Read On Christian Teaching by Augustine of Hippo Online


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 AugThe 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.About the Series: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more....

Title : On Christian Teaching
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ISBN : 9780199540631
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 168 Pages
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On Christian Teaching Reviews

  • Justin Evans
    2019-04-08 05:56

    A fascinating little book for all kinds of people: late antiquity buffs; philosophers; hermeneuts; and of course, Christians. Augie usually manages to find his way to a reasonable middle position: against biblical literalism, also against waiting for a direct experience of God. Book one describes 'things' rather than signs, and we get some of Augie's less up to date opinions: you shouldn't love people for themselves, but for the sake of God, and the same thing goes for one's self. But these are backed by more liberal-friendly ideas. The neighbor who we are to love, for instance, is pretty much everyone. We then move on to 'signs, ambiguities and difficulties of,' which is full of fairly sensible advice for anyone who wants to read anything. There are some things you have to know in order to interpret words: languages, for instance, institutions, general facts, logic, rhetoric. But we shouldn't take too much pleasure in these. It sometimes seems, unfortunately, that Augie really thinks you should only know things that are boring and will help you conform to society. I suspect that this claim needs to be put in some kind of historical context--in a solidly Christian culture, presumably, we would be more free to enjoy "human-made institutions," since, he goes on to say, there is much of value to be found even in pagan literature. Having dealt with the difficulties, we move on to the division between literal and figurative understanding of signs. If sections of scripture are not related to moral behavior or to faith, they should be interpreted figuratively (which, though he doesn't say it, means pretty much all of it should be interpreted figuratively). He goes on to discuss morality at some length, making a nice distinction between the corruption of one's own mind and body (wickedness) and harm to another (wrongdoing). Augie, and almost every religious thinker after him, focuses too much on wickedness, and nowhere near enough on wrongdoing. Interestingly, book three was started in the 390s, but abandoned, and only finished in the 420s; much of the later work is less interesting, though classicists might appreciate his description of Tyconius, who wrote his own system of interpretation. Book four, also late, is a defense of the rhetorical beauty of the bible. Not riveting. Not at all. But on the whole, a fascinating, quickish read.

  • booklady
    2019-04-10 06:02

    As teacher of Christian doctrine and a teacher of such teachers, St. Augustine’s classic work by this name seemed like something I ought to read. And yet I didn’t want to approach it as a philosophy student being forced to study some dusty old textbook, but rather as the curious seeker wanting to discover what this ‘Christian doctrine’ was all about. I discovered St. Augustine is an excellent teacher!He begins with the rules for the interpretation of Scripture, which he considers very serious, even to the mandate of becoming a teacher of such: ‘why does he himself undertake to interpret for others? Why does he not rather send them direct to God that they too may learn by the inward teaching of the Spirit without the help of man? The truth is, he fears to incur the reproach: You wicked and slothful servant, you ought to have put my money to the exchangers. Matthew 25:26-27 Seeing, then, that these men teach others, either through speech or writing, what they understand, surely they cannot blame me if I likewise teach not only what they understand, but also the rules of interpretation they follow. . . He who reads to an audience pronounces aloud the words he sees before him: he who teaches reading, does it that others may be able to read for themselves. Each, however, communicates to others what he has learned himself. Just so, the man who explains to an audience the passages of Scripture he understands is like one who reads aloud the words before him.’ The point being Scripture isn’t self-explanatory for the uninitiated, hence the need for Church and tradition. Augustine continues with his very basic explanations of terms, leading the reader carefully through examples, illustrations and quotes from Scripture. I was impressed by the relevance of the text, the author’s insights into human character and how much of the text I highlighted. I listened to it, while following along on my Kindle. I stopped frequently to record my favorite quotes, some of which follow:‘For to enjoy a thing is to rest with satisfaction in it for its own sake. To use, on the other hand, is to employ whatever means are at one's disposal to obtain what one desires.’‘For it is not by change of place that we can come nearer to Him who is in every place, but by the cultivation of pure desires and virtuous habits.’‘And in regard to all these laws, we derive more pleasure from them as exhibitions of truth, than assistance in arguing or forming opinions, except perhaps that they put the intellect in better training. We must take care, however that they do not at the same time make it more inclined to mischief or vanity—that is to say, that they do not give those who have learned them an inclination to lead people astray by plausible speech and catching questions, or make them think that they have attained some great thing that gives them an advantage over the good and innocent.’‘To teach is a necessity, to delight is a beauty, to persuade is a triumph. Now of these three, the one first mentioned, the teaching, which is a matter of necessity, depends on what we say; the other two on the way we say it.’‘The Christian teacher … when the hour has come that he must speak, he ought, before he opens his mouth, to lift up his thirsty soul to God, to drink in what he is about to pour forth, and to be himself filled with what he is about to distribute. For, as in regard to every matter of faith and love there are many things that may be said, and many ways of saying them, who knows what it is expedient at a given moment for us to say, or to be heard saying, except God who knows the hearts of all? And who can make us say what we ought, and in the way we ought, except Him in whose hand both we and our speeches are?’‘The man who cannot speak both eloquently and wisely should speak wisely without eloquence, rather than eloquently without wisdom. If, however, he cannot do even this, let his life be such as shall not only secure a reward for himself, but afford an example to others; and let his manner of living be an eloquent sermon in itself.’I also appreciated Augustine’s quotes from St. Ambrose on women’s’ ‘face painting’ – which were allegedly included to illustrate types of rhetorical arguments – but I suspect more than a little underlying agenda. Even so, from the vantage of more than 1600 years, I found them both humorous and apropos. In my preliminary review I made reference to his example of the ancient custom of practicing theatrical ‘favorites’ (to excess) not unlike our modern custom of Star Search, American Idol and other forms of athletic and film/music industry celebrity worship. I was reminded of the even older saying, “The eye is not satisfied by seeing nor has the ear enough of hearing. What has been, that will be; what has been done, that will be done. Nothing is new under the sun!” Ecclesiastes 1:8-9><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>><><><><><><In chapter 29 I love St. Augustine's example of 'the man in the theatre who is fond of a particular actor, and enjoys his art as a great or even as the very greatest good, he is fond of all who join with him in admiration of his favorite, not for their own sakes, but for the sake of him whom they admire in common; and the more fervent he is in his admiration, the more he works in every way he can to secure new admirers for him, and the more anxious he becomes to show him to others; and if he find any one comparatively indifferent, he does all he can to excite his interest by urging his favorite's merits: if, however, he meet with any one who opposes him, he is exceedingly displeased by such a man's contempt of his favorite, and strives in every way he can to remove it. Now, if this be so, what does it become us to do who live in the fellowship of the love of God, the enjoyment of whom is true happiness of life, to whom all who love Him owe both their own existence and the love they bear Him, concerning whom we have no fear that any one who comes to know Him will be disappointed in Him, and who desires our love, not for any gain to Himself, but that those who love Him may obtain an eternal reward, even Himself whom they love?'Nowadays of course, we have our college (or pro) football teams, movie and music stars. We wear their colors, follow their lives and think their every move worth reporting. Indeed, we live like human celebrities are the greatest good imaginable. Just envision giving to unchangeable, immutable and everlasting Truth the kind of celebrations we give to here-today-gone-tomorrow mortals like ourselves? Well, actually He doesn't want those kinds of spectacles. He's the be-still, small (childlike), and silent type.

  • Genni
    2019-04-02 05:11

    I feel presumptuous giving Augustine 3 stars. If you were to compare my intellect with Augustine's, mine would definitely be the one wanting. However, there were some thoughts I found troublesome.Augustine's book aims to contain a “general view of the subjects treated in the Holy Scripture”. It is secondarily concerned with proper hermeneutics in order to ascertain what those subjects are. Of his secondary aim, there is a lot of sense in what he writes. Is a passage literal? Do not interpret it figuratively. Is it figurative? Do not interpret it literally. And so on. It is the “general view” of the subjects found in scripture that bothered me. Here, I cannot help but think that he breaks with his own advice found in the “Dangers of Mistaken Interpretation” section. Here he says, ”For if he takes up rashly a meaning which the author whom he is reading did not intend, he often falls in with other statements which he cannot harmonize with this meaning, And if he admits that these statements are true and certain then it follows that the meaning he had put upon the former passage cannot be the true one: and so it comes to pass, one can hardly tell how, that, out of love for his own opinion, he begins to feel more angry with Scripture than he is with himself.” Although Augustine does not become angry, I think he does force some ideas in order to fit them in with his original interpretations.For example, he expounds the idea that things here are either to be enjoyed, to be used, or are to be both used an enjoyed. He defines enjoyment as something we find satisfaction in for it's own sake and urges us to consider that God is the only true source of enjoyment. Things for use are those things that we employ to obtain what we desire (which is hopefully God). But then he tried to to put humans under the category of “things” and maintained that God only uses us (though of course with a different definition of use, with it being for our own good). This is something I agree with to some extent. What bothered me is that he expressly says that God does not enjoy us. He says, ”If He enjoys us, He must be in need of good from us, and no sane man will say that; for all the good we enjoy is either Himself, or what comes from Himself.”. Does it follow that in order to enjoy us it must be because he needs some good from us? Can we not say that He enjoys us since we do fall under the category of those things which come from Himself? Another bothersome thing he says is this: And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures even in solitude on the strength of these three graces.” If he had said 'on the strength of Scriptures they had memorized” or something then maybe I could get behind his statement. But to put so much trust in the individual to be able to keep a firm hold on these things without the corrective aid of Scripture, well, it kind of blows my mind. And what Scripture does he base this statement on?So, I concede that I may be misreading this work, and I also think there are practical things, useful things if you will, to be found here, but until I can reconcile other problems I give it 3 stars.

  • Brent McCulley
    2019-03-22 06:18

    Good and useful.

  • Matt
    2019-04-01 00:09

    In contrast to the unwieldy and meandering City of God, Augustine’s four books On Christian Doctrine are notably focused in comparison. Augustine seems to be at his best when he can let his rhetorical skills breathe. His arguments stay rooted in his fundamental belief in biblical truth, but at least here he engages in active interpretation. The entire last book is dedicated to honing skills to distinguish between literal and figurative biblical passages. He seeks for allegory in much of the Old Testament.Interestingly, Augustine speaks little of morality in his books On Christian Doctrine. There is but one purpose in our being for God- “He does not enjoy us but uses us.” Bk. 1, XXXI. In return, “He has mercy on us that we may enjoy him, and we have mercy on our neighbor so that we may enjoy Him.” Bk. 1, XXX. Unlike the Greek and Roman thinkers of before who sought the ways of righteous living to obtain eudaimon (spiritual happiness), Augustine strives for perfecting obedience and charity. Interpretation and study of biblical teachings lead the studious past the obscurity brought by original sin and into a fuller understanding of God’s wishes. Advancements in thought by philosophers before are used, but selectively.If those who are called philosophers, especially the Platonists, have said things which are indeed true and are well accommodated to our faith, they should not be feared; rather, what they have said should be taken from them as from unjust possessors and converted to our use. Bk. 2, XL. Augustine’s life of humility and quest for “faith, love and charity” strikes a chord for all who pursue decency. However, all builds upon that faith in biblical authority. Where the philosophers of prior centuries had faith in the existence of some abstract value, or even just man’s ability to achieve eudaimon through critical thought, Augustine places his faith in a collection of writings serving as an encoded blueprint for human action and thought.

  • David Withun
    2019-04-17 01:12

    In this short book, St. Augustine presents a wealth of knowledge from which any Christian can derive an excess of benefit. In successive pages, Augustine lays out for the reader the foundations of the Christian faith, of the Christian spiritual life, of proper interpretation of Scripture, and of the correct manner of speech, life, and thinking for a Christian teacher. I recommend this book for Christian teachers and for anyone who wishes to deepen their understanding of the faith and the Scriptures as well as increase their ability to share these with others.

  • J. Alfred
    2019-04-15 04:15

    The first three books are extremely interesting in how to read and interpret the Bible, and indeed how to think: there's a good amount of discussion on what is a thing, what is a sign, how signs are things and things are signs, but you can get mixed up if you interpret a sign as merely a thing and vice versa-- pretty profound stuff, as you might expect from the saint. Book four, on how Christians ought to try to sound good while speaking truth, is much less interesting.

  • Kevin Greenlee
    2019-03-21 05:17

    On Christian Doctrine is the first work of Augustine’s I’ve ever finished. The reading group I’m in read the first two sections as a launching point for our discussion of myth and symbol, and I decided to finish the whole thing. The book is essentially a primer on how to read the Bible and then, in the fourth section, how to present the knowledge attained therein.All in all, On Christian Doctrine is a very solid, though basic, examination of symbol, hermeneutics and eloquence. I like Augustine’s principle exegetical rule (partially, I must confess, because I’ve thought of a similar thing myself) which states that the interpretation of scripture should always be one that leads to the love of God and/or others since Jesus said “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Mathew 22: 37-40).However, I found myself occasionally annoyed and distracted when Augustine chose to voice his opinions on sexuality (it is only for procreation in his mind) and am indeed not a fan of his general asceticism. Mind you, I do believe there is a place for ascetic practices (I’m a fan of Dallas Willard after all) but I think they are always for training. It seems to me that Augustine believes in asceticism because of some platonic aversion to creation, but I could be wrong. I also found the last section difficult at times because it relied very heavily on Greco-Roman theory about rhetoric, and thus frequently used terms with which I am not familiar. Of course, were I wanting to do a more in depth study of that section, I could easily do some reading on that theory, and it’s certainly not a fault of the book itself. In essence though, Augustine says that eloquence is good, but wisdom is better. If you can have both, then do, but if you have to choose, choose wisdom.All in all, this book is a good introduction to the reading of scripture and those interested in the thoughts of the church fathers should pick it up.

  • Jacob Aitken
    2019-04-14 07:08

    And so begins the epistemology of the Western world, Christian or otherwise. It begins as a pocket guide to ethics:**use: to employ whatever means are at our disposal to obtain what one desires (I.4). In accordance with the ordo amoris, God uses rather than enjoys us (I.31). God uses us in references to his own goodness**enjoyment: to rest with satisfaction in a thing. The Trinity is the true object of enjoyment. Objects of enjoyment must be eternal and unchangeable (I.22). This leads to the Ordo AmorisOrdo Amoris (I.27)God is to be loved for his own sake. Each man ought to love God more than himself. All things are to be loved in reference to God. The body lives through the soul, and it is by the soul that we love God. How do we love other men? Ideally, we should love them equally, but this is impractical. Therefore, we should pay special regard to those who need it most. **caritas: “that affection of the mind which aims at the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and one’s neighbor in subordination to God” (III.10.16). **prudence: charity with an eye to one’s own advantage**benevolence: charity with an eye towards one’s neighborsign: a thing which causes something else to come into the mind as a consequence of itself (II.1) Augustine accuses the Jews of not knowing to what the signs pointed, and as a result they interpreted figurative realities literally (III.6.10). The Jews are liberated by seeing the realities to which the signs pointed.Augustine says Every sign is also a thing. But not the reverse. I agree, but I would modify it to say,More things are signs than you would expect, and the play of signs is ubiquitous. The rest of the book has a fairly interesting section on hermeneutics and rhetoric.

  • Shep
    2019-04-01 04:14

    One of the first major Christian hermeneutics texts. Modern exegetes may cringe at Augustine's use of the allegorical method of Scriptural interpretation, but no one can deny that his hermeneutics has been 1) profoundly influential throughout Christian history and 2) there is something to it. Augustine was attempting to mimic the methods of interpretation utilized by Christ and the apostles, and in this text he shows that he is aware of the extremes that allegorical interpretations can reach, but also shows that he feels there are ways to keep misuses of allegoresis in check. This book has recently greatly reduced my skepticism towards the allegorical method; as a systematician I find myself sympathetic to a theological interpretative method that can be used alongside modern critical methods. Hints of Augustine's hermeneutic are being recovered by Protestants today through the use of typology (which has always been somewhat present in the Reformers). Much more could be said about this book and my opinion of it. Let it suffice for now to say that I highly recommend this book, it has challenged and influenced my thinking, and I think both the layman and the theologian will find it to be a highly valuable read. (Note: I've looked through several editions of this text for a paper. Some are easier to read translations than others. The book is worth purchasing, but for those comfortable with reading it online, it can be found here:

  • kaelan
    2019-04-19 04:16

    First things first: I'm clearly not the kind of person for whom this book was intended. But that I thoroughly enjoyed De doctrina christianas—appropriately translated in my edition as On Christian Teaching, as opposed to the more misleading On Christian Doctrine—testifies to St. Augustine's sagacity and clarity as a thinker.As for the work, it is comprised of four parts: The first concerns itself with the concept of love, which Augustine cleverly partitions into love as a means (what he calls to "use" something) and love as an end in and of itself (to "enjoy" something); the second, with the background knowledge essential to the interpretation of scripture; the third, with the interpretation of signs, whether literal or figurative; and the fourth, with the Christian use of rhetoric. Historically, it is the final section that has been the most popular amongst readers, which is not surprising if one considers the clear application it has to the art of preaching. However, I was more interested in what came before: namely, Augustine's early formation of hermeneutical theory, as well as a (very) rudimentary theory of signs.That being said, the former theory isn't really all that tenable, for the entire account ultimately smells of circular reasoning. But that doesn't diminish the value of this text. Throughout, Augustine proves himself to be an astute, lucid and systematic writer; hence, one should find themselves appreciating his modes of argumentation, if not the arguments themselves.

  • Tim
    2019-03-30 00:06

    St. Augustine's On Christian Doctrine provides historical insight into early church and medieval practices of Scriptural interpretation and rhetorical appropriateness - many of which are foreign to modern readers. It can be dry in portions, but it is also wise and spiritually rich. He champions the church's use of the world's knowledge for its own sake, using the image of the Israelites taking from the Egyptians as they begin their Exodus - "Every good and true Christian should understand that wherever he may find truth, it is the Lord's.""If we love in faith what we have not seen, how much more will we love it when we begin to see it? And if we love in hope what we have not attained, how much more will we love it when we have attained it? Between temporal and eternal things there is this difference: a temporal thing is loved more before we have it, and it begins to grow worthless when we gain it, for it does not satisfy the soul, whose true and certain rest is eternity; but the eternal is more ardently loved when it is acquired that when it is merely desired."

  • William Curb
    2019-03-24 06:58

    While I would have never picked this book up on my own accord I found that I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. The book was assigned for my class on Dante to help us understand some of the literature that Dante would have read and to give us an idea of the type of literary criticism that Dante would expect. And it is true that our class needed to read this to see where Dante was coming from. The book is definitely dated in Christian ideas, but it does show a good foundation of what modern Christianity is. As always religion changes more than people want to admit and Christianity is no exception, so it was definitely interesting to read some of the older thoughts on the Religion.

  • Daniel Alvers
    2019-04-08 05:18

    I found a friend in this book. While I found him odd and strangely distant in many areas I also found him close and a great help to a climate of insanity in teaching and preaching. He provides clarity and cleverness that is simply timeless. In my opinion he has several limitations that many would point out. However, his upside is a healing to broken and strange set of preachers that this generation has been forced to endure. Modern sophistry and eloquence has horridly infected the church not only with limited understandings of scripture but with crass and silly devotion. Clearly his gifts have outlasted his days. I appreciate and have learned a great deal from this long ago friend and he has bettered and furthered my thoughts on declaring Christ. For that I am thankful.

  • Jeremy
    2019-04-19 03:16

    Books I-III: learning how to interpret the Bible; when is it literary and when is it figurative?; "rule of faith"; semioticsBook IV: rhetoric (presenting what you've learned)Good thoughts on hermeneutics, semiotics, and plundering the Egyptians.Read again from Feb. 7-9, 2015.

  • Gwen Burrow
    2019-04-11 02:57

    It's by Augustine, which means you should read it. And by the way, it's pronounced Au-gustine.

  • Emmiefiggs
    2019-04-19 01:55

    Many good and useful quotes. Can be dry at times

  • Kyle
    2019-03-26 04:07

    In On Christian Teaching, Augustine has written an excellent book on the topic of interpreting and teaching Scripture, although it includes so much more. Ultimately Augustine spends Books I-III discussing how to understand what is said in Scripture, and then in Book IV moving on to how to say/communicate what was understood. Augustine himself seems to admit that Books II-III are a bit wordy and tedious, but they are helpful nonetheless, particularly his discussion of things and signs, which are itself things that point to other things. Book I has an excellent discussion of what it means to love one's neighbor and how that discussion fits into reading and interpreting Scripture. In Book IV, Augustine does an excellent job of depending why and how a preacher or teacher of God's Word should do so eloquently. This book will be particularly helpful for preachers, though it has much to say to students of rhetoric and to teachers more generally.

  • Taylor Pandolfino
    2019-03-30 23:49

    On Christine Teaching is a remarkably self-conscious book about biblical hermeneutics, the importance of symbolism, and the Christian rhetorical aesthetic. The text is divided into four books. The first differentiates between things (res) and signs (signa) in Scripture, and what it means to use (utor) things and to enjoy (fruor) things; the second examines unknown signa, unfamiliarity with which can be removed through comprehension of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the languages in which Scripture is written, knowledge of historical contexts, and an awareness of the most useful and accurate translations of Scripture available; the third book deals with ambiguous signa, which may arise from the punctuation, the pronunciation, or the doubtful signification of words, in addition to common pitfalls that readers often fall into when faced with ambiguity—i.e., to interpret literal expressions figuratively and to interpret figurative expressions literally; the fourth book, my favorite, addresses Christian preachers, and thereby explains how those who learn to interpret Scripture properly should explain its meaning to others using their own words.In my mind, the most consequential assertions Augustine makes derive from the third and fourth books. In Book III, Augustine attempts to establish some rules for interpretation with respect to figurative expressions in Scripture. He calls attention to Matthew 22:36-40, at which point Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” When it comes to interpreting figurative passages of Scripture, Augustine states, one should “turn over in careful meditation what’s read” (versetur diligenti consideratione quod legitur) until an interpretation is found in accordance with the “rule of love” (regnum caritatis, 4.15.23). That is, no interpretation of Scripture can possibly be true if it does not promote love of God and love of other human persons. For Augustine, this principle is the touchstone for all biblical hermeneutics which, as one can imagine, calls into question a number of contemporary interpretations of Scriptural passages, especially those touted by rather conservative American evangelicals with respect to social concerns.The fourth book of On Christian Teaching was written much later than the previous three—whereas Augustine finished most of the book by around 397, he did not complete it until 426, a mere four years before his own death. In Book IV, Augustine explicitly addresses Christian preachers, to whom he stresses the importance of improvisation. The preacher who merely recites a sermon that he has memorized cannot make spur-of-the-moment changes to respond to the needs or desires of his audience. He cannot try a new approach if his congregation has failed to understand the main points of his address, nor can he comfortably end his sermon sooner than he intended upon recognition that he has achieved his end. Beyond this, he cannot willfully elevate or temper his rhetoric if he is beholden to a particular rhetorical style. In short, he cannot improvise, and the critical dynamic between preacher and congregation is lost. The performance of the sermon, rooted as it is in a correct interpretation of Scripture, is therefore a quasi-sacramental ritual, Augustine suggests, dependent upon the participation of preacher and audience alike, in which both parties are transformed by the unique circumstances of the here and now of the local church every Sabbath.In Book IV, Augustine is also hesitant to reproduce via stringent rules what he interpreted as corrosive decadence in the late antique classical rhetoric practiced by his contemporaries. In his view, late antique culture had become preoccupied with eloquent presentation at the expense of content and truth (for an obvious example, see the poetry of Ausonius). Conversely, Augustine values highly the ‘natural’ talent of gifted speakers; “a good ear, a knack, and the social fact of hearing good Latin spoken is what Augustine offers by way of training as a substitute for the schools of rhetoric,” writes Peter Brown. Augustine therefore states plainly that even a thorough knowledge of the rules of rhetoric cannot make up for an inability to effectively preach ex tempore, in other words, to improvise. The same problem that hinders the preacher who has memorized his sermon ostensibly afflicts the preacher who is worried about adhering to rhetorical norms as well—i.e., he is so concerned with style that he sacrifices content, especially truthful content that he may not have anticipated addressing prior to beginning his sermon. For Augustine, the ex tempore nature of preaching is not merely a contingent aspect of educating pious Christians, but an essential and extraordinarily valuable element in the genre of exegesis itself.There is, of course, so much more that can be said about On Christian Teaching; these remarks only hint at the rich material worthy of literary, philosophical, and theological analysis spread across the entire book. Moreover, just as Augustine’s other texts are as relevant today as they were in a late antique Roman context, modern Christian educators and preachers can still use On Christian Teaching in efforts to interpret the most puzzling Scriptural passages. One need only take a look at Book XII of the Confessions to see what Augustine’s hermeneutical approach can offer those prepared to take the Bible seriously.

  • Marie
    2019-04-13 01:14

    In this later writing, Saint Augustine explains how and why it's important to study Scripture and be able to evangelize, as well as the features of the Christian preacher. It's part theological, part lingusitic, part educational, but interesting all around.

  • Seth Holler
    2019-03-24 05:14

    Sep 2003. Read portions as an undergraduate. Mar 2011. More portions as a graduate student. Oct 2017. It's a treat to find an edition read by Simon Vance. I can't identify the translator; neither could the Customer Service folks at Hovel Audio, when I contacted them to ask. Update: Found the translation. It is a revision of the NPNF edition.

  • Eli
    2019-03-28 06:56

    I loved this book. I love Augustine's mind, and it is so exciting to see how identical the ancients were to modern man. Augustine shows in this book that he was a true scholar and lover of truth. Modern man has so much to learn from the men of old; to think otherwise is madness.His advice and directions on learning various disciplines, such as logic, mathematics, art, animal science, history, etc. are excellent and should be read by young people, which would stimulate them and help them see why they should learn these things. Augustine gives his reader a true foundation for education, and shows us the ultimate reason for learning: to know, love and glorify God.The fourth book on rhetoric is also outstanding and should be read by all pastors and preachers. Not only will it prove enlightening, but it is also good for the heart and soul to read ancient literature and realize that we are not alone in our work, and that many before us have faced the very same issues we face. Augustine encouraged me and really helped me understand the role of rhetoric in Christian teaching. It was absolutely wonderful observing Augustine--who was a teacher of rhetoric before his conversion--analyzing the Scriptures and pointing out their natural and uncoerced beauty. This was a huge treat.There were, however, several things Augustine touched upon where I found myself disagreeing with him. Thankfully these were not dwelt upon by him, but they are enough for me not to give the book five stars and not to recommend it to others without reservation. Augustine's soteriology is, I believe, deficient. He follows the typical Catholic teaching of his day and seems to think that we obtain the hope of salvation through our good works and changed lives. Of course, the foundation for this, to Augustine, is faith. But as Augustine seems to think, we must believe in Christ so that, by God's grace, we become righteous people in our behavior, thereby enabling our souls to be saved. I need to read more of Augustine's soteriology to finalize my convictions about him, but this is the impression I keep getting when I read him, and it is unfortunate. However, Augustine's theology was moving in the right direction, and I believe that had Augustine lived in the days of Luther, he would have sided with the German monk. Luther took Augustine's theology to its proper conclusion. Augustine aimed the gun at the target, Luther pulled the trigger.I also took issue with Augustine's Neo-Platonism, which makes him despise the earthly too much, in favor of the ethereal and eternal. Some of this, of course, is good and Biblical, but I think Augustine can start sounding more like Plato than Paul sometimes. This approach to Scripture also brings him to reject the literal, earthly salvation of Israel and to embrace a more exclusively non-physical and spiritual interpretation of salvation. His comments on Ezekiel 36 are revealing on this matter. He states that while Ezekiel was talking about physical Israel, he suddenly and without any warning changes to talk, not about physical Israel, but about the spiritual Israel (i.e. the Church). Augustine justifies this by remarkably stating that, while it is completely unexpected, it isn't wrong: it's God giving us a happy and healthy challenge for our minds, which is good for us. I'm not at all convinced.This same Neo-Platonism causes Augustine to misunderstand Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 3:6, "the letter kills, but the spirit gives life." Instead of seeing Paul's point that it is the law (Old Covenant) that kills and it is the gospel (New Covenant) that gives life, Augustine interprets this to mean that the literal interpretation of Scripture, or the physical things of the Hebrew religion, is what kills, and that is the freedom from such things that gives life. This all leads to further consequences, in which marital sex is said to be solely and exclusively for procreation, and that women should not wear any makeup (which, according to Augustine and others, is actually worse than adultery!). These things are the results of error, of taking one truth and not integrating it with all truth.But besides these criticisms, "On Christian Doctrine" is really an excellent book, profitable for all times, an ancient work of timeless value. I recommend the first two books for everyone, especially young people, and the last two book for pastors and preachers. There is much profit here. Thank you, Lord, for Augustine.

  • Rad
    2019-03-30 03:17

    Augustine's On Christian Doctrine would perhaps be better titled On Biblical Exegesis, an observation also made by the translator of this volume, D.W. Robertson, in the book's Introduction: "Esssentially, On Christian Doctrine is an introduction to the interpretation and explanation of the Bible" (ix). It is a fairly short work, consisting of a Prologue and four books. Its brevity appears at odds with Augustine's warning at the beginning: "[The subject of this book] is a great and arduous work, and since it is difficult to sustain, I fear some temerity in undertaking it" (Book One, I.1, 7).Augustine believed that Biblical interpretation was something for "students", and perhaps shows some pride when he announces that Biblical understanding is not a subjective undertaking of the hoi polloi: such "detractors...see, or think they see, that they are already equipped to expound the sacred books without having read any of the observations which I have set out to make, so that they will declare that these regulations are necessary to no one, but that everything which may laudably be revealed about the obscurities of those books can be revealed with divine assistance" (3).Not only, however, is OCD a work of Biblical exegesis, and by proxy Christian Doctrine -- perhaps Augustine in his title was alluding to this distance between a sign and the thing signified -- but it is also an important work in the field of critical theory. His discussion of signs is a precursor to the semiological studies of Peirce and Eco some 1500 years later. Augustine begins Book Two: Just as I began, when I was writing about things, by warning that no one should consider them except as they are, without reference to what they signify beyond themselves, now when I am discussing signs I wish it understood that no one should consider them for what they are but rather for their value as signs which signify something else. A sign is a thing which causes us to think of something beyond the impression the thing itself makes upon the senses (Book Two, I.1, 34).For Augustine, correct doctrine can only be the product of correct interpretation, which is necessary because "There are two reasons why things written are not understood: they are obscured either by unknown or by ambiguous signs. For signs are either literal or figurative" (Book Two, X.15, 43). Thus a thorough understanding of signs is a necessity for the Biblical exegete.Book Three aims to illustrate some examples of ambiguity in Scripture, and their correct interpretations. For example, regarding Luke 7:37-38, Augustine asserts the following: "Thus no reasonable person would believe under andy circumstances that the feet of the Lord were anointed with precious ointment by the woman in the manner of lecherous and dissolute men whose banquets we despise" (Book 3, XII.18, 90. Or Hosea 1:2: "Certainly union with a prostitute is one thing when morals are corrupted and quite another thing in the prophecy of the prophet Osee" (Book 3, XII.18, 90). Where a literal interoperation may offend, a figurative one is sought.In Book Four, Augustine moves from "discovery" to the teaching of what has been discovered., Given his history as a teacher of rhetoric, he begins with an apophatic warning:But first in these preliminary remarks I must thwart the expectation of those readers who think that I shall give the rules of rhetoric here which I learned and taught in the secular schools. And I admonish them not to expect such rules from me, not that they have no utility, but because, if they have any, it should be sought elsewhere if perhaps some good man has the opportunity to learn them. But he should not expect these rules from me, either in this work or in any other" (Book Four, I.2, 118). Perhaps humorously, he then proceeds to discuss "teaching" (i.e., rhetoric) -- albeit not as rigorously as I'm sure he once did.Five stars from me, for what it's worth.

  • Timothy Darling
    2019-04-04 07:08

    I include this book in a selection of books I call "Conversation with Christ." This is a powerful older book that has influenced Christian thinking for centuries, giving us some of the roots of thoughts practices that are still widely used today. Augustine of Hippo of course is one of the greatest of Church Fathers and should be heard on any topic he chooses to discuss. This book, however is sadly ignored in our homiletics and hermeneutics classes to our own detriment. We are an arrogant, short-sighted people sometimes.This book has taken me far too long to read. It deserves its place among the classics both because it is great and because it is challenging. It is not about Christian Doctrine in spite of what the title says. It is about the discernment and communication of Christian Doctrine. Augustine, orator that he was, goes about the task teaching how the Bible's truth should be discerned, framed and communicated. In the first three books he talks about discernment and framing. That is, he tells how the Bible should be interpreted and understood. In this way, he is more a technician and craftsman than a theologian. It is important for the presenter of the Gospel to know how to read the Bible for what it says first and also for the harmonics in its meanings. In Augustine's day allegorical interpretations were quite common. He pulls back from that habit and says that ordinary meanings of passages should be pursued first. It is only in the case where ordinary meanings are quite obscure in their theological importance that alegorical meanings should be pursued. More importantly, he highlights how love, faith and the glory of God should guide our thinking as we study and prepare to deliver the word. He says, in the time of our hope, when our love is perfected, Scripture will no longer be necessary.Augustine's method is one of essential exegesis. It seems odd to say since he himself employed allegory so much, but he strongly encourages a methodology that is not dependent on that device. He encourages language and contextual studies, to the point of determining a critical text. This is no small thing, since he admits here that he did not know Hebrew and in the Confessions that he found Greek burdensome. For Augustine, critical text was as much about comparing versions as exploring the original languages. These tools are more abundant to us in the English speaking world today than ever. Woe to us if we do not use them to good advantage. In the presence of such wealth we should be experiencing an unprecedented renaissance in the understanding of Scripture. I believe it should also bring about a powerful unity in that understanding, bringing us closer to the purity of what was in God's mind when He inspired it.The last book is a treatise on oratory and the appropriate use of that art for the communication of the Gospel. Augustine was a most accomplished orator and advises two considerations for the training of preachers. One is that if a person has a natural capacity of oration, he need not spend much time in training, however if he does not no amount of training will repair the lack. The second is that a natural aptitude is best trained in listening to skilled orators more than in studying the structure of effecitve oratory. Finally, he goes about explaining three modes of oratory: the subdued (used to inform), the temperate (used to delight), and the majestic (used to persuade). The strict division of these methods should not be observed, because each of them can be used for each of the three purposes when appropriate. Augustine advises a sparing use of the majestic, most forceful, tone since emotionally the audience cannot maintain that pitch for long. Augustine advises that all considerations must combine eloquence and wisdom, with an awareness that the word the preacher speaks is of the utmost importance.

  • Andrew
    2019-04-03 06:02

    I don't really feel comfortable rating a book from Saint Augustine, so I intend my rating to relate to the translation done by D.W. Robertson, Jr. For readers who need to carefully understand Augustine's argument, this translation is far superior to the more recent one done by R.H.P. Green, though Green's introductory material and notes are quite helpful.One way to understand this book is as a project of replacing the 'corpus' of classical literature that Augustine and other Roman citizens were raised on with a Christian library. Because Augustine considers the church to be the site of this new education, the book focuses on the study and preaching of the Scriptures.Augustine's 'hermeneutic' (or 'science of interpretation') is striking. One of his fundamental claims is that our distance from the message of the Bible is not primarily historical in nature but moral. He asserts that the purpose of studying and preaching the Scriptures is to increase a proper love in the heart. The Scriptures are a world of love, and to understand them is to be filled with the same love. Augustine claims that one has not properly understood a given portion of the Bible until their heart is filled with greater love; and a sermon has not preached 'the Bible' until the hearers leave with hearts burning for love with God and each other.Augustine describes this approach to interpretation in Book 1, and then moves to discuss various difficulties of interpretation in Books 2-3, and ends in Book 4 with a long discussion on preaching. Because Augustine wrote in a day when a large percentage of the congregation was illiterate and when even the literate had difficulty accessing books/scrolls, he fuses biblical interpretation and preaching in ways that might seem odd to contemporary readers.Aside from the book's general approach to interpretation which I tried to summarize above, I was completely taken with his 'crowd psychology' of Book 4. I also was struck by a quote from Ambrose that he includes in Book 4 about cosmetics, in which the great Milanese bishop claims that the cosmetic industry is based on a woman's derision of her own body as made by God. The industry offers an image for her to love in the stead of her own person, and the cosmetics are merely the means of redemption to attaining that image. She offers this image to her husband and the world instead of her true self. There are limits to this depiction of cosmetic usage, but I found it to be an incredibly insightful analysis of contemporary make-up culture.This book has become one of the three most well-known and widely studied books of the great bishop - it sits alongside Confessions and City of God as a classic of western Christianity. If you seriously want to engage with this text, I would highly recommend reading it alongside Confessions, which Brian Stock has argued is an extended tale about the morally potent practice of reading. Stock's book 'Augustine the Reader' is a vital companion to making sense of Augustine's views on reading and its significance in his vision of moral formation.

  • Eric
    2019-04-07 04:09

    Augustine begins the first of On Christian Doctrine’s four books by stating, “There are two things on which all interpretation of scripture depends: the process of discovering what we need to learn, and the process of presenting what we have learnt” (1.1). He starts with discovery, further subdividing “things” from “signs” and focusing the remainder of the first book on learning which things (people included) are appropriate to use, enjoy, and/or love (1.2). The second book focuses on the sign, “a thing which of itself makes some other thing come to mind,” including natural signs and given signs, the latter determined only by convention (1.1). He discusses the importance of differentiating between metaphorical and literal signs, what aspects of pagan wisdom can be used by Christians, and also offers a few words on logic: “The validity of syllogisms is not something instituted by humans.... It is built into the permanent ... system of things” (32.50). The third books focuses on the difficulties of interpreting “ambiguous” scriptural signs, including those caused by figurative language, tropes, and outdated customs (1.1). The final book turns to “the process of presenting what we have learnt.” Augustine argues, “Since rhetoric is used to give conviction to both truth and falsehood, who could dare maintain that truth, which depends on us for its defence, should stand unarmed in the fight against falsehood?” (1.3). Arguing that close encounters with eloquent works is the best way to acquire eloquence (3.5), he offers numerous examples--often from Paul’s epistles--and offers some analysis of their style and syntax. He emphasizes Cicero’s advice “that the eloquent should speak in such a way as to instruct, delight, and move their listeners” (12.27), and correlates those three aims with three styles: “the restrained style” for instruction, “the moderate” for praise, and “the grand style, if antagonistic minds are being driven to change their attitude” (19.38), though he is not dogmatic about the correlation.

  • Kyle Barton
    2019-04-18 00:10

    On Christian Teaching is made up of four books—three on discovering truth in the Scriptures and one on presenting the truth to others. Here’s how the four books break down:Book 1 is about “things”. Augustine says that of all the things, some are to be used and some are to be enjoyed. Ultimately, the only thing that is to be enjoyed is the Triune God and all other things are to be used to that end. Book one is the most theological and abstract of the four books and contextualizes Augustine’s teaching in the following books.Book 2 is about the interpretation of “unknown signs”, both literal and metaphorical. This book is very practical and didactic and, in the process of instructing, Augustine ends up discussing the canon of Scripture, the benefits of knowing the original languages, textual criticism, literal versus dynamic translations, the meaning of biblical names and numbers, futile pagan superstitions, and the use of knowing history, chronology, and logic. He ends the book with the classic analogy often used by the church fathers of “plundering the Egyptians.”Book 3 is about the interpretation of literal and figurative “ambiguities”. Right in the middle of book 3, Augustine breaks off writing and then finally resumes writing thirty years later. He includes a short overview of Tyconius’ seven rules of interpretation.Book 4 is about rhetoric, eloquence, and wisdom. Augustine says that the aim of preaching is to instruct, to delight, and to move. He provides many examples from Scripture and from two contemporaries (Ambrose and Cyprian) that illustrate three different styles of speaking to accomplish this—the restrained style, the mixed style, and the grand style.

  • Chris Whisonant
    2019-04-12 01:00

    This was a great read overall. I liked the first 3 parts, though I didn't care as much for the 4th part. It wasn't bad, but the discussion of the types of rhetorical language wasn't quite up my alley.

  • Ben Zornes
    2019-04-16 04:04

    This was just fantastic. Augustine's work here clearly shaped and guided Christian thought and doctrine, and the effects of his wisdom are felt today. He navigates the heresies common to his day and leads the reader to understand what the Bible teaches. He offers timeless principles which should form and shape Christians, both the lay person and the leaders. Two sections in particular I found most delightful and spiritually edifying. The first is in book 1, where he pursues how objects are to be enjoyed and used for the purpose of ultimately enjoying God. That when we enjoy things as ends themselves, we veer off into idolatry and will be left dissatisfied. It is here that Augustine stands forth as a most ardent defender of the church against all forms of gnosticism and asceticism. The second section I found truly wonderful was when he treats with wisdom and eloquence. There are eloquent men who are devoid of wisdom and such men fall into two categories. Those who have the all substance of a hot air balloon; the other being malevolent in their eloquence, seeking to deceive their hearers through their silver speech. Augustine then speaks of men who are Wise but not eloquent, and while this is not ideal, it is better to be wise with God's wisdom and devoid of eloquence, than have eloquence and no wisdom. But best of all is a man who is made wise by God's Word & Spirit and who has the gift of eloquence. Nevertheless, eloquence must submit to wisdom, not vice versa!I highly commend this work to students of Christian doctrine and Biblical truth!

  • Josh
    2019-04-07 03:18

    I think the translation of the title to "On Christian Teaching" is more accurate, as the book doesn't relate to core theological points of the Christian faith, but rather principles for studying scripture and for teaching it. It consists of four books. Book 1 relates to loving God and people.Books 2 and 3 relate to interpretive rules, and this is where I ran into some disagreements. Augustine describes interpreting numbers symbolically, refusing to believe that the disciples caught 153 fish just because that is the number of fish they caught, and instead coming up with complicated formulas such as ( (3+7)*4+(3+7) ) * 3 + 3, where each number in the formula has some spiritual significance. He refers to the acceptability of finding multiple meanings in a single passage, even when some of the meanings are things the original author could not have known. He sets down rules for interpreting references to the nation of Israel as to the church, and to the land as to the church (which, besides the inherent problems, leads to the interesting situation of God promising the church to the church as an inheritance, as though the church could lack the church).Book 4 focuses on how to teach and preach, and has a main emphasis on not just instructing but also stirring up the heart and motivating action. A good chunk of it is taken up by an emphasis on formal rhetoric that made very little sense to me, not having any background in it.