change the traditions, which Moses handed down to us.”{6:15} And all those who were sitting in the council, gazing at him, saw his face, as if it had become the face of an Angel.

[Acts of the Apostles 7]

{7:1} Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?”

{7:2} And Stephen said: “Noble brothers and fathers, listen. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he stayed in Haran.{7:3} And God said to him, ‘Depart from your country and from your kindred, and go into the land that I will show to you.’{7:4} Then he went away from the land of the Chaldeans, and he lived at Haran. And later, after his father was dead, God brought him into this land, in which you now dwell.{7:5} And he gave him no inheritance in it, not even the space of one step. But he promised to give it to him as a possession, and to his offspring after him, though he did not have a son.{7:6} Then God told him that his offspring would be a settler in a foreign land, and that they would subjugate them, and treat them badly, for four hundred years.{7:7} ‘And the nation whom they will serve, I will judge,’ said the Lord. ‘And after these things, they shall depart and shall serve me in this place.’{7:8} And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so he conceived Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day. And Isaac conceived Jacob, and Jacob, the twelve Patriarchs.{7:9} And the Patriarchs, being jealous, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him.{7:10} And he rescued him from all his tribulations. And he gave him grace and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And he appointed him as governor over Egypt and over all his house.{7:11} Then a famine occurred in all of Egypt and Canaan, and a great tribulation. And our fathers did not find food.{7:12} But when Jacob had heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our fathers first.{7:13} And on the second occasion, Joseph was recognized by his brothers, and his ancestry was made manifest to Pharaoh.{7:14} Then Joseph sent for and brought his father Jacob, with all his kindred, seventy-five souls.{7:15} And Jacob descended into Egypt, and he passed away, and so did our fathers.{7:16} And they crossed over into Shechem, and they were placed in the sepulcher which Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the son of Shechem.{7:17} And when the time of the Promise that God had revealed to Abraham drew near, the people increased and were multiplied in Egypt,{7:18} even until another king, who did not know Joseph, rose up in Egypt.{7:19} This one, encompassing our kindred, afflicted our fathers, so that they would expose their infants, lest they be kept alive.{7:20} In the same time, Moses was born. And he was in the grace of God, and he was nourished for three months in the house of his father.{7:21} Then, having been abandoned, the daughter of Pharaoh took him in, and she raised him as her own son.{7:22} And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. And he was mighty in his words and in his deeds.{7:23} But when forty years of age were completed in him, it rose up in his heart that he should visit his brothers, the sons of Israel. 7:24} And when he had seen a certain one suffering injury, he defended him. And striking the Egyptian, he wrought a retribution for him who was enduring the injury.{7:25} Now he supposed that his brothers would understand that God would grant them salvation through his hand. But they did not understand it.{7:26} So truly, on the following day, he appeared before those who were arguing, and he would have reconciled them in peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. So why would you harm one another?’{7:27} But he who was causing the injury to his neighbor rejected him, saying: ‘Who has appointed you as leader and judge over us?{7:28} Could it be that you want to kill me, in the same way that you killed the Egyptian yesterday?’{7:29} Then, at this word, Moses fled. And he became a foreigner in the land of Midian, where he produced two sons.{7:30} And when forty years were completed, there appeared to him, in the desert of Mount Sinai, an Angel, in a flame of fire in a bush.

{7:31} And upon seeing this, Moses was amazed at the sight. And as he drew near in order to gaze at it, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying:{7:32} ‘I am the God of your fathers: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses, being made to tremble, did not dare to look.

{7:33} But the Lord said to him: ‘Loosen the shoes from your feet. For the place in which you stand is holy ground.{7:34} Certainly, I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning. And so, I am coming down to free them. And now, go forth and I will send you into Egypt.’

{7:35} This Moses, whom they rejected by saying, ‘Who has appointed you as leader and judge?’ is the one God sent to be leader and redeemer, by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush.{7:36} This man led them out, accomplishing signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and at the Red Sea, and in the desert, for forty years. {7:37} This is Moses, who said to the sons of Israel: ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own brothers. You shall listen to him.’

{7:38} This is he who was in the Church in the wilderness, with the Angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. It is he who received the words of life to give to us.{7:39} It is he whom our fathers were not willing to obey. Instead, they rejected him, and in their hearts they turned away toward Egypt,{7:40} saying to Aaron: ‘Make gods for us, which may go before us. For this Moses, who led us away from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’{7:41} And so they fashioned a calf in those days, and they offered sacrifices to an idol, and they rejoiced in the works of their own hands.

{7:42} Then God turned, and he handed them over, to subservience to the armies of heaven, just as it was written in the Book of the Prophets: ‘Did you not offer victims and sacrifices to me for forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?

{7:43} And yet you took up for yourselves the tabernacle of Moloch and the star of your god Rephan, figures which you yourselves formed in order to adore them. And so I will carry you away, beyond Babylon.’{7:44} The tabernacle of the testimony was with our fathers in the desert, just as God ordained for them, speaking to Moses, so that he would make it according to the form that he had seen.{7:45} But our fathers, receiving it, also brought it, with Joshua, into the land of the Gentiles, whom God expelled before the face of our fathers, even until the days of David,{7:46} who found grace before God and who asked that he might obtain a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.{7:47} But it was Solomon who built a house for him.

{7:48} Yet the Most High does not live in houses built by hands, just as he said through the prophet:{7:49} ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house would you build for me? says the Lord. And which is my resting place?{7:50} Has not my hand made all these things?’

{7:51} Stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you ever resist the Holy Spirit. Just as your fathers did, so also do you do.{7:52} Which of the Prophets have your fathers not persecuted? And they killed those who foretold the advent of the Just One. And you have now become the betrayers and murderers of him.{7:53} You received the law by the actions of Angels, and yet you have not kept it.”{7:54} Then, upon hearing these things, they were deeply wounded in their hearts, and they gnashed their teeth at him.

{7:55} But he, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and gazing intently toward heaven, saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”{7:56} Then they, crying out with a loud voice, blocked their ears and, with one accord, rushed violently toward him.{7:57} And driving him out, beyond the city, they stoned him. And witnesses placed their garments beside the feet of a youth, who was called Saul.

{7:58} And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

{7:59} Then, having been brought to his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord. And Saul was consenting to his murder.

[Acts of the Apostles 8]

{8:1} Now in those days, there occurred a great persecution against the Church at Jerusalem. And they were all dispersed throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles.{8:2} But God-fearing men arranged for Stephen’s funeral, and they made a great mourning over him.{8:3} Then Saul was laying waste to the Church by entering throughout the houses, and dragging away men and women, and committing them to prison.

Saul’s Conversion and beginning ministry in Damascus and Jerusalem  

Conversion, Acts 9: 1-31; Note: St. Paul tell us in Galatians 1:16-18 He went to Arabia after his conversion then returned to Damascus, Acts does not report this journey. Ministry and Damascus escape: Acts 9:19-25. 

[Acts of the Apostles 9]

{9:1} Now Saul, still breathing threats and beatings against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,{9:2} and he petitioned him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that, if he found any men or women belonging to this Way, he could lead them as prisoners to Jerusalem.{9:3} And as he made the journey, it happened that he was approaching Damascus. And suddenly, a light from heaven shone around him.{9:4} And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”{9:5} And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goad.”{9:6} And he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” {9:7} And the Lord said to him, “Rise up and go into the city, and there you will be told what you ought to do.” Now the men who were accompanying him were standing stupefied, hearing indeed a voice, but seeing no one.{9:8} Then Saul rose up from the ground. And upon opening his eyes, he saw nothing. So leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.{9:9} And in that place, he was without sight for three days, and he neither ate nor drank.

{9:10} Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias. And the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”{9:11} And the Lord said to him: “Rise up and go into the street that is called Straight, and seek, in the house of Judas, the one named Saul of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying.”{9:12} (And Paul saw a man named Ananias entering and imposing hands upon him, so that he might receive his sight.) 9:13} But Ananias responded: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.{9:14} And he has authority here from the leaders of the priests to bind all who invoke your name.”

{9:15} Then the Lord said to him: “Go, for this one is an instrument chosen by me to convey my name before nations and kings and the sons of Israel.{9:16} For I will reveal to him how much he must suffer on behalf of my name.”{9:17} And Ananias departed. And he entered the house. And laying his hands upon him, he said: “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, he who appeared to you on the way by which you arrived, sent me so that you would receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

{9:18} And immediately, it was as if scales had fallen from his eyes, and he received his sight. And rising up, he was baptized.

[Galatians 1]

{1:16} to reveal his Son within me, so that I might evangelize him among the Gentiles, I did not next seek the consent of flesh and blood. {1:17} Neither did I go to Jerusalem, to those who were Apostles before me. Instead, I went into Arabia, and next I returned to Damascus.{1:18} And then, after three years, I went to Jerusalem to see Peter; and I stayed with him for fifteen days.{1:19} But I saw none of the other Apostles, except James, the brother of the Lord.

[Acts of the Apostles 9]

{9:19} And when he had taken a meal, he was strengthened. Now he was with the disciples who were at Damascus for some days.{9:20} And he was continuously preaching Jesus in the synagogues: that he is the Son of God.{9:21} And all who heard him were astonished, and they said, “Is this not the one who, in Jerusalem, was fighting against those invoking this name, and who came here for this: so that he might lead them away to the leaders of the priests?”

{9:22} But Saul was increasing to a greater extent in ability, and so he was confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus, by affirming that he is the Christ.{9:23} And when many days were completed, the Jews took counsel as one, so that they might put him to death. 9:24} But their treachery became known to Saul. Now they were also watching the gates, day and night, so that they might put him to death.{9:25} But the disciples, taking him away by night, sent him over the wall by letting him down in a basket.{9:26} And when he had arrived in Jerusalem, he attempted to join himself to the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.

{9:27} But Barnabas took him aside and led him to the Apostles. And he explained to them how he had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken to him, and how, in Damascus, he had acted faithfully in the name of Jesus.{9:28} And he was with them, entering and departing Jerusalem, and acting faithfully in the name of the Lord.{9:29} He also was speaking with the Gentiles and disputing with the Greeks. But they were seeking to kill him.{9:30} And when the brothers had realized this, they brought him to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.

{9:31} Certainly, the Church had peace throughout all of Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and it was being built up, while walking in the fear of the Lord, and it was being filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.

All Scripture is Inspired by God-Sunday of the Word of God

In Matthew Ramage’s book Dark Passages of the Bible, pages 55-56 really struck me when it quoted St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete for every good work.” (Ramage, Dark Passages of the Bible, p. 55-56)

At this juncture, I think it’s important to examine a much larger periscope or the context surrounding that particular passage: 

10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:10-17 ESVCE) 

The importance of expanding the periscope is to further understand the context of the particular passage cited by Dr. Ramage above, as well as biblical Christian exegetes like James White, who attempt to use the passage for a proof text for Sola Scriptura, where as these words of St. Paul in Sacred Scripture point toward a deeper truth which is the sufficiency of God’s revelation passed down by teaching and Sacred Scripture through which humanity is saved by the twofold act of faith and love. 

The New Collegeville Bible Commentary on the New Testament gives a bit of a deeper explanation of St. Timothy’s understanding and context of the passage and what he, Timothy, is suppose to do with scripture: 

He is to use the Scriptures in teaching the sound doctrine he has received from Paul, handing it on to other faithful ministers (2:2). He is to use the Scriptures to refute the false teachers who have already become active (2:14) and whose activity will intensify in the final days (3:5). He is to use the Scriptures to correct his “opponents with kindness” when it is possible to lead them “to knowledge of the truth” (2:25). Finally, he is to use the Scriptures for training in righteousness. In order to accomplish his ministry, (Terence J. Keegan, “The Second Letter to Timothy,” in New Testament, ed. Daniel Durken, The New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 709.


There is a few point points I’d like to dialogue with this particular passage. The first is what is the purpose of following the teachings of St. Paul, the importance of all scripture being breathed out by God, its profitableness for reproof, for correction, and for training. The second is the phrase “man of God,” and finally, the usage of this particular passage is not an argument for the total sufficiency of Sacred Scripture explicitly, bur rather points toward the sufficiency of revelation of God in its entirety from the witness of St. Paul’s example of his witness (persecution), teaching (tradition) and apostolic authority (Magisterium), and Sacred Scripture. Keegan explains, Timothy is also aware of Paul’s way of life and purpose. Timothy is aware as well of the six qualities that characterized Paul’s life: the Christian virtues of faith, patience, love, and endurance (3:10), which were the basis of his teaching, life, and purpose, and the persecutions and suffering (3:11) that were the inevitable result.” (Terence J. Keegan, “The Second Letter to Timothy,” in New Testament, 709.) 

The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time is now known as Sunday of the Word of God promulgated by Pope Francis on the feast of St. Jerome in 2019. I think the first aspect to examine is the purpose of God’s revelation or end. Naturally, the purpose or end of Man is the beatific vision, simply heaven. It can quite simply be described that humanity has sinned against God in a corporate sense and individual sense. God, Who is merciful, by means of salvation history and the Jewish people sent His only Son to reconcile humanity to Himself by his free gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son. Our salvation comes by means of faith in Jesus Christ, a twofold act of the will assenting to an act of faith and the act of love as explained by St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. (Gal. 5:6)

The exegete, who is a man of God, or rather one who has assented to faith in Christ Jesus, should be equipped with a proper understanding of what faith is in the traditional Catholic understanding by an assent to things not self-evident, which is included in the method of Theological Exegesis (Method A)—for that is faith. It is through the teaching of the Magisterium, Sacred Tradition, with Sacred Scripture that gives us proper understanding of Sacred Scripture to use for teaching. Naturally, this is something a strict Historical Critical (Method B) exegete could not do or can they? Philosophically, what is the purpose or end of Sacred Scripture? Can both strictly Method A and Method B exegetes come to an agreement on the purpose of Sacred Scripture? Or I shall reframe the question, Can it be recognized that the historical intention of the historical author is the same as the Divine author?

The man of God’s perspective is first ‘teaching,’ as it was with St. Paul who taught Timothy. The teaching of Sacred Scripture should be framed within the context of the great commission (Mt. 28) for the purpose, in the office of prophet, to spread the good news that those of us who are condemned by the sin and the law and then through the blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ, are given the grace to be eternally saved. If an exegete examines the Prophetic literature such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, do the calls for repentance for the same purpose? A Method B exegete can reasonably object that the Jewish people in Isaiah’s time were far more concerned with the material aspect of land and progeny. There is a theme that runs through the Prophets to St. Paul, which is the concern with God’s righteousness, which can be labeled as His justice. The prophets rebuke the people of Israel for their idolatry, so does St. Paul. The prophets rebuke the people of Israel for immorality being condemned by the law, so does St. Paul. The prophets also rebuke the people of Israel for their mistreatment of the poor, so does St. Paul in first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11). And so, there is a basic foundation of the purpose of the tradition, teaching, and Scripture to which St. Paul alludes, the righteousness of God. It is only through the pedagogy of God’s revelation does humanity learn more about God’s kingship and kingdom to which he refers in the Prophetic literature. 

 St. John Henry Newman’s Essay on the Grammar of Assent, the man of God can only propose the probability of the propositions much in the image of weights tipping a scale to one side or another. After the proposition and the evidence is presented in the Method B approach, otherwise known as preambles of faith then it up to the person whether or not they can assent to the probability of things not self-evident that found more in the Method A approach through signs or motives of credibility. Method B can only ever exhaust the argument of probability, so it is naturally incomplete and will always come to incomplete conclusions with some propositions, therefore; the man of God needs to rely on the unified tradition and memory of the Church to assent to a certitude. The goal of Method C (a combination of the Method A&B) is to develop the assent of one who has assented to the probability of the faith through Method B by Method A. Method C, an approach that is promoted through the scholarly work of Pope Benedict XVI, is an important approach for evangelization in our post-Enlightenment skeptical world.  As concluded by Dr. Ramage , “Method B exegesis may therefore come first in order of execution, but it is not first in an absolute sense, What is first absolutely is something the historical-critical method can only examine on a material level…Method A gives the exegete the real reason for his investigation because it gives him God’s word.” (Ramage, Dark Passage of the Bible, p. 87)

Covid-19 Cleaning Care Packages

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Pilgrims of Christ currently have several cleaning care packages for community ministries vital to the common good of our local communities ready to go.

A box has the following items:

Hand Sanitizer

2 Microfiber cloths

2 Bandannas

Empty Spray Bottle

1 Household cleaner (various)

There are other items upon request, but not knowing the need of every facility we’ve tailored it down to basic items in the care package.

Thank You for your support! If you want to see this mission continue and be able to help even more! Please consider becoming a Patron on our newly launched just today Patreon Page! There you’ll find some thank you gifts for your support!

 

Biblical Exegesis: Primarily a philosophical discussion or historical?

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Pope Benedict XVI explained in his 1988 Erasmus lectures, “The debate about modern exegesis is not at its core a debate among historians, but among philosophers”. (Matthew J. Ramage, Jesus Interpreted, 9).

Is the discussion of the Holy Scriptures primarily a philosophical debate of those who claim there is a God and those who do not?

The statement appears to be correct on the surface; however, the difficulty with this particular assertion is that it is a false dichotomy when it comes to the interpretation of what is true and what actually happened as it is described in the written word. In attempting to determine what is true, the historian–both secular and religious–deals with the axiological value judgment of the truth just as much as any philosopher would when it comes to scriptural exegesis and the matter of what is the truth.

Make sure to pre-order my new book: The Birth of God in Historical Context: An Examination of the Infancy Narrative of Jesus Christ: 

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-birth-of-god-in-history-phillip-hadden/1134980944?ean=9781078744492

The Legion of Valor Men’s retreat: “Spiritual Warfare” w/ Fr. Sebastian Walshe

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The Diocese of Springfield Illinois has created a new fraternal group to help support and grow the faith of men in its diocese. The diocese calls this group Legion of Valor and invites the men of our diocese to “close ranks. It’s time to pull up from the grind and gain some much-needed perspective. It’s time to take stock, to recharge, to refocus. It’s time to re-engage our mission as Catholic men.”

During the weekend of September 28th-29th, the topic of discussion for the Legion of Valor was “Entering into Spiritual Warfare.” The keynote speaker for the weekend was Fr. Sebastian Walshe, O. Praem. After the opening prayer for the weekend retreat, Mike Christe, Director of Evangelical and Catechetical Services, challenged us all to foster into our own prayer lives the prayer of the Church—the Liturgy of the Hours. Christe explained that through his own life he’s learned the value of prayer by experiencing the fog of battle in the spiritual battle. It was only when he revamped his prayer life that he was able to pierce through the fog with his prayer serving like night vision goggles. All Catholics needing to cultivate a foundation of prayer, Christe called us to participate in this vital battle by going to morning prayer.

After morning prayer, where the men learned how to pray the hours in community, the men were introduced to Fr. Sebastian Walshe, a Norbertine, from St. Michael’s Abbey in California. Fr. Walshe instructed the men that as Catholics we need to learn and be reminded that there are three distinct battles within the very real war of Spiritual Warfare.

1. The Flesh
2. The World
3. The Devil.

The conflict in this war is between two armies and the combatants are spiritual. Fr. Walshe explained that the spiritual can become visible in extraordinary manifestations such as oppression, possession, and obsession and voiced the concern of the growing trend within the Catholic Church expressing that Satan is merely a symbolism in the world. Fr. Walshe gave one particular example of the Superior General of the Jesuits claiming the sentiment and informed those at the retreat that the Superior General is either “a fool or something worse.”

One important aspect that spoke to me is that Fr. Walshe said that the most concerning aspect in the spiritual life is those who feel that they are okay. In their spiritual life, they do not feel any discomfort nor the pull of temptation. If we’re trying to live a life of holiness we should be aware of the stress of the able, the pull of temptation, and we should feel uncomfortable. Fr. Walshe went into a bit about fasting being a tool that allowed us not to be subject to the flesh and that abortion and the death of children is diabolical in nature because the demons do not want souls to replace them in heaven.

After the first talk ended the group broke for mid-morning prayer and mass. The mass was celebrated in the ordinary rite with the mass parts sung in Latin. It was offered by Fr. Dominic who served as the retreat’s Chaplin. The mass fostered a sense of reverence and was extremely moving hearing the packed chapel full of men chanting the Latin parts of the mass—an experience not easily forgotten.

The retreat broke for lunch after Mass.

The second talk given by Fr. Walshe was on the Virtue of Humility and the power of it. He reminded us that humility is the acceptance that God is in control of our lives, not ourselves. We should reject in our lives the spirit of discouragement and despair when trying to live a life of holiness—that the demonic are often behind these thoughts and we should openly renounce them. Fr. Walshe explained to the group that ultimately our goodness and holiness is given by God’s grace that whatever holiness we’re living it’s because we’re being held up by Christ and the Blessed Virgin like a child holding the hands of their father and mother.

Men must also reject false humility such as denying the goodness of God working through ourselves. For example, someone may give us praise and if we respond that we’re really nothing special we’re participating in false humility. Our response to praise should be “Thank you and thanks be to God, Fr. Walshe said. We also need to avoid the smallness of soul of thinking that we cannot be a great saint or that someone is better at something we’re called to by God. Rather what men should strive for is the virtue of magnanimity and desire to be worthy of the call. God wants us to do good things; he wants us to order our will to his own.

Fr. Walse explained to the men of the Springfield Diocese in Illinois a fantastic exegesis of the Parable of the Servants. He challenged us men to take risks for God. We cannot take the grace given to us by God and bury it out of fear of his wrath. What is striking about the parable is what the parable doesn’t ever say. Fr. Walse explained that any of the persons given talents we’d expect one of them to fail, but none of them do who take risks. We need to put our trust fully in God’s plan for us.

Fr. Walshe gave us ten steps to incorporate the virtue of humility in our spiritual lives:

1. Obedience
2. Confession—and hold nothing back in confession.
3. Make our defects public
4. Prefer the common good over our individual good
5. Accept unjust accusations—be confident and do not concern yourself with them
6. Be grateful for truthful correction
7. Do not be troubled by other’s faults; Jesus is the judge.
8. Think and speak well of others
9. Rejoice in our weaknesses and celebrate other’s strengths
10. Perform the mundane and meaningless tasks with joy.

The final short talk of the day was given to us on the weapons for Spiritual warfare which are offensive and defensive:

The Offensive weapons: prayer, fasting, the word of God, saying the name of Jesus and Mary, sacraments, and sacramentals.

The Defensive weapons: faith, hope, forgiveness, well-ordered family, and the sign of the cross.

The final activity of the day before dinner was given by an Our Saviour’s Parishioner and local knot-tying expert Scott Marshall on Mary–the undoer of knots–visit his knot tying youtube page here.  Marshall explained the history of the devotion and its connection to Pope Francis while teaching the men how to tie practical knots for everyday activities with the history of knot tying. Some of the men professed a lesson in humility with the experience.

The evening ended with dinner, a business meeting for the diocese, evening prayer, adoration, and confession.

Sunday morning began with morning prayer, mass, and ended with Breakfast and our send out mission given by Our Saviour’s Parishioner Bob Zeller giving us the wisdom of the trials he’s experienced in his own spiritual life.

Learn more about the Legion of Valor at the diocese webpage.

Let Your Heart Burn for the Lord. St. Augustine–The Confessions

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What can be written about St. Augustine’s Confessions that has not already been written? The Confessions is the first great autobiography of Western Civilization from one of the great pillars of Western thought and rhetoric. Furthermore, it is an examination of the conscience of a man, who with contrition in his heart, tells his conversion story. If one were to read only the first page, one could still understand the thesis of the entirety of the work itself. Augustine writes, “Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”[1]What is intriguing about Augustine’s particular thought here is that if any student or scholar does take the time to research Augustine, this quote will be undoubtedly quoted in many articles on the man. Matthew Levering in his book The Theology of Augustine explains the phenomena with this particular passage writing that “Many of the key elements of the Confessions are here: As creatures, we yearn to share in God’s life. God has created us for this end, and by grace God moves us toward it. We are restless until we attain rest in God.”[2]

How are we to relate to Augustine’s examination of conscience? Western society in the 21stcentury is a society that values liberty and freedom as the supreme good. It is a society that is concerned with mostly autonomous rights, and choice. However, it does not necessarily follow that joy and freedom are fruits of unsolicited choice. Western society is like that of a restaurant which on the menu has every conceivable choice to be made for dinner. However, there becomes a great difficulty and less freedom to enjoy their dinner when has the stresses of a glut of decisions. Can you really enjoy your dinner better at this location compared to the restaurant down the street that has a menu streamlined with a few items which you are still free to decide what to have for dinner?

Several studies indicate that after the modernization of Western society after the 1960s people are either not any happier or less happy. In an article in the National Catholic Register commentator Mary Eberstadt writes, “With all the gains they have made with increased freedom and financial independence and less discrimination, women are less happy now than 40 years ago. Sociologists can call it a ‘paradox,’ but it is only a paradox if the sexual revolution makes you happy. What if it doesn’t? That’s the radical thought people should be ready to entertain.”[3]Sexual libertinism is something that Augustine would be quite knowledgeable in attempting to satisfy is own quest toward happiness.

It is in The Confessions; Augustine is a man who takes what he wants from the world. In these pages, that same man also does what he wants with the pleasures of the body. He begets a child out of wedlock with a mistress whom the Confessions never names. Augustine leaves behind the ‘shackles’ of his family, including his pious mother, to seek riches and glory in the Roman court of Caesar in Milan as the Emperor’s orator. Moreover, this man, whom our modern world would suggest as one of the most successful of men, a man who seeks fame, riches, glory, passions does not find himself to be happy. Why? It is because our souls, which make up a part of our nature with our finite bodies, are eternal in the sense of being created by God and the finite world cannot satisfy was is meant to be eternally with God.

The Confessions, although an autobiography, reads more of a personal prayer of man to his God. The text is Psalm like in quality, and naturally, this autobiography becomes somewhat of a manual on how to find God through prayer as “Augustine answers that we can seek him in prayer, and he will answer our prayer.”[4]Fr. Allan Fitzgerald highlights this understanding of the particular text by writing, “Recognizing that the Confessions lifted his mind and heart toward God was a way of saying that he was not recounting events or writing an autobiography or narrating history. This is a book about a relationship, about his learning to pray to God.”[5]

Levering asks an interesting question in the context of Augustine’s epiphany, “Why does everlasting happiness or misery depend on loving a God whom we have such trouble finding?”[6]Levering gets to a particular difficulty that many skeptics and nonbelievers arrive at when they go down the rabbit hole of atheism, “Why does anything exist? Or More alarming, why do I even exist? If one concludes nihilism, there being no purpose to our lives, one will be left with there being no purpose to life. Levering explains that St. Augustine rejects this by pointing toward the order of the world.

Augustine recognizes the source for the motion of the world; the growth of things and their passing out of existence. Levering explains Augustine’s thought development that, “we know there must be some meaning because we came into existence within a natural order that does not depend on human decision making, an order that has it own intelligible patterns and laws.”[7]It should be no surprise to any student of St. Thomas Aquinas—being the greatest Augustinian of all time—that this is the foundation of the cosmological argument for God’s existence. The world is in motion, creatures that exist in the world change, and all of these creatures in the world do not have to exist. One of the most common analogies is to reflect on firewood that it is in a state of potentiality of being burned, but until it is on fire, it is not in actuality. Augustine is beginning to recognize the nature of God being pure actuality; existence itself. Augustine writes in book 1 chapter 4 that God is “Most highest, most good, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful, yet most just; most hidden, yet most present; most beautiful, yet most strong, stable, yet incomprehensible; unchangeable, yet all-changing; never new, never old.”[8]

It is throughout these first pages of the Book 1 where Augustine begins to reflect on his own childhood and coming to the conclusion that a state of deprivation exists even within infants. A conclusion that will lead him to promote infant baptisms against the Manicheans. Augustine observes his infancy through his anecdotal experience with infants. He observes that infants lack both gratitude for their mothers taking care of them and generosity to share what is abundant to others who are need of sustenance.

Augustine writes:

“Who remindeth me of the sins of my infancy? for in Thy sight none is pure from sin, not even the infant whose life is but a day upon the earth. Who remindeth me? doth not each little infant, in whom I see what of myself I remember not? What then was my sin? was it that I hung upon the breast and cried? …For those habits, when grown, we root out and cast away…The weakness then of infant limbs, not its will, is its innocence. Myself have seen and known even a baby envious; it could not speak, yet it turned pale and looked bitterly on its foster-brother. Who knows not this? Mothers and nurses tell you that they allay these things by I know not what remedies. Is that too innocence, when the fountain of milk is flowing in rich abundance, not to endure one to share it, though in extremest need, and whose very life as yet depends thereon?[9]

Augustine continues to examine and develop the basis of his theology in book 1 of his Confessions answering the problem of evil, which he will later explain in more detail in a later book. He writes:

“But no one doth well against his will, even though what he doth, be well. Yet neither did they well who forced me, but what was well came to me from Thee, my God. For they were regardless how I should employ what they forced me to learn, except to satiate the insatiate desires of a wealthy beggary, and a shameful glory. But Thou, by whom the very hairs of our head are numbered, didst use for my good the error of all who urged me to learn; and my own, who would not learn, Thou didst use for my punishment- a fit penalty for one, so small a boy and so great a sinner.”[10]

In Books 2 through 6, Augustine sets off to explain his fall into a worldly pursuit of the desires of the flesh and his role within the dualism of Manicheanism. Augustine explains that attempting to pursue God, or rather, fit God into our world view leads us into a state of despair instead of happiness. Levering writes, “Augustine shows that in vices, we pathetically strive to be God on our terms rather than receiving God’s gifts in love…God alone gives perfect rest…but God alone is perfect…The vices make the self into the center of all things…because the vices are self centered, they distort our efforts in friendship. Stealing the pears would not have been fun with his companions in the act. Vice turns even friendship…into an occasion for self-seeking.”[11]

What is to be understood here is that Augustine’s examination of conscience has led him to the truth that to indulge in any form of vice, or bad habit, is not liberating but rather an enslavement of the soul to the flesh instead of the communion of body and soul with an interior joy. The practice of virtue, which Augustine learns by ordering his will toward God, is the truest sense of freedom.

The episode of Augustine stealing the pears and his reflection on how original sin plays into his desire to commit the act of faith is probably if not the most famous scene in The Confessions. Augustine reflecting on his motives for stealing pears as a young boy, discovers something at the root has caused him to do evil.

Augustine writes:

Surely, Lord, your law punishes theft, as does that law written on the hearts of men, which not even iniquity itself blots out. What thief puts up with another thief with a calm mind? Not even a rich thief will pardon one who steals from him because of want. But I willed to commit theft, and I did so, not because I was driven to it by any need…For I stole a thing which I had plenty of my own and of much better quality. Nor did I wish to enjoy that thing which I desired to gain by theft, but rather to enjoy the actual theft and the sin of theft.

 …We took great loads of fruit from it (orchard), not for our own eating, but rather to throw it to the pigs;

 …Behold, now let my heart tell you what it looked for there, that I should be evil without purpose and there should be no cause for my evil but evil itself. Foul was the evil, and I loved it[12].

 “Foul was the evil and I loved it.” A chilling remark. Fr. Allan Fitzgerald examines, “Why does Augustine tells the story?…The Key to Augustine’s resolution of this problem is to see that concupiscence of the flesh seeks its rest anywhere but in God…The story of the pear theft is a retelling of the story in Genesis, evoking the mystery at the heart of the story of the fall of Adam and Eve.”[13]

Jonathan Yates, Associate Professor at Villanova University, asserts that Augustine’s story of stealing the pears is one that parallels Genesis 3 and the fall of man. Yates examines that “In Books 1-9, it is the trees and the fruit from Genesis 3 that are most frequently referenced…by Augustine.”[14]The most important parallel between the two stories is the ownership of the tree. In Genesis 3, God gives the command that no one should eat from the tree of Good and Evil. God gives the law, as he has created an orderly world, so Adam and Eve, also being creatures, are subordinate to this order like the laws of nature. What particular separates us from the laws of nature or the animals is the powers of the soul—the intellect. Again, Augustine illustrates that humanity falters when it attempts to supplant God by disregarding its duty toward His order, and instead asserts its desire to choose whatever desires of the human will rather than God. Original Sin, often associated with the first sin, should to some degree be understood that original in the sense of its nature is the pride of choosing what one desires over the duty—or right relation—toward God.

Levering explains it is through the power of the intellect that led Augustine to originally disregard Scripture as Divine Revelation: “Augustine’s pride in his intellectual refinement led him away from the Bible into the foolishness of worshipping a spatial being, a vast luminous being at war with evil.”[15]There is something to note here in our modern age. Many skeptics who read the Bible, or attempt to discredit it, dismiss it because it does not entirely agree in their opinion with scientism or modern historical criticism. However, secular schools of thought often disregard the traditions of reading the Bible as a collection of books with different authors, genres, and audiences rather than a single book. So, in much the same way, it is the pride of our modern age’s trust in their intellectualism that leads them away from correctly understanding the revelation of the Bible.

The Confessions is Augustine’s story of his search for God. In Book 4, Augustine explains that we should seek God through his creation—through beauty. In Chapter 13, he writes, “I did not know all this time, but I loved lower beautiful creatures, and I was doing down into the very depths. I said to my friends: “Do we love anything except the what is beautiful? What then is a beautiful thing? What is beauty? What is it that attracts us and wins us to the things that we love? Unless there were a grace and beauty in them, they could in no wise move us.”[16]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 2500, recognizes the movement of the soul toward God in the beauty of creation:

The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself. Truth in words, the rational expression of the knowledge of created and uncreated reality, is necessary to man, who is endowed with intellect. But truth can also find other complementary forms of human expression, above all when it is a matter of evoking what is beyond words: the depths of the human heart, the exaltations of the soul, the mystery of God. Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos—which both the child and the scientist discover—“from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,” “for the author of beauty created them.”[17]

 The creator of beauty is also the creator of truth. And such, the author of divine revelation which is the most beautiful expression of God’s divine love for us is also the author of philosophical truths and scientific facts. Therefore, as Catholics, we understand a proper relationship of Fides et Ratio in our understanding of our faith in God.

Catholics do not fear scientific discovery with the mysteries of our faith. Catholics understand that all truths are expressed by God: “It is the openness to mystery, where all things can be found beautiful in their values; a recognition of truth which in large part has been lost in our modern Western culture within its understanding of truth. In appearing to understand this idea, Fr. Brian Mullady points out the Pope’s sentiment in paragraph 83 of the Fides et Ratio, “Wherever men and women discover a call to the absolute and transcendent, the metaphysical dimension of reality opens up before them: in truth, in beauty, in moral values, in other persons, in being itself, in God…We cannot stop short at experience alone… The word of God refers constantly to things which transcend human experience and even human thought; but this “mystery” could not be revealed, nor could theology render it in some way intelligible, were human knowledge limited strictly to the world of sense experience.”[18]Levering explains, Augustine urges that wherever truth is, God will be discovered; when we love this Creator God, his love will secure our lives and show us our true good.”[19]

In Book 7, Augustine takes a gander into the understanding of the nature of God, the problem of evil, and how it exists in the world. Levering discusses how Augustine still understands God within a spatial respective. What Augustine is examining is his continuing development away from Manichean dualist theology on the nature of God into the higher forms of being within the Platonic understanding of forms it appears—hence is why Augustine explains God is the manner of sunlight permeating a room. As such the highest forms within Platonic philosophy are, in a sense metaphysical forms, Augustine appears to understand God within the framework. The highest form within the Platonic framework being goodness, Augustine ultimately understands God as the supreme goodness in form. Therefore, God cannot be the originator of evil, because God’s existence as goodness and all his creations being created good indicates his very nature as existence. If God is the form of goodness itself, then evil cannot have form because it would take away, or be a deprivation, from the good form. Augustine’s particular synthesis of Platonic thought and Christian scripture is recognizing that all creatures must possess some form of Good within themselves as creations of the eternal goodness, so there can be no purely manifestation of evil or it would cease to exist. This idea should give us hope.

Augustine on whether evil has form chapter 5 of book 7:

Where is evil then, and whence, and how crept it in hither? What is its root, and what its seed? Or hath it no being? Why then fear we and avoid what is not? Or if we fear it idly, then is that very fear evil, whereby the soul is thus idly goaded and racked. Yea, and so much a greater evil, as we have nothing to fear, and yet do fear. Therefore either is that evil which we fear, or else evil is, that we fear. Whence is it then? seeing God, the Good, hath created all these things good. He indeed, the greater and chiefest Good, hath created these lesser goods; still both Creator and created, all are good. Whence is evil? Or, was there some evil matter of which He made, and formed, and ordered it, yet left something in it which He did not convert into good? Why so then? Had He no might to turn and change the whole, so that no evil should remain in it[20]

Augustine on evil having no substance:

And what more monstrous than to affirm things to become better by losing all their good? Therefore, if they shall be deprived of all good, they shall no longer be. So long therefore as they are, they are good: therefore whatsoever is, is good. That evil then which I sought, whence it is, is not any substance: for were it a substance, it should be good. For either it should be an incorruptible substance, and so a chief good: or a corruptible substance; which unless it were good, could not be corrupted. I perceived therefore, and it was manifested to me that Thou madest all things good, nor is there any substance at all, which Thou madest not; and for that Thou madest not all things equal, therefore are all things; because each is good, and altogether very good, because our God made all things very good.[21]

[1]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[2]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 91.

[3]Desomond, Joan Frawley. “‘What If the Sexual Revolution Didn’t Make Women Happy?’ Mary Eberstadt Asks in New Book.” National Catholic Register. April 3, 2012. Accessed June 12, 2019. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/some-in-congress-defending-contraception-mandate-ask-where-are-the-women-he.

[4]Levering, 91.

[5]Fr. Allan Fitzgerald, “The Confessions as Prayer” Confessions Version 2.1.4 Villanova University. Accessed June 11, 2019.

[6]Levering, 91.

[7]Ibid, 92.

[8]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[9]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[10]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[11]Levering, 94.

[12]Augustine, and John K. Ryan. The Confessions of St. Augustine. (New York: Image Books, 2014), 28.

 

[13]Fr. Allan Fitzgerald, “Introduction to Book 2” Confessions Version 2.1.4 Villanova University. Accessed June 12, 2019.

[14]Dr. Jonathan Yates, “Augustine and Genesis 3” ConfessionsVersion 2.1.4 Villanova University.

[15]Levering, 95.

[16]Augustine, and John K. Ryan. The Confessions of St. Augustine, 65.

[17]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 599.

[18]Phillip Hadden, Fides et Ratio. 2019, Unpublished manuscript, Holy Apostles College and Seminary.

[19]Levering, 96.

[20]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[21]Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

 

 

Introduction: Augustine’s Homilies on the First Epistle of John.

Seghers, Gerard, 1591-1651; The Four Doctors of the Western Church: Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

It is from the beginning of his prologue on the Homilies on the First Epistle of John that Augustine explains in his usual rhetorical grandeur that, “as in this same Epistle, which is very sweet to all who have a healthy taste of the heart to relish the Bread of God, and very meet to be had in remembrance in God’s Holy Church, charity is above all commended. He has spoken many words, and nearly all are about charity.”[1]Matthew Levering in his book, The Theology of Augustine, explains that from the beginning of St. Augustine’s discourse on the examination on the Epistles of John that “1 John should ignite a fire of love within us.”[2]

Augustine wrote and preached these homilies during the Easter season around the age of 53 in 407 A.D.[3]Levering indicates that these homilies can be broken into two different sections with the first being homilies one thru five and the second half being six thru ten.

 

First Section Homilies 1-5:

 The subjects of both sections of the homilies deal with the disagreement with the Donatist faction of the Church in North Africa. In the first section, Augustine deals with the particular disagreement of the Donatist that claimed that priests to confer the sacraments of the Church must be without the blemish of sin during their entire life. Naturally, Augustine with the beginning third of his life living a life of hedonistic sin took issue with the Donatist position of an unblemished life, although Augustine did agree that a Christian should live a life of Charity.[4]Furthermore, what Augustine understands is that the priest stands in persona Christi and as Alter Christus when he confers the sacraments of the Church, which is why he argues with his Homily on John 5.5 that “Proud Ministers are reckoned with the Devil. But the Gift of Christ, which is pure and flows through them, is not thereby contaminated.”[5]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches in regards to the priesthood:

1550This presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister’s sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church.[6]

 What is important for many of the faithful to realize is that although priests by virtue of the sacrament of the Holy Orders act In Persona Christi and the imprint of their ordination is forever, they are still men in the sense that they’re still affected by concupiscence which can lead them to sin. In our present age, as the scandals of the Catholic Church reveal the sins of many who lead the Church, it is the place for a well-catechized laity to help steer the ark back on course like those such as St. Benedict of Nursia or St. Catherine of Siena.

Second Section Homilies 6-10:

 As explained by Levering, the second section of the Homilies tackle the division of the Donatist into a solely regional Church. Augustine would rebuke this as contrary to the Gospel and the letters of St. Paul. Of course, he would do so in lieu of Christ’s command at the end of the Gospel of Matthew to evangelizing the faith:

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” [7]

 During the end of the 20thcentury and carried into 21stcentury, as Christians continually live in an increasingly secularized culture in the west, these particular Christians act as if Jesus is some distant concept, but the Incarnation is the spoken Word of God. The spoken Word is still among us. He still commands us to obey His commandments. He is present in the Church; its Liturgy, its sacraments—especially the Holy Eucharist, be reminded his last words in the Gospel of Matthew, “behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

It is important to reinterpret Augustine’s critique of the Donatist’s nationalist/ethinic churches (which still do exist: Church of England and eastern Christianity) into a critique against the increasing relativism that seeks to prevent the evangelization of the Gospel in our current cultural climate. It’s a critique need at the very least to ask why some Catholic schools seek to remove statues of missionaries or cover up historical paintings of the evangelizing the faith in the Americas, as to not offend the seemingly new puritan ideals of what is acceptable expressions in the culture. Again, it’s not a critique to ignore a great number of atrocities that occurred; however, it also does not follow that all Christian missionaries were responsible for humanitarian crimes. Of course, many will hear still the horrors of colonization, but we’re experiencing nothing different from those very sentiments as occurred in the past of competing world views attempting to gain a foothold in the current culture. If Christ is the savior of the world? Isn’t it uncharitable not to evangelize the faith?

All baptized Catholics are baptized into the common priesthood of Christ: priest, prophet, and king.[8]As being baptized into the role of prophet, the Catechism teaches it is the duty of the “905 Lay people also fulfill their prophetic mission by evangelization, “that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life.” For lay people, “this evangelization … acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world.”[9]

 

 

[1]Augustine of Hippo, “Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. H. Browne and Joseph H. Myers, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 459.

[2]Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2013), 49.

[3]Ibid.

[4]Ibid.

[5] Rev. John Rotelle, Augustine Day by Day (New Jersey: Catholic Publishing Corp, 1986), .

[6]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 387.

[7]Mt 28:17–20 RSV

[8]CCC 1241: The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one “anointed” by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king.”

[9]Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 239.

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.