Saturday, August 28, 2010

St. Augustine of Hippo

Today is the feast of greatest western Church Father, St. Augustine (AD 354-430). There is so much one could draw from his vast corpus of writings, the possibilities are seemingly endless. So, this morning I am going to quote from his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim), a passage in which he addresses the relationship between science and Scripture:

"Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion" [1 Timothy 1:7]
It is certainly remarkable that more than 1,600 years later people still hear Christians "talking nonsense on these topics." Now, this is not to say that we must accept every scientific theory at face value, either. The Darwinian dogmatists talk as much nonsense as Christian scriptural literalists who want to insist that the creation narratives found in Genesis tell us how things came to be instead of giving us a deep insight into the why of things.

This is only meant to show the deep intelligence and insight of a great saint, a man who almost single-handedly shaped and formed the Western intellectual tradition, even beyond the confines of Christianity.

St. Augustine, pray for us.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. Prayers for you this day and always.