On Christian Teaching

On Christian Teaching

On Christian Teaching

On Christian Teaching

Synopsis

The De Doctrina Christiana ("On Christian Teaching") is one of Augustine's most important works on the classical tradition. Undertaken at the same time as the Confessions, it sheds light on the development of Augustine's thought, especially in the areas of ethics, hermeneutics, and sign-theory. This completely new translation gives a close but updated representation of Augustine's thought and expression, while a succinct introduction and select bibliography present the insights of recent research.

Excerpt

When Augustine was ordained presbyter in the African town of Hippo in 391 one of the first things he did was to ask for time off-- time to devote himself to intensive study of the Bible. It was just five years since his well-known experience of conversion in the Milanese garden, prompted by a command to pick up and read the scripture. From then on he saw with ever-increasing clarity the need to immerse himself in the 'profundity' and 'riches' of scripture, just as he had dedicated himself (without asking for time off from his teaching duties) to the study of philosophical texts upon his arrival in Milan a few years earlier. One may gauge the scale of the task of study and interpretation which he saw before him from the long list of commentaries and sermons which he eventually left to posterity, with their amazing capacity to synthesize diverse passages of scripture and to elicit, often from obscure if not rebarbative passages, spiritual truths or lessons for himself and others. Yet we must not be so impressed by his later achievements, or by the colourful way in which he often expressed angry feelings about the 'pagan' educational system of his day, as to lose sight of the fact that he had spent half his life as a teacher of secular studies. There is a great deal of the ancient schoolmaster and professor in Augustine: a conviction of the importance of detail, a devotion to what he sees as consistency of interpretation, a reverence for canonical texts as authorities and 'classics' (though classical texts were never seen as sacred in quite the same way as scripture was). Augustine owed a great deal to the system which he criticized so trenchantly.

When he began writing On Christian Teaching in the mid-390s he had already embarked on detailed expositions of Genesis, Psalms, and Paul's letters to the Romans and Galatians. Its purpose was to systematize for the benefit of others the observations and principles that had become apparent to him in his study of the Bible, and to enable readers of scripture to be their own interpreters. As he explains in the Preface, his task is parallel to that of a teacher of the alphabet: one of giving fundamental instruction so . . .

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