On Genesis: Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees; And, on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, an Unfinished Book

By Saint Augustine; Roland J. S. J. Teske | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

Genesis Cannot Always Be Understood Literally

3. If the Manichees preferred to search out the secrets of these words, without finding fault and making accusations, but investigating with reverence, they would, of course, not be Manichees, but it would be given to those who ask, and those who seek would find, and it would be opened to those who knock. 5. For those who seek with pious diligence raise more questions on this discourse than those impious wretches, but with this difference: the former seek in order to find; the latter work only at not finding what they seek. Hence, this whole discourse must first be discussed according to history, then according to prophecy. According to history events are narrated; according to prophecy future things are foretold. 6. Of course, if anyone wanted to take everything that was said according to the letter, that is, to understand it exactly as the letter sounds, and could avoid blasphemies and explain everything in harmony with the Catholic faith, we should not only bear him no hostility, but regard him as a leading and highly praiseworthy interpreter. 7. But if there is no way in which we can understand what has been written in a manner that is pious and worthy of God without believing that these things have been set before us in figures and in enigmas, we have the apostolic authority by which so many enigmas from the books of the Old Testament are solved. 8. So let us hold on to

____________________
5.
Cf. Matt 7.7. Augustine immediately warns that the text contains mysteries that have to be investigated with pious diligence rather than complaint.
6.
Augustine proposes to deal with the whole, first as history and then as prophecy. History states what has been done; prophecy foretells the future. Both history and prophecy can be taken either literally or figuratively, i.e., the 'events' (res gestae) and prophecies can be understood either just as the letter sounds or as figurative of something else.
7.
Augustine's aim is to interpret the Genesis account literally, but, as he said of this passage in DGnL 8.2.5, he did not see how he could interpret everything in a proper sense; cf. Introduction, pp. 26-31.
8.
Augustine finds in the New Testament, but especially in Paul, the scriptural authority to interpret the enigmas of the Old Testament as referring to Christ; cf. 1 Cor 2.6-7, 3.1-2, 10.4; 2 Cor 3.6; Rom 15.4; Gal 4.24; Heb 5.12-14. An enigma is a riddle or puzzle; the author hints at his meaning

-95-

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On Genesis: Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees; And, on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, an Unfinished Book
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Fathers of the Church - A New Translation *
  • The Fathers of the Church - A New Translation *
  • On Genesis - Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees and on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis: an Unfinished Book *
  • Contents *
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Select Bibliography xi
  • Introduction *
  • Introduction 3
  • Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees *
  • Book One 47
  • Chapter 1 47
  • Chapter 2 49
  • Chapter 3 52
  • Chapter 4 54
  • Chapter 5 56
  • Chapter 6 57
  • Chapter 7 58
  • Chapter 8 60
  • Chapter 9 62
  • Chapter 10 63
  • Chapter 11 64
  • Chapter 12 65
  • Chapter 13 66
  • Chapter 14 68
  • Chapter 15 71
  • Chapter 16 72
  • Chapter 17 74
  • Chapter 18 76
  • Chapter 19 77
  • Chapter 20 78
  • Chapter 21 80
  • Chapter 22 81
  • Chapter 23 83
  • Chapter 24 88
  • Chapter 25 89
  • Book Two 91
  • Chapter 1 91
  • Chapter 2 95
  • Chapter 3 96
  • Chapter 4 98
  • Chapter 5 99
  • Chapter 6 101
  • Chapter 7 102
  • Chapter 8 104
  • Chapter 9 107
  • Chapter 10 109
  • Chapter 11 111
  • Chapter 12 112
  • Chapter 13 114
  • Chapter 14 115
  • Chapter 15 117
  • Chapter 16 119
  • Chapter 17 121
  • Chapter 18 122
  • Chapter 19 123
  • Chapter 20 125
  • Chapter 21 126
  • Chapter 22 129
  • Chapter 23 131
  • Chapter 24 132
  • Chapter 25 134
  • Chapter 26 135
  • Chapter 27 137
  • Chapter 28 139
  • Chapter 29 140
  • On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis: An Unfinished Book *
  • Chapter 1 145
  • Chapter 2 147
  • Chapter 3 148
  • Chapter 4 151
  • Chapter 5 156
  • Chapter 6 161
  • Chapter 7 163
  • Chapter 8 165
  • Chapter 9 167
  • Chapter 10 168
  • Chapter 11 169
  • Chapter 12 171
  • Chapter 13 173
  • Chapter 14 176
  • Chapter 15 179
  • Chapter 16 182
  • Indices *
  • General Index 191
  • Index of Holy Scripture 196
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