On Christian Doctrine

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Starting in 389 A.D., the powerful application of faith to politics led Emperor Theodosius to issue a series of edicts against paganism that concluded in 391 with a law making pagan worship illegal. During the Golden Age of Athens, politics and manmade laws guided human conduct, and the city state was viewed as a manifestation of the highest human values, giving rise to political philosophy. Christianity effected a change in the course of Western society, requiring a new cultural identity and a new educational curriculum. With this aim in mind, Emperor Justinian (483–565 A.D.) cut off all state funding to chairs of rhetoric, essentially bringing the explicitly pagan classical tradition to a close. The pagan classical heritage would from this time onward be viewed through the lens of Christianity, increasing the need for an approach to the teaching of scripture that matched the sophistication of the classical inheritance. De doctrina christiana would provide the medieval world with that tool.[1] Prologue

The Prologue consists of a response to who would resist Augustine’s project of providing rules for interpretation of the Scriptures. Augustine outlines three possible objections, including those who do not understand his precepts, those who fail to make effective use of his teachings, and those who believe they are already prepared to interpret the Scriptures. To the first two types of critics, Augustine states that he cannot be held responsible for their inability to understand. He then addresses the third type of critic, those who believe they are already able to interpret the Scriptures. If their claims are true, he acknowledges that they have received a great blessing. However, they must admit that language itself was learned from a human being, not directly from God. Therefore, God has created human beings to learn from one another, and we ought to learn with humility. All good teaching from human beings derives ultimately from God. The ability to understand obscurity is therefore both the gift of God and reinforced by human teaching. Book One

Book One discusses enjoyment, use, interpretation, and the relation of various Christian doctrines to these concepts. Augustine begins with a discussion of the steps in the interpretive process: discovery of what is to be understood, and a way of teaching what has been discovered.

He then expands upon the Platonic notion that there are things and signs. Signs are used to symbolize things, but are considered things themselves because they too represent meaning. They are given meaning through their repetition and propagation throughout society.

Some things are to be enjoyed (in Latin, frui), and others are to be used (uti). Things we enjoy are those we find good in themselves, and things we use are those that are good for the sake of something else. The only thing that is to be enjoyed is God. All other things, including other human beings, are to be used in relation to the proper end of enjoyment. To use something which is to be enjoyed or vice versa is to fail to love properly.[2] The discussion of enjoyment and use leads to an extended reflection on motivation, word as flesh, and humanity as image of God. Book One concludes with a discussion of love: how humans ought to love God, how God’s love is expressed in his use of humanity, and how people may appreciate God’s love through the Scriptures, faith, and charity. Augustine also claims that those who think they understand the Scriptures, but do not interpret them to reflect charity and love, do not really understand them.[3] Book Two

Book Two discusses the types of unknown signs present in the world and defines each and presents methods for understanding the Scriptures. Obscure signs include unknown literal signs and unknown figurative signs. Unknown signs are those that have meanings that are unknown. Augustine says that a feature of the Scriptures is obscurity and that obscurity is the result of sin: that is, God made...
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