Reviewing St. Augustine’s “On Christian Teaching”, Book I

I recently started reading St. Augustine’s On Christian Teaching (Latin title: De doctrina christiana). I finished Book I. It is surely not something to read for fun, but I would say it is a delightful read. St. Augustine in Book I discussed about interpretations of Scripture, the enjoyment, and the nature of love.

He started with the concepts of things and signs, which, according to external sources, came from Plato.[1] He stated that the things that are to be enjoyed are the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and the Trinity that consists all of them, which is a single, supreme thing.[2]

He suggested that things that can be enjoyed is unchangeable, and the triune God is this. We cannot enjoy on human which is mutable. And he questioned whether humans should enjoy one another, or use one another, or both.[3] He argued that humans should enjoy God, but use other people.

When it comes to love, he rightly pointed out that there needs no commandment for people to love themselves and what is beneath it,[4] but God and neighbors. God should be loved for enjoyment. Humans should love their neighbors on God’s account too.[5] A great deal of discussion was on who the neighbors were, and it astonishes me that he included angels,[6] while modern Christians do not have an extended doctrines about them.[7]

He ended with an emphasis of love:

… the fulfillment and end of the law and all the divine scriptures is to love the thing which must be enjoyed and the thing which together with us can enjoy that thing (since there is no need for a commandment to love oneself.) To enlighten us and enable us, the whole temporal dispensation was set up by divine providence for our salvation…[8]

… anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them…[9]

… a person strengthened by faith, hope, and love, and who steadfastly holds on to them, has no need of the scriptures…[10]

… when someone has learnt that the aim of the commandment is ‘love from a pure heart, and good conscience and good genuine faith,’ he will be ready to relate every interpretation of the holy scriptures to these three things…[11]

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[1] “De doctrina christiana,” Wikipedia, accessed August 21, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_doctrina_christiana.

[2] Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching, trans. E. P. H. Green, Oxford World’s Classics (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997), 10.

[3] Ibid. 16.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] Ibid., 19.

[6] Ibid., 22-23.

[7] Herman Bavinck discussed about the doctrines of angels on their spirituality, corporeality, their role as messengers, and their lack of God’s image. See: Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2: God and Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 443-472.

[8] Saint. Augustine, On Christian Teaching, 26-27.

[9] Ibid., 27.

[10] Ibid., 28.

[11] Ibid., 29.

  • Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2: God and Creation. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2003. [Amazon]
  • Saint Augustine. On Christian Teaching. Translated by R. P. H. Green. Oxford World’s Classics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 1997. [Amazon]
  • Feature image adapted from: http://staugustinecatholicparish.org/
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