I started reading The Theology of Augustine by Matthew Levering last night. Augustine wrote “over one hundred treatises, countless letters and sermons, and more than five million words in all.” (xi) To master Augustine would take a lifetime. Levering’s goal is more modest. He proposes that “there are certain pivotal words that one simply must know if one is interested in the development of Christian theology, biblical exegesis, and Western civilization.” (xi) Levering will look at seven of Augustine’s works: On Christian Doctrine, Answer to Faustus, a Manichean, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, On the Predestination of the Saints, Confessions, City of God, and On the Trinity. I especially enjoyed Levering’s summary of the Prologue from On Christian Doctrine.
“Augustine announces that he intends to offer certain rules for interpreting the Scriptures. He briefly addresses possible objections to his approach, foremost among them the view that erudition is not truly needed for understanding God’s Word. The Holy Spirit can illumine the meaning of biblical texts without any need for human instruction. While granting that this is so, Augustine points out that the usual way is for God to work through human teachers. Even St. Paul, after his encounter with the risen Lord on the Damascus road, had to go to the house of Ananias to be instructed, and even Moses learned from his father-in-law, Jethro. Likewise the centurion Cornelius, after being visited by an angel, had to go to St. Peter for instruction, and the Ethiopian eunuch learned from St. Philip. In general, therefore, God teaches humans through other humans. God thereby ensures that the Church truly serves as an instrument of salvation, as it would not if God taught each individual everything directly, without mediation. If we could teach nothing to each other, how would relationships of love between humans be fostered? So long as they recognize that every good gift comes from God, human teachers will not fall into pride at their own gifts or envy when another teacher goes further. In offering his rules for interpretation, Augustine seeks not to explain the meaning of particular biblical texts but rather to show how to read biblical texts in general. The goal is to help the reader who encounters obscurities in Scripture, by showing how such obscurities should be handled.” (2-3)
The Theology of Augustine is hot off the press from Baker Academic. It is a paperback with 224 pages and sells for $24.99.
Matthew Levering (PhD, Boston College) is professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Ezra & Nehemiah in the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. He is also coauthor of Holy People, Holy Land and Knowing the Love of Christ.