Augustine As An Exegete -- By: J. Ritchie Smith

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 061:242 (Apr 1904)
Article: Augustine As An Exegete
Author: J. Ritchie Smith


Augustine As An Exegete

Reverend J. Ritchie Smith

The place of Augustine is with the foremost creative minds of history. No other man has exercised such imperial sway in any realm of thought as the great Latin father in the realm of theology. Even Aristotle must yield to him the palm. As he strove to grasp and reduce to order the whole range of Christian truth, his theology is broad enough to embrace the difficulties, the apparent contradictions, which the Word of God presents, while it partakes of the errors and imperfections which belong to all things human. To his authority, therefore, appeal the most diverse schools of theology and philosophy,— Roman Catholic and Protestant, scholastic and mystic, Thomas Aquinas and Anselm and Pascal and Luther and Calvin; while Christians of every name do him honor as the most potent champion of the faith which they hold in common. He is the greatest man of the Christian church since the days of the apostles, the successor of Paul in logical acumen, of John in spiritual fervor. It is a profoundly interesting study to trace the principles and methods by which he wrought out of the Scripture the massive system that bears his name.

His Equipment

Of his education he has given us a sketch in his “Confessions/’ He was trained for oratory, and studied grammar, rhetoric, and books of eloquence. In the school of rhetoric in Carthage he won the first place; became a teacher of the art,

and practiced his profession in Rome and Milan. All the books of the so-called liberal arts—rhetoric, logic, geometry, music, arithmetic—that came within his reach, he read and understood. Of astronomy he had some knowledge. With pagan literature he was familiar from childhood. When scarcely twenty years of age he read and comprehended without a teacher the Ten Predicaments of Aristotle. He read both Greek and Latin biographies (Jerome, Letter LXXV. 3). Certain books of the Platonists he read in a Latin translation. His knowledge of Greek and Roman history appears in his “City of God,” and his acquaintance with Greek philosophy is often shown (Letter CXVIII.; City of God, viii.). Plato he preferred to all other philosophers, because he came nearest to Christian truth. At one time, pleading the authority of Ambrose (Christ. Doct. 2:28. 43), he held the opinion that Plato was a disciple of Jeremiah. Afterward he acknowledged his mistake, yet admits that Plato may have been acquainted with the prophecy of Jeremiah (Retract, 2:4; City of God, 8:11).1

In early life Augustine composed poems in various kinds of meter, and wrote two or three books on “The Fair and the Fit.” He wrote six boo...

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