St. Augustine: Interpreting God's Call

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People interpret the Bible differently when they read it. In modern times, the bible is mostly interpreted according to the foundation of the Christian beliefs. In ancient times, the only foundation to Christian beliefs was the Bible. Peoples' faith revolved around the Bible, so most religious folk new the Bible very well. They were part of what is referred to as the Bible Culture. As part of this Bible culture, St. Augustine had a lot of scripture memorized, and he interpreted the Bible in many ways. St. Augustine is one of the most famous interpreters, and he interpreted the bible using some of the techniques represented in O'Keefe and Reno's Sanctified Vision, including the associative technique, dialectical strategy, allegorical strategy, the Rule of Faith, and literal interpretation. His conversion to Christianity also plays an important part on how he interpreted the Bible and how he fit into the Bible Culture because his initial beliefs were almost the opposite of the beliefs that made him arguably the single most influential theologian in the entire history of Western Christianity.

Augustine's first adult religious conviction was Manichaeism. The Manichean set of beliefs was attractive to Augustine because he liked the promise of truth the Manicheans offered. He claims that he was deceived by the promise of certainty, and "...mindlessly repeated many uncertain things as if they were certain." His thirst for knowledge (gnosis in Greek) was almost met when he met a philosophical priest named Ambrose. Augustine enjoyed listening to the manner in which Ambrose was able to string words together, but he only gradually understood them. Augustine said Ambrose was able to remove the "mystical veil" from scripture that Augustine, at that time, thought contained "perverse teaching." His realization that one can only have faith through God's will came about just before he read the Bible. After reading the Bible, Augustine converted to Catholicism. Although he believed that scripture was an authority in discovering God, he doubted that the secret of God was open to all who read the book, but limited to a "profounder interpretation."

At this point in time, Augustine began thoroughly studying the Bible because he, along with most other pre-modern interpreters of the Bible, believed that knowledge was most reliable when the interpreters had scripture memorized. . He wanted to devote himself fully to his faith, so he became an ascetic. Many Christians took on the ascetic life because just being a Christian wasn't radical enough after the edict of Milan legalized Christianity. Augustine found it hard to live the ascetic life, and after reading Romans 7: 15-25, he realized that nobody is perfect and one's faith will be his salvation. He let go of his Gnostic beliefs, which said that all suffering in the world is because of matter and that salvation only come when one escapes his physical self. He believed the world was good, and that the goal was not to flee from our physical selves but to engage them to properly see God's message. Once he had the Bible memorized, like a lot of Christians in the Bible culture, he began using the various strategies referred to in Sanctified Vision.

Since he had scripture committed to memory, it was easy for Augustine to connect real life events with Bible scriptures. This technique is called the associative strategy. According to O'Keefe and Reno, the associative technique includes the different patterns of how images, words, expressions come together in our minds. Since Augustine only converted well into his adulthood, he had perspectives that many other interpreters might not have had. Because of his experience with the Manichean Bishop Faustus and the Bishop's promise of certainty, he warns his readers in Tractate 1 to be wary of sweet words coming from unholy sources. To depict his warning, Augustine uses the dialectical strategy to describe St. John as a mountain who spreads faith onto...
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