11

In Augustine's Confessions, book XII, chapters xvi–xvii (23–24), he writes about his disagreements with others over the proper interpretation of the Creation account in Genesis 1. Augustine holds that Genesis 1:1 refers to the out-of-time creation of the spiritual realms and a formless "earth," while his opponents argue that "heaven and earth" refer only to the visible creation.

He quotes their views as follows:

They say: 'Although this may be true, yet Moses did not have these two things in mind when by the revelation of the Spirit he said: "In the beginning God made heaven and earth" (Gen. 1:1). By the word "heaven" he did not mean the spiritual or intellectual creation which continually looks on God's face, nor by the word "earth" did he intend formless matter.' What then? They say: 'What that man had in mind was what we say he meant, and this is what he expressed in those words.' [...]

'By the phrase "heaven and earth"', they say, 'Moses meant to signify in general and concise terms the entire visible world, so that thereafter under the successive days he could arrange one by one each category which it pleased the Holy Spirit to list in this way. The character of the people addressed was rough and carnal, and so he decided to present to them only the visible works of God.' (XII.xvii)

In the Confessions Augustine often argues against the Manicheans, but that's apparently not the case in this section. The people in view here "honour your holy scripture written by that holy man Moses and agree with us that we should follow its supreme authority" (XII.xvi), and the Manicheans certainly didn't do that.

Do scholars have any idea who these opponents were? Do their writings survive?


Quoted text here comes from Henry Chadwick's translation of the Confessions. Other translations are freely available online, such as on CCEL (XII.xvi and XII.xvii).

  • The obvious answer is against all those who don't believe Scripture (from the prior chapters), but this is not a very exciting answer. – user22553 Sep 1 '16 at 3:16
  • 1
    @Dialogist That doesn't seem to be the case here; as mentioned, these people agree with Augustine on the authority of Scripture, whereas the Manicheans didn't. – Nathaniel Sep 2 '16 at 2:18
1

My translation of Confessions doesn't have chapters in the books so it was a bit hard to find this. (using Nelson's Royal Classics edition)

I beleive he is referring to other interpreters of the Pentatuech.

But in the midst of so many truths which occur to the interpreters of these words.

I think this is meant as a hypothetical intepreter.

Later on the part you quoted, St. Augustine refers to a people who pluck words out of a thicket to justify their own ends.

They see these things and they rejoice in the light of Thy truth to whatever degree they can

To me, as a Catholic in what I belive to be the tradition of St. Augustine, this sounds like a very generic heresy. (whoops alsmost said St.) G.K. Chesterton always described heretics as people stuck on a particular truth.

The intro to my translation of confessions also says that Augustine went up against Donatists and (full-fledged) Pelegians. The movie about St. Augustine, Restless Heart also shows his run-ins with the Donatists, who really seemed to have a good hold on what was then the official Church, but they disdained the organizational structure of the Church.

However, it doesn't sound much like Augustine has disdain for these hypothetical interpretations, and in the intro to Chapter Twelve the editor writes:

He emphasizes the importance of tolerance where there are plural options, and confidence where basic Christian faith is concerned.

So, it would seem as though, Augustine would prefer people to stay "in tge nest" but if they stray and pluck from the thicket (i.e. Sacred Scriptural Truths)


the footnote says that “they" which in my book is translated "one of these men" refers to the "Thicket denizens mentioned above" which he later goes on to point out are 4 distinct viewpoints, making up the notes whuch must be played together, to make up the real song of creation.

For, as Chesterton says, the Christian when confronted with two seemingly contradictory truths simply takes the two truths with the contradiction and adds it to the deposit of faith.

So these are simply men Augustine uses to illustrate one point about what might later be coined as "senses of scripture". If he took the time to take any of their suppositions to their logical ends, he'd probably find some new heresy to squash, but that's not the goal of this book.

0

In his commentary on Genesis, Augustine cautions the Christians of his day from engaging in scholarly discussions regarding scientia (i.e., knowledge) in fields of study where they have no experience, lest they embarrass their religion. Genesis should not be used, in other words, to argue about medicine, agriculture, astronomy or other areas where the moors were experts.

He might be talking to the same, general group in Confessions, those who, "honour your holy scripture written by that holy man Moses and agree with us that we should follow its supreme authority" (XII.xvi) That would be consistent with his interest to make a literal translation, one that represents what the author intended. The author of Genesis was interested in spiritual, not technological, knowledge.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE, and thanks for taking the site tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Thanks also for offering an answer here. Can you be any more specific about which group or groups Augustine was arguing against? As it is now, it doesn't really identify any particular people, except Christians in general, which is a pretty broad and all-inclusive group. Meanwhile, I hope you'll browse some of the other questions and answers on this site. – Lee Woofenden Dec 5 '17 at 3:11
-2

Augustine was speaking against the ideas of Marcion. According to Marcion, the title God (Yahweh) was given to the Demiurge, who was to be sharply distinguished from the higher Good God (El - See Gen:1:1 and elsewhere). The former was díkaios, severely just, the latter agathós, or loving-kind; the former was the "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), the God of the Old Testament, the latter the true God of the New Testament. Christ, though in reality the Son of the Good God, pretended to be the Messiah of the Demiurge, the better to spread the truth concerning His heavenly Father. The true believer in Christ entered into God's kingdom, the unbeliever remained forever the slave of the Demiurge.

El was the creator of everything: the demiurge (Yahweh) was simply the god who fashioned the earth.

  • 3
    Marcion was hardly the only person to hold this view. The OP added 'The people in view here "honour your holy scripture written by that holy man Moses and agree with us that we should follow its supreme authority" '. That doesn't sound like Marcion. He rejected the entirety of the Hebrew Bible. – bradimus Oct 5 '17 at 20:11
  • Christianity.StackExchange.com boilerplate Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. And for some tips on writing good answers here, see: What makes a good supported answer? Meanwhile, I hope you'll browse some of the other questions and answers on this site. – Lee Woofenden Oct 5 '17 at 21:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.