Sunday 22 March 2009

We do not interpret scripture; scripture interprets us

“Brothers and sisters, we are not now discussing possible ways of understanding this text, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’. It can be grasped in an ineffable way; human words cannot grasp it [ineffabiliter potest intelligi: non verbis hominis fit ut intelligatur]. We are discussing the Word of God, and why it is not understood. I am not speaking in order to make it understood, but to tell you what hinders it from being understood.... [This text] wasn’t read in order to be comprehended, but to make us humans grieve because we don’t comprehend it, and to make us discover what hinders our comprehension, so that we remove the hindrance, and hunger to perceive the immutable Word, ourselves thereby being changed from worse to better.”

—Augustine, Sermon 117.3, in Patrologia Latina 38 (a sermon on John 1:1-3).


::aaron g:: said...

This reminds me of Rowan Williams' saying that rather than making things plain, Jesus "challenges and queries an unusually clear sense of God..."

Anonymous said...

This is Auggie Doggie at his best. I like it better the way he puts it in De Doctrina Christiana; scripture is like a coquettish lover--doing a veritable spiritual strip tease for us that never ends. God is so hot!

Anonymous said...

"On my desk stands a small wood sculpture, the work of an unknown Tanzanian artist. It portrays an African woman on her knees. What captures one's eyes is her tattooed face, where a big smile is beginning to break through her otherwise severely symmetrical features. It is as if she is going to reveal a great secret which has given her deep joy. The secret obviously relates to the book with the cross which she holds high above her head.

"In this sculpture the artist wanted to capture the climax of a story often told in East Africa. A simple woman always walked around with a bulky Bible. Never would she part from it. Soon the villagers began to tease her: 'Why always the Bible? There are so many books you could read!' Yet the woman kept on living with her Bible, neither disturbed nor angered by all the teasing. Finally, one day she knelt down in the midst of those who laughed at her. Holding the Bible high above her head, she said with a big smile: 'Yes, of course there are many books which I could read. But there is only one book which reads me!'"

Hans-Ruedi Weber, Experiments with Bible Study (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981), p. vii.

udernation said...

Where's that quote in De Doctrina Christiana? I can't find it.

Anonymous said...

That story is simply brilliant. I swear, you've read absolutely everything! Thank you so much for sharing this. It's a treasure.

Anonymous said...

I can't seem to locate the reference! I think I ran across the idea in Karmen MacKendrick's fascinating essay "Carthage Didn't Burn Hot Enough: Saint Augustine's Divine Seduction" in the volume Toward a Theology of Eros: Transfiguring Passion at the Limits of Discipline put out by Fordham University Press. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

This is probably a stupid question, but how would I read more of this sermon from Augustine? I went to the link, but am confused. Any tips?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Anon. The link allows you to download the complete Latin texts from Patrologia Latina. There's an English translation available here — you'll just need to scroll down to Sermon CXVII.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, that is very helpful!

Anonymous said...

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” -C.S. Lewis

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Are the two mutually exclusive? We do read and interpret Scripture, but we are also read by Scripture and our lives are interpreted by Scripture--to ourselves and others. NO?

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