30
Nov
08

St. Augustine’s On Christian Teaching

St. Augustine
On Christian Teaching
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
The Significance of On Christian Doctrine (from Rhetorical Tradition)

•    His confessions may be seen as illustrating the application of Christian ideas to the governance of one’s own soul.
•    OCT advises the Christian pastor on how to foster both psychological and social order by correctly interpreting the Christian truth of the Scriptures and conveying this truth to diverse audiences.
•    The Platonic philosophers come closer to the truth of Christianity than any other pagan thinkers.
•    Augustine knew something of Plato and Aristotle—the Platonic philosophers came closer to the truth of Christianity than any other pagan thinkers.
•    Augustine suggests that eloquence can be achieved without rhetorical training and furthermore, that wisdom, which is separate from eloquence, is more important than eloquence.  Thus he seems to mount a Platonic attach on the declamatory rhetoric of the Second Sophistic that he himself once taught.
•    This separation of eloquence and wisdom implies a separation of things (truths, realities) and words (signs of things), thus also leading Augustine to the Platonic conclusion that language itself is only a means to the final, silent contemplation of divine truth.
•    Augustine thus shares with Cicero—and through hum, with Isocrates—the conviction that rhetoric must be employed for people’s own good.  Augustine follows Cicero in treating the three offices of rhetoric as pleasing, teaching, and persuading or moving to action.
•    Augustine may also place more emphasis on teaching because he assumes that the Christian pastor will usually be preaching to the converted.
•    The converted audience already values Christianity and desires to live by it but must be instructed in the proper way to do so.  In turn, this emphasis on preaching to the converted may lead to slightly more emphasis on style as an important concern for rhetoric in Augustine’s work, as opposed to its place in Cicero’s.

From this source
BOOK I: Argument
The author divides his work into two parts, one relating to the discovery, the other to the expression, of the true sense of Scripture. He shows that to discover the meaning we must attend both to things and to signs, as it is necessary to know what things we ought to teach to the Christian people, and also the signs of these things, that is, where the knowledge of these things is to be sought. In this first book he treats of things, which he divides into three classes,–things to be enjoyed, things to be used, and things which use and enjoy. The only object which ought to be enjoyed is the Triune God, who is our highest good and our true happiness. We are prevented by our sins from enjoying God; and that our sins might be taken away, “The Word was made Flesh,” our Lord suffered, and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, taking to Himself as his bride the Church, in which we receive remission of our sins. And if our sins are remitted and our souls renewed by grace, we may await with hope the resurrection of the body to eternal glory; if not, we shall be raised to everlasting punishment. These matters relating to faith having been expounded, the author goes on to show that all objects, except God, are for use; for, though some of them may be loved, yet our love is not to rest in them, but to have reference to God. And we ourselves are not objects of enjoyment to God: he uses us, but for our own advantage. He then goes on to show that love–the love of God for His own sake and the love of our neighbour for God’s sake–is the fulfilment and the end of all Scripture. After adding a few words about hope, he shows, in conclusion, that faith, hope, and love are graces essentially necessary for him who would understand and explain aright the Holy Scriptures.
•    Those things which are objects of enjoyment make us happy. Those things which are objects of use assist, and (so to speak) support us in our efforts after happiness, so that we can attain the things that make us happy and rest in them.
•    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, if it is a proper object of desire; for an unlawful use ought rather to be called an abuse.
•    Those things which are objects of use are not all, however, to be loved, but those only which are either united with us in a common relation to God, such as a man or an angel, or are so related to us as to need the goodness of God through our instrumentality, such as the body.
•    No man, then, hates himself. On this point, indeed, no question was ever raised by any sect. But neither does any man hate his own body.
•    Man, therefore, ought to be taught the due measure of loving, that is, in what measure he may love himself so as to be of service to himself. For that he does love himself, and does desire to do good to himself, nobody but a fool would doubt.
BOOK II: Argument
Having completed his exposition of things, the author now proceeds to discuss the subject of signs. He first defines what a sign is, and shows that there are two classes of signs, the natural and the conventional. Of conventional signs (which are the only class here noticed), words are the most numerous and important, and are those with which the interpreter of Scripture is chiefly concerned. The difficulties and obscurities of Scripture spring chiefly from two sources, unknown and ambiguous signs. The present book deals only with unknown signs, the ambiguities of language being reserved for treatment in the next book. The difficulty arising from ignorance of signs is to be removed by learning the Greek and Hebrew languages, in which Scripture is written, by comparing the various translations, and by attending to the context. In the interpretation of figurative expressions, knowledge of things is as necessary as knowledge of words; and the various sciences and arts of the heathen, so far as they are true and useful, may be turned to account in removing our ignorance of signs, whether these be direct or figurative. Whilst exposing the folly and futility of many heathen superstitions and practices, the author points out how all that is sound and useful in their science and philosophy may be turned to a Christian use. And in conclusion, he shows the spirit in which it behoves us to address ourselves to the study and interpretation of the sacred books.
BOOK III: Argument
The author, having discussed in the preceding book the method of dealing with unknown signs, goes on in this third book to treat of ambiguous signs. Such signs may be either direct or figurative. In the case of direct signs ambiguity may arise from the punctuation, the pronunciation, or the doubtful signification of the words, and is to be resolved by attention to the context, a comparison of translations, or a reference to the original tongue. In the case of figurative signs we need to guard against two mistakes:–1. the interpreting literal expressions figuratively; 2. the interpreting figurative expressions literally. The author lays down rules by which we may decide whether an expression is literal or figurative; the general rule being, that whatever can be shown to be in its literal sense inconsistent either with purity of life or correctness of doctrine must be taken figuratively. He then goes on to lay down rules for the interpretation of expressions which have been proved to be figurative; the general principle being, that no interpretation can be true which does not promote the love of God and the love of man. The author then proceeds to expound and illustrate the seven rules of Tichonius the Donatist, which he commends to the attention of the student of Holy Scripture.
BOOK IV: Argument
Passing to the second part of his work, that which treats of expression, the author premises that it is no part of his intention to write a treatise on the laws of rhetoric. These can be learned elsewhere, and ought not to be neglected, being indeed specially necessary for the Christian teacher, whom it behoves to excel in eloquence and power of speech. After detailing with much care and minuteness the various qualities of an orator, he recommends the authors of the Holy Scriptures as the best models of eloquence, far excelling all others in the combination of eloquence with wisdom. He points out that perspicuity is the most essential quality of style, and ought to be cultivated with especial care by the teacher, as it is the main requisite for instruction, although other qualities are required for delighting and persuading the hearer. All these gifts are to be sought in earnest prayer from God, though we are not to forget to be zealous and diligent in study. He shows that there are three species of style,–the subdued, the elegant, and the majestic; the first serving for instruction, the second for praise, and the third for exhortation: and of each of these he gives examples, selected both from Scripture and from early teachers of the Church, Cyprian and Ambrose. He shows that these various styles may be mingled, and when and for what purposes they are mingled; and that they all have the same end in view, to bring home the truth to the hearer, so that he may understand it, hear it with gladness, and practice it in his life. Finally, he exhorts the Christian teacher himself, pointing out the dignity and responsibility of the office he holds, to lead a life in harmony with his own teaching, and to show a good example to all.

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