Saturday, February 20, 2010

St. Augustine and the Public Teaching of the Bible

Sometimes it is better not to teach the Bible in public, says St. Augustine.

For there are some passages which are not understood in their proper force, or are understood with great difficulty, at whatever length, however clearly, or with whatever eloquence the speaker may expound them; and these should never be brought before the people at all, or only on rare occasions when there is some urgent reason. [On Christian Doctrine, IV.ix.23]

Clearly then St. Augustine is saying that prudence must rule with regard to the presentation of the Bible to people. Some parts of Scripture are apparently so likely to cause problems for others’ faith that it is best to avoid them in public. This insistence upon discretion with regard to God’s Word is really not so different in principle from the limitations that the Church placed upon access to the Scriptures in around the time of the Reformation, it seems to me. There were heretical translations from which the people needed to be protected. Even more importantly, most people lacked the tools (educationally and otherwise) to properly handle the Bible. Of course, this is still true even today, but I digress. The point is that St. Augustine placed a higher premium on the preservation of people’s faith than on the exposition of literally anything in Scripture. This is a Catholic attitude.


Martin said...

Silly St. A. didn't he know any ploughboy could understand the bible?

Still, this stikes me as fuel for the fire to the anti-Catholics who accuse the Church of banning the bible for the public.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Martin,

That's as may be, but their argument would be with St. Augustine (whom they often try to "steal" from the Catholic Church), not with me. :-)