Saint Augustine on the Parables

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Interpreting the Parables

Saint Augustine on “The Good Samaritan Parable”


August 2, 2009

The early Christian understanding of this allegorical interpretation of the Good Samaritan is clearly depicted in the famous 12th-century cathedral in Chartres, France. One of its beautiful stained-glass windows depicts the story of Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden at the top of the window and, at the bottom of the window, the familiar New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan, "thereby illustrating a symbolic interpretation of Christ's parable that was popular in the Middle Ages."[1] Even more explicitly allegorical windows are found in two other French cathedrals at Bourges and Sens. Seeing these windows led me to wonder: What does the parable of the good Samaritan have to do with the Fall of Adam and Eve? Where did this association of these scriptures originate? And how did St Augustine view this parable? I will attempt to answer the above questions in this paper.

Through research I soon discovered many answers.[2] The roots of this allegorical interpretation reach deeply into the earliest Christian literature. Writings in the second century a.d., Irenaeus and Clement each saw the good Samaritan as symbolizing Christ saving the fallen victim from the wounds of sin. Origen, only a few years later, stated that this interpretation came down to him from one of the elders, who understood the elements of this story allegorically as follows:

The man who was going down is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise, and Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers. The priest is the Law, the Levite is the prophets, and the Samaritan is Christ. The wounds are disobedience, the beast is the Lord's body, the pandochium (that is, the stable inn), which accepts all who wish to enter, is the Church. And further, the two denarii mean the Father and the Son. The manager of the stable is the head of the Church, to whom its care has been...
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