Electronic Prayer Book

16. Faith In the Authority of Scripture

THE entire treatment of the Scriptures is based upon two factors: the method of discovering what we are to understand and the method of teaching what has been understood…

Whoever appears in his own opinion to have comprehended the Sacred Scriptures, or even some part of them, yet does not build up with that knowledge the two-fold love of God and his neighbour, “has not yet known as he ought to know” (Rom. 13; 10; I Tim. 1. 5)…

Whoever understands in the Sacred Scriptures something other than the writer had in mind is deceived, although they do not lie. If he is deceived in an interpretation by which, however, he builds up charity (which is the end of the precept) (I Tim. 1. 5), he is deceived in the same way as is someone who leaves the road through error, but makes his way through the field to the place where the road also leads. Nevertheless, he must be corrected and must be shown how it is more advantageous not to leave the road, lest by a habit of deviating he may be drawn into a crossroad or even go the wrong way.

By rashly asserting something which the author did not intend, he frequently runs into other passages which he cannot reconcile to that interpretation. If he agrees that these latter are true and definite, then the opinion that he had formed concerning the former cannot be true, and it happens in some way or other, that by loving his own opinion he begins to be more vexed at Scripture than at himself. If he allows this error to creep in, he will be utterly destroyed by it. “For we walk by faith and not by sight” (Cor. 5. 7). Faith will totter if the authority of Sacred Scriptures wavers…

Therefore, when anyone recognizes that “the end of the precept is charity from a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned” (I Tim. 1. 5), and proposes to refer his whole comprehension of Sacred Scriptures to these three virtues, he may approach the interpretation of those books fearlessly…

Those who read indiscreetly are deceived by numerous and varied instances of obscurity and vagueness, supposing one meaning instead of another. In some passages they do not find anything to surmise even erroneously, so thoroughly do certain texts draw around them the most impenetrable obscurity. I am convinced this whole situation was ordained by God in order to overcome pride by work and restrain from haughtiness our minds which usually disdain anything they have learned easily…

The Holy Ghost, therefore, has generously and advantageously planned Holy Scripture in such a way that in the easier passages He relieves our hunger; in the ones that are harder to understand He drives away our pride. Practically nothing is dug out from those un-intelligible texts which is not discovered to be said very plainly in another place…

We ought not to protest against Holy Scripture, either when we understand it and it is attacking some of our faults, or when we do not understand it and think that we ourselves could be wiser and give better advice. In this latter case we must rather reflect and believe that what is written there is more beneficial and more reasonable even if hidden, than what we could know of ourselves…

It is inevitable, then, that at first, each one should discover in the Scriptures that he has been enmeshed by the love of this world, that is, of temporal things, and has been far separated from such a great love of God and of his neighbour as Scripture itself prescribes. Then, truly, that fear with which he meditates upon the judgment of God and that piety through which he must needs believe and yield to the authority of the Holy Books should force him to mourn over himself.

ST. AUGUSTINE (397)